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                                      PAGAN CHURCHES 
          Written by Julia Phillips December 13, 1992

          (This article appeared in issue #67 of The Cauldron)

          To be or not to be, that is the question. To be an accredited, main-
          stream religion, with society's approval, or to be a mystery path on
          the fringes of society; to be a formal religion of priesthood and
          laity, or a path for those who seek their religious experience outside
          of the mainstream.

          This subject has recently been hotly debated by Pagans and occultists
          from all over the world. Those in support (and they are vocal), insist
          that Paganism must come of age; must provide ministers who can lead
          society back to the Goddess, and who can serve the community as social
          workers, counsellors and priesthood. Those against point out that most
          Pagans seek the religion in the first place because it is a path of
          individual spiritual growth, which does not demand that its
          practitioners spend a large proportion of their time spoon-feeding a
          congregation, or acting as unpaid social workers.

          We appear to have reached a crossroads in the development of 20th (and
          21st) century Paganism, and the decisions we make over the next decade
          will have constitutional and far-reaching consequences. Society is no
          longer in any doubt about our existence; it has not yet decided
          whether we are a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing, but it certainly knows we

          Let us consider the problems that we face if we wish to make Paganism
          a mainstream religion. Firstly, most (all?) of you reading this live
          in a nominally Christian society, which will usually accept (with bad
          grace!) the other mainstream religions such as Muslim and Buddhist.
          Pagans, if they are considered at all, will probably evoke a reaction
          ranging from amused tolerance to outright condemnation for their
          heresy. So, how do we convince society that we are neither foolish
          (but basically harmless) eccentrics, nor are we dangerous heretics,
          ever on the lookout for a tasty virgin, or plump little boy for our

          We can of course present society with the image that we wish them to
          see. Unfortunately, this must often be presented via the media, who,
          as we know so well, are more concerned with increasing viewing or
          circulation figures than being philanthropic about helping poor
          defenceless Pagans improve their image. And how do you deal with the
          ego-centric weirdos (sorry, no other word sounds half so effective!)
          who launch themselves regularly at the world, scantily clad, demon-
          ically masked, and twittering on about the shadow, cursing, cthonic
          experiences and the dark path of the occult? The fact that you and I
          both know that a genuine cthonic experience, or encounter with the
          shadow, would have these types running home to Mummy pronto, is
          neither here nor there; the public, who knows no better, is taken in a
          treat. "Aha", they cry, "see, we were always told it was dangerous to
          dabble in the occult, and look, it's true!". And of course it is, for
          these dabblers will undoubtedly cause themselves, and their poor
          followers, a fair bit of harm before they are through.

          But how does all this help our cause to become a socially respectable
          religion? Well of course it doesn't. Not one bit. And this is actually
          why I am rather fond of these ego-centric types, for although they are
          a superficial parody of the genuine occult path, they do serve as a


          reminder that the dark is ever-present, and that if we remain true to
          our spiritual core, then we can never be a socially acceptable,
          mainstream religion. Where these ego-centrics fail of course, is in
          promoting the dark satanic image as the ONLY path. They do not know
          any better, ignorance and stupidity being their main faults, and I
          really cannot see the Pagan/Occult community ridding itself of them.
          Instant fame is too strong a drug to withstand common sense and the
          hard work which the genuine occult and Pagan paths demand.

          But those who would present Paganism and the occult as all white-light
          and fluffy bunnies are equally at fault. Not only is it untrue, we are
          leaving ourselves open to accusations of whitewashing our practices
          for public consumption. But, it is nigh on impossible to explain Pagan
          philosophy in a TV studio, to an audience with a limited attention
          span. The principles are simple, but need to be comprehended, and that
          cannot happen in a TV or radio interview. The message has to be
          restricted to, "we do not perform or condone sacrifices"; "we do not
          hold rituals for the purpose of group sex"; "we are a sincere religion
          which encourages each individual to take responsibility for his/her
          spiritual development", and similar platitudes. Trying to present this
          information without coming across as a mixture of Doris Day and
          Lucille Ball is a skill few of us possess!

          But to return to the issue of accreditation and social acceptance; it
          never ceases to surprise me how many people reject one or more of
          society's restrictions or pretensions, and then do their damnedest to
          resurrect the same restriction or pretension as quickly as possible
          elsewhere. Let us consider a mainstream religion; let us look at the
          Anglican Church. A priest (or, gasp, a female priest!) ministers the
          divine word of God to a receptive congregation. At times of hatch,
          match and despatch, the priest not only administers the divine word,
          but also functions as society's representative to ensure that all is
          done in accordance with accepted ritual practice. The priest is
          trained, accredited, ordained, maintained, and supervised, by his
          Church. Let him mutter an unorthodox message, and see how quickly his
          superiors bring him to task!

          Contrast this with today's Pagan; no formal training, accreditation,
          maintenance or supervision from outside. There is of course in many
          traditions, an ordination, but these are not consistent throughout the
          branches of the religion, and nor are the ordinations "accepted" by
          most of society. In fact, many of them are not even "accepted" within
          the religion itself. When you have been told as often as I have that
          Aleister Crowley initiated your mother, or some mysterious group
          initiated you as you were cycling home one night and got yanked off
          your pedals, or "your family" has been secretly "in the Craft" for
          generations, you get a bit cynical about accepting some of these
          ordinations at face value! 

          And this brings to us to the matter of accreditation; I have heard it
          mooted that now is time for Pagan priesthood to be formally ordained,
          and accredited to accepted standards of knowledge, skill and exper-
          ience. I would have more sympathy with this view if those who expound
          it do not give the impression that they are, ipso facto, of that
          standard already! Being of a pragmatic nature, I would also be inter-
          ested to learn just who is to pay for the training colleges and
          official priesthood that would necessarily result from such a prog-


          And this brings me finally to ask if we really do wish to follow a
          religious path which is constructed in the pattern of one which most
          have us have rejected as unacceptable. Writing in Children of Sekhmet
          Vol 3 No 1 about the creation of Pagan and Wiccan Councils, "Lucifer"
          said: "Pagan Councils are forced to compromise the outlook of the
          Pagan Community...  My real concern is that behind the many calls for
          Pagan unity is the genuine belief that Paganism can be socially
          acceptable. The implication to this being that consensus Paganism is
          moving towards an acceptable middle ground which society can cope
          with; that the ecstatic vision of the Pagan Mysteries is slowly
          abandoned for the coarse cloth of a ritual practice calculated not to

          It might be unkind to suggest that those who are desperately seeking
          official recognition have anything less than the purest of motives,
          but one does wonder. Is it simply a case that in this field, they are
          able to acquire titles and recognition which under other circumst-
          ances, would not come their way? The "big fish/small pond" syndrome.
          Or have they only superficially rejected the mainstream religious
          path, and all that it stands for, seeking to re-establish it in
          Paganism with themselves at the top of the pecking order?

          I have made some contentious statements in this article in the hope
          that it will encourage debate (and support!) from those other spirit-
          ual anarchists out there who do not want to see their religion debased
          into a formal structure of hierarchies, priesthood, and laity. I
          believe there is a place for open Pagan gatherings, and that exper-
          ienced Pagans are best placed to organise such gatherings. Where I
          draw the line is in accepting that any "official" body may legislate
          in matters of individual spiritual growth.

          The Pagan movement has always been self-regulatory in practical terms.
          This may not be obvious to those who are calling for "accredited
          priesthood", but I can assure them that the Pagan grapevine is active
          and effective throughout the world. We do not need framed certificates
          over the fireplace ("This is to certify that Lady Anthrax can worship
          to the satisfaction of the Convergence of Associated Deities" -
          Peregrin, Web of Wyrd #6), to prove our spiritual worth.

          B*B Julia


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