Traditionally, due to inquisitions and the Burning Times, people practicing Wicca and other Magickal and Earth religions practiced their traditions secretly, in order to avoid persecution. This secretive environment led to the development of a low-profile training process for passing on religious traditions. In centuries past, traditions were often taught to pupils in one of two ways. One way to pass information on was in a family setting where skills and information were handed down through the generations and a great deal of knowledge was held. Another teaching method was the mentor system where information was passed from mentor or shaman to student where again, the teacher him/herself had been taught in turn by a mentor or shaman.
This process has recently begun to change. In the last several decades, there has been a great upsurge of interest in the study of Magickal and Earth religions. Books on the subject abound, written by the learned, the learning and the hopeful. Some of these are invaluable assets to students and some are personal insights shared in good faith. Others are speculations at best and may serve only to confuse the student or worse, lead him/er into areas which are quite literally dangerous, especially where there is a lack of personal guidance. Too often, because of sheer volume, there is little or no opportunity to validate the credentials of the authors of new works or the authenticity of their publications.
The seeking students read their chosen books and begin to develop their own ideas about what Magickal and Earth religions are supposed to be. They blend and sift together aspects from different cultures and mythologies in the hopes of finding a theological system which will lead them into the enlightened spiritual state they are seeking and help them gain control over their world. Unfortunately, the influx of written material on the subject in all its various forms has become so vast, it is difficult for works to be individually peer-reviewed for authenticity and validity. Many individuals are teaching themselves religious and magickal principles from books which may or may not contain valid, instructional material. Interested students are always looking for good teachers, but, because of the rapid growth in interest, the numbers of teachers cannot keep up with the numbers of students. When they do find a teacher, they may have little or no way of evaluating the teacher for validity and knowledge.
Because Wicca is considered to be a religion of clergy, once a pupil has learned the principles of the religion, either from books or the chosen teacher, and has been initiated, either through his/er solitary rituals or into a group tradition, this new initiate becomes clergy and is assumed qualified to teach these principles to newer students. Too often, however, the magickal and/or spiritual training the new initiate has received is incomplete. In addition, if the student explores a broader spectrum of books and/or teachers, issues can become unclear and teachings contradictory so that the student becomes unsure of the truth of what s/he has learned. If the student becomes too confused s/he is liable to throw up his/er hands in frustration and choose a given author or path just because it is easier than trying to decipher the myriad's of information available. The result is that the Wiccan/Magickal education of many students is sadly lacking. It follows, then that too many of the clergy initiates who are teaching the religion's principles to others, though their intent may be wholly innocent and sincere, simply are not qualified to handle the innumerable and sometimes dangerous situations into which students can get themselves.
With so many formerly secret practitioners coming into the open with their Magickal and Earth religions and so many new people coming into the practice from non-magickal/earth religions, it is time for Wiccans and Pagans to found the training of their basic principles in properly trained clergy. The teaching of our religious principles should be done by individuals who are knowledgeable enough in metaphysics, counseling, world religions, magick principles and mythologies to assist others who are coming from varied religious backgrounds to understand the many-layered principles and practices of Magickal and Earth religions, as well as the spiritual transition which they are experiencing. It takes more than a cursory knowledge to counsel someone through the transition from a mainstream religion into a one which requires self-discipline, a thorough knowledge of one's self, strong personal esteem, self control and many times, solitary religious services. There is a need for clergy with enough training in magick to guide newcomers through difficult practices and rituals, and for clergy whose solid experiences in Earth connections can help others make those same connections.
Though trained clergy is a necessary part of the growth of Magical and Earth religions as a means to preserve our ways and to train those seeking to learn, it is also true that Wicca, Magickal and Earth religions are and always should remain decentralized, with different traditions which allow the seeking of one's personal spiritual path. Each person should be free to develop his/er own values and theological system and follow that system according to his/er conscience to the best of his/er ability, with the clergy serving as a facilitator or mentor rather than a mediator between the student and Deity. It should be the goal of every teacher to see his/er students leave the nest, so to speak, rather than to expect them to be forever his/er students, following always only the ways the teacher has taught.
Once a student is trained, in order to fulfill a position as clergy, s/he should be adept in the skills of rites of passage and of counseling people through them. S/he should be able to counsel them as well through the mired types of grief and loss not only with a religious perspective which is accepting of all religious traditions, but also with enough basic knowledge of various traditions to understand the perspective of the person being counseled. When a Handfasting is to be performed, the ritual should be more than a choreographed ceremony witnessed by friends. There should be counseling sessions between the clergy and participants to explain the commitment which is being made and the long-term implications of the promises. Before a Wiccaning, parents need to be informed of their responsibility to the child to both teach and protect it. They should know the importance of the Naming and understand the gravity of having so much influence on the life of another entity. Community witnesses of a Wiccaning or Handfasting need to be informed during the Rite of their role, by their very presence at the ceremony, in the lives of the child being Wiccaned or the couple being Handfasted. Their presence in the Circle expresses their vow to participate in training, protecting and supporting the participants. Clergy should know how to counsel the bereaved through the Rite of Passing and what to say to surviving relatives, especially those who may not be Wiccan or Pagan.
Of course, not all who enter the clergy can be experts in every aspect of the various Magickal and Earth traditions. Each initiate would need to discover his/er strongest connections, abilities and talents and develop these to the level and strength necessary to then teach these to others with the same aptitudes. In addition, each initiate-in-training would need excellent guidance from those who have traveled the path before them. We need to seek out those elders of our community who have the ability to train followers with wisdom and patience, people who may need to be willing, at least in the beginning, to offer their time without pay. In addition, the establishment of schools and seminaries, no matter how small in the beginning, is a vital part of developing a trained clergy system within the Magical and Earth religious community.
It is also vital that sound basic religious and magickal training be given before students are allowed to explore unattended the many paths available to them. They need training in discerning the truth in what they see and read. They need to learn how to proceed at their proper pace which will, though it will allow them the freedom to explore, keep them from advancing too fast for their capabilities to handle. They need to be taught how to analyze an exploratory path to determine whether or not it is the proper path for them and how to develop the courage and self esteem to turn away from a path which is unsuited to their needs. And, in a religion of clergy, they need to know how to counsel their fellow worshipers. For this kind of training to be successful, it needs to be done by trained educators. To this end, we as a religious community need to prepare clergy for the task of properly training and counseling those who are seeking to follow in our footsteps and walk the path of Magickal and Earth religions.
On the leading edge of Pagan Ministry education is Cherry Hill Semenary. Located in Bethel, VT, they are currently making progress toward certification in the state of Vermont. Courses include Public Ministry, Pastoral Counseling, Prison Ministry, Ministry and the Law, among many others. If you are serious about being Pagan clergy, contact them, following the link on the main page.