I tend to differentiate between ‘priest’ and ‘clergy’. There’s a venn diagram where they overlap, but I do think they are different roles.


For me a priest or priestess is either someone who has been called by the gods (or whatever) to serve Them/dedicated themselves to serving the gods in some capacity or has reached a certain level of initiation or knowledge in a specific┬átradition. The title of priest/ess might indicate a level of community involvement, but it might not. In my opinion, it’s not necessary to minister to the community to call yourself a priest/ess.

I consider myself a priestess of Brighid, because I dedicated myself to that path, to doing Her work. Sometimes this does mean ministering to other people, but not often.


This role might have some of the same meaning as priest/ess — being called by the gods/dedicating oneself to Them or reaching a certain level of knowledge — but for me, it has a greater emphasis on ministry — community outreach. To be clergy is to serve the gods (or whatever) by serving the people; using the knowledge one has obtained to help out fellow pagans.

In my view, a clergy position can be more general and less specific when it comes to religious aspects than a priest/ess position. This is partially due to need — there are not many clergy for some of the smaller religions in paganism, so those of us who are part of those smaller religions may have to settle for someone else. Which means I believe that clergy need to be open to ministering to people of other religions within paganism.

There are also specific tasks that fall to clergy, that might not fall to priest/esses. These tasks might include performing weddings, doing blessings on infants, performing end-of-life services, and the like. They might also include creating frameworks for onion-hoers to utilize in their own lives — in other words, doing whatever bootstrapping is necessary so that not everyone in the faith is required to do these things. (This task — creating frameworks for people — might also fall to priest/esses. It’s another area where I think the roles overlap.)

Each pagan faith is going to have different requirements for their clergy, of course. These are just examples.

The Reclaiming view

I also hold that each person is their own clergy, as is held in Reclaiming witchcraft. This does not mean that I expect onion-hoers/laypeople to be able to do all the varied tasks that might fall upon clergy, or to constantly have to bootstrap just to have SOMETHING. Instead, this phrase is referring specifically to the idea that laypeople need clergy as their conduit to the gods — I don’t buy that. A middle-man is not 100% necessary to connect with the gods — not on a daily basis, anyway.

There will always be special occasions — maybe you really need to actually talk to a god and not just go off vague impressions and what you think might be signs. So you talk to a priest/ess or clergy who can draw down that god and let Them speak through mortal mouths. This, obviously, requires the help of someone with that skill. Not something you can do alone.

What I’m talking about more with this is the idea that people need a middle-man just to do regular ritual or worship. You don’t. You don’t need someone to be your conduit to the gods on a daily basis. You can still do daily worship or ritual and it will be just as meaningful as ritual with a clergyperson.

Obviously these are just my own opinions as to what clergy and priest/esses are and what they do, and probably plenty of pagans will not agree with me. I do think that the roles of clergy and priest/ess are useful and necessary to pagan faiths. I also think it’s kinda crappy the amount of policing that goes on regarding the word “priest” or “priestess” — I’ve seen the argument that if you’re not doing X, Y, and Z, you can’t call yourself a priestess because you’re not pious enough. Or something. That’s bullshit.

As for whether or not I have any aspirations to be clergy…I don’t know. I think I’m happy in my priestess role, to be honest. I still want to contribute to creating frameworks for laypeople so they’re not forced into bootstrapping everything, and I don’t mind doing some community outreach…but I think the requirements of being full-on clergy would burn me out pretty quickly.




6 replies on “30 Days of Paganism: Priest? Clergy? One or both? Neither?”

  1. I largely agree. I think clergy are a type of priest, whose service to the gods is community work. I don’t think I’d use the word for individual onion hoers, though- I agree that people don’t require an intercessor to connect to the gods (a particular individual might, or might prefer one, but I don’t think it’s inherent in general) but I don’t think that role is necessarily the same as clergy.

    I don’t know what I’d call that role, mind! Though I think it could use one. I’ll have to give it some more thought.

    1. I don’t think that role is necessarily the same as clergy, either, but I the reason it’s put that way in Reclaiming is many people come from more Christian backgrounds, where the idea can very much be that “clergy is required to connect with God” — so “clergy” becomes conflated with “person who talks to the gods on behalf of you/gives you messages from the gods”, when that’s not necessarily accurate. And the reason they put it that way is to help people who come from those backgrounds reclaim their own power.

      I’m not really sure what I’d call that role, either. ­čÖé

      1. Very good point- I hadn’t thought of that. And I don’t know all that much about Reclaiming, either. (I still haven’t gotten past chapter 2 of the Twelve Wild Swans.)

        1. I still haven’t read the 12 Wild Swans, too, so you’re not alone. My Reclaiming knowledge is mostly experiential, as I’ve been to Witchcamp and some other local Reclaiming events.

          A good overview, though, is to read the Principles of Unity at the Reclaiming site, as well as the rest of their “about” page.

          (Actually, reading over that again, I see they removed the bit about “we are our own clergy” — or I’m misremembering that they ever used that specific word in the first place, and I just used it as shorthand for the longer definition of “intercessor to the gods”. They did do some restructuring and rewriting of definitions and such lately, though, so it could be it changed. The bit I remember as saying using the word ‘clergy’ just says this now: “Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.” /shrug)

  2. Are you planning to write a more detailed post on what you consider to be “framework” for the laypeople? Because that is interesting to me (considering I’m attempting to do this when I have the energy), and I would like to know more about your thoughts on the subject.

    1. You know, I really should, as much to sort of figure out and hammer down my own thoughts on the subject as anything else.

      Hrm. Ok, putting that on the list of posts to tackle. ­čÖé

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