Being Clergy (and How I Got Here)

I am Clergy. My name isn’t on a roster for it anywhere; there’s no organizing body that ordained me and all my fellow clergy; I didn’t attend a seminary school. Still, I am Clergy.

Paganism is a strange and alien creature to most people, and it’s hard to explain sometimes because there are so many variations. Everything I’m about to say applies to my pagan community, both local and far-spread. The way we practice, the way we teach, I don’t know that every community shares these ideas, but they have shaped the woman and the spiritual leader I’ve become.

We teach that anyone can be Clergy, and that in fact everyone can and should be Clergy to themselves. I suppose this is in part a reaction to organized religions like Catholicism where the faith leaders are go-betweens and the faithful cannot interact directly with the divine. We learn early on to find the Divine in our lives and learn how we connect with it. In some cases, this is an archetype, a deity from any number of pantheons, or even some aspect of nature; flowing water, lightning, mountains, etc. Whatever our Divine is, however we connect, it varies from one person to the next, and we’re all taught to be understanding and accepting of that (it works, as much as possible with any group of human beings). If I work with Demeter and Lugh but my friends work with Loki, Kali, Athena, and Anubis, that means we have a lot of diversity in our group activities and rituals; it means we learn bits and pieces of each other’s deities, their stories, their strengths and weaknesses, their associations; it means we have more information to better understand each other, ourselves, history, mythology, science, and nature. This allows for a very inclusive and welcoming kind of situation, which is only one of the things I love about it.

As we continue learning, having initiations and moving into more in depth spiritual studies, we often begin planning and running events and rituals for our peers. This is usually the first conscious step into being Clergy to others, though many people realize later on they’ve been doing some of this work their entire lives. I remember my first public ritual, a full moon in May. I was so certain I was going to screw up, going to do something wrong, going to forget some important step. I got through it by reminding myself that my teacher had faith I could do it, and if I believed in her, I could believe in myself. Now, 10 years later, I honestly don’t remember the ritual itself. I may have made some minor slip-up, but it wasn’t enough to ruin things. What I began learning that night is that no matter if I forget a word here and there, or name the wrong direction in calling quarters, or stumble a bit over the message of the night, it’s okay because the biggest part of magic, and the biggest part of spiritual guidance work in the pagan community, is intent.

It’s that intent that leads many of us to act as Clergy in our communities, to do more than forge our own connections with Deity. Our intent to help leads us to seek out information and experienced advice on how best to help. Our intent to lead makes us strengthen our own connections to Deity so we can model by example. Since that first full moon, I have done many things to build to the point of being comfortable calling myself Clergy. I’ve studied under leaders in my community, researched and studied non-licensed counseling, studied other religions, learned more about public resources in my area, learned more about my practice, served my spiritual community and other communities at large events (including organizing said events), and more. But I think the one thing I’ve done that’s helped my work as Clergy, my ability to help others, to guide or teach others, that’s been my regular therapy.

I’m a firm believer that everyone can benefit from talking to a therapist at some point in their lives, but I happen to be one who really needs to talk to a therapist pretty regularly. After more than three years with the same amazing counselor, I have come to a pretty big realization about Clergy work. It’s simple, really, so obvious, but I didn’t see it before. At least, not consciously.

In order to connect with others, to understand their needs and empathize with their pain, to guide their spiritual work and teach them how to connect with their Divine, we must first connect with ourselves. We must understand our own needs, empathize with our own pain. I’ve always loved the Socrates quote “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In the decade since I took those first conscious steps toward becoming Clergy, I’ve examined this life a lot, and it’s led me to see the worth and beauty in everything around us. It’s led me to become the woman, the wife, the friend, the teacher, the mother, the Clergy that I am today.

-Cynthia O'Malley

Cindy is an eclectic pagan Priestess, an artist, a writer, a teacher, and more. She earned a Master’s in English from MTSU with a thesis that combines pop culture and Jungian shadow work. Based in Tennessee with her wife, but traveling as often as financially possible, Cindy currently spends most of her time creating things and preparing for her upcoming grandchild