Lay Paganism

This came about because the Polytheism Facebook page posted one of John Beckett’s articles from Patheos.  While that article has to deal with the fear of the gods that one might have, it briefly touched on some insecurities that many have had.  I made a comment about lay practice, which has been on my mind since reading this post from the God’s Mouths 2.0 project blog.  Everyone should read it, I think.  Both, in fact.

I have some theories on why so many people have an issue with being “simple” lay practitioners of their faith.  It seems that wherever you turn on the Internet there’s somebody claiming that they have experienced something profound.  Something intensely spiritual or mystical, perhaps intense and vivid out of body experiences/pathwalking sessions, who knows.  That they have some connection to a deity, or have deep, soul-changing trance sessions, or that they might have some more concrete connections with the deities themselves.

This somehow translates as having more worth to certain people, and there are always going to be those who use their ‘special qualities’ to make themselves feel better and more important.

Western society, especially American society, is founded upon principles of individualism.  Capitalism itself is a process by which individuals can work towards their own betterment.  Entire schools of sociology have been dedicated to the exercise of power and agency and all of those fun little social scientific words that get thrown around with increasing regularity.  I think, coming from a largely secularized, consumerist and inherently egocentric society it can be difficult to fall into a role of a lay practitioner.

Because we, as a society, are dedicated to the idea of extreme individualism, we seek to try to find something that represents ourselves; something that can differentiate us from the mass of our fellows.  Something that is, in effect, a large neon sign proclaiming who or what we are.  I have a few thoughts why people strive so hard to make Paganism seem like such a big deal:

  • They might come from a religious background where they were simply one practitioner among hundreds of others, their voices drowned out in the back of the church and no longer want to feel like “one of the herd”.
  • They require external validation because they’re coming from a largely secularist society which, founded upon reason and logic, innately positions them against an expenditure of time or energy on “unfounded ideals” on something like religion or spiritualism.
  • They simply want something to differentiate themselves from the mundane.

I’m sure there are others.  And really, this is not a critique on them, at all.  We each have reasons for doing what we do, although I will criticize the individuals who use their experiences to lord over others.  This seems to be pretty common on Tumblr.

If I could give only one word of advice to anyone who is interested in, newly joined, or returning to any kind of Paganism it would be something like this:

Being a lay practitioner is absolutely, inherently, and utterly acceptable.  There is not a damn thing wrong with it, at all.  Never feel like you are forced to measure up against anyone else.  The only person who you have to measure up against is yourself.

It is only a very small minority of mystics, contemplatives, and other spiritual positions that will ever have any kind of position of clarity with the Gods.  This is not saying that it will never happen to any one – I have had a scant few experiences myself.  But not everyone is going to have a deep relationship with even one deity, let alone anything resembling all of them.  A great many practitioners of the Paganisms do so without external validation; they practice, worship, pray, and most importantly believe.  And they do this by, excuse me for this one, having faith.

It is perfectly acceptable to have radio silence.  It is not a unique situation to be in, no matter what it looks like on the Internet.  There is nothing wrong with what you are doing – you are not Doing It Wrong™ by practicing with no signal clarity.  And I say this being a person who is unable to voluntarily leave his body, who has not had any contact with any of my own deities in over sixteen years.  I’m not speaking of this as someone who is in a position where I am privileged to have these events.

Think of the number of people who practice other forms of spirituality and religions.  Look at the number of, say, Christian worshipers to the number of Christian mystics.  It’s a dreadfully small number, even throughout history.  But those lay practitioners are no less important to the foundation of that faith than the mystics and theurges.

I personally think that it is egocentric assumption that the Gods are going to want to have in depth relationships with all of their practitioners, one that edges close to hubris to assume that they should be.  I also think it is self-depreciating masochism to inherently assume that it is something wrong with you that they don’t.

Being a lay practitioner doesn’t invalidate the individuality that we have.  It doesn’t make us less worthy to worship, or lessen our worth in the eyes of the Gods and spirits.  It doesn’t mean that those with greater signal clarity are better people, better followers, better religious practitioners than we are.

This does not get emphasized enough.  People fall into the allure of Paganism, the spellwork of the Wiccan faiths, or the deep spiritual connections that the shamanic paths have, or the esoteric nature of the occult traditions, and they just want to be special in those regards.  I can appreciate that.  Nobody wants to get lost in the grind.  But those things aren’t what makes that person worthy.






These are some of the things that measure the worth of a lay practitioner.  Keep that in mind, and do not let anyone make you feel otherwise.

Thanks for reading.

~ by thelettuceman on September 1, 2013.

14 Responses to “Lay Paganism”

  1. Beautiful thank you for this. It is nice read some reality on Pagan Spirituality so encouraging and refreshing.

  2. This post seems to be conflating two totally different things, though. Which seems to be a common problem for a lot of folks weighing in on this whole topic.
    Many of us call it “woo”. Woo isn’t laity, laity isn’t woo. You can be a completely headblind priest. YOu can be an astral traveling layman, too. Laity and woo aren’t mutually exclusive, and yet everyone seems to think that if you have a decent god radio, you are suddenly a priest- which just isn’t the case in many religions.

    Otherwise, I would agree – there is nothing wrong with being a layman (I consider myself laity). However, I wish people would stop equating “woo” to priesthood. x.x;;

    • The issue with the term “Lay” or “Laity” comes from the inherent application of it used almost exclusively in a Christian context – a context that, in part, has strict rules over the teaching and ordination of ‘actual’ members of the clergy. At this time, there are very few Paganisms with enough foundation to offer certifiable clerical training which that term can be more appropriately applied. I do not consider paying twenty-five dollars to the ULC for their insta-ordination to be an applicable line for what constitutes a cleric or priest in a Pagan faith.

      Never mind that there were Christian organizations that also made the differentiation between ordained monks and ‘lay brothers’, who were religious monks but not. So take that as you will.

      As I said, there are very few Pagan organizations that cater to any form of theological seminary and, even if they do, they do not seem to be wide-spread or recognized across the board. They’re proliferating, to be sure, but it is a slow process. But let’s be perfectly frank here: Anyone in the Pre-Christian world with a “god radio” would have been seen as some kind of ordained figure, whether enrolled in a formal institution or not. Generally, someone who could work the weather, or speak to the spirits, or interpret signs from the natural world would have been pressed into service for the good of the greater group. Sweeping generalizations aside, of course.

      In light of this, I feel that using the term “Lay Paganism” for someone who is cut off from other forces, who receives no signal clarity from the Gods, or cannot commune in general is appropriate, if only for the lack of a better term. Call it what you will. Call it a split from Devotional practices and Mystical practices, if that makes you feel better. As Devotional practices gain traction against the more traditional “woo”-oriented ones, perhaps, that will be realigned. But for now, it works for me.

      • I have to disagree because in certain religions (Kemeticism, Shinto- for examples) priesthood was a job. It was a set of rituals that you did day in and day out and it had nothing to do with hearing the gods. It was a job- cut and dry and simple as that.
        I think that there are likely a third category of people that modern Pagans don’t consider much and that are the people are aren’t quite laity but aren’t quite priests. People who haven’t been trained to be a priest (because its a job and you hve to know how to do it and have the time to do it- at least in certain circles) but are still more involved than the avg lay person. That, or something that might be equated to the concept of the local shaman or spirit worker- that has little or nothing to do with the local temple and hte priests within.
        But then again, I don’t know which religious paradigm you’re working with. I can only reference what I know- and that’s Kemetic and Shinto 😛

  3. Reblogged this on Twilight and Fire and commented:
    Marc at Of Axe and Plow has written a great essay on exactly why being Pagan laity isn’t just okay — it’s normal.

  4. Reblogged this on The Patron Saint of Hard Times.

  5. Thank you for sharing this, it helped me a lot.

  6. Reblogged this on Of fire and ice and commented:
    “The Norns’ Rule: Dedication. Walk your path as you understand it, and as the Gods tell you to, and let no mortal opinion get in the way of your Wyrd. “

  7. Reblogged this on musings of a kitchen witch and commented:
    I love this. I think its a brilliantly written post that everyone should read…and I plan to share it everywhere.

  8. Loved this. It makes a nice change to read something that is quite real and down to earth. Being pagan does not automatically make a person a mystic or being an ear to the gods/spirits. Like any other religion or spiritual life it is about devotion and living your life a certain way. I’m a witch and see what I do as a practice

  9. This is a brilliant, sane and easily-understood essay. I’m sharing this with everybody I can just because I think a lot of us need to read it. I know I needed to read it for several points you made. Thank you!

  10. […] Having standards is controversial. Being a religious specialist is controversial. Being a lay person is controversial. Being earth-centered is controversial. Giving religious instruction to […]

  11. […] Marc at Of Axe and Plough, which is an awesome name for a website, has written about people’s need to feel special: […]

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