I know what you’re going to say “Gef, why no Earth Day post?”
BECAUSE EVERY DAY IS EARTH DAY TO A VANATRUAR!
Seriously though, you don’t need a special day to think about saving the planet, but that’s not what I want to discuss today.
I see this term “laity” being tossed about in relation to Paganism(s) lately, and it reminded me of a discussion at the Cauldron awhile back about the roles of clergy and laypersons, and why most Pagans felt the need to “be their own priest/ess”.
First, what do I mean by “laity”?
A layperson is someone who is not a member of the clergy or in a specialized profession. Full stop.
And yet, for me (and, I suspect, for some of you) this term carries a lot of baggage. In my birth religion, not only are there strict restrictions on what a layperson can do (and they get very specific on this), but if you happen to be a woman, you can kiss any hope of advancement goodbye, because NO PRIESTHOOD FOR YOU!
But it’s okay, they tell you, because women can be saints! And people pray to saints! Oh, and Mary! Mary is cool! Why do you need the priesthood and it’s weaksauce earthly power when you can be super awesome after you die???
So you see why I have this gut reaction to the term when I see Pagans, polytheists, and the like toss it around so casually.
The thing is, the divide between “clergy” and “laity” kind of falls apart when you consider solitary practitioners. In a nutshell, here are some of the things the average Pagan does on a daily basis:
- Set up altars/sacred spaces (in fact, this is often the FIRST THING anyone tells a beginner)
- Make offerings
- Commune with deities/spirits/other entities (through various methods)
- Perform divination (for self and others)
- Study texts associated with their tradition
- Create and conduct rituals (at times, even public rituals, depending on tradition)
- Celebrate holidays
In many cultures, at least some of these items were things that were done by members of the clergy (and most of the time, clergy had particular specialties as well). The average person likely had home-based rites that they performed, but if you wanted to, say, consult an oracle, have some divination done, or someone in your family needed to undergo a rite-of-passage, you may have needed the services of a specialist.
I think it’s blatantly obvious to everyone that most of us don’t have access to clergy in the same way that our ancestors did. Nor do we have the kind of numbers that would support a full-time, hereditary clergy.
And then there are those of us who are just fine doing things on our own.
Most importantly, the deities don’t really seem to give a fuck whether everyone they talk to is a member of the clergy or not.
Now am I saying that the concepts of “clergy” and “laity” have no meaning? Well, as a solitary, I think the distinction is largely irrelevant to what I do. After all, my community is myself. I mean, obviously I don’t have a license to officiate at weddings and such, but nothing’s stopping me from (theoretically) getting one (except that the Canadian government has very Christian-centric guidelines when it comes to deciding who can and cannot legally marry people).
So, I suppose what I am saying is that I am not an ordained clergywoman, even so, I’m not sure referring to your average Pagan as “laity” (or assuming that, indeed, “clergy” and “laity” have universal roles that can be applied across traditions) is really the correct term to use. Of course, this could just be due to all the baggage I’m carrying re: a religious tradition that basically said “BEGONE WITH YE, WOMAN!”
Personally, I think I’m more of a Pagan Beguine.