One of the biggest problems facing the neopagan community is the general lack of qualifications of its clergy. Sure, someone may become a third-degree high priestess of a Wiccan coven or achieve the seventh degree of the OTO and prance about calling himself a bishop but, without proper training in pastoral counseling, what do these puffed-up, ego-inflating titles merit? Precious little when it comes to moderating or remedying the interpersonal problems of their respective covens or bishoprics.
Pastoral counseling qualifications vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are often poorly formulated in the United States. That is, a person who attends a so-called Bible college for a few years may become the main minister and counselor for a megachurch serving thousands to tens of thousands of parishioners yet still be woefully ignorant of psychology. The problem is even worse in the neopagan community where no formal education is required for advancement. Further compounding the problem is a general lack of oversight when it comes to the bona fides of so-called doctors who achieved their title by purchasing it through the mail from the Universal Life Church (see my previous articles dealing with Allen Greenfield for an example of the misuse of novelty doctorates acquired under dubious circumstances).
Attrition in the pagan community is a serious problem. The number of persons taking Wicca 101 classes at the local occult bookstore often far surpasses the number of people who stay around, join a coven, or make a commitment to the Wiccan or neopagan communities. This is largely because the people who run such classes haven’t worked through their own baggage and lack any significant training to help others with their own problems.
“Well, we’re not psychologists and that’s beyond the scope of what we can provide,” is a failed argument when we consider that any sufficiently large Christian church or Jewish temple has a minister or rabbi capable of offering some small measure of counseling. Generally, the better established the church (Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, United Methodist, etc.) the better trained the minister and the more capable they are of offering emotional and psychological support. So why, then, doesn’t the neopagan community follow suit and insist on legitimate education in psychology and counseling for their own clergy? Because that takes time, effort, and money; it also requires introspection and consideration that most people who are drawn to magical belief systems are engaged in escapism.
One or two workshops on psychological first-aid won’t suffice for anyone who wants to be a leader of a spiritual community. Genuine education is necessary and that means the path to the upper degrees of most systems must, of necessity, be closed off to the bulk of aspirants. Unfortunately, this catch-22 scenario demands a level of discipline that the neopagan community simply can’t meet.