Column: Quality (Control) Leadership

How do we know if a Pagan leader is any good, is ethical, or if they are qualified to teach or lead? Today we have their writings and their reputation. This can be a lot, but the standards are inherently subjective and some kind of objective verification would be beneficial. Some matters, like lineage and certification, can be strictly factual. Can these be verified with confidence? Would it be good to have a trusted place to look up any Pagan leader’s qualifications, history and reputation?

Lydia Crabtree, has just such a project. Called Pagan Pro, the idea is to produce an on-line database to which leaders in our community can register and have third-party verification of their Pagan and academic qualifications. The ability of the public to comment on and validate the skills and character of those leaders will be featured.

Pagan Pro logoWhat are the ethics of this? What choices do we have? Our way has generally been ad hoc. Strategies of staying under the radar, out of public light, and unaccountable except to our immediate circle have been fading away as Paganism is becoming a better known minor religion. With the exposure, we, as with other societies and communities, need better ways of validating the quality of leaders with whom we wish to work. This comes with the specter of ‘professionalism’.

In the medieval period, three professions arose: medicine, law, and theology, for doctors, lawyers and (mostly) priests. To do any of them required an education and certification process, often with a licensing dimension as well. One went to a qualified school, got a degree or certificate, and then was granted a license to practice by some authority. This was hardly different than the trades, where (simplifying enormously) the apprenticeship was the education, your master administered the tests and attested to your skills, and then you were inducted into the guild as a peer to engage in your trade. What they all have in common is an educational process, validated by the educator, and then again by the members of the profession. The peer relationship is most visible in the trades and least in theology, which was subject to the authority of the church.

In modern times, these structures are still present and echoing in medical, legal, and other trade organizations which create a professional body to certify or license members of the profession. In this case, peers police themselves. They are, usually, highly motivated to protect the reputation of the profession and recognize that the bad actions of one reflects badly upon all.

Less present today, but not absent, are those organizations that have a hierarchy in place to qualify members. In this case a central organization is created that validates and vouches for the quality and character of its professionals. This is the common mode in religious professions and the Roman Catholic Church is the archetype. The hierarchy itself has institutional power to enforce its standards and, in theory, should maintain the quality of its member professionals.

As Pagan culture advances, we will need to find ways of validating the quality of our leadership. Should we choose to create professional organizations, and certainly some of the lineages attain to this capacity in some measure, this approach would require Pagan leaders to subject themselves to each other’s scrutiny, and be willing to accept the judgment of their peers. Our fiercely independent character, born of years of oppression, make it hard to yield to external authority.

Creating a centralized organization with the authority to control, deploy, and discipline Pagan leaders is even less likely. Seriously, would we ever do that? But it is the most direct method and available to those organizations and societies that have consolidated power. A few Pagan or para-Pagan organizations have this kind of structure and wield that kind of power over their membership, but the community as a whole would never stand for it. Overall our kind of authority structure most matches an immature and developing form of what we see richly and maturely in Hindu culture, with its highly distributed power and plural, diverse, centers of authority.

Since we are not going to put up with a centralized top-down power structure (and nor should we), and we may be a ways out from creating any kind of Pagan leader professional organization (if we ever do make one), we still have the problem of being able to vet our leadership.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree [courtesy photo]

This is what Pagan Pro is seeking to find a way around. Since the primary task is informational, the seeker should have a way of looking up a leader’s qualifications in order to choose more wisely. Does a given person have the skills to lead a Pagan group or to teach a Pagan way?

The Pagan Pro scheme is to ask each leader or teacher to post their qualifications, and then have a staff member validate them though research. Did this person get trained to the level and from the person they claim? Do they have the academic education claimed? Are they members of any Pagan organizations? And so on…

The Pagan Pro organization would base and stake its reputation on the fact checking. A service like this could be a registry for leaders asserting that they follow professional standards around the treatment of students, sexual conduct, willingness to adjudicate conflicts and others. Then if they are found in violation of these principles, the breech could be published there too. More aggressively, should a Kenny Kline-type predator emerge, then they could be logged on Pagan Pro, as could any other person who failed a background check and still sought leadership status. While this is intended to be a non-judgmental resource, that may prove difficult if it does include anything other than a factual listing of a person’s claimed qualifications.

In the next months Pagan Pro will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to get the project moving. At that point you will have the opportunity to vote with your wallet communicating your opinion as to how valuable this idea is for our community. But, since we have the advantage of the blogging medium, I invite you to discuss the concept in the comments below. I’m sure Lydia Crabtree will be listening.

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Disclosure: Lydia Crabtree is the sister of Wild Hunt columnist, Crystal Blanton.

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57 thoughts on “Column: Quality (Control) Leadership

  1. Sounds cool ! Support!

    I specially think it would be good to put the record straight regarding leaders’s academic achievements which are sometimes a bit shady.

  2. I’d be curious to learn how this approach would deal with someone who didn’t choose to post eir qualifications, but for whom posting some background about arrest records and such would be extremely helpful.

    • What would constitute “passing” a background check in this scheme? I’d want to know if someone has a history of domestic abuse or violent crime or fraud. I’m not going to discount someone as a teacher because of a pot bust. Pagans who get involved with social justice or environmental issues are constantly being arrested for one thing or another in their work.

  3. I favour formally qualified priests (note that a priest is not necessarily a leader, merely the celebrant or officiator) rather than the “I’m a priest and no one can say otherwise” model currently in vogue.

    Someone who wants to serve their community in a clerical function should first seek to become professionally competent in all the duties they intend to administer.

    Once that is achieved, then they can start offering their services and seeing if their community accept them.

    The “Pagan Pro” scheme is a great way for communities to verify the claims made by those who would serve their religious needs.

    I approve.

    • Of course one can say otherwise. Voting with one’s feet is an ANCIENT tradition in the Pagan community.

      There’s a gentleman in the Pagan community whom I’ve known off and on for 20-odd years who identifies himself as a priest, and who titles himself “Reverend,” and in that time he’s been the leader of 15-odd pagan groups of various sorts, none of which are currently extant.

      On the other hand, within the Asatru community, they also have a proverb: “if you say you are a ghodi, and nobody laughs, then yes, you are a ghodi.”

  4. I Highly agree with this concept. If a person wishes to be a member of the clergy that serves the general public, validation of qualifications should be a must. I Also agree that some form of background check should be preformed to check for mental,physical & sexual abusers as well.

  5. Color me skeptical at this point. I can see some potential, but many potential pitfalls as well. Verification of formal academic degrees would be a useful and relatively non-controversial function of this verification agency. But what does that really tell us about someone’s leadership skills or character (unless of course they lie outright). Trying to verify qualifications such as Wiccan degrees and lineage is going to ensnare you in some vicious intra-trad politics. Trying to mediate whether someone is a “real” priestess or initiate of a given trad or lineage is an invitation to Witch War 2.0. Back to my first point, qualifications on paper carry little weight with me. The sleaziest, most manipulative energy vampire of a teacher I ever had was eminently qualified on paper.

    Other questions which come to mind are: What are/will be the professional standards of conduct? How will you adjudicate complaints? Will the standards tend to exclude anyone whose tradition is not middle of the road vanilla. For example, will skyclad initiations or workings be considered “unprofessional” in the push by some to make paganism safe for mainstream consumption? What about animal sacrifice?

    Issues of sexual harassment are going to be extremely difficult to deal with through this mechanism. If someone is a registered and convicted offender, that’s very straightforward. How though would you deal with the Kenny Klines and the many characters who sort of have a skeevy reputation at festivals but nothing well documented against them? Some serious libel issues come into play. Likewise, there are hazards to giving a stamp of approval to a teacher as “kid safe”. If you turn out to be wrong, victims attorneys are going to come after you.

    On a practical level you’re going to have to convince the Pagan Pros that it will be worth their time and scrutiny and money to participate. I foresee it costing them a few hundred bucks a year to maintain this service and/or a substantial fee for end users to check credentials.

    This all may prove of value to organizations hiring these folks for programs, but at the ground level of students, I still see nothing that will substitute for one’s own good sense and things like the CULT evaluation tools such as those put out by Isaac Bonewits years ago.

    • It’s not going to fix everything, but it is better than nothing.

      Some things (such as the Wiccan degrees that you mentioned) can only be monitored “in house”, and these things require specific infrastructure.

      In the UK, if someone wants to be deemed “child safe”, they can get an enhanced criminal record background check (ECRB) to do so (one must have this prior to working in a school or fostering, for example).

      • Depending on how the site works, there’s no guarantee it’s “better than nothing”. In fact, depending on how they allow or fail to allow critical comments about leaders, it has the possibility of being worse than nothing– “well, they check out on PaganPro” would lend a false sense of security if there is substantial criticism that the site won’t allow to be posted for legal reasons. (It may end up being wonderful, I just wanted to caution against thinking that any attempt at a solution is better than none at all, as that’s a fallacy.)

        • Fair point. However, I do agree that something has to be done, as opposed to the nothing currently going on.

          The institutional phobia of organisation makes no logical sense.

          • There’s not “nothing” currently going on. There’s nothing *official* currently going on. As I found out after asking around about this sort of thing, if you openly pass around allegations in any kind of official way, you open yourself and your organization up to a metric bleepton of legal trouble. I don’t think it’s just fear of organization that makes people leery. That said, this site could take down some of the most obvious offenders, and that’s not a bad thing (although as said upthread, I’m leery of the seal being used as “see, leader X is fine!” when that’s far from the case). Unless someone is independently wealthy enough to survive the legal burden of putting unproven allegations out there, I still think the two best ways of passing this information are face-to-face and via anonymous internet.

          • I haven’t fully read up on the scheme, but if it works by hosting the educational details,plus any relevant legal certification (such as the ECRB here in the UK), then I am seeing plenty of positive in it.

            If nothing else, it could inspire others to do something similar for their own organisations.

    • I agree with much of what you said. Will this create pressure for groups to become more “acceptable” by the mainstream culture?

    • I’d like to know what happens when a leader leads a cult? The problem I’ve always had with Bonewits’ evaluation frame is that if you *knew* a group did all the things that would qualify them as a cult on that frame, nobody would ever join. Any reasonably successful cult lies like a rug, you don’t find out how bad it is until you’re too far in to easily just drop affiliation. Because cults lie, they’re very, very interested in anyone saying anything about them where potential recruits might hear it. And by “interested”, I mean “they will harass the hell out of you and whatever site you’re on until you back down or the site takes it down, with lawyers if they’re able”. Their first line is to attack the whistleblower, their second to appeal to any moderators that this whistleblower is clearly crazy, so they should rise above the fray and ban the person or the topic. How is Ms. Crabtree’s project positioned to deal with this? Because I promise it’ll go one of two ways– either it’ll be a pack of sanitized BS with no dissent allowed, or the site is going to have to fend off some very angry groups and their legal maneuvers. And that’s w/r/t genuinely crappy groups that routinely mistreat members– that’s not counting issues that are primarily theological, like where someone purports to be recon but teaches a bunch of UPG and calls it scholarship.

    • I have to agree with what you said. Some of use belong to oathbound traditions, and lineage is something that cannot be disclosed outside the tradition (unless it is fully composed of ‘outed’ witches and the person is fine with stating it).
      Also, the ‘leadership’ part is a bit ambiguous. Leadership is an abstract concept, only given by those who are led. It’s many times circumstancial. How are we going to simply label someone as a ‘leader’? Plus, it looks like it’s by-invitation.
      Another aspect is that it’s *very* (if not completely) US-centric. In Europe we don’t have Ministers or register churches the way US does. We know a Priest/Priestess/Druid by its background.
      Also, it seems another way to generate money, which I think it’s great (let’s have more self-sustained pagan projects!) but not when it comes to verification. If it’s intended to be a ‘global service’, then it should be accessible to all, even those who cannot afford it.
      What if we have two people in the same city but one of them cannot afford it? If the project is successful, people may look down at that person and wonder why isn’t ‘verified’. The service becomes a ‘necessity’.
      In my own humble opinion we are just trying to fit Paganism in other religions/insititutions’ shoes.

    • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is a bit skeptical. I’ve seen ideas like this tossed around before and they never seem to bear much fruit.

      I’m not sure a system like this can be applied to every Pagan tradition, and I’m sure there will be some traditions and groups who choose not to participate. If they are missing from such a database will people assume they are an amateur instead of a pro?

      • The more profound issue IMHO is that “amateur” vs “professional” is a set of categories that is imposed by the mainstream culture. It is not native to every, or even most, pagan religions. That is not to say that pagan religions make no distinctions among religious actors, only that those distinctions are not based primarily on whether or how the actor gets paid.

        That said, some religious actors in our society do ask to be paid, and having better ways to evaluate their qualifications might be helpful in some cases.

    • Exactly, and what about solo practioners who work with a Deity for years and that Deity says to them, “You are now my X (insert priest, godspouse, other position here)” which can be completely valid and true, but is impossible to judge by a peer review process? This sounds like it could be abused to police those people out who have gained such a position, but then have “politically incorrect” views in regards to the peer-reviewers

  6. An immediate issue I see is tracing a Pagan’s initiatory “qualifications” – for example myself. I was initiated 30 years ago by people I’ve lost contact with. If I make a claim of being a Third Degree – how would that be substantiated by this group?

    • There is quite a bit of information available on the site itself that should clear up a lot of questions.

  7. Sam I greatly appreciate this article! It presents the issue and the solution clearly. Very well-done!

  8. Having looked through the whole site, I’m concerned. There’s no budget allocated for legal services, for one thing, it’s all for hosting, web design, and staff pay. Do they know what to do if they’re legally challenged by leaders with a criminal record or unverified credentials? The article mentions “reputation”, “treatment of students”, “willingness to adjudicate conflicts”, but the site doesn’t cover this, only credentialing information (where it can be checked) and what information would be included in a criminal background check. Some of the worst offenders I know of would likely pass with flying colors! There’s all kinds of mention of keeping the circle safe from predators, but it seems this would only work if the predator has been *convicted*. It wouldn’t cover “known to be abusive but never convicted”. The closest to this is that there’s a limited-character field to present allegations and a limited-character field to rebut them. If they aren’t professional enough, they’re deleted, and I believe you have to pay to be able to do this– what constitutes “professional”, I’m not sure and they don’t say. You can’t in-general comment on a leader, you can only comment on the services they provide in the context of that service, so if you took a workshop from someone, you can only comment about that workshop. (I wonder how you’d comment that the workshop was just fine but the years of coercion after you joined their group, not so much?)

    I think it will handle *some* situations and filter out *some* problems– i.e. leaders with clearly fraudulent credentials and leaders with actual convictions. This is a good thing. Does it “make safe the circle”? As presented, not so much. As it seeks to pair students with proper leaders, also not so much. (Again, I can think of several leaders who have the degrees they claim to have and don’t, afaik, have any criminal convictions but who are so abusive I wouldn’t recommend them to my worst enemy. Having a Pagan Pro seal of approval would only make it harder to warn people against them, IMO.) I support the idea of peer verification and peer policing, I always have. I’m just not sure what the effect of this will be on the problems we face.

    • A criminal record background check will only spot those who have been caught, for sure.

      For those “known to be abusive but never convicted”, I can only say that people should focus on getting them convicted.

      • That’s a pretty tall order sometimes. Abusive to kids, somewhat easier. Abusive to adults, depending on how they’re abusive it ranges from possible but difficult to plain impossible. Also, not everyone is able to withstand the secondary trauma of going through the court system (and if you’ve been raped, it will often be exactly that). It’s important to pass information about bad actors even if there’s no criminal conviction.

          • And other terms resulting from failing to share information you have can be “rape”, “molestation”, “coercion”, and “PTSD”. Don’t be so concerned for your own legal protection that you turn a blind eye to abuse in your midst.

        • As we have seen, recently, that is not being done very well, anyway.

          My point does stand, though, a process of accreditation verification, in combination with an ECRB is a positive step forward.

  9. I wish this site had been running for years before now. It would have saved a great many people so much time and heartache. I’m glad people are working to make it a reality now.

  10. This is great and all, but still seems like it is no more than a pagan-flavored classified ad. Also, exactly how do they propose “fact checking” pagan leaders. Having to submit a list of references who can be contacted to ensure a person is who they say they are is full of holes, especially if i have friends who will vouch for anything i do. there is no central learning system we can check history of teachings through. anyone can be a pagan leader, by purchasing a ministry license and setting up a learning curriculum. While I agree that we need to be able to know who is a “worthy leader” to get behind in our pagan study/journey, i do not see how that can be accomplished this way. To be honest I like the idea of a central-organization to obtain licensing or some form of accreditation from.

  11. This sounds like it’s designed to be abused – either by stalkers and trolls, or by people who are engaging in hunts that would make Joe McCarthy proud.

    I have some deep reservations about this project, and I’m not sure that there’s enough information available (an ethics statement on the part of the team running it, maybe?) to make me want to trust it. I hope I’m just reading into it wrong.

  12. LinkedIn for Pagan Leaders? If a group lacks enough good sense not to accept any seemingly wise and practiced teacher as a group leader without so much as a FaceBook message or phone call to their former community, then it has big problems that even PaganPro can’t fix. If one is an ambitious, narcississtic, egomaniacal, abusive powermonger with a guru complex, academic acumen, glamourous charisma, and equally effed up people willing to vouch for their training, then PaganPro will do much to establish one’s reputation in the Pagan community that will be victimized by them. And if one is a Kenny Kline-type whose crimes are as-yet-undiscovered or are ignored because of their cult of personality, PaganPro isn’t going to be terribly helpful in saving innocents from them.

    So what exactly will PaganPro accomplish? Ultimately, PaganPro is about brokering access to power and authority in ways that could be easily abused, and which may not be particularly effective. There is also the question of exactly how much right people have to invade your privacy in exchage for your advantageous participation in their “vetted” power structure.

    It’s true that I am a PhD-holding ethnographer and Pagan scholar with a little research under my belt and no desire to participate in Pagan leadership, so my stake in this discussion isn’t tertibly high. But I am pretty concerned overall at the move towards institutionalization, professionalization, and academic/theological emphasis that is happening within Paganism. Primarily, I see PaganPro as part of the shift toward orthodoxy and institutionalization that is starting to happen. With this shift will inevitably come the silencing of voices deemed “undesirable, many of whom may not have the “preferred credentials,” even if they were raised, initiated, and trained in an indigenous or traditional community that could care less about PaganPro, but whose perspective and experience the Pagan community sorely needs. Exactly this problem happens all the time in academia-the silencing of elders and activists from traditional and indigenous cultures wjo want to participate in the academic construction of how they are seen and understood.

    If we weren’t still struggling to climb out from under the weight of institutionalized near-eastern monotheist orthodoxy, maybe I’d feel more optimistic. As it is, I fear we run the risk of inherting the bad habits of disenfranchisement, gaming the system, and Othering which characterize instirutionalized monotheist orthodoxy along with any of the benefits that come with it. PaganPro needs to tread very carefully.

    • “If one is an ambitious, narcississtic, egomaniacal, abusive powermonger
      with a guru complex, academic acumen, glamourous charisma, and equally
      effed up people willing to vouch for their training, then PaganPro will
      do much to establish one’s reputation in the Pagan community that will
      be victimized by them.”

      This is my concern exactly, perhaps because I know a few people that sentence could apply to and was victimized by one of them.

    • I agree.

      I’m all for the development of a line that defines what IS and what is NOT “Pagan”, even as an umbrella term of related religions. I don’t mind orthodoxy, and I know I’m in a minority because of that statement.

      But I see this action as a more likely result in splitting religious identity. I understand that this is always going to be a risk when dealing with a fractious community. Reconstructionist religious groups that have their own systems of being vetted and of priestly training, and might not appreciate being expected to “pay to play” under this system.

      There is no ethical statement from the organization based on the rules or regulations that guides what they consider to be well and good. I know people who have sex rites in their Beltane festivals. It’s expected for a couple to volunteer. Does the presiding priest/priestess/officiant get “verified” by someone in Pagan Pro’s organization who might have a personal bias AGAINST those actions?

      There are no guarantees of protection of privacy. It does not even approach the topic of attempting to rationalize and work around many people’s desire to keep their spiritual persona separate from their public, legal one. Beyond even professional reasons for this, social and cultural and familial reasons for it. Or are these people “unable” to become priests because they can’t be forced through a security/background check because of their choice of pseudonyms? I can’t believe the online Pagan blogosphere would allow this to happen with the recent blow up about Facebook.

      As an aside: I really appreciate (sarcasm) the fact that their mission tag line is “Make safe the circle”, while the tumblr announcement of PaganPro flat out claims that they are “not in the business of protecting the community.”

    • I agree heartily with what you say about the danger schemes of this kind pose to religious authority in indigenous and traditional communities, as well as among neopagans of various stripes.

      I don’t think monotheism has much to do with the problems you cite. Not many Westerners realize the extent to which religious authority in Islam is an absolute free-for-all except in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where one sect has established itself as a state religion. Judaism has multiple sects with independent institutions for ordination, which recognize each other’s credentials to varying degrees. One of them, Hasidism, confers authority through a lineage system similar to Buddhist sects and Wicca.

      IMHO orthodoxy isn’t a problem per se; it only becomes a problem when orthodox adherents attempt to obtain a monopoly of power or privilege. It is a historical accident that Christianity leans in that direction. It happened because the Emperor Constantine wanted to impose a state religion more politically effective than the pagan state religion he had going. Competition for money and power are the root causes of “disenfranchisement, gaming the system, and Othering”, not any particular theology.

  13. It will be fun to sit outside and watch the explosions. For the reasons already brought and a few more, this is playing hopscotch in a minefield. You have too many people who simply are not going to go along with the system and whose followers are just not going to care.

  14. I’m strongly against the idea of a formal (criminal) background check. I believe this is a very dangerous. Frankly, I find it a frightening thing to propose. In my country it may even be illegal to have a public criminal database that Pagan Pro is proposing. (Australia)

    I consider it a major breach of privacy and also believe that if the system has granted a person their freedom they are free of their crime on release. We should also not discount that people do find themselves in prison and become better people as a result. What right does Pagan Pro have to expose a person’s history when the LAW has already forgiven them?

    I also see flaws in the idea, given many sexual predators do not have prior convictions before being caught. Ie. look at the Catholic church, recent cases in the UK with performers and possible politicians.

    In terms of secular teaching: many I respect and consider wise have no formal training above high school, some are high school dropouts. Yet, they have such an incredible, vast wealth of knowledge behind them. To prioritise ‘leaders’ on their official higher education seems stupid.

    • In the UK, there is a legal requirement for individuals to pass enhanced criminal record background checks prior to working with the young and with the vulnerable.

      Similarly, to work within a place of education, you are expected to have provable competence – this is done by having a certificate of education of some kind.

      The system is not going to catch everyone, obviously, but it should provide a filter.

  15. Pagan X comes into a community making wild claims about training and
    lineage, then a member can set up a page on Page X and ask Pagan Pro to
    verify the claims. Pagan Pro will reach out to Pagan X and offer them to
    finish the profile and attempt to verify the claims of Pagan X.

    So, basically, pay up or shut up?
    Ripe for abuse.

  16. First and foremost, “Paganism” is NOT a religion, it is a loose term for various spiritual and religious traditions that can vary so widely as to make the credential stuff just plain ludicrous. I have never sought a leadership position in Paganism myself and in fact our tradition stresses that you don’t come to us for answers, all we can do is help you look to the Divine within yourself for your answers.

    Screw this idea, it will be misused as a weapon by those with personal agendas.

    • This has bothered me all day and now I think I can put a finger on why. The whole premise is based on capitalistic consumerism. I’ve been a practicing Pagan for more than fifty years, or as I sometimes joke, almost as long as Wicca has been a religion. I have never charged anyone anything for teaching in all those years so frankly, if you don’t find value in what I offer, I don’t give two handfuls of wetwhatever, go elsewhere. But the idea of some strangers passing judgement on what I teach, that’s just damn disrespectful. How are you going to validate the fact I was teaching classes in Paganism for the Ohio State Free University back in the mid seventies or that I was the adviser on occult matters to the OSU psychology department then? Hell, I almost never write about my own credentials because so many of today’s so called Pagans are little more than spoiled brats who seem threatened that I lived this long and did stuff and how dare I even mention it. Especially when I was too busy doing the work to crank out a bunch of witchcrap books.

      I offer freely to those who want to learn but do not make the mistake that I or any other teacher for that matter, needs you as a “consumer” because I don’t and I find the very idea offensive as hell. I believe in what I teach and share it but it isn’t a product. This whole project is an excellent example of why I limit my contact these days with the greater Pagan communities.

      • I disagree that teachers shouldn’t be checked to see if they are what they say they are, to the degree that’s possible. One rather famous case in my religion of a “Dr. (name)” who presents himself as a professional mythologist when his doctorate is actually in jazz music and he has no more knowledge of that culture’s mythology than any other enthusiastic amateur does (and, as it’s a reconstructionist religion, you can’t throw a stone without hitting 16 equally learned enthusiastic amateur scholars). There’s obviously nothing wrong with being an amateur scholar, but there’s something wrong with passing yourself off as something you’re not and making people think you have academic credentials that you don’t. (Another, even more famous case in the general public– right-wing advice radio host “Dr. Laura” who isn’t a psychologist, her degree is in physiology.)

        Likewise, if you’re joining a Gardnerian coven, you’d want to know that it is, in fact, a Gardnerian coven. Nothing like training for years with a group and then meeting people they think are their peers only to find out they’ve been sold a bill of goods and nothing they’ve learned is actually Gardnerian and their initiator made it up. If you enter into training with someone, you have the right to know whether you’re actually getting what they purport to be teaching you.

        Whether this site is the best way to do that, though, I’m skeptical. But I don’t think it’s capitalist to want to know if your teacher is truthful, nor to say that there is a degree of out-and-out fraud going on that has a serious negative impact on the people taken in by it.

        • Never mistake a degree for knowledge…
          The very best works on Goddess theology were written by women with degrees in Art etc. One reason this is true is that up to now no one has such a degree. Actually this will change soon as one of our younger priestesses is getting her Phd in Goddess theology.

          Your very choice of language made my point btw…….. sold a bill of goods etc. indicates you aren’t concerned with actual spirituality but a religious merit badge.

          • “sold a bill of goods etc. indicates you aren’t concerned with actual spirituality but a religious merit badge”

            Not true at all. If Priestess X says “I lead an eclectic Wiccan coven, would you like you join?” and you then study with her for %years, you know what you signed up for. If Priestess X says “I lead a Gardnerian coven, are you interested?” and you then study with her for %years and then find out that she actually taught you eclectic Wicca and Gardnerians don’t recognize you as part of their community, that person just got sold a pile of fraud. I made no judgment on which is better or more spiritually moving (and indeed the fraud coven may be so, and the person may think “well, okay, I still really like this system”), just that if you purport to be teaching a thing, you should actually be teaching that thing. If my hypothetical student *never* discovers the fraud, they pass it on and severs all of *their* students from the community they thought they were becoming a part of by joining their coven. If spirituality is all that matters, why claim a fake credential in the first place?

            Another example– all of the people who thought in reasonably good faith that they were learning some kind of Native lore or practice that is nothing of the kind, with consequences up to and including being killed by a fake sweat lodge using massively unsafe practices (that has been mentioned in several WH stories). I don’t know about you, but I’d feel safer at a sweat lodge I know is being conducted by someone trained in a traditional way than someone who went to one once or read about it in a book– there’s a more reasonable expectation that “how to do this so that people don’t die” is passed on to the first one than there is with the second one.

          • Also: no, I don’t mistake a degree for knowledge even if it’s genuine. Some of the worst fail I’ve ever seen when it comes to passing off UPG as lore was by someone with a serious enough academic degree to know better. The things they teach seem to work for a number of people, but what I can absolutely say those people didn’t get is the thing they were told they were getting. Is it spiritually valuable? Maybe. But every time I see one of their students encounter the actual cultural worldview, they can’t get past the incorrect model they were taught and filter everything they read through it. So even if you check the credential it still isn’t a guarantee that what you get is what you signed up for. (And will, imo, make it even harder to call teachers like this into question because “PaganPro checked their credentials and they passed”.)

    • I’ll leave this conversation with this observation, the Cybeline priestesses of the Maetreum just finished the most intense vetting possible for seven years of being under the microscope of a team of lawyers questioning everything about us. We have the stamp of approval of the highest court in New York now and it cost us a bloody fortune so we could not afford to pay for a “stamp of approval” at any rate nor feel we need one.

  17. Initially, this sounds like a good idea.
    However, I do have some concerns. This does sound like it could be the road to a Pagan pope type thing. Okay, so those wanting to be Leaders have to have peer review and so forth of their stuff. That’s fine and all…but what if you don’t exactly have any “peers.”

    Say you have a Lokean who wants to become a “repsected” religious leader. Is that Lokean going to need to be peer reviewed by other Heathens (since they walk in the same general religion), will they be reviewed by say Wiccans or Dianics (who may not know or understand either the Lokean or larger Asatru ways), or is it that they will be judged by fellow Lokeans (in which case, who judges the first round of “respectables”).

    And that’s just talking about a fairly major path with a few issues. What about those of even smaller, or more individual paths who might end up growing a following. If someone is a priest of Hel, or Ares, or a lesser known or worshiped deity in this age, who is going to be their “peer review” and then what happens if, in the name of personal grudges, greed, political correctness, or religious dogmatism, those leaders of “lesser” paths are deemed non-respectable. Speaking from personal experience, I’m a rather high-level priest (among other things) to Hel, and to my knowledge I’m one of only about three out there who perform that function for Her. Do I now have to be peer reviewed by the other two, and what happens if something I believe and practice that I have from her offends or threatens them. Can they then declare me to be “not true” and “non-respectable?”

    I see too much potential for abuse of this system, at least at this time. We are all aware of the politics that has shattered so many kindreds, covens, and other groups. Do we now want to create an institution that can be used to enshrine people and their political/personal/religious agendas into a place of “respect” where once they are inside, they can then use that power to police those they do not like out of positions those with the power feel should they should not have?

    • It doesn’t do any of those things. It can’t review Lokeans. Here’s what it purports to do:
      -Verify academic credentials as presented. If someone claims a Master’s in %field from %university, they’ll check with %university to see if, in fact, that person actually did graduate with a Master’s degree in that field.

      -Verify theological credentials *that are verifiable*. You can verify that Lady Moonwind really is a Gardnerian 3rd if her upline is willing to do that (I’m skeptical that they will, I’ve never seen BTWs all that willing to vouch in public for anyone who asks), because there is a structure in place with Trad Wiccans and a way to do this. If someone claims to have successfully completed the clergy program with ADF or the Troth, that’s verifiable. If someone claims to be a divinely-inspired godspouse of Loki, that’s *not* verifiable as it’s not a checkable credential.

      -Do a criminal background check of the person, that will return any convictions in certain specified things (noted on their website).

      That’s it. That’s all it does. It can’t verify whether someone is a good leader or someone is deserving of respect. I think this article is a bit misleading in that respect, it makes it seem like the site is capable of a lot more than it aims to actually do. I also think the site itself is a bit disingenuous about this because it claims to “make safe the circle”– it doesn’t do that. It provides a means to weed out some bad apples, but it can’t tell you whether the credentialed leader is ethical, whether the leader with the 15 year old DWI conviction has been sober ever since, or whether the workshop presenter with no convictions is going to rape somebody that night. If they’re now saying on Tumblr that they’re “not in the business of protecting the community”, maybe that means they’ll rework this “making safe the circle” business and be a bit more up-front about what they do and don’t do.

      It *can be* a useful tool if the community that uses it doesn’t take a seal from this site as any kind of endorsement of the leader. Whether checkable credentials are better than ones that are not is up to the community in question- “because my patron god said so” doesn’t make a priest in my community, but might in yours.

      • I think you summed it up brilliantly here – a useful tool for checking certain credentials, but not a seal of approval.

        People still need to use their own discernment.

  18. I think the benefit of a grassroots system like this will come ultimately from buy-in from the Pagan community. Instead of focusing on being a catch-all, make it the LinkedIn or Care.Com for Pagan professionals. Those who wish to validate their legitimacy for academic or professional purposes can add that to their list of qualifications. There are going to be folks who don’t care to have their info out there and don’t consider it important, but over time the system will build its efficacy through those who wish to form the gold standard. Also, have those who wish to join prove their legitimacy with copies of transcripts, certificates, and copies of their professional work. Over time this can become something someone strives for if they wish to be recognized professionally by the community or by outside entities that complain we have no infrastructure to recognize our leaders.