Lesson 16 - The Eleven Pathways of Religion Contents


In our modern world, especially since the ascend of Monotheist Book Religions, the idea of religion has become considerably narrower. So it is no wonder that the many different ways to practice religion are obscure or unknown to many, even those following Pagan and Polytheist pathways. Now of course in the essence there are as many ways to practice religion and view religiosity as they are people, one might be tempted to say, but of course we can outline several general archetypes of pathways, and I shall try to do so here. The aim is mainly to give back to people a larger variety of pathways to approach religion, which behooves our modern individualistic days, since many people are either single practitioners or, even when grouped, do not have the tight knit community lifestyle which the people of old knew. Most live their modern lives and only meet their fellows to certain religious times or festivals.

Now any approach towards religion can be defined by the following seven categories, which are differently defined and differently strong emphasized:

1. Belief - the level and detail of theological ideas
2. Ritual - the practices of the cultus
3. Dedication - the personal level of obligations taken on
4. Knowledge - how much scholarly or initiatory insight is required
5. Service - the level of service towards the community
6. Preaching - the amount of or whether there is a person preaching something
7. Inner Work - the spiritual inner practices

As such I want to highlight the Eleven Archetypes of Religious Pathways along these hallmarks.


Layman is the term of the most basic religious work, where all the seven categories are developed the lowest. The layman does not take on any constant obligations, he heeds only those rituals he desires, his level of believe and knowledge are merely voluntary, though they may develop quite a lot out of personal interest. In simple terms, the Layman is everyone who does not pick a certain path. He just adheres to any religion, but more or less remains passive and limited to the higher festivals and holidays. The vast majority of all religious people are laymen. How one becomes layman of a given religion depends on the type of religion. Monotheism usually has some rites of passage, baptism, circumcision or other clear confessions, whereas in Paganism belonging to a religion is merely a question of declaring it for yourself. While even in Paganism there are regularly debates who actually belongs to some religious pathway or not, it is only a modern reflection of the book religions. We can safely assume the Polytheists of the past did not ever raise the question who belongs to a religion and who doesn't. Even a layman can take on the duties of any of the other archetypes temporarily or incorporate them into his religious or spiritual life, without fully dedicating himself to any one given path. There is no really clear way to distinguish where one ends being a layman and becomes, for example a mystic or a priest. While many Polytheist organizations have created systems to decide these things and some groups are quite skeptical against self identified priests or non-laymen, it remains impossible (thankfully, I might add), to tell someonewho can or can't be regard as something. In the end, it is (and should be) more a matter of the individual merits. If someone regards himself as Seer or Priest, I accept that as his self-identification, even though I may say, the way you handle things I do not regard you relevant for myself. But I shall come back to that question in the description of the other archetypes.


Priesthood is the most common form of someone who is not a layman. Now what defines a priest is regarded differently in every religion and every group. There are essentially three spheresconsiderably important to the Priest as archetypal way: the Ritual, the Knowledge and Communal Service.

Priests are usually tasked to lead and organize rituals, especially when people come together, but also in representing a group before the Gods. So a Priest chosen by a group or organization, may be tasked to pray and sacrifice representing his group and speaking for its well-being, when many laymen do not have the time, so they have a Priest to speak on their behalf before the Gods. We expect from a Priest also expertise, to be educated in whatever the religion of choice contains: myths, books, history, theology, so when laymen have questions about their religion, they may consult the priest coordinating their group about anything concerning their religion. Of course one important element is also the communal service, which is differently strong emphasized especially in Paganism. Some polytheist groups disregard this entirely, viewing the Priest merely as a sort of bureaucratic organizer of the cultus, whereas others seek out their Priest for personal council, as someone to confide in in any personal issue or crisis, and the Priest then also assumes to a degree the role of apsychologist, councilor or personal adviser. With Polytheism having no Holy Books, the Pagan Priest will refer to the experience gained in life as well as psychological and philosophical education to advise - or simply be an open ear to confide into. I believe in modern days even Polytheist Priests should advance their status and aim to add the element of community service in this outlinedsense.

Becoming a Priest one is either elected by his group, or one can try to dedicate himself through series and longer times of spiritual exercise. Some polytheist Priests will regard themselves as generalists, while others prefer to dedicate themselves to one specific Deity. I believe having one Deity as patron Deity is surely a plus, and it depends of course on the tradition. Roman and Greek Priests are usually dedicated to one particular God, while in Asatru or Wicca this is rarely the case. In the end, whether one's priesthood is accepted on not, depends on the merits of that person over time. Priesthood should be regarded as a lifetime duty, or at least something taken over for a long time, and I am no friend of the idea of constantly shifting around priestly duties and giving it to people, who lack the proper personal dedication. The role of the Priest is best described by the Latin word "Pontifex", which means "bridge". A priest helps the laymen to get in touch with the Gods, organizing their rituals, but also helpsthe layman to improve their spiritual lives, and for some that includes being a helper also in personal mundane matters.


The third religious archetype is that of the Monk or Nun, or generally speaking, the Monastic Life. Monasticism is largely known in Christianity and Buddhism. I have so far not heard of any attempt to make a Pagan Monastic order, and while there is nothing per se against it, retreating from life in such a degree would be atypical for a Pagan religion. Still, I assume it could be done, if some people would want it.

The Monastic life is when individuals retreat as a group. There is no way to become a single Monk, since the Monastic life always emphasizes the community of Monks. Such Monks or Nuns form a small community, which not only is religious, but also serves to a degree a self-supplicant lifestyle, so the inhabitants of a Monastery are economically independent. Unlike the Priest, the Monk does not serve a community religiously, though he may serve it in terms of economy by crafting, agriculture or any other worldly service which help the Monastery to survive. The basic idea of the Monastic life is to retreat from all worldly affairs, to leave them behind, and it is most often the choice of a lifetime.

The most likely comparison of the Monastic Life in Paganism would be the Battle Order: a group of people who are at the same time Monks and know a variant of combat, be it the Shaolin Monks of China or groups of dedicated Pagan Warrior Bands.


A Preacher is in many religions also a Priest, though in some it can also be laymen, like for example in the case of the Mormons. Preaching is a role almost exclusive to the Book Religions, and while some Pagans try to spread their religion, it is due to my knowledge never in the form ofan distinct role in itself. Paganism, having no orthodoxy, no final truths and no focus on salvation, hardly gives opportunity to a professional preaching. Where the focus of the Priest is to the inside, to the laymen, the focus of the Preacher is to the outside: the nonbelievers. He tries to convert people to his religion. Some religions may require such Preachers to be Priests also, but it still remains a distinct focus. Usually the religious focus ofa Preacher is entirely absorbed in the process of trying to convert people, and it requires both personal charisma and a good level of expertise in the religion to be a Preacher.


The Mystic is in some ways the mirror of the Preacher. Whereas the Preacher focuses entirely on the outside world and the human affairs, the mystic is working "all for God/the Gods." His entire obligation goes to connect with his Deity of choice or a group of Deities. The Mystic has no worldly duties, no communal duties, but it is all "between him and God". The regard of the mystic towards religion is usually a level of becoming one with the Divine or dissolving himself within the Divine. A Mystic has some similarities to the Monk, though the Mystic usually does not view community or worldly work as a necessary duty, but rather focuses mainly on the element of Inner Work: meditation, astral travel, vision quests - these are usually more important for the Mystic even than all the formal rituals of his religions, though he may adhere to them, his main focus is using the rituals to improve the results of the Inner Works.

A personal word of warning is something I cannot avoid. I have seen a good number of people going the way of the Mystic more out of laziness. I am not trying to slander this pathway, but it is a real danger of it, that if you focus so entirely on the Inner Working, that over time any moment of sitting and doing nothing you will flatter yourself to "meditate". A true mystic requires much larger self-discipline than most other pathways, especially because of his great focus on Inner Work. Without some routines and usually being a single practitioner without group affiliation, the Mystic is always in danger to drift away and lose the path entirely without knowing until looking back on years of making no progress at all. The Mystic is the most free-form and liberal pathway, since the Inner is practically the dominant orientation. The "female" passivity of the Mystics, desiring to be absorbed by the Divine, always demands a high level of discipline not to drift away in fantasy.


Like the Mystic, the way of the Mage is that of an independent agent. Like all religious archetypes, he can affiliate himself with a group, but it is not a necessity in any way. Where the Mystic means to dissolve himself in the Divinity, the Mage is a sort of adventurer who tries at least to some level to achieve a control over forces. His dealing with the Divine is more on the level of a contract. While I strongly disagree with any idea of "summoning a God", as it is fashion now in some circles, one can on the pathway of the Mage try to approach theGods on the level of a free agent, trying to make limited and temporary contracts for the goal of some Magical enterprise. A Mage is not a genuinelyreligious character, and there can in theory exist Mages who are not religious practitioners, but experience shows thatany Magician requires some form of reconnection to the Divine in the long run, though it often is not the primary object of the Mage. The Mage needs the Divine for his Magic and approaches the Divine as such, but rarely as a source in itself. There are, of course, forms of Theurgy and Light Magic, which are more oriented towards the Divine, but in contrast to the Mystic, the Mage always aims to be in control of things, having rational, personal goals, be it worldly or spiritual, he wants to further theseby communing or cooperating with the Divine.


The Adept can also be called the Initiate and is a mixed form of Mystic, Mage and Priest, though his specialty is being initiated. The initiation can happen either by becoming the member of an Order or Coven, or partaking some Mystery Cult, like it was in ancient time visiting an initiatory rite of the Mysteries of Eleusis. In the latter, the Initiated does not necessarily become a member of a group, but merely partakes in a secret ceremony to be transformed and given information which other people do not know. That is also the case in Initiation within a Coven or Order.

These two elements are vital in any Initiation: the aspirant is given knowledge which is secret or at least he is obliged notto talk about it, and the ceremony usually assumes some spiritual and occult transformation done to the person. In most cases Orders and Schools giving initiation have several degrees of them, like the three degrees in Wicca or the ten degrees in Hermetic Orders based on the Tree of Life. Since the Greco-Roman Mystery Cults are lost to us, we do not know what their initiations consisted of, though I assume it would be possible and if made right, valid, to construct new sorts of Mystery Schools, functioning similar like the old ones. We know that during the eras of Cicero and Plutarch, being initiated was very widespread and popular in the Roman Empire. More than that secret information, which in our days is not really that relevant anymore, it is the element of having gone through an experience and having received a certain spiritual restructuring, which matters. Usually an aspirant needs to be tested both in character and knowledge before he is worthy to receive an initiation, so it reflects onhis merits and opens new pathways to the Adept.

Initiated people usually form a sort of group, but not in such tightly knit bonds like the Monastic Life, but also do not wish to remain on the soloist paths of the Mage and the Mystic. Initiates usually also serve their spiritual groups to some degree in a similar way a Priest does, so they are bit a jack of all trades. While other pathways have initiations, too, the Way of the Adept or Initiate is usually forming a group, like an Order or Coven, not just being initiated to a role of a singular practitioner, like for example in the case of many Shamans or Seers.


Using the term Shaman has been no small issue of controversy. Traditionalists have often arguedthe term Shaman can refer only to theManchu-Tungus tradition, where the word means "the one who knows". However, I give more credit to the argument that Shamanism is a certain way of doing things, common to many Pagan and Polytheist pathways, but unfortunately our European Languages lack a fitting word for it. Adapting words from foreign languages to describe a certain intellectual concept is a normal development of language, and by today the term Shamanism has been well enough established to justify using it disconnected from being a follower of the Manchu-Tungus religion.

First, the Shaman fulfills a role within a community, he is not like a Mystic an entirely on himself focused practitioner. Ideally a Shaman works within a group, and then fulfills a similar task as the Priest, however with different means. Where the Priest is more focused on proceeding the cultus, the formalities of the rituals, the Shaman needs to learn techniques of Inner Working, like trances or astral journey, which a Priest does not require. The Shaman is a bridge between Gods and Men, like the Priest, but he contacts the Gods in a more personal way, directly consulting them, seeking visions and inner guidance. Where the Mystic works only for himself and the connection to the Divine, the Shaman works for the everyday needs of the people consulting him. Whether he is in a fixed group or works as free Shaman whom individuals consult, the Shaman is asked for even the mundane questions; he does not so much aim to lead those coming to him to transform spiritually, but takes them as they are. Take for example a farmer who would seek blessing for his crop, a hunter seeking blessing for his hunt or any modern person seeking help or advise for his mundane life. The Shaman does not council such a person, but he is merely a sort of hollow tube through which the Gods and Spirits talk, so to speak, though of course a Shaman can give his personal views, that is not the focus point of his work.

Shamans are often initiated by other Shamans, since becoming a Shaman or Shamanistic Practitioner, is a very demanding task, which takes many years to learn and thus has the longest learning curve, while on the flip-side, Shamanistic practitioners can start things quite early. Learning basic forms of trance are not difficult to learn, but as the saying goes: easy to learn, hard to master. Generally, Shamanistic practices are also easy to incorporate into any of the other pathways without becoming a fully dedicated Shaman, so it has become an attractive way to learn some Shamanistic techniques.


The best way to describe the idea of the Witch is from the old Germanic term "Hagidis", which means a fence-rider. Like the Initiate, the Witch is a jack of all trades term. While often referring to female practitioners, today also men can call themselves Witches. This is not to mistake with the specific pathway of Wicca, who are often referred to or referring sometimes to themselves as Witches, I use the term here in a broader sense. The pathway of the Witch means first to chose your means entirely by yourself, from case to case. There is no really given means, but a Witch usually lives in close connection to the forces and spirits of Nature. Being a "fence-rider" implies to stand with one leg in the magical and one leg in the material world. Being a Witch is to a degree a matter of identity, more than an actual definition of practices or theory. You may say it is a bit a lifestyle, usually highly individual and defying rules and authority comes with it, as said a high value of nature, the world of plants and animals. Using herbs and minerals is often a vital part of witchcraft, and not solely focusing on inner, spiritual means alone. Basically the role of the Witch contains not defining to any clear role. Today's Witches are largely feeling connected either to Celtic or Germanic religious ideas, though rarely connecting to any religion by name, or subscribing to several or parts of several at the same time. Witches tend to adapt elements from all the other pathways without feeling obliged to any of it; they may serve groups or not, and despite so much being written about Witches, they still remain mysterious in other ways, but it is clearly a distinct path, as anyone will see who meets Witches.


A Diviner is one who divines the will of the Gods or foresees the future by a clearly outlined method. This pathway usually requires no training of Inner Work, but is a largely intellectual, sometimes partially intuitive work. People who watch the flight of birds, like an Augur are Diviners, but also people who use Tarot or other Cards, the I Ching, who cast Runes or use any other technical means to give answers to people. This also contains of course the various forms of Astrology, or methods like tea leaf reading or palmistry. The Diviner almost entirely only works on request. He is not guided by the Gods, usually, but is an expert in his way of Divination.

A Diviner can either work within the framework of a religious group, like a Roman Augur, or he can be a freeformCouncilor, like an Astrologist or Tarot Card reader. Divination does not need to be a profession in itself, as one can follow any other path and do divination on top, but the morecomplex the system of divination, the more it demands dedication of the Diviner. It is often a matter of years or even decades until a Diviner finds the right medium, and Diviners often learn new systems over the years, either out of curiosity or to find a medium which speaks more to them. For example, those who use Cards can take many years to find a deck, which really works for them. The pleasure of working as a Diviner lies in helping people and meeting all sorts of people. I have done Divination to some degree, and I always found it very rewarding trying to give people perspectives on their issues and situations. It isan extremely great responsibility, not so much technically, but in human terms. People confide in you, tell you often very private things, and it is an important task not to frighten people, but either to not just tell them what they want to hear to please them. Sticking true to what you see and still presenting your insights in an acceptable manner requires years of improving yourself. Over these years the Diviner can learn a lot about human nature and about himself. Diviners often appear as a sort of lesser calling compared to the glorious aura of the other archetypes, but I do not regard it so. A good Diviner is a blessing for all people who meet one, and in his own ways, the Diviner can learn about both the spiritual and the worldly realms a lot over the years of practice.


The pathway of the Seer is likely the most difficult to follow, for to a large degree it is beyond your control. A Seer must in part be accepted by a God or a group of Gods, he must have some level of mediumistic talent, and it requires a very deep level of commitment. Like the Mystic, the Seer seeks an intimate connection to the Divine; like the Shaman, he guides people in their lives, but less to give mundane advise, but to help people to spiritually develop. A Seer usually should dedicate himself to one Deity, and being Seer of a God is a relationship of decades or a lifetime. Training mediumistic skills is something which to a degree anyone can learn, but becoming a Seer is a step up, since you have to be acknowledged by a the God of your choice - or his/her choice, as the case may be. People are usually called by the Divinity through omens, dreams and visions first. It is rarely the case that one just aims to be Seer and then persuades a God to accept one as Seer, though it is not impossible. Given that the Gods foresee, it is hard to imagine one becomes Seer without at least some small hints of the calling experienced in life.It may however be the case that one Seer is tasked to find a successor or fellow-Seer.

A Seer is in a way a Priest dedicated to a God, seeking close connection to learn spiritual wisdom and pass this wisdom on to people. He can council people like a Diviner, either by request of the person, but also by his own accord if his God guides him to. Nurturing the connection to his God is a lifestyle, it is a bit like marrying, if you wish. You are connected to your God in a very intimate, long lasting relationship. It often contains hardships and trials given by that God to his Seer, in order to transform the Seer as a better vessel or in order to teach him lessons which he as Seer is supposed to pass on. A Seer is less there to give council about mundane affairs, though he may do so, but more to open up a higher spiritual perspective to people. A Seer trains himself in methods of Inner Work, similar to a Shaman, but he is more a solitary worker in his role, waiting for the Gods to send him or direct him, and he tries more to understand the grand scheme of things and to open this larger view in the mind of others.

As such is one way to characterize the various pathways of religion. While sure there are other ways to differentiate religious ways, I hope this perspective gave the reader some insight into the possibilities. In the end, these pathways are of course ideal models, like archetypes; reality is never so simplistic, but on the other hand, trying to be too many things without a plan and without being able to distinguish yourself is often not helping to really move forward. It may seem difficult to people at times to set for a role which fits ones personality and wishes, but I believe it is easier to make real progress, when you decide for a certain defined concept of religion and spirituality and measure yourself to a few set hallmarks, rather than just drifting for years without any concept of what you want to be.