Teaching Chaplains About Paganism

I had the amazing opportunity to teach a class of Chaplaincy students doing CPE with OhioHealth this week.  Their instructor had reached out to me to see if I could help give them some perspective on what types of things pagans belief, and what would help them in times of crisis.  The talk went really well, the students were engaged and had good questions.  Hopefully I get the opportunity to go back with each new cohort.  

Here’s the outline that I sent along to the students:

Overview on Paganism for Chaplains

Rev. Jan Avende – feel free to contact me for questions, advice, or resources


And, if they want a print resource to use in their future work, or for their hospital library, I highly recommend “A Book of Pagan Prayer” by Ceisiwr Serith.  It has some basics and how we pray, but then the bulk of the book is made up of prayers for various needs. It’s a fantastic resource for someone who needs a grab and go prayer in a tradition they’re unfamiliar with that will resonate with most pagans.

And, some terms they want to familiarize themselves with before hand:

  • orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy
  • polytheism vs. monotheism
  • offerings, sacrifice, and reciprocity

Key Beliefs & Concepts

Nature is Sacred

  • Focus on connection to plants, animals, earth, and waterways
  • Commonly want to walk in nature, sit in sun- or moonlight
  • Often have pets, houseplants, gardens, fishtanks, etc

The Deities are Many and Varied

  • Hard vs Soft polytheism (is each deity separate and distinct, or all they all aspects of a duality)
  • Not omnipresent or omnipotent
  • Many pagans talk to them as though they are close friends.  The conversation and relationship may occasionally be formal, but personal prayers are often more conversational

Ancestor Veneration

  • Ancestors of Blood, Heart, and Mind/History
  • Can be literal people who’ve died, either blood relatives, found family, or close friends and mentors
  • Can be cultural heroes/role models or mythological heroes
  • They can share wisdom, and become the companions for those who have recently died
  • Often honored with a lit candle and/or offerings (or grain or food/drink); can share wisdom and care

Ground and Center

  • Find the calm space within yourself, release the things that are burdenings you, reconnect to the earth
  • Basic meditation connecting person to the earth and sky as though they are a tree; allows them to send excess energy or ick into the earth
  • Basic shielding to set a boundary between the person and the thoughts/forces/spirits that would disrupt their peace.


  • Our relationships with the spirits are built on shared communication and trust.  Each party gives as they are able, and receives with grace and love what is offered
  • If a spirit/deity asks/tells you to do something you’re uncomfortable with, you don’t have to do it
  • If a person feels like a spirits/deity has hurt them to get what they want, or is making unreasonable demands, then maybe that relationship isn’t reciprocal and serving them well, and they should set a boundary or end it


  • “Right Practice” – it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you do things that are important to paganism (take care of the earth, make offerings to the gods, celebrate the seasons and cycles) – the things that are important will vary based on tradition
  • The importance of being able to celebrate the 8 High Days, and possibly the New & Full Moon.  Also, to do regular prayer/devotional work

Return Flow

  • A broad term for the way that pagans receive the blessings of the gods. Most commonly some sort of food or drink that can be literally consumed.
  • Blessings are magically put into the food/drink – anyone can do this, there are no clergy limitations, though depending on the person they may want someone else to do it

Special Concerns for Pagans


  • We are still mostly a religion of converts – be aware there may be religious trauma from a previous religious experience, particularly if the person is queer
  • There is generally nothing a priest or spiritual leader can do that a lay person can’t.  Pagans often consider themselves to be their own priest.  Though, in times of crisis they may want a spiritual leader
  • Pagans may be distrustful of someone who claims spiritual leadership (see religious trauma)
  • Oftentimes pagans have no local community (they are either solitary by choice, or because they don’t know anyone else in their area who is pagan, or who practices their specific tradition); and because there is still real and perceived discrimination against pagans, many will not out themselves and prefer to keep that belief/affiliation to themselves

Earth Based Spirituality while Inside

  • Often difficult to connect to nature while you’re in an indoor or isolated setting
  • Importance of fire: if you can’t have a lit candle, LED is an option.
  • Importance of living things: houseplants (succulents are great because the require minimal care and are low allergen); good quality fake houseplants; bowl of dirt
  • Importance of water: moon water can be made by leaving a bowl of water out overnight on a full moon (replace each month); items can be places in this water to charge them with the energy/power of the moon (stones, charms, jewelry, etc)

Forms of Magic & Prayer

  • Pagans often like to make offerings/sacrifices when they pray.  This can look like lighting a candle, speaking a prayer, and offering something like grain, food/drink, incense, written intentions.  You may need to dispose of biodegradable offerings for them outside.
  • Divination is often an important way that pagan communicate with the divine.  They may have runes, symbols, or tarot/oracle decks.  This is often personal, though they may request a reader come in for them.  Don’t touch their divination tools without permission.
  • Spellwork – healing work is very common, and often includes a charm for healing or protection.  There is no universal rite for this, and is often personal to the individual.
  • Pagans may want statues or other symbols of their personal deities (patron/matron gods/goddesses) to aid in prayer and connection

Gods of Death & Dying

  • These will really depend upon a person’s personal beliefs and path.  However, the deities here can often fall into 3 loose categories: Gods of Death; Psychopomps (Gods of the Journey between life and death); Gods of the Dead/Underworld.  Some examples are below, but are by no means universal or a full list

Gods of Death

  • Thanatos, Morana, the dullahan,

Psychopomps/Help with Transition

  • Hermes, Hekate, Charon, the Valkeries, Anubis, the Fates, Gwyn ap Nudd,

Gods of the Dead

  • Hades, Persephone, Donn, Hela, Freya, Odin, Morrigan, Osiris, Dis Pater, Pluto, Yama

Beliefs around Death

  • There is no unified belief about what happens as or after you die.  Some common beliefs:
    • You body returns to the soil and you become part of the universe again (see the Ancestor Prayer below)
    • You cross into the good afterlife (many names for this depending on tradition) and live on with your ancestors in the otherworld.  The living may or may not still be able to talk to you
    • You cross into the good afterlife for a time until you are reincarnated.  This may be because your soul has a collection of lessons to learn, and you pick a new one for each lifetime.

Important Symbols

These are symbols that may allow you to be recognized as a safe person to talk to about pagan beliefs.


Books, Articles, Videos, etc

Three Cranes Grove, ADF: YouTube Channel and Website (specifically the “Meditations” page)

Rev. Jan Avende: “Code of Ethics

Ar nDraiocht Fein: “Clergy Code of Ethics” and “The Hearth Keepers Way

Ronald L. Grimes: “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage

Emma Restall Orr: “Living with Honour, a Pagan Ethics

Deirdre Anne Herbert: “The Pagan in Recovery: The 12 Steps from a Pagan Perspective

Kristoffer Hughes: “The journey into spirit : a pagan’s perspective on death, dying & bereavement

Excerpt: “Being Spirit

Ceisiwr Serith: “A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book” and “A Book of Pagan Prayer

Sarah Kate Istra Winter: “Dwelling on the Threshold: Reflections of a Spirit-Worker and Devotional Polytheist

Example Liturgy for Rites of Passage

This post was originally published over on my Patreon. If you’d like to support my clergy work, and get access to more posts and resources, join me over there.

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