On Authority

by Steve Kenson

One concept all spiritual traditions must address sooner or later is that of authority: What is it, from where does it originate, or how is it applied? It is certainly a question we have considered (and continue to remain aware of) in the Temple of Witchcraft, which aims to be a fairly non-authoritarian tradition and community. But what does that mean? For us, it is important to distinguish between the different strands or aspects of authority and how they are applied.

Organizational Authority

Organizational or structural authority focuses on management, the day-to-day operations of an organization. In this area, the Temple has some hierarchy, if only because nonprofits are expected and required to, and because it is an efficient means of getting things done. There is a Board of Directors, which makes organizational decisions and ultimately holds authority over the Temple as an organization, since someone needs to be responsible. The Board delegates authority to the lead ministers of each of the Temple’s twelve ministries, giving them broad discretion to organize, manage, and run their ministries and the programs under them as they see fit, subject to the board’s oversight, and board meetings are open to all Temple members who wish to attend (and have their voices heard). You can find out all about this structure and how it works on the Structure and Organization pages of the website.

Educational Authority

Educational authority is vested in the teachers and administrators of the Temple’s Mystery School, where there exists a fairly traditional teacher-student relationship: teachers offer lectures and information and give assignments and homework for students to complete. Those who fulfill the requirements of the course to the teacher’s satisfaction are allowed to graduate and move on to the next level, if they wish. Those who complete the seminary program may also apply for ordination through the Temple, where our organizational and educational authority coincide. The seminary staff makes recommendations to the board of directors, which must approve all ordinations, since the Temple vests some of its organizational and educational authority into those who are ordained.

Spiritual Authority

Lastly, there’s the matter of spiritual authority, which is a key area where the Temple of Witchcraft differs from many spiritual and religious organizations. While the Temple has a common set of teachings, techniques, and practices (taught through the courses of the Mystery School and manifest in our public rituals) it does not claim any spiritual authority over its members. That is, the Temple does not dictate what members should believe, how they should practice, or even what they should practice as a part of their personal spiritual path. The Temple looks to form a community of like-minded individuals, allowing us to share, practice, and celebrate together, but does not support the concepts of dogma, canon, or spiritual or religious “law” outside of the needs of organizational and educational authority.

So the Temple tradition does not offer “the” answer to issues like hard- versus soft-polytheism, or which deities or spirits members should work with, what spiritual techniques they can practice, and so forth. The organization as a whole does not claim to speak for higher powers and those Witches who do so as part of a reading or oracle offer only a particular point-of-view: The great thing about being a polytheist and a practitioner is you can always get another opinion!

Amongst other things, this means Temple members are free to follow and practice the Craft as they wish, including belonging to other traditions, forming their own covens or study groups, teaching and offering their services, and so forth. However, because the Temple claims no spiritual authority, it also means that all these activities are the responsibility of those who choose to offer and participate in them. They’re not “official” Temple activities or events, unless they specifically fall under our organizational or educational authority, in which case, we make every effort to label them as such. Even then, official Temple events carry only the spiritual authority you choose to give them; if an experience or teaching is not for you, you are under no onus to follow it in your own practice. If it is assigned to you as a requirement of the Mystery School, you’re obligated to complete the assignment but, after that, the information and experience are yours to do with as you will.

We intend to continue to explore the different aspects of authority within the Temple to help to keep it  a strong, flexible, and enduring alliance of independent individuals working together in community for the betterment of all in love, will, and wisdom.

Temple of Witchcraft