Day 6: Wicca and Shamanism

I have never really been all that comfortable with correlating Wicca with Shamanism. And today, Roderick’s very first sentence reads “Wicca is a shamanic path.”

This just doesn’t jive with me, so I turned to the dictionary for a working definition of shaman:

a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits, esp. among some peoples of northern Asia and North America. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual, and practice divination and healing.

I still have my issues with the first half of this definition. Wicca does allow one to become part of a different plane of existence and exert some influence on its energies…but from what I’ve experienced with the religion, only the newest of the new would break it into such clear polarities as good and evil and give them the name of ‘spirits.’ The second half of the definition, however, does sound a lot like Wicca. At least, a Kitchen Witch, theologically light version of it. So I am, begrudgingly, willing to set aside my doubts for the time being.

(At this point, I have to laugh. I just went back and read over what I did for day 6 the last time, and it was practically identical up to this point.)

Roderick says that a shaman is “a spiritual leader.” This, too, is what a Wiccan is. A spiritual leader for his or her own self and community. And, like Roderick’s litany of what being a spiritual leader entails (a priest, a mystic, a counselor, an interpreter of spirits, a healer, and a magician), being a Wiccan involves walking along all of these paths at one time or another. Roderick also says that “the shaman’s gods are totemic; they take many forms such as stone, plant, animal, human and spirit.” So too are the gods of the Wiccan. Wicca challenges you to find the divinity within all these things (and of course, to recognize that what is within is also without). Likewise, the powers of the shaman–the earth, wind, waters, and fire–are the same powers that Wiccans work with. Wiccans and shamans do both take part in “ecstatic rites” that help ups go into “otherworlds.” We both seek “ecstasy” and transcendence. But we also work well in the mundane world.

I can sort of buy this correlation now. I still believe the word ‘shaman’ should be reserved for referring to such a worker in his or her own indigenous structure…but I will accept that modern Wicca shares a great deal with a shamanic theology.

But here’s where Roderick loses me on the Wiccan/Shaman correlation. He says that one does not choose to be a shaman, and then goes on to say that anthropological literature confirms that the shaman’s “call” typically emerges spontaneously and often after things like near death experiences, high fevers, falls, illnesses, lucid dreams, or near psychotic breaks.

But one does choose to be a Wiccan. You can be called to the path, sure…but at some point you make a conscious decision to set aside what you’ve learned about spirituality and follow this new path (most Wiccans are converts, after all). A Wiccan can have some of the “hallmarks of the shamanic experience” such as that initial truamatic incident and calling, a close relationship with nature, or a demonstration of natural psychic/magical/healing abilities…but it’s not particularly necessary. At least in my opinion.

Roderick concludes his headnotes for the day by delineating a difference between shamans and madmen. Good for him! It’s clearly something that needs stating. Loonies of all sorts are drawn to these practices. Roderick’s difference basically boils down to this: “The shaman can move between the worlds and can function effectively within both a mundane and spiritual context. The madman goes off into the otherworld and is never heard from again.”

Exercise: What are you?

  • Describe in writing your own “calling” to the Witch’s path. Take note of which of the shamanic hallmarks describe your own experience.
  • We all have characteristics of both the shaman and the madman. In what ways are you a shaman? In what ways are you a madman?

My responses from a year ago are still one hundred percent applicable. And so I quote them here:

Do I have a ‘calling?’ I’ve never really thought of it that way. I’ve never really felt that Wicca was actively pulling me; that it was a path I was absolutely destined for. It’s just a comfortable agreement. It matches my theological and practical concerns in a way that other religions don’t. We fit. But I don’t feel irrepressibly compelled to be a Super Witch. As far as these ‘shamanic hallmarks’ go, I can barely find one or two that fit my experience. I had a blissfully trauma-free childhood, though I did have a wonderful imagination and had very many lucid dreams. I could have sworn I could fly, for instance, and for the longest time believed that I did. I have a decently close relationship to nature—I’m not saying it couldn’t be better, but I’ve always been one to have a great time playing in the woods. I’m somewhat intuitive, but I don’t believe I’ve ever displayed any “natural psychic, magical or healing abilities” , and I’m a person firmly rooted in this physical plane. I can be a downright stick in the mud.

I think I’m most like the shaman in that I do experience control in whatever plane I’m in. I’m not one that gets lost easily. However, I do have the tendency to get absorbed into things—a book I’m reading, or a project I’m doing. When I do these things, sometimes the process takes my entire focus and the rest of the world slips away. I’m sure this is normal, and even a very good attribute to have. However, I also think this is a small-scale experience for what it’s like as a madmen. They get absorbed into a psychosis permanently.

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3 thoughts on “Day 6: Wicca and Shamanism

  1. I had to agree with you on some of these points, Roderick’s language on more than a few occasions has rubbed me the wrong way. At times, his writing seems so aloof and clinical that it just turns me off from wanting to study Wicca, to be honest. It may just be my own neurotic self, but I feel as though I’m doing something wrong by not doing the exercises and rituals the way he describes them, or by not feeling what he says I should feel.

    I’ve actually been taking a break from study, my energy has been so scattered lately (as you can imagine) that I need to re-group so I can back in a good mindset.

    Good luck with getting caught up!

  2. I has a comment! Woo!

    Seriously, I got such a little high from seeing it. I must make a note to reciprocate. 🙂

    I get what you say about Roderick being aloof and clinical, though. A good bit of it is written in a way that is just removed enough to get you to forget that Wicca is so intensely personalized that anything can go. I’ve felt damn guilty about not being able to do certain exercises just so…which is a bit of a shame.

    On the flipside, I also appreciate the clinical style. So many newbie books are too personal, if you catch my drift. Tons of asides on the author’s personal life, overly chatty style, etc. At this point in my studies, I’m incredibly turned off by that type of book.

    You don’t have to do everything just how Roderick wants you to do it…and I don’t think you should, either. Wicca is about learning to fly on your own, not to slavishly follow a leader. If something doesn’t jive with you, modify it. If you don’t have all the ingredients for an incense or oil…don’t worry about it. (Actually, I know that a couple of the essential oils Roderick asks you to find–apple and cucumber–don’t exist. You can find them as fragrance oils, but their compounds are too transient to stay stable for more than a day as an essential oil. Clearly, that’s not something that can be sold.)

  3. Yeah, while taking an aromatherapy class from a guy who’s been working with them for 20-30 years, I learned what can and what can’t be made into an essential oil, and fruit is definitely one of them!

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