Shaman, Priest, Priestess, Pastor, or Candlestick-Maker

Shaman, Priest, Priestess, Pastor, or Candlestick-Maker

Author:   Alfred Willowhawk, DMsc, RMT, CTM, Shaman   

Humans are always reaching for understanding. Whatever their religious, spiritual, or non-spiritual philosophy, we are always seeking to understand the world around us. In our pre-industrialized world, we sought these answers from individuals who seemed to have a better connection than the general population with unseen realms. They were sometimes called shamans, druids, priestesses or priests. Our post-industrialized world calls these individuals, pastors, priests, and guides. Many individuals of western religious frameworks may disagree with this contention. This article will demonstrate that the term used is really immaterial; after all, “a rose by any other name will smell as sweet”, thanks to Shakespeare.

What is a Shaman and why is the term so popular today? We acknowledge that the term “shaman” is not of Celtic or Western European origin. It is actually Siberian in origin but has come to be applied to any Otherworld “journeyer” who functions as a guide for his culture and people. It has also become associated with First Nations, indigenous peoples, and Native Americans. We are not attempting to appropriate the term as used by First Nations or Native Americans.

The term ‘’Otherworld is a uniquely Celtic word, which has similarities to the Underworld of Wiccan and other neo-pagan places. It is a real place, not made up in the head of a person, where the deities and personkind interact. It also overlaps the mundane or physical world. Today, most individuals of Celtic descent and practice call this the Faery Realm. This realm is the depository of all the archetypes of being. Interaction with individuals within this realm can bring forth the entire spectrum of emotional, spiritual, and physical responses. Whether one feels fear, joy, excitement, or any other emotion – the journey to the otherworld is always revealing.

As an individual spends time there, many aspects of oneself become apparent. Deceit is not tolerated there and is easily perceived. The oldest known story of the Celtic Otherworld is the Immram Curaig Maelduin Inso or the Voyage of Malduin’s Boat. It was first transcribed in the eighth or ninth century in its entirety. It visits the thirty-three islands of the Celtic Otherworld and serves as a lesson for any visitor.

In our 21st century time, most individuals seem blind to this world. The Shamanic practitioner, or shaman, as we define it above, serves as the medium through which individuals can receive messages, and assistance from the deities. In our course, The Shamanic Soul: Path to the Sacred Self”, we assist the individual to begin and foster the connection with the Otherworld and their deities. It is not actually necessary to use a shamanic practitioner to feel, see, and touch the Otherworld. Recognizing and interpreting what is seen there is best done with a knowledgeable individual who has studied the signs, portents, and events that are recorded in the “songs” of the pan Celtic world to facilitate the actual intent of these messages.

Among the Celts were members of their culture who journeyed to the Otherworld. They were the Mystics. They were one of four classes including Bards, Healers, and Warriors. The Mystics’ primary function was that of mediator between this world and the Otherworld – as such they meet the widely accepted definition of ‘Shaman’. The Celtic Mystic utilizes the gifts of the Bard and the Healer but acts primarily as a conduit for messages from the deities, spirit entities and ancestors.

The Celtic Mystic or Shamanic tradition was systematically wiped out by the encroachment of the Romans, and later the Christians. The tradition was further impacted by the Celtic Diaspora, which scattered Celts to Brittany, Gaul, Spain, and Asia Minor. The Celts were spread over much of what is now Europe and into Asia.

The term “mystic” has the unfortunate definition of “one who practices or believes in mysticism or a given form of mysticism” (from the Free On Line Dictionary) . “Mysticism” is further defined as “1. a. immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality or God; b. The experience of such communion as described by mystics; 2. A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience.3. Vague, groundless speculation.” I think you can see our problem… Because the term “mystic” has an even less precise definition than the term “shaman”, we choose to use the term “shaman” because it is more commonly descriptive of what we do.

Therefore, like other Shamanic Traditions, because it is what Shamans do, we journey to the invisible spirit world as a medium or mediator for the purposes of healing, divination and to discern the needs of the Earth (see Gaea) and return to this world to guide our people. The imagery, deities and myths we employ in our practice is Celtic/Indo-European.

The definition of Shaman is both simple and complex. A shaman is “one who knows”. We expand this definition as follows: The Shaman is one who knows the world on multiple levels in which he/she lives. The Shaman knows his mind, his soul, his spirit, and his guide. The Shaman knows her culture, her people, her Goddess, her God. The Shaman knows his enemy and his friends; her protection is in knowing.

According to Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, Emma Wilby, 2006, Sussex Academic Press, “The shaman’s first encounter with his helping spirit is either deliberately cultivated or spontaneous. In tribal societies the deliberately cultivated initial encounter is based upon the rationale that an individual can only become a shaman if he obtains one or more spirit-helpers, and that therefore an aspirant shaman needs to work at magical techniques believed to encourage the appearance of such spirits. A survey of anthropological sources suggests that in tribal societies far more emphasis is place don the deliberately cultivated initial encounter than was the case in early modern Britain, although how far this difference is rooted in culture as opposed to the divergent circumstances under which information about these magical traditions has been gathered, is hard to determine.”

While we are eclectic in our approach to our shamanic practices, we are using our own ancestral and cultural history (Western European Celtic and Greco-Roman) . We do not practice any form of cultural appropriation or “plastic shaman ism”. We are NOT practicing some post-colonial cultural appropriation of First Nations shamanism. Any reference we make here or in our practice to First Nations culture, practices, spirits, shamans, guides, or deities is for historical and informational reference only and not an attempt to associate ourselves with First Nations Shamans. We welcome any criticism of our practice. We are always assessing and re-assessing our understanding of our calling.

It is our contention that shaman ism is “of the blood” — that is, one is born to a shamanic tradition and some crisis brings out the ability or burden or urgent need to practice shamanic journeying. This crisis can be in the form of an illness, disorder, mental or physical trauma. This vertiginous experience brings about the call of the Wounded Healer, which the shaman may have been experiencing for years, to the fore.

It is true that every individual has many woundings and our course The Warrior Within is designed to assist each individual to reach out and heal themselves, yet if one is called to be the Wounded Healer, then this serves as the point of recognition that he or she must accept and act upon his or her shamanic calling to heal him/herself and utilize these gifts to assist others in their healing or he/she will continue on in the illness, disorder, mental or physical trauma. These woundings, as stated above, usually take on a particular flavor and as Ms. Wilby states, “…he is usually alone at the time of his first meeting, and undergoing a period of intense physical and/or psychological stress. Often it is the naturally-occurring pressure of life which generate these stresses…’some great misfortune, dangerous or protracted illness, [or] sudden loss of family or property’ can bring an individual into contact with the spirits. As in early modern Britain, bereavement is often a powerful trigger.” (Pg 132)

The shaman utilizes the gifts and tools that they have developed in their own healing process to assist others in healing themselves. Therefore, for our purposes they are facilitators of self-healing and have the desire to assist others. As shamans we have the ability and/or responsibility to:

*Understand the roles that spirits play in the lives of our people.
* Cooperate with or control the spirits for the benefit of our people.
* Understand the spirits intentions as either good or evil or neutral.
* Use trance-inducing techniques such as singing, chanting, dancing, meditating, or drumming. (1.)
* Recognize and communicate with animals and animal spirits in their roles as messengers of the Otherworld.
* Enter the Otherworld on our own behalf or the behalf of our people.
* Deliver the messages from the Otherworld to our people.
* Guide our people in treating illness or sickness – be that in self-healing techniques, laying on of hands, or advising an individual to seek the consultation of a licensed medical practitioner. We do not claim or attempt to be the sole conduit of healing for our people and as such always insist that illnesses be treated by licensed medical practitioners.
* As Healers and Spiritual Guides, we DO NO HARM to our people.

The shaman then, serves as the conduit whereby individuals can, if they choose, access the other realms of beingness, or utilize the services of the shaman to go there for them. This is similar to the way that other western religious practitioners, priests, rabbis, pastors, seek guidance through meditation and prayer as well as intervention with the Christian god. A pastor will pray for intervention in their parishioners’ lives, and truly believe that the prayers are effective. The shaman does the same thing and has the same expectation.

The spiritual realms are much bigger and more open than we as mere mortals can understand. There is no exclusivity in access to God, Goddess, nature, higher power, etc. Every path is the same. Reach for the heavens and your highest best connection with all creatures of this and every other world. Do not allow your own view to become the One View – it doesn’t exist; a good thing too, as I for one would not like to live in a world that was restricted to my perceptions and understandings of the universe – it is SO much bigger than me.

Blessed Be and enjoy the journey!

_____________________________________

Footnotes:
1. We do not advocate, but accept the taking of mind-altering drugs to achieve trance-state.

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Calendar of the Moon for August 28th

Calendar of the Moon

Coll Invocation

Colors: Blue and Brown
Element: Water and Earth
Altar: Upon cloth of blue place a goblet of spring water, the figure of a leaping salmon, and three blue candles; next to them on cloth of brown place a musical instrument, a pen, and fresh flowers.
Offerings: Poetry, songs, art, writing.
Daily Meal: Either fish (for the Salmon), poultry (for the Duck) or salads.

Coll Invocation:

Call: Hail the month of the Hazel Tree!
Response: Hail the month of the nuts that nourish us.
Call: First tree of the harvest, you give forth wisdom.
Response: Last tree of the summer, you chant our memories.
Call: The fading warmth follows you,
Response: And we feast on the fruits of your knowledge.
Call: This is the month of words and song.
Response: This is the month of the search for the mysteries.
Call: This is the month of the sacred pool,
Response: Wherein swims the Salmon of Knowledge.
Call: We fish for the gleams of divine light on the surface,
Response: We dive for the truths that lie deep in the Well.
Call: Our intuition is the hazel-twig held before us.
Response: We shall search out the underground streams.
Call: We shall find the hidden treasures.
Response: We shall spread them forth in words of power.
Call: We shall bring them forth with our hands in works of art,
Response: We shall gift the Gods and the people with our songs.
Call: Our voices will find their way across the land.
Response: Hear us, O Gods, as we sing your praises!
Call: This is the month of the bard’s silver tongue,
Response: This is the month of the golden door of autumn.
Call: As the Hazel Tree stands with words of peace,
Response: So shall we stand between the warring parties.
Call: So shall our Rule spread Justice and Peace,
Response: So shall our words spread beauty and harmony.

(As this is the month of the Bard, one or more shall stand forth and sing before the others, or read what words they would, to bring gladness and knowledge to the hearts of those who listen.)

[Pagan Book of Hours]

Celebrating Our Spirituality 365 A Day – August 18, Eisteddfod

Pentagram Book of Shadows

August 18th

Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod is an assembly of Welsh poets and musicians that compete for an “eisteddfa” or bardic chair. This traditional festival is so important that it is announced 13 months in advance. From as early as the sixth century, the bards of Wales–who were the harpers, genealogists, and soothsayers, as well as court poets and story-tellers—are reported engaging in embittered disputes. Their special status was recognized by law so that formal competitions were used to settle differences. It was at Cardigan in 1176 when the Lord Rhys presented chairs to the winning poet and best performers on the harp, pipe, and fiddle. The Eisteddfod became a way to rate bards and thus distinguish them from the non-bardic traveling ministrals or vagabonds. Overseen by modern Druids, the festival attracts thousands of people even today, and though many awards are give for a number of categories, the place of honor is still reserved for original poetry.

Calendar of the Moon for September 12

Calendar of the Moon

Coll Invocation

Colors: Blue and Brown
Element: Water and Earth
Altar: Upon cloth of blue place a goblet of spring water, the figure of a leaping salmon, and three blue candles; next to them on cloth of brown place a musical instrument, a pen, and fresh flowers.
Offerings: Poetry, songs, art, writing.
Daily Meal: Either fish (for the Salmon), poultry (for the Duck) or salads.

Coll Invocation:

Call: Hail the month of the Hazel Tree!
Response: Hail the month of the nuts that nourish us.
Call: First tree of the harvest, you give forth wisdom.
Response: Last tree of the summer, you chant our memories.
Call: The fading warmth follows you,
Response: And we feast on the fruits of your knowledge.
Call: This is the month of words and song.
Response: This is the month of the search for the mysteries.
Call: This is the month of the sacred pool,
Response: Wherein swims the Salmon of Knowledge.
Call: We fish for the gleams of divine light on the surface,
Response: We dive for the truths that lie deep in the Well.
Call: Our intuition is the hazel-twig held before us.
Response: We shall search out the underground streams.
Call: We shall find the hidden treasures.
Response: We shall spread them forth in words of power.
Call: We shall bring them forth with our hands in works of art,
Response: We shall gift the Gods and the people with our songs.
Call: Our voices will find their way across the land.
Response: Hear us, O Gods, as we sing your praises!
Call: This is the month of the bard’s silver tongue,
Response: This is the month of the golden door of autumn.
Call: As the Hazel Tree stands with words of peace,
Response: So shall we stand between the warring parties.
Call: So shall our Rule spread Justice and Peace,
Response: So shall our words spread beauty and harmony.

(As this is the month of the Bard, one or more shall stand forth and sing before the others, or read what words they would, to bring gladness and knowledge to the hearts of those who listen.)

[Pagan Book of Hours]

Honor Our Pagan Bards

Honor Our Pagan Bards

article

by Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson

I never felt the lack of a bard until the day a circle died. Across a room, 75 people clasped hands and stared at one another, uncertain how to end the wobbling, awkward affair. A roomful of pagan strangers had assembled to celebrate community diversity and had drawn lots to see which factions would write the circle casting, energy raising and declaration of intent.

No one knows what happened to the group who fumbled the ball at the end, but after a century’s pause, one lone voice reverted to the old “Isis, Astarte, Diana” chant. Somewhere in a distant glade, I heard the Goddess groan, “Oh for Persephone’s sake — reruns again!” She snatched up the remote and promptly changed the channel. A bard could have saved the day and fixed that fiasco with one chord.

When Leslie Fish, famous at pagan gatherings and filking cons (where old songs are given new lyrics), left the price tag of California and came to call the desert home, I had no idea what a jewel had landed in Arizona’s lap. The lady bard and her guitar graced many a circle, asking naught but applause and a drop to wet the whistle in exchange for her magick. Not ungratefully, but unthinkingly, few offered more. Only in my later Midwest and Northwest times, when I spoke her name and was treated to dropped jaws and intakes of awestruck breath, did I begin to have a clue.

Upon researching the role of bards throughout the ages, it becomes clear that this is a hallowed guest. The Celtic bardic tradition dates to ancient times but was most prominent in medieval and postmedieval Wales and Ireland. Many bards were resident in wealthy homes; others were itinerant. They were particularly important in Wales, where bards were often noble, and where bardic guilds were formed to set standards for writing and reciting. Repeatedly outlawed by the English, as politically inciting, the institution gradually died out.

In Ireland, the training of a bard lasted 12 years, with students undergoing a rigorous curriculum. In the initial years, the student progressed from “principle beginner” to “poet’s attendant.” By his eleventh year, he was termed “a noble stream,” because “a stream of pleasing praise issues from him, and a stream of wealth to him.” Once a bard had mastered 350 stories, he was considered a master and entitled to receive a gold branch with bells attached. When the bard strode into the hall, all were alerted to become silent and summon the help of the inner realms to inspire his poem, song or story.

The body of a bard was inviolate, even in history’s most treacherous times. As the bearer of news, bards roamed at will throughout the far reaches of the kingdom with reports of invasions and death, births and coronations, scandal, triumph and deceit. Bards were deemed to be prophets and emissaries of the Divine, able to bless and curse with a stanza of three lines. Because of the level of autonomy and impunity granted to bards, they often became the voice of the people, whose tongues had to remain silent to keep lives, lands and families together.

Do we as pagans perceive them as filling those same roles today? Yes, indeed! Leslie Fish’s most famous magickal trilogy of songs, formulated specifically to end a prolonged drought, brought down a deluge from the skies. Beginning with a tune called “Out on Thunderbird Road,” which acknowledged the dry, parched ground, she then shifted into a more up-tempo, beseeching number which musically pleaded, “More, more, more… we need more!” Her rousing finale is a hymn to Thor, entitled “White Man’s Rain Chant,” which exhorts the god to “draw the drops of the sky together, break the back of burning wither.” Works like the weather charm it is! Yet, the lady bard can curse as well as cure. No one has ever heard Leslie, an impressive, steely eyed figure with coal-black hair and a knife in her boot, launch into a chorus of “The Oathbreaker Song” without a shuddered sigh of relief that the words weren’t intended for them!

As for historians, we are fortunate as pagans to have such standards to incorporate into our rituals as “The Burning Times,” best arranged by Todd Alan and The Quest. The changing values and chafing repression of our society is brought to the musical fore by Gaia Consort, whose anthem, “Cry Freedom” on their new CD Silent Voices is a reaction to the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. Hence the razor-edged line, “They try to hold us back with reins of holy smoke, but I am here to say we will not bear the yoke!” In his CD liner notes, Gaia Consort member Christopher Bingham writes that he feels many pagans are in a state of complacency, with their noses stuck too far into their Tarot cards to perceive what is happening in the world around them. Someone needs to sound the wake-up call; enter the bard.

At those circles blessed with a bard, rituals flow, segues are apparent, and some kick-butt energy gets raised. Bards have an innate knack for weaving people together. At a Yule celebration in Bellingham, Washington, I fretted as the talking stick was passed and the full spectrum from serious believers to scoffers and gawkers became apparent. Then our friend Dougal picked up his guitar and passed out lyrics to a Dar Williams song, “The Christians and the Pagans,” about “finding peace and common ground the best that they were able.” Suddenly his strings were not the only thing in tune. As one body, hands reached for red taper candles and lit the wishing wreath. Common good and camaraderie prevailed.

Is there a blessing for a guesting bard? None that I have ever come across; therefore, one needs to be created. One might propose the following festive inclusion. Prior to the bard’s entry into the hall, two garlanded, gaily adorned sweepers come with sprigs of laurel, rosemary and pine (honor, remembrance and renewal) signaling the people that “Music comes! The heart string hums! The good bard comes!”

Enter a third attendant with sistrum or cluster of bells, who announces, “Hark, they ring! Rejoice and sing! Each shining thing the good bard brings! He/She comes!”

A low, draped table should be set aside, near the comfortable seat of honor to which the bard is led. As the preliminary feast begins, food is brought to the bard first by one who says, “Play for us, and touch our souls. Be sustenance, uplift, console. As your music feeds our spirits, may this meal lend strength to your body, good bard.”

Drink is next poured for the bard, with this blessing: “We bless each note that from you pours. Your tales are ours, our love is yours.”

As the last song is sung and the music fades, a purse is given to the bard that each in attendance has had occasion to grace with what monetary gifts may be made. The gifting words spoken are “With gold and silver and precious things, an offering for your blessed strings. As every chord rang bold and true, good bard, we praise and honor you!”

Let us, as pagans, restore our bards to the esteemed position that from antiquity has been theirs. No longer an ill-paid afterthought, but our voice, our magick and our hearts.