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!

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

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Let’s Talk Witch – Who Are The Celts?

links

 

Who Are The Celts?

Definition:

For many people, the term “Celtic” is a homogenized one, popularly used to apply to cultural groups located in the British Isles and Ireland. However, from an anthropological standpoint, the term “Celtic” is actually fairly complex. Rather than meaning just people of Irish or English background, Celtic is used by scholars to define a specific set of language groups, originating both in the British Isles and in the mainland of Europe.

says, “The Celts are an Indo-European people who spread from central Europe across the European continent to Western Europe, the British Isles, and southeast to Galatia (in Asia Minor) during the time before the Roman Empire. The Celtic family of languages is divided into two branches, the Insular Celtic languages, and the Continental Celtic languages.”

Today, the remains of early Celtic culture can be found in England and Scotland, Wales, Ireland, some areas of France and Germany, and even parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Prior to the advancement of the Roman Empire, much of Europe spoke languages that fell under the umbrella term of Celtic.

Sixteenth-century linguist and scholar Edward Lhuyd determined that the Celtic languages in Britain fell into two general categories. In Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland, the language was classified as “Q-Celtic,” or “Goidelic.” Meanwhile, Lhuyd classified the language of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales as “P-Celtic,” or “Brythonic.” While there were similarities between the two language groups, there were distinct differences in pronunciations and terminology. For specific explanations on this fairly complex system, read Barry Cunliffe’s book, The Celts A Very Short Introduction.

Because of Lhuyd’s definitions, everyone began considering the people who spoke these languages “Celts,” despite the fact that his classifications had somewhat overlooked the Continental dialects. This was partly because, by the time Lhuyd began examining and tracing the existing Celtic languages, the Continental variations had all died out. Continental Celtic languages were also divided into two groups, the Celt-Iberian and Gaulish (or Gallic), according to

As if the language issue wasn’t confusing enough, continental European Celtic culture is divided into two time periods, Hallstatt and La Tene. The Hallstatt culture began at the onset of the Bronze Age, around 1200 b.c.e., and ran up until around 475 b.c.e. This area included much of central Europe, and was focused around Austria but included what are now Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, northern Italy, Eastern France, and even parts of Switzerland.

About a generation before the end of Hallstatt culture, the La Tene cultural era emerged, running from 500 b.c.e. to 15 b.c.e. This culture spread west from the center of Hallstatt, and moved into Spain and northern Italy, and even occupied Rome for a time. The Romans called the La Tene Celts Gauls. It is unclear whether La Tene culture ever crossed into Britain, however, there have been some commonalities between .

In modern Pagan religions, the term “Celtic” is generally used to apply to the mythology and legends found in the British Isles. When we discuss  here at About Pagan/Wiccan, we’re referring to the deities found in the pantheons of what are now Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland. Likewise, modern Celtic Reconstructionist paths, including but not limited to Druid groups, honor the deities of the British Isles.

Ancient Celtic Culture

Ancient Celtic Culture

by John Patrick Parle

 

The Celts on the main continent were largely ruled by the chieftain of their individual tribe–some chieftains were elected by the free men of the tribe for a limited term of office.

Here are some of the names of ancient Celtic chieftains, to get an idea of what the old Celtic names sounded like: Orgetorix, Sinorix, Dunmorix, Cartismandua (a woman), Prasutagus, Amborix, Clondicus, Luernios, Ariamnes, Adiatorix. (The “rix” ending to the Celtic name signified that the person was a supreme chieftain, perhaps over more than one tribe or over a large land area). Because there was no written Celtic language there, these types of personal names and the names of the tribes themselves are our best idea of what old Celtic words on the mainland of Europe sounded like. The great names of the Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix and of Boadicea, the female chieftain of Celtic Briton, will come up later in our story.

Classical writers said that the Celts were taller than the Romans, more muscular, had fair skin, and blonde hair was common. The Celts were known for their hospitality, but could be boastful and irritable. They were fond of feasting, were high-spirited, and in general liked excitement. Yet, in Rome, culturally sophisticated Cicero was able to become friends with a Celtic druid from Gaul named Diviciacus, and Cicero said that a Celtic leader from Galatia named Dejotarus was “gentle and honest.” The ancients said that the Celts liked to speak in riddles, and loved to exaggerate. Some Celtic tribes had a sense of wanderlust and were nomadic (often in response to threats from the outside), while others stayed put in farming communities.

The ancient Celts lived in scattered villages without fortified walls. In wartime, they would build hill forts for protection. Their homes were circular and made of wood with thatched domelike roofs. They had little furniture, and ate and drank out of earthen dishes and goblets. They slept on beds of straw.

Agriculture was a major activity of the Celts of old, with many of them owning private farmlands. They produced mostly wheat for bread. In fact, the ancient writers said that this was the main difference between the Celts and the Germanic tribes of the day, the latter of whom did little farming and consumed mostly meat and milk. Whereas the Celts grew crops, the Germanic barbarians then did little of this. The Celts were also large swinehearders (most of the meat they ate was ham and pork), and cattle was common for dairy products. They brewed beer, which they called “cervesia,” and added honey and cumin to beer, which they called “corma.” The Celts also appreciated wine and mead.

In terms of clothing, the Celtic women wore a simple long garment with a cloak. The men wore trousers (sometimes knee length), a sleeved tunic reaching the thigh, a cloak, and sandals or boots. A metal piece of jewelry for around the neck called a torc (torques) was quite popular. Clothing dyed in bright colors was common. Men wore droopy moustaches, sometimes beards, and often long hair, all of this in contrast to the contemporary Romans. Women enjoyed painting their bodies, and some tribes of Celtic warriors went into battle stark naked and painted all over in bright blue.

The basic social structure was threefold: the chieftain, the warrior aristocracy, and the freeman farmers. Woman had a lower place, but some women were able to attain the position of chieftain, which was unknown in other cultures of the period. Slavery was accepted, largely conquered peoples. Three other roles in Celtic society were quite important: the druid, the bard, and the artisan.

The bard was the chief poet of a clan or extended family. He was the keeper of the family or tribal oral history and entertained gatherings with epic tales of Celtic gods and heroes. He was a storyteller and a man of rhymes–a wordsmith. The Celtic bard, as did the Bard of Elizabethan times, tried the best he could to portray his benefactors as well as possible in laudable terms. Bards often sang their verse while playing a lyre (which in Ireland was eventually replaced by the harp). The artisan, who is often overlooked in books about the Celts, made all the wonderful metalwork, carvings, and tools for the tribe. The works of the ancient Celtic artisans exist today in museums all over Europe.