[This is a post I made to my Livejournal on March 2, 2009.]
I just read an interesting post by Raven Kaldera on a new blog. The overall post deals with how we might make connections between spirit-workers and classical-type shamans, and neo-shamans of the less ‘hardcore’ variety. I don’t have much input there, in that I am terrible at such bridge-building myself, being a rather harsh sort. However, he touched on something that has always bothered me about the modern pagan community in general. It seems that, in rejecting the monotheistic paradigm that one must have a human intermediary (e.g., priest) to access god, many pagans have tossed the baby out with the bathwater and rejected the idea of all spiritual specialists, as if we never needed anyone but ourselves in spiritual matters. This just isn’t so. Kaldera speaks of attending a workshop by a couple ‘shamanic practitioners’:
The difference between us was both cultural and practical. Once, during our conversation, I tried to describe bloodwalking. (That’s a journey that the practitioner takes through the genetic bloodline of a client in order to give them information about it.) One of the couple asked, “So, is it always just you doing the journeying and telling them what you see? Don’t you ever teach them how to do it themselves?”
I remembered a journey where I slogged up a frozen mountain in north Jotunheim to see a snowy goddess about being more capable at bloodwalking, and how she stuck something inside me to do the job, something for which I will be paying emotionally for years to come. Teach them to do it themselves? The idea seemed as far away as asking a surgeon, “Why don’t you teach your patients with brain tumors to do operations on themselves or each other?” …or, more chillingly appropriate, “Instead of performing competition-quality piano music for an audience at Carnegie Hall, why aren’t you teaching other people to play that well themselves, so they can do it in their own living rooms?”
Exactly! Why is it that people are perfectly capable of understanding that there might be certain types of roles in other realms – art, science, technology, health – that are only appropriate for trained, experienced professionals, as well as situations that *require* those professionals rather than the average joe, and yet they can’t apply the same logic to spirituality and religion?
Not everyone can or should be a priest, seer, or shaman. Especially that last one. Not only do these roles require, usually, some inherent natural talent for the subject, as well as extensive years of training and practice, but if everyone gave their life over to intense spiritual and mystic pursuits (as is necessary for a shaman or spirit-worker, and for some seers and priests depending on tradition), our whole society would collapse. At no time in history in no culture that I can think of has *everyone* been a mystic. Just isn’t practical, and for the most part not even desirable for the majority of people. And yet in neo-paganism, everyone wants a speshul title, regardless of their willingness to put in the work required, or their suitability for the job, or anything else. If so-and-so is doing a vision quest, I want to too.
To me, it indicates a lack of respect for the Work itself, and for those who devote their lives to that Work. I would not presume to think that I could paint a museum-worthy work of art, or perform surgery, or design a space shuttle, just because I had read a few books and attended a few workshops. I do not have much talent for any of those things, and even if I did, I would have to spend the next couple decades learning how before I was any good at it. Instead, I do what I am good at, which is the spirit-work and the oracular work and the trancework and the ritual. And because I do this, I cannot do many other things – keep a full time job, raise children, etc. Good thing most people can function in the mundane world, because if everyone were like me, things would grind to a halt. And yet, good thing there are a few people like me, for those times when other people do need a specialist. Just like I am glad that some people are called to be doctors, so that they are there when I need help.