Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From MysticWicks: Shamanic Practices in Christianity

Since the popular Pagan board MysticWicks appears to be down, I thought I would post my response to a thread on the forum concerning that ever-popular bugbear, Neoshamanism.  We were discussing whether the "Shaman" as a figure appears in contemporary Christianity.  I suggested that we might want to look to Pentecostal Christianity and such Christian figures as Holy Fools and Stylites.  Another poster, Phathead (who is a practitioner of Lukumi, IIRC) said:
I thought about those examples such as spiritual baptists of the south,snake handlers, etc. but did not think that someone "catching the spirit" necessarily met the rest of the original poster's definition of Neo - shaman and certainly not that of any other traditional or indigenous person that fit that particular role(shaman type). As for anything in the old testament -well that too is pre-christian. I do not have any issue with the term Neo-Pagan, It just isn't me. Having said that, isn't that co-opting or diluting the term?????
I am looking forward to the release of your next book!
In the documentary I referenced (Holy Ghost People) the preacher was acting very much like a houngenikon at a Vodou fet.  He was using the cadences of his preaching, including bits of glossolalia, to "bring the spirit down" on congregants. Others would lay on hands, begin singing at people who were wavering in and out of trance and generally act to induce an altered state of mystical consciousness.  I think that there are definite commonalities in the techniques used, the energy raised, and the final results.  I wouldn't call those people shamans or neo-Shamans - it would dilute the term and they would take it as an insult.  But I think they have incorporated elements of shamanism and shamanic practice into their contemporary Christian spirituality.

There are very real problems with the word "Shaman."  Originally it describes a spiritual/political office found within a few indigenous Siberian tribes.  Mircea Eliade noted that many of their religious practices and customs were found in other parts of the world, and described these practices as "Shamanism."  (He also incorporated his own prejudices into the definition: he favored "vision questing/visualization" cultures over more "decadent and primitive" trance possession cultures - which were largely African... ).  The priests and medicine men of most of these various tribes did not define themselves as "shamans" or their religion as "shamanism" - that has always been an outsider term used to label a foreign practice and classify foreign concepts.