Saturday, August 4, 2007

Shamanic Practice and the Priesthood


Alice C. Linsley


A fundamental principle of cultural anthropology states that the study of existent primitive societies helps us to understand archaic societies and vice versa. This is especially the case when we compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. What do I mean?

There is no benefit in comparing practices of peoples belonging to totally different regions and language groups, yet this is done fairly often in politically correct textbooks to prove a point. This is intellectual dishonesty.

The other explanation for this sloppy approach is that those who apply it don’t know enough to realize the fallacy of the comparison. If this is the case, they should neither claim to be experts nor should they be recognized as experts.

To illustrate the comparison of apple and oranges, I’ll refer to a textbook that I’m presently using to teach World Religions. In the section on shamanism, the author generalizes that shamans are the priests of the ancient world and that since there are Japanese and Korean female shamans, there must have been female priests. This is of course the politically correct thing to say, but it is based on a false premise and employs an incorrect anthropological method. Here is the author’s reasoning in syllogistic form:

Premise: All shamans are priests.
Females are shamans.
Therefore female shamans are priests.

The problem here is that the premise is false. While there are ways in which shamans and priests are similar, the distinction between them is clear. Two of the oldest institutions known to man are the offices of priest and shaman. The first pertains to the Afro-Asiatic peoples and the second to the Altaic and Uralic peoples. While priests and shamans serve similar functions in their societies, their worldviews are very different.

Underlying shamanism is the belief that there are powerful spirits who cause imbalance and disharmony in the world. The shaman’s role is to determine which spirits are at work in a given situation and to find ways to appease the spirits. This may or may not involve animal sacrifice. Underlying the priesthood is belief in a single supreme Spirit to whom humans must give an accounting, especially for the shedding of blood. In this view, one Great Spirit (God) holds the world in balance and it is human actions that cause disharmony. The vast assortment of ancient laws governing priestly ceremonies, sacrifices, and cleansing rituals clarifies the role of the priest as one who offers animal sacrifice according to sacred law.

Another way in which the author misleads the reader is by comparing a trait (female shamans) in cultures in the Eastern Altaic language family with a trait (male priesthood) in cultures in the Afro-Asiatic language family. This is comparing apples to oranges and violates a fundamental principle of cultural anthropology.

Here is the oft-cited support for female shamans and goddesses: In Japan the Shinto goddess, Amaterasu, is said to protect the imperial family. She is associated with the sun. The author writes, “In contrast to many other religious systems, the goddess is associated with the sun....” He also notes that Japan and Korea have female shamans. What the author cites as an exception actually illustrates the norm. Let us investigate this case further.

Females nurture and are often taken as patronesses. Consider how the Church regards Mary, whose care for others is illustrated by her advising the servants at the wedding to “do as he tells you.” So it is not surprising that the imperial family should have a goddess as patron. Nor is it surprising that this goddess is associated with the sun since the sun is the emblem of Japan’s Imperial House (as is her moon brother's sword).

Where there are goddesses there are always female devotees, thus the female shamans in Japan and Korea. Such a phenomena has been observed surrounding the goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome as well.  But these represent a worldview quite apart from the biblical worldview in which male and female are binary opposites and the male is regarded as superior to the female in strength and size, just as the Sun is larger than the Moon and the Moon's light is merely the reflection of the Sun. In God, the male condescends in love to His inferior so that she may share some of His glory.

Related reading:  God as Male Priest; Ideologies Opposed to Holy Tradition; The Importance of Binary Distinctions; Binary Distinctions and Kenosis; Traditional Healers of Central Australia

8 comments:

NORTHERN PLAINS ANGLICANS said...

Christian priesthood can be twisted into a more general shamanism. The gnostics certainly twisted apostolic words, and one who wants to find shamanism can pick out ideas like Paul's "stewards of the mysteries".

But Christian priesthood is not about general tinkering with the spirit world. It is about anamnesis of Christ crucified.

Feminism, mainly in its wierd Liberal Protestant forms, is enthralled by lesbianism. It devolves easily into idolatry (worship of the self/projection of the self onto the divine). Thus a generalized, shamanist or nature religion appeals - remove the pointed Biblical message, and it is much easier to twist all the words and symbols toward a "divine feminine". One of the more interesting things about The DaVinci Code is the book jacket stuff, revealing that the author's wife is some kind of "Women's Studies" prof. That influence explains a bunch about the book's wierd distortions of history.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Very true! Through Anamnesis of Christ's passion the Christisn stands in sacred time and space. It is not necessary to go into a trance.

hopellen said...

The more liberal theological world's worship of "Sophia" is another politically twisted use, animistic and even idolatrous use, of the value of women. The true value of women is grounded in the binary/biblical roles and status given them by God their Creator and Savior, not in the a lesbanian tainted feminism that is more anti-masculine than spiritual.

Father Ron said...

Dear Alice, whatever it was that made you renounce your vocation as a priest in the Episcopal Church I am sorry that this was your decision.

However, I would like you to consider the position of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her status as Theotokos - God-bearer, which, I think might directly relate to this important issue of priesthood.

If the principal task of priesthood is to preside at the altar in a ritual where Christ becomes present in the Eucharist, then was not the Christ brought into being in her womb - surely an act of priesthood unparallelled by any mere male?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Ron, I set aside my vows as a priest, but not as a deacon. So technically I'm still a deacon, though inhibited for abandonment of Communion. Three years ago was inhibited by the bishop of Lexington for abandonment of communion when I taught an adult class on Genesis at a nearby Anglican Church. That was a curious claim, but one made by many revisionist bishops against orthodox clergy across the USA. This time any claim that I have abandoned the Anglican Communion is legitimate since I left TEC and joined the Orthodox Church in February 2007.

Why did I set aside the priesthood? Because I no longer believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood. This is another of TEC's innovations, along with the 1979 Prayer Book, same-sex blessings and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is neither a priest nor a symbol of the priesthood. She is the Mother of Christ God and as such is unique. While her sacrifice did involve the shedding of blood in birth, that was taken care of by the priest when she presented herself according to the purification laws of Israel.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I should add that there are two types of blood anxiety: blood shed by killing and blood shed by birthing. To ancient peoples both were regarded as powerful and potentially dangerous, requiring priestly ministry either to deal with blood guilt through animal sacrifice or to deal with blood contamination through purification. The prohibition to not eat of flesh that has blood, because life is in the blood is very telling. Blood represents life and pollution. Blessed Mary presented herself for ritual purification and the "churching of women" is a vestige of this practice. Unfortunately, the churching of women after birth has largely been done away with since western women regard it as humiliating. Instead they should see it as following the example of the most powerful woman in history.

Alice C. Linsley said...

A reader emailed me this comment:

"I was reading your blog about shamans and priests; very good. Are you planning to write a book? It is much needed.

I've a comment in response to Fr. Ron. You wrote: "The Blessed Virgin Mary is neither a priest nor a symbol of the priesthood. She is the Mother of Christ God and as such is unique. While her sacrifice did involve the shedding of blood in birth, that was taken care of by the priest when she presented herself according to the purification laws of Israel."

In the Hymns of the Orthodox Church it is clear that the birth of our Lord was without pain and without corrupting her virginity (like when he passed through stone at the tomb and the doors on the first Sunday after the Resurrection). So there would be no blood. She is the new-Eve that overturns the curse. So no purification was needed. Luke 2:22 (in the Greek) says "their purification" not "her purification". The Church has understood that "their" implies the Jewish people. This is a bit incomplete.

Pray for me.
Christopher

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, I need to think much more about this, Christopher.

Perhaps the answer is that these matters pertaining to Mary's bringing forth her son, Christ our God, are forever hidden as a matter of divine delicacy. This is consistent with God's love for his female servants. Remember the Creator sought Mary's consent before the Spirit overshadowed her. (Contrast this to Zeus who raped women.) This hiding of the details of Mary's "bringing forth" is consistent also with the worldview of Mary's ancestors who displayed the erect phallis at shrines, but (unlike Hinduism) NEVER displayed the female organ.