Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Female Shamans, Not Women Priests

C.S. Lewis the Prophet

"...I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Order. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds..." -- C.S. Lewis, from his essay “Priestesses in the Church?”

Alice C. Linsley

There is so much bad teaching and erroneous information on the subject of women priests that there is little wonder that people are confused. The latest example is Joan Breton Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess. Connelly fails to make a distinction between shamans and priests, as do most World Religions texts. The "priestess" of ancient Greece was a shaman, a seer, and a wise woman, but not a priest who offered blood sacrifice for atonement.

Blood sacrifices were not the norm in ancient Greece. Appeasement of the gods and atonement are very different concepts.

Connelly claims that women were present at blood sacrifices, but cannot verify that they offered the sacrifice. She concedes that they may have lead the bull or sheep to the priest, but then she dismisses this by saying that the one who actually wielded the knife was a butcher of low social status, not a high ranking priest. Yet throughout the archaic world, it was ruler-priests who offered animal sacrifice.

Connelly obfuscates the question of whether or not women offered blood sacrifice. Obfuscation reveals lack of hard evidence.

The women seers of the ancient Greek and Alexandrian temples and shrines did not offer blood sacrifice. They were seers and "wise women." One example is Themistoclea, the Pythia of Apollo at the Delphi temple in the 6th century BC. She was reputed to be wise in math, natural science, medicine and philosophy. She was one of Pythagoras' teachers. Diogenes stated that "Aristoxenus asserts that Pythagoras derived the greater part of his ethical doctrines from Themistoclea, the priestess at Delphi."

Serpent pillar that originally stood
in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
The heads of the snakes have been broken off.

Themistoclea has a later parallel in Hypatia who was at the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria. The Church Father Tertullian wrote in AD 197 that the temple housed a great library which contained the Old Testament in Greek (Septuagint). Hypatia was the daughter of the famous mathematician Theon Alexandricus (AD 335-405). Like Themistoclea, she too was a mathematician, as well as an astronomer and philosopher. Around AD 400 she became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria. She imparted knowledge to people from all over the world who came to Alexandria to study. One of her students, Synesius of Cyrene, became bishop of Ptolemais in AD 410. He was an exponent of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

These were wise women whose advice was sought when people, especially rulers, were faced with big decisions, but they were not priests. They probably offered grain and oil offerings in the temples, as did many people who were not priests: warriors, nobles, commoners with substantial resources, etc.

Hupa female shaman. Photo Edward S. Curtis, 1923

Shamans are not Priests

Women have been shamans in many cultures, but never priests. Priests offer sacrifice and never go into a trance state to communicate with spirits. Shamans and priests serve a similar role in that they are mediators between the supernatural and their communities. However, priests are forbidden to participate in divination as mediums. The roles are the same, but their worldviews are very different. Shamans seek secret knowledge to determine what has brought disease, war and natural disaster to their communities. They believe such things are due to spirits that have been offended by human actions. Those spirits must be appeased. Only one Spirit is consulted by priests, and this Spirit never lies. That is why John urges his spiritual children always to "test the spirits."

I made the acquaintance of 2 shamans (one was Umani Lenape and the other was Sioux) and I have studied this. Shamans will tell you that the spirits often lie and they have to try to trick them to find out what is true and what is false.

To illustrate the comparison of apple and oranges, I refer to a textbook used at the university where I 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 the politically correct thing to teach, but it is based on a false premise and employs an incorrect anthropological method. Here is the author’s reasoning in syllogistic form:

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

Besides the poor logic, we have a problem of trying to compare two worldviews that are in stark contrast. While there are ways in which shamans and priests are similar, the distinction between their worldviews and their methods is clear. While priests and shamans serve similar functions in their societies as mediators, 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.

Women Priests in the Church

On the question of women priests in the Church, it is necessary to consider Scripture and the consensus of the Church Fathers. These authorities lump the innovation of women priests with the Arian heresy, liberation theology, and same-sex theology.

St. Athanasius said: “It is fit for us to adhere to the Word of God, and not relinquish it, thinking by syllogisms to evade what is there clearly delivered.” (Tract of the Incarnation). He also said: “Ask not concerning the Trinity but learn only from the Scriptures. For the instructions which you will find there are sufficient.” (Tract of the Holy Ghost) And in his Oration against the Gentiles, Athanasius declared: “That the Scriptures are sufficient to the manifestation of the Truth.” Not a single woman is designated "priest" in the Bible.

Speaking about the danger of innovation, St. Basil the Great said: “Everyone who steadfastly values the old ways above these novelties, and who has preserved unchanged the tradition of the fathers both in the city and in the country, is familiar with this phrase [with whom in the doxology]. Rather, it is those never content with accepted ways who despise the old as being stale, constantly welcoming innovation, like worldings who are always chasing after the latest fashion. Observe that country people cling to ancient patterns of speech, while the adroit language of these cunning disputants always bear the brand of the latest trends of thought. But for us, what our fathers said [the received Tradition], we repeat: the same glory is given to the Father and Son; therefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son. But we are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of Scripture.” (On the Holy Spirit, translated by David Anderson, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1980)

“The dogmas of the Fathers are held in contempt, the Apostolic traditions are disdained, the churches are subject to the novelties of innovators.” St. Basil the Great, Letter 90, To the Most Holy Brethren and Bishops Found in the West.

Blessed John Chrysostom has explicit direction concerning women and the priesthood: “When one is required to preside over the Church, and be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also.”

He also wrote, “The divine law indeed has excluded women from this ministry, but they endeavour to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing of themselves, they do all through the agency of others.”

Related Reading: What is a Priest?Why Women Were Never PriestsThe Priesthood in Anthropological Perspective; What Christians Believe



Kepha said...

Blood sacrifice not the norm in ancient Greece?

Why, then, was Iphigenea sacrificed by her father Agamemnon prior to the sailing of the Greek fleet for Troy? What of the sacrifice of Polyxena, youngest daughter of Priam, by the victorious Greeks?

What of the animals offered at the various festivals of the ancient Greek City-States?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The concepts of blood sacrifice to appease the gods and animal sacrifice to atone for sin are distinct concepts, Kepha. The latter did not originate with the Greeks.

In the Axial Age royal fathers did sacrifice daughters. In the Bible there is only one account of that among the Israelites, found in Judges 11: 30-39. It was due to making an oath and both swearing oaths and child sacrifice are condemned in the Bible.

"You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they [the pagans] have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods." (Deuteronomy 12:31)

DDeden said...

Alice, delete if desired, but I saw this:

Common traits of these 'mountain religions' --- often extending all along

the Himalayas --- include the following. There is the prominent role of

shamans (pshur, wrear, deal N., dehar K., LIEVRE & LOUDE 1990) and related

items: the use of flat circular drums, of various types of psychopharmaca

(wine, fly agaric, rhubarb, mead, Pashto hum ~ Kalash sámani; cf. also

NYBERG 1995), and a general pattern of goat sacrifice (already seen at

Mehrgarh, near Quetta, 6500 BCE), with sprinkling of the blood of the victim.

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.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The office of priest and the office of shaman are extremely old. Both found among prehistoric communities.

The ancient priestly laws were already well codified by 800 BC, the beginning of the Axial Age.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Here is something on the high places or shrine cities:

Hugh McCann said...

Hopefully, ACNA will read this!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Pray for the ACNA. The issue of women priests will have to be resolved. It is divisive and it is not going away.

Unknown said...

Alice Linsley, I totally agree with your assessment. Priests are NOT the same as shamans (witches). Shamans are spirit mediums while priests are not is the main difference but there are other differences. Also, despite the huge gender misconception, the vast majority of shamans worldwide are actually female not only in Asia but in Africa and in the Americas. That spirits may lie is not the only reason for edicts against shamans, as there are pagan deities that were said to be truthful. It's that Israelite religion forbids contact with any spirit except the Holy Spirit which is why witches and other spirit mediums are banned from Israel and the people are forbidden from consulting them. In fact many Biblical scholars have noted that the Deuteronomic edict was the result of rivalry between the Israelite priesthood and the pagan witches. Such rivalry or conflict between the priesthood and shamans was not unique to ancient Israel as such has occurred from ancient Rome to Taoist China and many cultures where a priesthood wanted to consolidate sole spiritual authority.