Oftentimes people will tell you should you set the bar too high, you’re elitist. I don’t always hit my bars. I tend to take it badly when I don’t. However, I tire of lukewarm spirituality and words that used to be special that are just thrown around now. Priest, shaman, hell, even spiritual has lost its meaning in the morass of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Being a priest doesn’t mean you have a personal relationship with a God or Goddess; that is implied by your position as a priest. Being a priest means serving your community as a conduit to your God/dess or as the Mouth of your Deity so others may hear when/if your Deity calls on you for such a thing. Being a shaman means serving your community too, as a conduit to the spirits, the Ancestors, and Gods as well if your belief system has them. I’m painting with incredibly broad brushes here, as each individual community may have needs that priests or shamans may or may not address. I also recognize that certain belief systems have a use for a priest here, or a shaman there, or, alternatively, that a belief system may not have space for either role.
Spiritual, as a word, has been watered down as well. Just what is ‘spiritual but not religious’ supposed to mean? I look around at my resources for definitions of it, just purely dictionary ones, and I find this:
- “religious: concerned with sacred matters or religion or the church; “religious texts”; “a member of a religious order”; “lords temporal and spiritual”; “spiritual leaders”; “spiritual songs”
- concerned with or affecting the spirit or soul; “a spiritual approach to life”; “spiritual fulfillment”; “spiritual values”; “unearthly love”
- lacking material body or form or substance; “spiritual beings”; “the vital transcendental soul belonging to the spiritual realm”-Lewis Mumford
- a kind of religious song originated by Blacks in the southern United States
- apparitional: resembling or characteristic of a phantom; “a ghostly face at the window”; “a phantasmal presence in the room”; “spectral emanations”; “spiritual tappings at a seance”
The most this word can be watered down to is ‘concerned with sacred matters’ or ‘concerned with or affecting the spirit or soul’ according to how the phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’ is supposed to work. According to how I’ve heard the phrase given to me, it is supposed to be concerned with matters of Spirit without the religious dogma or preconceived notions of Spirit. I don’t see how this definition of spiritual works, though, especially in this phrase. Each person approaches their cosmology with their own ideas in mind, their own bounds within which that spirituality makes sense on a day-to-day basis. None of us comes from a vacuum, and so, we are unable to approach Spirit, whether you see it as an It or many its, both, or something else, without some kind of ideation as to what it is. Even atheists have an idea of what Spirit is, and they tend to be set against a certain iteration of it, say, Dawkins’ many rants against the Christian God. We can perhaps shed away many idealistic and religion-informed layers between us and Spirit, but I’ve yet to see of a way in which to purely approach Spirit that did not include methods or views that were not informed by a religion.
My point ultimately boils down to the idea that these words are so overused with no thought as to what they mean, either by dictionary or community-based definition, as to be almost rendered meaningless without copious amount of explanation. So we must render meaning back into these words. The only way I see us doing that is by having these words actually mean something within the community. As a community, we need to decide what words like ‘priest’, ‘shaman’, and so on mean to us, and that may mean individual denominations under the Pagan umbrella have their own terms, and will need to say in dialogue on or offline “this is what x term means to me.”