Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest
Another question from Valiel Elantári:
What difference do you make between “shaman” and “priest” ?
I had defined a shaman in Question 9 as ‘an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.’ A priest may be that as well. Where I see a marked difference is the kind of relationship a priest has vs. what a shaman has in their community. A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods. When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion. A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity. A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.
Some of the Work of a priest I do see as dovetailing with the Work of a shaman. There can be very direct parallels between the two jobs’ requirements. Both, for instance, need people to be spiritually clean, firm in their religious foundations, knowledgeable in their cosmology and in particular the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits they work with and/or worship. Depending on the needs of the community, the two jobs may place requirements on the shoulders of a priest and a shaman that are similar, if not the same, such as blessing a newly birthed baby, weddings, fields before or after planting, etc. The requirements of a priest may be wildly divergent priest to priest, tradition to tradition, the same with shamans, so saying anything across the board means somewhere I am getting something wrong. The palette has too many colors for me to accurately paint with a select few.
In my own work as a priest and a shaman, my work as Odin’s priest is different from being a shaman in that He may ask me to deliver messages on His behalf as a priest whereas in my role as a shaman I may be asked to do a ritual action instead. In a way, it seems to me I am engaged more in action serving Him as a shaman than I am as a priest, in which I tend to act more in the role of a passive message-passer. Then again, as I am both, sometimes the two blend together in terms of my service to Him. So the only thing I can say for certain here, is that I serve Him as He asks or demands of me.
In my Work as a priest of Anubis this is a bit markedly different from my service as Odin’s priest. For one, Anubis demands very little of my time nowadays, but I can feel Him starting to really come back to the fore now that I have a new altar to the Dead, rather than, say, just the Military Dead or my Ancestors. For another, Anubis’ requirement have been to offer Him offerings on occasion, but nothing like the dedication of Ancient Egyptian temple priests. I have a small statue of Him that I feed offerings to, put water before, and occasionally bathe in similar fashion to how temple priests might have done. However, that is more or less the extent of my historically-based practice. Much of my work with Anubis is pure UPG, and when He calls upon me to help a Lost Dead or to deliver a message on a spirit’s behalf on His behalf, I do, and my services are rendered, and I go on my way. My service to Anubis is more haphazard and as He needs me then I imagine other priests might serve, i.e. those who have permanent temple space. Some of my Work with Him dovetails well with the Work I do for Odin, for instance, the consistent cleaning, grounding, and centering rituals. Keeping myself clean, as well as keeping the altars clean, are part and parcel of my Work with Him. So too, making sure the altar to the Dead is kept well, that offerings are laid out. I must also be sure that the Dead are not insulted or treated ill in rituals, another place where my Work as a shaman dovetails with my priest Work.
In this way, priests, as with shamans, are intercessors in that those who come to us will learn that there are certain rites to be observed, and taboos to be avoided. One taboo I have as a shaman is that whenever I do for another I must in some way, shape, or form, have Gebo from the other party. Another, in my role as Anubis’ priest, is that I must not let the Dead be insulted or poorly treated. It is on me to establish what requirements and taboos there are to working with these spirits, especially the person in question is coming to me for help or training. That is part of the Work of any intercessor: you are, in some way, shape, or form, establishing and reestablishing the proper boundaries of and engaging in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. For those who know them, you are reinforcing the boundaries of and encouraging engagement in right relationship.
I think this hits on another aspect of the difference between being a shaman and being a priest. As a shaman I am often required to traverse boundaries, whether my own personal ones, or in journey work, or in transgressing some unspoken cultural boundary, i.e. Ancestor worship. A shaman is often a boundary crosser, may be an ambassador of some kind to other communities including other Worlds, and puts hirself at risk so they, their community, and the relationships they hold can flourish. A priest is often one who reinforces the boundaries, who stays within the boundaries and teaches from that place of power on how to live well, to live in right relationship, and establish communities in the teachings from their God(s) or Goddess(es).
To put it another way: a shaman often must journey to the útgarð for their Work whereas a priest’s main place and Work is done in the innangarð.