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Why I don't consider Wicca a shamanic religion.

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"Why I don’t consider Wicca a shamanic religion." By Earthmuffin

A growing number of articles on the internet assert that Wicca is a shamanic religion or that Wiccans are in effect shamans. While some members of the Wiccan religion may undertake practices also employed by some shamans or practitioners of shamanism, these are two distinctly different spiritual paths that are by no means equivalent and, to my mind, do not even overlap significantly.

However, to make an accurate determination of the validity of calling Wicca a shamanic religion, one first needs to define what ‘shamanic’ means, and therein is where I think the confusion lies over whether Wicca can be considered shamanic. I think we can safely say the terms shamanic and shamanistic mean “of or relating to shamanism.” So how is shamanism defined? If a definition is too broad, it becomes meaningless; if it is too narrow, it is of little use, so we must seek a description that is both sufficiently inclusive and meaningful to be of value.

The root word, shaman, comes from a word of the Evenks, formerly called the Tungus tribe, of Siberia to describe members of that group who act as mediators between the physical world and the world of spirits. (Please note that the plural of shaman is shamans.) Shamanism is the term anthropologists have used to refer to this practice among this people and have applied more broadly to a family of similar practices and beliefs among indigenous cultures around the globe. While each indigenous culture has its own name for the equivalent of the shaman in its society, certain central commonalities exist across cultures. These are a belief that everything has spirit, the regular use of ecstatic trance states by the shaman to make a ‘soul flight’ to otherworld realms, and the ‘mastery over’ (I prefer ‘aid of’) spirits to effect cures for individuals and the community. A modern movement using these core beliefs and practices has rapidly gained popularity in our Western culture since Michael Harner, an anthropologist turned shamanic practitioner, brought these ideas to the public in the early 1980s with publication of The Way of the Shaman. This movement has also been referred to as shamanism or more accurately as core shamanism, modern shamanism, neo-shamanism or urban shamanism. In deference indigenous cultures, I have begun using ‘shaman’ only to refer to members of indigenous cultures and ‘shamanic practitioner’ to refer to members of the modern day Western movement.

It seems needless to define Wicca, a religion that has been around now for nearly six decades and is considered the fast-growing religion in the United States; however, Wicca, the religion, and witchcraft, a spiritual practice, are still confused to this day much as Wicca and shamanism are. Wicca is a religion that originated with Gerald Gardner in the 1950’s. Gardner’s claim that his religion was a rediscovered ancient path has not found support among archaeologists and is generally accepted as fictional by modern pagans (see Adler, Drawing Down the Moon). Witchcraft is more simply the practice of using magic.

The following contrasts between Wicca and shamanism as defined above indicate to me that Wicca should not be referred to as a shamanistic religion.

•   Wicca is a nature-based religion that takes many of its ritual components from ceremonial magic.
Shamanism, on the other hand is not a religion but a worldview and spiritual practice by specific members of certain indigenous cultures.

•   Wiccans typically worship an archetypal Goddess and a God or a pantheon of deities representative of those archetypes.   
There is no specific concept of deity in shamanism.

•   Shamanism is an animistic belief system, in which all things, including inanimate objects like rocks and manmade items, are considered to have spirit, or a form of consciousness.
While many Wiccans have close relationships with the natural world and most believe in the existence of spirits, they are not necessarily animists and being one is not a prerequisite to the religion.

•   Shamans enter trance states to make journeys to specific otherworld realms to accomplish healing for others with the aid of spirits.
Not all Wiccans employ trance in their religious practice. Some Wiccans may practice astral projection, which differs from shamanic soul flight in that the destination is different and there is not a clear healing purpose. Priestesses or solo practitioners may enter trance during the Drawing Down the Moon or Drawing Down the Sun rituals, but in this case the trance is considered a form or possession rather than a soul journey to an otherworld realm.

•   Wiccan practices and shamanic practices do have some more minor aspects in common. Both Wiccans and shamans and shamanic practitioners may practice forms of divination and use herbs for healing, but these are not central components of these paths.

In conclusion, while I find it misleading to assert that Wicca is a shamanic religion, shamanic practices can be combined successfully with many religions, including Wicca. A couple of texts I can recommend that do a laudable job of describing shamanic practice within the context of the Wiccan religion are Green Hedge Witch by Rae Beth and the Shamanic Witch by Gail Wood.

Crystal Dragon:
Excellent piece EM ... thank you for sharing your thoughts and information. :warmfuzz:

On a side note, I'm guessing you found some time to read Shamanic Witch?    I'm still working my way through that one. :whistle:

Yes, it is an excellent piece.  Thanks for sharing EM!

Eternal Seeker:

Very well reasoned, and well written.


Thanks.  :D


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