(previously published on Medium.com December 2015)
Sometimes when you are traveling down a certain path, it helps to know which one you are on, and also to know the path that others think you are on. It’s a way to build a relationship with those around you, learn a bit more about the world, to help make it a better place, and improve yourself as a person.
Language, if you think about it, is a funny thing. Words have meanings, very specific ones, but they can change over time, or based on how they are used, or even by who is reading or hearing them. For example, as a geologist, when I say that a soil is comprised of a silty clay, I mean a very specific thing. That the soil is comprised of a certain range of percentage of silt and a certain range of clay material. However, when a farmer says the soil is a silty clay he most likely is basing his definition on how it looks or how it feels in the hand. It could have a certain texture that would indicate that water would be hard pressed to travel through it.
Which one of us is correct? We’re both looking at the same soil. We can’t both be right, can we? Yes, we can be both correct- and both incorrect at the same time. Once again, it’s about perspective. We each are choosing to see different aspects of the soil, and deciding that those criteria would indicate a certain descriptive label of “silty clay” Are those characteristics present in the soil? Well, assuming that we haven’t made any bad observations, they would be. So even in something as simple as soil, and a descriptive term like silty clay, we can have a lot of different understandings.
This idea can be extended to the idea of spiritual understanding as well, and perhaps even more so, since everyone is hard pressed to provide evidential proof of what they believe. I have not found anyone (myself included) that can provide conclusive, irrefutable, and testable evidence of the existence of any spiritual being or object. Since we don’t have something objective to compare in this case, all we have is the words that we have chosen to represent the ideas, concepts and experiences.
Words such as “god”, “angel”, “spirit”, “demon” “magic”, or even “shamanism” can take on a vastly different meaning and connotations depending on how or by whom they are being defined. Because of this, reaching a true understanding of different viewpoints can be problematic without knowing how each term is defined by each party.
Since I do not know who will be reading this blog, I have decided to provide the definitions that I will be using for a number of terms that I encounter routinely on my path. You may agree with them, you may not. That is your privilege. And as always, please feel free to comment with your ideas and clarifications.
So without further ado, here we go.
1. God/god/goddess – an entity, being, or deity who is usually worshiped by a group of people or an individual and who is believed to have an influence over the world, lives or reality. They can be either gendered or agender.
2. Angel– an entity or being that acts as a messenger or worker for a certain god or goddess. It may be any gender or form.
3. Spirit- any entity or being that exists without a physical, tangible body, or has the ability to on a regular basis.
4. Demon– an entity, or being that acts independently or in opposition to a particular god or goddess. (See definition of Angel above) May be any gender or form.
5. Magic- the ability or practice of manipulating reality in order to facilitate your desires.
6. Shamanism– a worldview which consists of a series of beliefs and practices that encourage communication with the spiritual aspect of reality in order to facilitate better conditions for the community as well as the individual. It also has has the following general characteristics 1) Spirits can play an important role in human lives, 2) Spirits can be negotiated with, controlled or influenced by an individual 3) Spirits can be either good, bad, or neutral. 4) A belief in animism 5) the belief that spirits or spiritual entities may try to communicate with the individual through various natural phenomena, or signs or omens, 6) Certain individuals have a natural affinity to communicate with spiritual beings, and 7) religious practice or worldview that meets the criteria listed above and is practiced or was originally practiced primarily by the indigenous people of Siberia and northern Russia.
I want to be very clear to my readers when I am defining shamanism. It is my belief that many people do a disservice to many Native American Religions or indigenous religions by lumping them all together under the umbrella of Shamanism. True, they do share some aspects and characteristics, but each on also has their own unique beliefs and practices that warrant their own category. To claim that I understand Cherokee spirituality or Lakota spirituality simply because I understand a small part of Shamanism would be not only completely wrong but also very insulting to everyone involved.
So those are some of the terms that I am using to define and know the path that I am on. There are many others, of course, and I will discuss them in future posts.
So tell me — what are your ideas? What defines the path that you are on?
© 2016 – 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.