Wicca and Shamanism
Wicca is a shamanic spiritual path. More than one religious historian has suggested that the ancient archaeological evidence found throughout the excavation sites of Old Europe points to shamanic activity. While the entirety of the religious systems of the Europeans who lived in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods may not have been shamanic, it is likely that the shaman played an important role in ancient tribal life. Additionally, it is likely that substrate of beliefs and religious traditions spring forth from shamanic practices.
A shaman is a spiritual leader who serves many important functions, usually within a tribal society. The shaman may be a priest, a mystic (someone who has an immediate, direct connection to the divine force), a counselor, an interpreter of spirits, a healer, and a magician. A shaman presides over the rites of passage from birth to death and foretells the future.
The gods of the shaman are not generally known by the rest of the community, since the way of the shaman is a secret way. The shaman’s gods are totemic; they take many forms such as stone, plant, animal, human, and spirit. The powers of the shaman are those of the earth, the wind, the waters, and the fire. Shamans also gather secret, magical knowledge from the hidden worlds of their familiar spirits.
The shaman’s power comes from ecstatic rites and practices that transport him or her to the magical otherworlds, where the energies of powerful spiritual forces are encountered and harnessed. The word “ecstasy” comes from the Greek ecstasies, which means “to be placed outside” or “to be placed.” The shamanic magical state of ecstasy is an altered frame of awareness during which a person may feel as though he or she transcends him- or herself. The core experience of the shaman in the ecstatic state is the realization, as psychoanalyst Carl Jung states, that “he is of the same essence as the universe, and his own mid-point is its center.”
One does not choose to become a shaman. Likewise, one does not actively choose the path of the Witch. Rather, the path chooses the individual. The consensus of anthropological literature confirms that the “call” to the magical path often emerges from an individual’s deeply transformative experiences of consciousness. Typically these experiences emerge spontaneously and often follow events such as near-death experiences, high fevers, falling from great heights, life-threatening illnesses, lucid dreams, strong visions, or “near-psychotic breaks” (which are mental or perceptual deviations from shared reality).
Hallmarks of the shamanic experience include:
- A traumatic incident (such as the near-death experiences, lucid dreams, visions, or near-psychotic breaks mentioned previously), which typically occurs in childhood.
- A close relationship with nature.
- Demonstration of natural psychic, magical, or healing abilities.
- The ability to spontaneously “move between the worlds” of physical and non-physical reality; this usually entails extended periods of disorientation induced by trance, drumming, dancing, or psychoactive herbs.
- The ability to understand the underlying spiritual or energetic nature of all things (both animate and inanimate).
- The ability to receive intuitive messages (whether in the form of words, images, or sensations) from both seen and unseen sources.
- The ability to harness spiritual power.
- The ability to cause change through unseen or magical means.
There is a difference between a shaman and a madman. The shaman is someone who experiences a degree of control over his or her otherworld experiences. The shaman can move between the worlds and can function effectively within both a mundane and a spiritual context. Not only can the shaman converse with spirits, but he or she can function concretely and practically within the framework of a society.
The madman goes off into the otherworld and is never heard from again. A madman cannot maintain balance, nor can he or she perceive a difference between physical and spiritual realities. The madman cannot come back to everyday reality and function effectively within the community. When mad, an individual lacks stability in work, in relationships with other people, and in states of mind.
A Word to the Wise:
In many ways, the contemporary practices of Wicca link directly to the tribal rites and beliefs of our ancient shamanic predecessors. Those who practice these mystic arts today have at the basis of their work over 30,000 years of history to support them. From the caves of Lascaux in Dordogne to the ancient Anatolia, history supports the fact that the rites and practices of shamanism have occurred globally much longer than any other known spiritual path.
- Describe in writing your own “calling” to the Witch’s path. Take note of which of the shamanic hallmarks describe your own experience.
- We all have characteristics of both the shaman and the madman. In what ways are you a shaman? In what ways are you a madman or madwoman?