Posted by: nicanthiel | April 9, 2009


There’s an interesting discussion going on over in the Livejournal community Non-Fluffy Pagans about the differences between being a shaman and being a priest. I direct those interested there.

I agree with the theory that shaman/priest is a spectrum rather than a concrete this-or-that. There’s definitely a lot of leeway between the two, and they’re both part of another spectrum, that of spiritual service. This second spectrum is actually a 3-D spectrum, with the third pole being mysticism.*  Thus, shamans are individuals who serve the people through direct and frequent interaction with the spirit world, often to the minimal interaction with the wider community. Conversely, priests serve the people directly, with less direct focus on the spirit world itself (obviously, priests are still connected to the spirit world; they are just generally more concerned with the physical world of their congregations). The pole of mysticism is the degree to which the shaman, priest, or shaman-priest is connected to the powers they serve, specifically that of the divine (i.e., Hildegard of Bingen would probably be a 2/4 priest-mystic, whereas a shaman who only deals with nature spirits and is isolated from the community might be a 9/1 shaman non-mystic).

This concept of spectrum plays into my earlier post about labels in the spiritworker community. Obviously, not everyone who serves the Gods and spirits in that fashion will be a full-blown 9 shaman. Likewise, not everyone who isn’t a traditional shaman or god-slave will automatically be “only” a priest who can only do “mundane” things. I would say that the general area of godaþegn would lie between 3-6 on the s/p scale and 2-5 on the mysticism scale.

Just some thoughts.

*An example, where X is priest-shaman, and Y is mysticism:

Spiritual Service Spectrum



  1. I think I’m about a 3/5, then.

    I do journeying and do communicate with beings like nature spirits, but not as much as I am an intermediary between Gods and people. My primary concern is with this world and the wights which are more easily accessible here, rather than the Otherworlds.

    If you had asked me this a year ago it would be quite different, but I think these things are subject to change over time as well.

    Vanic geeks, untie! 😉


  2. I started out as a shamanic type, but over the last few years, I’ve become a priest/mystic, as I don’t do shamanic work for clients anymore (just divination and occasional bloodwalking), and my relationships with the spirits and gods have narrowed to only a few as much as they’ve deepened with those few, if you know what I mean. I hesitate to even use to the term “spirit-worker” to describe myself, as it doesn’t seem to really fit anymore.

    Also, I wouldn’t necessarily say that priests only do so-called “mundane” things. There’s a special kind of power of blessing and consecration which I facetiously call “having the holy” which has a really different…flavor, I guess, from the sort of power that a shaman or seidh-worker wields. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s more like being a channel for divine power, rather than having power of one’s own augmented by the aid of the spirits. Does that make sense?

    • -nod- Labels will certainly change as our paths go on. I’ve certainly gone through my share of changes in the past three years. And, to be honest, I think it only natural that the more we deal with Deity, the more focused our relationships with Them become, even if just for a period of time.

      And I agree that priests do have something special; wasn’t trying to deny that. I was just commenting on the common perception of priests (as flavored by the most common examples we have, the Christian ones) as only being ritual leaders or counselors, not people deeply intertwined with the spiritual; there’s almost this assumption that in order to be deeply spiritual, one can’t be a part of normal society. Or at least, that’s what I’ve encountered in various places.

  3. “…there’s almost this assumption that in order to be deeply spiritual, one can’t be a part of normal society.”

    Yeah, I’ve encountered that attitude as well. I think that for a priest, being deeply spiritual AND accessible by those in normal society is really important, challenging though it may be.

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