Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer


Distinction Between Shamans, Magicians, and Priests

…The shaman derives his occult power and insight from the ghosts or spirits with whom he is en rapport, and it is upon them that he depends for his special endowments. Sometimes he may be also a professional magician, but when he shamanizes he is under the influence of supernatural forces external to himself. Notwithstanding the fact that the functions of the worker of magic may be combined in one and the same person, the distinction between the medicine-man and the shaman, the magician and the priest, is fundamental because the one relies solely upon the exercise of his own psychic power; the other seeks the aid of the spiritual beings with whom he is in constant intercourse. But while the shaman is in this way differentiated from the magician or medicine man, he is also distinguished from the priest by the very considerable measure of control that he is able to bring to bear upon the transcendental agencies he subordinates to his will. While on occasions he may engage in sacerdotal functions his real work is in connexion with healing and divination, and inasmuch as he has direct access to the spirit world and derives his powers from particular tutelary spirits who are more or less at his command, his marvellous feats are performed by virtue of supernatural gifts and exploits deriving from his power over or influence with spirits.

Therefore, [the shaman] occupies an intermediate position between the magician who acts exclusively on his own authority and initiative, and the priest who supplicates and conciliates forces superior to himself, guards the sacred tradition in his care, and acts as the master of its sacrificial technique strictly within the limits of his office. The one officiates in his own name and by his occult methods; the other serves at the altar and in the temple or shrine as the representative of the community in its relations with the gods and the unseen world. Both have to undergo a specialized training and receive formal initiation, but the shaman virtually must have the right disposition and temperament, whether hereditary or chosen, whereas neither the magician nor the priest has to exhibit psychopathic tendencies because they are masters of a technique, or holders of an office, conferred upon them by consecration. The medicine-man must be efficient in his craft, while the priest must have an expert knowledge of sacred learning and of all that pertains to the sacerdotal office, its ritual, mythology, law, doctrine and organization. The shaman and the magician may both be individualists, but since the priest is responsible for maintaining a right relationship between the community and its gods, he exercises his functions in a corporate capacity. As sacrifice is the vital bond of union in this relationship, the altar is his cult centre as against the shamanistic séance, visionary experience and ecstatic utterance, or the rite and spell of the magician put into operation either publicly or in secret for licit or illicit ends. In the shaman all three disciplines—inspiration, magic and religion—are loosely combined, but prophecy and divination, and the exercise of occult power, are the determining characteristics of the office.

Individuals richly endowed with these psychic gifts acquire considerable prestige, but shamans seldom, if ever, have an assured position in society comparable to that of an organized hierarchy, or of an outstanding magician, like for instance a renowned rain-maker. They are held in varying degrees of respect and fear according to their powers, but they do not constitute a distinct order, and unless they are also medicine-men or cult leaders, they do not exercise administrative functions, even though they may be honoured after death and become the centre of a cultus. They may, however, combine the functions of a healer and an expert in the occult technique. Being in possession of a considerable psychological knowledge acquired by long training and experience in the exercise of their gifts, they occupy a key position in society. Their failures do not seriously diminish their prestige because it is recognized that like our own medical practitioners they have their limitations. The system is too firmly established to break down when their efforts do not succeed, the inability to effect a cure, as in the case of the medicine-men previously considered, being explained by the intervention of a more powerful shaman.

E. O. James, The Nature and Function of Priesthood, pp. 33-35

Emphasis mine.

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