This post is almost entirely based on a chapter in “Beginnings in Ritual Studies” by Ronald L. Grimes, the version revised in 1995. The chapter is the concluding one and the most thoroughly revised, called “Parashamanism.” I had thought he was using the term to mean something like “plastic shamans” or “pseudo shamans” -- that vast tribe of wannabes whose great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers were Cherokee princesses -- and they are related, but not the same. I should know. It appears that by these criteria I’m a semi-parashaman.
Dr. Grimes has begged me to stop sending copies of my posts because he is in the middle of the Great June Collision that happens to academics: family, graduations, grades, deadlines, papers, moving, and the inevitable germs that gleefully go along for the ride. So in the name of mercy, I’m going to copy this list without asking permission. If he screams rip-off later on, I’ll just remove it. See if you recognize anyone who qualifies for this list.
1. Post-Christian or liberal Jew, educated in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, with special interest in religion, anthropology, psychology and drama.
2. Holds at least a Bachelor of Arts, often a Master of Arts.
3. Treats the writings of Jung, Castaneda, Turner, and Eliade as paradigmatic texts -- of religious, rather than merely scholarly, significance.
4. Reads Parabola or Shaman’s Drum.
5. Is performance oriented; extremely interested in ritual, storytelling, and small group processes.
6. Has strong interest in themes of death, birth, violence, and sexuality.
7. Prefers “relationships,” for instance, having a “soulmate,” to marriage. Has difficulties with sexual boundaries, and questions traditional gender roles.
8. Is politically leftist.
9. Resists separating the functions of teacher, healer, performer, and ritualist.
10. Prefers wandering or travelling to settling; fond of pilgrimage, hunting, and journey as metaphors.
11. Is relatively poor, though of middle-class background; has periodic, undependable employment.
12. Is in his or her thirties and preoccupied with rites of passage into middle age.
13. Prefers to speak of “spirituality” rather than “religion.”
As you can see, this is not a description of Native Americans but of Unitarians! Ack. Not so much the institutional kind, but rather the free-form company of mostly liberal fellow-travelers who are less likely to have signed the book and pledged to a church or fellowship than to be regulars at Seabeck, Star Island, district conferences, and possibly the major denomination-wide General Assembly about to convene in Phoenix. www.uua.org/ga/2012/ Up-to-date as always, there will be live-streaming on the computer so you can attend invisibly.
I’ll quote Grimes again: “Parashamanism in North America is in part a response to the decline of political protest after the late 1960’s, the tight job market that began in the early 1970’s, the rise of popular therapy, the separation of university religion departments from churches, and growing interest in what some call “Native American Spirituality.” This last is a construct drawn from popular media and has very little to do with real Native American ecologically-based harmony with place or even today’s mostly Catholic tribal members. But then, parashamanism has very little to do with the actual circumpolar hunting/gathering activities that gave rise to the original shamans. (Shamen?) For one thing, these liberals usually abhor and flinch away from the violence of hunting. They constantly urge healing. Their “prey” animal or totem is the teddy bear.
Parashamans don’t like ugly, pain, evil, dark, sadness and so on. Their “thing” is acting, dance, and a child-like love of play. Grimes refers to that with the technical term: “ludic.” (I know, it suggests ludicrous and sometimes they are. But not always.) In the Seventies my interest in “ritual theory” was kindled by a minister I’ll call “Peter Rabbit.” (A nickname given him by a fond colleague.) A rabbit is a common form taken by the shapeshifting tricksters, always going along with an occasional dance step thrown in..
It was at Leadership School in the PNWD. Leadership School is now considered old-fashioned. Not to me, it isn’t. I already had a ceremonial connection to real Native Americans where 19th century people (it was the Sixties and they were in their Eighties) took their ritual very very seriously. I turned out not to be institutional enough to cope with a congregation, much less a denomination. Not even UU’s. Any deviation from the group’s norm will shut down ministers in a hurry. Congregations are often commodifiers intent on growth. Denominations certainly are. Always.
At #2 on the list add M.Div. to Grimes’ BA & MA. Those who certify ministers find that many who apply are a little too ludic and a little too interested in things that could get them arrested, which is not good for ministries.
Grimes does not address sex except to note the interest in plasticity, atypical styles, and anti-dyadic convictions. (Queer but not s/m.) In this aspect college professors can be even more endangered than ministers since their classes are packed with people not yet out of adolescence. and eager for scandal, ready to rumble in the name of justice. Grimes sees this as confined to North America, but not anymore, I think.
What interests me a great deal is the continuing evolution of this easily recognizable social coalescence into a type of person who can become the leaven in the loaf. Possibly even the “saving remnant.” Grimes says, “Parashamanism, more than Eastern and Western mysticism, allows the prophetic radicalism of the late 1960’s to continue without losing all of its critical edge at a time when the collectivism of the 1960’s and 1970’s gives way to the mystical individualism of the 1980’s and 1990’s.” Where is parashamanism going in the 21st Century? I do NOT think it will close down, but it will change.
It will take me another post to lay out my suspicions, but to start with, it seems obvious that political chaos and environmental disaster are sweeping the world. There is no longer the general prosperity that allows wandering minstrels to make a living. Traditional Abramic religion is woefully behind the curve and thrashing. Much more justice will be needed to keep the edges alive: the old, the young, the crippled, the deranged and the diseased. This takes a lot of the “ludic” out of the equation and begins to let criminality in, which means that those in power will do their best to conflate the two as an excuse for extermination. (Remember? REMEMBER??) The liberal, ironic, educated non-conformists are totally unprepared. There will be martyrs.