on the term ‘spirit-worker’

So I was contacted by a colleague today and asked my opinion on the term ‘spirit-worker.’ Apparently it’s become a fad to use this term when one is not, in fact a professional. I thought it might perhaps be wise to clarify for those who are confused.

This term came into being in 2004 at a gathering of shamans and spirit-workers hosted by Raven Kaldera. We were looking for a term that legitimized the work of those bound to the Gods and spirits, people who were doing the work of a shaman–engaging with Gods and spirits in a larger, more meta way than a devotee is called to do and doing so specifically for clients and communities– but who had not undergone the death-rebirth trauma of a traditional shaman. After much discussion, someone suggested ‘spirit-worker.’ It’s an apt term, one that refers to a person who works for the Gods and spirits (regardless of tradition).

It is a specialist term.

It is not a term for laity no matter how sensitive or skilled that lay person might be. I may know how to pop an abscess or suture a wound (i do in fact know these things) but i’m not a surgeon.

There’s apparently a great deal of confusion, or so i’m told (I myself haven’t seen it) surrounding this term, particularly with the G&R crowd currently trying to purge the devotion and piety out of polytheism reducing it to mere transactional relationships with random spirits. One might in fact be high psi, one might be very sensitive to the Gods and spirits of one’s devotion but unless you are snapped up into active service (which presupposes not just a binding agreement but training and binding obligations), you’re not a spirit-worker. The only workable difference between being a spirit-worker and a shaman is that psychic shattering of the death/rebirth (or with some shamans madness/restoration) experience.

The last thing we need is to see “spirit-worker’ get parsed out into ever smaller and more specific categories — you know, how some people at both patheos and G&R are trying to do with ‘polytheist.’ Such linguistic splitting is a matter of rendering the whole irrelevant and it should be resisted, at least in these cases. It does not help or bring clarity. This is not a difficult thing. If you’re not a specialist, not a professional, you’re not a spirit worker. Embrace what you ARE. Do that which is given to you to cultivate be it tending your shrine, engaging in prayer, maintaining ongoing devotion. that’s important, in fact that’s crucially important. It may not be shiny and sexy but it’s fundamental and our traditions could not exist without the laity doing that work.

I’m cranky today. It’s in the high nineties and i’m working in a studio that has almost no air conditioning. If my tone here is brusque, I apologize but I will also say that I’m getting massively sick of problems being created where there aren’t any. maybe this all goes back to the ‘words mean things’ debacle of the last year and you all know where I stand on that.

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Posted on July 23, 2016, in Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Timely reminder. Thank you.

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  2. I am one who advocates for those extra categorisations of polytheist – mostly because its definition leaves room for broad interpretation. A word or term which has a narrow definition however, yeh, shouldn’t be claimed and misused by others. I am sure they will call it “reclaiming” though.

    Sadly, if people are already doing it, well, I am pessimistic about your success in this post. We need only look at how there are now Initiated Wiccans and Uninitiated Wiccans, to see how much some people respect narrow definitions.

    I guess inclusiveness beats misappropriation? I can’t even tell any more.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      the word ‘polytheist’ is not open to that broad of an interpretation. One who believes in many Gods. (there are corollaries to that, of course, that follow logically from belief but) I fail to see why that needs to be parsed down farther. The definition is encoded in the actual etymology: polu- many theoi gods. While you may rightly be seeking clarity, I find that many who are attempting to parse the word farther are doing so as a means of eliding the gods from the term and the traditions that fall under its umbrella. it’s an insidious type of attack.

      I actually haven’t seen ‘spirit worker’ being co opted. I was quite surprised when my colleague contacted me. I suspect it was a matter of stirring the pot where none need to be stirred but perhaps my colleague has seen it happen. I don’t see much effective difference between inclusiveness and misappropriation. both diminish traditions.

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      • I don’t disagree. While I am willing to accept that people will use the the word ‘polytheism’ how they wish (thus the need for clarity) – that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree that they should be using it.

        I hope you are right about ‘spirit worker’, that it isn’t actually being co opted. And I agree about misappropriation and inclusiveness – I just am noticing that a lot of people who are against various forms of appropriation seem to be okay with it if it is done in the name of inclusiveness.

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  3. ganglerisgrove

    Bekah, yes, you’re right. i’ve been noticing that too. they rail against appropriation and discrimination unless it’s happening to polytheism.

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  4. Spirit-worker is a pretty specific term to me, so I can’t see why people want to further specify it. Unless you want to point out in which tradition you are a spirit-worker (Norse spirit-worker, Kemetic spirit-worker, and so on) dividing it into strange little categories doesn’t really make sense.

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