*Ask Your Mama™
A Question of Roles and Definitions
Dear Mama Donna,
What is the difference between a priestess and a shaman?
Priest/ess cultures are usually hierarchical. Someone is always above someone who is above someone else. Those at the top of the pyramid have the authority to tell those below what to do and how to do it. Most of the Western world today operates on this model. Organized religions, corporations, schools, and the nuclear family system are all models of priest/ess traditions. Power in these structured establishments is generated from the top down.
Most priest/ess systems have a traditional framework that is perpetuated, unchanged, from generation to generation through time. Holidays, ceremonies, particular prayer practices, and ways of doing things, ways of living — rules, regulations, and taboos — tend to get passed on as is. Customs are handed down through the ages without question. When someone asks why something is done in a certain manner, the answer will invariably be, “Because that is how it has always been done.”
There is a wonderful joke that perfectly describes this path:
A young bride was preparing her first holiday ham. (In the Jewish version, it is a brisket!) She seasoned and sauced it. And just before placing it into the baking pan, she cut the end off of the roast.
“Why did you do that?” Asked her new husband, who had been observing the operation with pride and fascination.
“Because that’s how you are supposed make a ham. That’s how my mother always made ham,” explained the wife.
“But, why?” persisted her curious spouse. “Call your mother and ask her.”
The young woman dialed her mother. “Mom, you know when you make a ham and you cut the end off of it before you put it into the pan? Why do you do that?”
“I don’t know, I never thought about. That’s just how you make a ham. That’s the way my mother always did it.”
“But why?” asked her by-now-perplexed daughter. “Call grandma and ask her.”
So the mother called her mother. “Ma, why is it you always cut off the end of the ham before baking it? What do you do that for?”
“Well, dear, when your father and I were first married, all we had was just one small roasting pan.”
This family custom of ham cutting had developed from a very real and practical need. And although the original, logical reason for the practice was now lost to the daughter and the granddaughter, the nostalgic pleasure of repeating comforting scenes from their childhood served their emotional needs.
The three major priest (now patriarchal and totally forgetting/suppressing their priestess pasts) religions of the West have survived, altered perhaps, but basically intact, for thousands of years. Judaism is more than 3000-years-old, Christianity is 2017-years-old and Islam is almost 1400-years-old. They have lasted so long, because their religious calendars of repeated cycles of repeated rituals have been able to satisfy at least some of the spiritual, emotional, and philosophical requirements of people.
It is only in recent decades that great numbers of people have begun question religious authority and to look outside of their own inherited priestly religious pasts to find new ways of worship that speak more directly to their contemporary needs. In this quest for a more responsive spirituality, many people have begun to investigate older forms of relating to the divine.
Shamanic cultures predate organized religions. They encourage a more immediate, intimate, personal relationship with the sacred. Worship and devotion are deemed to be immediate and uninterrupted, and usually without the intercession of an intermediary.
This is not to say that there are not traditional community rituals in shamanic cultures that have been performed throughout many generations. But it is commonly understood that each individual is capable of enjoying a unique and private relationship with the Powers That Be. That anyone can design and perform a personally relevant ritual.
Don, a friend of a friend, an Apache from Oklahoma, was for several decades a dedicated student of spiritual traditions from around the world, and a fervent collector of religious books of every genre. When Don was on his deathbed, his friend Louie paid him a visit. Louie wanted to know if Don wished for a traditional shaman to counsel him through his final passage. He did not. Louie then asked him if he wanted to talk to a priest? No. A minister? No. A rabbi? A monk? A guru? No. No. No. Finally Don informed him, “I think I’ll just go direct!”
A shaman serves as a spiritual leader, but not an ordained director. S/he leads through the power of her/his own direct experience with spirit, and not because someone above her/him on the power ladder has granted her the authority to do so. As a shaman, I can teach through example, but not through dictum. I can encourage, inspire and support my constituents, but I can not — dare not — pass judgement or pass laws. I can and do pat my clients and students on the back, kick them in the butt or let them cry on my shoulder when they need help. I can tell them what I did, how I learned this or that lesson, but I cannot tell them what they should do. How do I know what their soul needs to do? I can, of course, aid them in reaching into their own wisdom and help them to learn from their own inner best self.
The shamanic assumption is that every person has her/his own mission in this life time. Her own dreams. His own way. Her own path. His own sensibility. Her own visions and designs. His own hard-won lessons. That we each have our own singular life to live, that every one of us must figure out for ourselves the fullest, richest, most effective, ethical, and satisfying way in which to do it, and moreover, that we all own the power and the response-ability to make it so.
Yours till Niagara Falls,
A Question of Prayers & Affirmations
Dear Mama Donna,
I have two questions:
- Seeking Words of Spirit in Staten Island
Dear Spirit Seeker,
My absolute favorite prayer was written by Dag Hammarskjold, who was a Swedish diplomat, economist, and author, who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1953 until his death in a plane crash in 1961.
To Everything that has been — thanks
I love this prayer, because it emphasizes gratitude and also the wisdom to realize that whatever we encounter in life is, in some way, a valuable lesson.
Most people think of prayer as petitioning a deity, a spirit guide, our angels or ancestors for help or protection or for what we want or think we need. Always asking, beseeching, pleading our case. Sometimes prayers sound like whining, wheedling, begging. These kinds of prayers remind me of my granddaughter asking for candy when she was little.
“Can I have candy?” “No.” “Please?” “Nope.” Pretty please?” “Not now.” “Please, please, please with sugar on top?” “Sorry.” Pleeeeeeeeeeze???!!!!”
Latin cultures are extremely polite in their prayer habits. Offering gratitude is every bit as important as asking for favors. More important, even. Think of all the holy places of healing: Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Sabana Grande in Puerto Rico, Chimayo in New Mexico, to name a few. All these shrines are covered with tokens of appreciation for healings granted: Great displays of crutches, eye glasses, braces, baby hair, soldier’s uniforms, bridal veils, etc are touching testaments of gratitude.
To Everything that has been — thanks
I love affirmations, too. And all affirmations are positive. That is the point!
Affirmations are positive statements that describe a desired situation or state of being as already existing. For example, "I am healthy, I radiate well being." "I am a good and honorable person with a loving heart." "I am capable beyond all measure." Etc.
Affirmations can help you to transform your life by reframing your internal Self-talk. By stating what you want to be true in your life, and describe it in the present tense, you are able to envision it and feel it as being true. So you begin to really believe in positive possibilities and in your own capabilities.
I AM. (I am perfect just as I am.)
Here is one that is very special to me. It came to me in a dream while I was staying in a little cabin on the coast of Maine and I woke up saying it:
I am healthy.
It is my mantra. I say it all the time when I am out walking, when I repeat it again and again until it becomes a sort of chant to step by. It is especially helpful when I am not feeling particularly healthy, happy, hopeful or whole. Affirmations are magical in their transformative power to create our desired reality.
Over the years I have composed a great many affirmations, but instead of giving them to you, I would like to encourage you to compose your own. Those written in your own voice and directed at your own intentions will be ever so much more meaningful to you.
The only rule to remember when you are writing an affirmation is to make sure you put it in the present tense. If, for instance you say, “I will be happy, etc” when will that be? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year? If you say you are happy, now, in the present, that is the key to making it so.
With affirmative blessings,
*Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles, and celebrations to
A Question of What to Do
Dear Mama Donna.
Recent political events have pushed me to the point of despondency. I am completely crippled with feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. There is so much that I want to see improve in our country and in the world, but I don’t know where or how to begin. What is a girl to do?
Depressed in Dallas
Dear Mama Donna,
I attended a candlelight ceremony for racial justice on the beach in Florida yesterday — only 30 people but hey, it is the South and I've signed two petitions today as always, and hope to be at the demo tomorrow. What more can I do?
Frustrated in Florida
Dear Mama Donna,
We here in Europe, watch the current events with horror and wonder with despair where are the States going? What can we do? Not much, watching from the sidelines. Maybe you have some ideas.
Disillusioned in London
Dear Depressed, Frustrated, and Disillusioned,
First of all, don’t be. Depressed, frustrated and disillusioned, that is. Know that you are doing what you can and that it counts. Every single solitary thing that we each do and say and, especially, think really does count. More than we can ever believe.
Some might argue that we don't have any choice in this upside down dangerous world and that we can't effect what will happen. But even if we can't immediately alter the course of human events on the world stage, we can certainly create change in our own lives and in all of the lives that we touch. And our thoughts are the seeds of that change.
Dr. Christiane Northrup writes, “Use your thoughts wisely. Understand
Far away there in the sunshine are my
What we all have to do from now on is to stay alert, stay centered, keep connected and most important of all, keep talking. Talking, writing, protesting keeps the light of truth and tolerance shining upon the hidden agendas of governments, industries, institutions and individuals. Silence, like the dark of night, shelters nefarious deeds. Silence forgives violence.
I have been haunted recently by the words written by a Protestant minister after the downfall of the Nazi regime. “First they came for the gays. I am not gay, so I didn’t say anything. Then they came for the Gypsies. I am not a Gypsy, so I didn’t say anything. Then they came for the Jews. I am not a Jew, so I didn’t say anything. Then they came for the Catholics. I am not a Catholic, so I didn’t say anything. When they finally came for me, there was no one left to say anything.”
In light of the widespread oppression, manipulation, intimidation that surrounds us today, we most certainly need to say something. We need, in fact, to talk to everyone who we meet, actually engage on a human level with those who we encounter as we make it through our day. Not just our families, friends and colleagues — those of presumed like-minds — but the shoe repair guy, the waitress at the coffee shop, the post office clerk, the bag boy at the super market.
A good example is Dianne, one of the wonderful people who regularly attend my healing circles. She not only prays for the homeless men and women who live on her block, she calls them each by name. I am so impressed and inspired by her personal outreach to the “untouchables.” Everybody is, after all, somebody.
If we ignore, exploit or patronize those people whose lives intersect with ours, how can we expect international relations to be more civilized? We need to walk our talk wherever we go, whatever we do, remembering always, that by doing so we do make a difference. Let us each be a sun, sending our caring energy out into the world, shedding light wherever we go. You never know whom you might touch with the radiance of your warmth.
So, buck up and say what is on your mind. The more you do so, the more empowered you will feel.
*Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles, and celebrations to email@example.com