Before I get into the analysis I want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with using words like "plastic shaman" or "fluffy pagan". These words can be used with integrity. Vocabularies like this are allowed, even encouraged, if the person really knows that they are saying about others and about themselves. Also, as I walk in both the shamanic and neopagan worlds, I will use the words "mystery school" and "tribe" interchangeably, knowing that they hold a kindred energy.
The Religious System
There are core beliefs in any religious system. These native beliefs represent the indigenous foundation of an established spiritual system. Only those who are fully invested in the religious system can fully claim and teach this set of core beliefs. The investment occurs through heritage, intense training, or a combination of the two. Those with the proper qualifications become the guardians of the beliefs, and through them, the guardians of the religious system.
What is a religious system? Religion is a practice and observance of beliefs supported by faith in the Divine. While faith is inherently ecumenical, that is, its greater precepts cross the boundaries of culture and geography, religion can be very much tied to the tribe and society in which it is practiced. In this, the practice of religion presents a framework for individual and/or group observance of divine truths, and recognition of faith. The group observance is shaped by their environment, history, traditions, and language. Borrowing from Dictionary.com, the core of religions becomes a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
The System's Guardians
This core is jealously guarded by the religion's faithful stalwarts. This can be both a noble thing and a comical thing. Guardianship is a noble thing when the beliefs are tribally specific. The tribe in question can be a religious group or a native people. Appropriation or misrepresentation of beliefs is a crime of sorts. The tribe has energy and solemn spiritual investment in their spiritual beliefs. This can be guarded with honor. Guardianship is a comical thing when the beliefs stretch outside of the reasonable realms of a tribal belief structure. Belief that the Sun is a masculine representation of the Divine is not the sole property of any one group of people. Belief that the Sun has a particular name is very tribally specific. The greeting of the Sun in the morning is not tribally specific. The execution of a particular dance or chant is tribally specific. The guardians are challenged to discharge their duties in ways that both honor their people and are reasonable in respect to other people's beliefs.
The Religious System's Mystery Schools
Religious systems are protected by the use of secrets. When these secrets are only taught to initiates, the religion takes on the label of 'mystery religion'. Wikipedia.org defines a mystery religion as:
A mystery religion is any religion with an arcanum, or secret wisdom. In a mystery religion, an inner core of beliefs, practices, and the religion's true nature, are revealed only to those who have been initiated into its secrets.Designed for all possible initiates, the revelations are paced to provide a gradual understanding of the religion's core. The teachings of the mystery religions are progressively revealed to initiates, building upon prior teachings. Oath-bound, the initiates are told not to reveal any of the groups secrets to outsiders, less the knowledge be profaned. Sometimes, once understood, teachings are discarded so a higher order of the mystery can then be revealed. The teachings can be purposely erroneous to a small degree, requiring initiation into higher orders of learning before the correct understanding is revealed. Ultimately the progression leads to the fullest understanding of the mystery religion. The order and meaning of teaching is part of the religion's mystery. Any one piece of information, by itself, is meaningless unless seen in the context of the full mysteries. Full understanding of the mystery religion is only possible when seen through the lens of prescribed understanding..
The Path of Guardianship
Every person or religious group must decide who they will serve. There are two models for this. These are "strongly serving a few people" or "lightly serving many people" models. I've written about these two types in a previous blog. Those associated with mystery religions, or who are religious guardians in general, tend towards the role of serving few greatly. The dynamic plays out in this way:
"serving few greatly" person - They see themselves as honest, stalwart guardians of a few people. They see themselves as extremely passionate caretakers of those around them. The amount of attention that can be given to specific people is substantial, providing for maximum impact and growth. Those who criticize do it from a place of not understanding. The extreme "serving many lightly" people are seen as scattered, uncaring, lazy, unfocused, and so on.In theory, all those initiated into a tribal religious system become a guardian. The guardian is charged to secure the beliefs of the system while they minister to the other members of the tribe. While those outside of the tribe are acknowledged, it is the fellow members that are most important to the guardians.
How does the guardian perform their duties? One way is the "serving few greatly emphasis". Another way is to see tribal information as oath-bound. Outside revelation of the information is seen as profane disclosure. What is profane? The applicable dictionary.com meanings are:
1. characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious.These are high crimes in the eyes of those who are held to be guardians of tribal ways. The revelation of a inner core of beliefs, practices or the religion's true nature, is not to be taken lightly. Those who perpetrate or further profane disclosure are roundly condemned in ways appropriate to the seriousness of the infraction.
2. not devoted to holy or religious purposes; unconsecrated; secular (opposed to sacred).
3. not initiated into religious rites or mysteries, as persons.
–verb (used with object) 6. to misuse (anything that should be held in reverence or respect); defile; debase; employ basely or unworthily.
4. to treat (anything sacred) with irreverence or contempt; violate the sanctity of: to profane a shrine.
Shadows of a Mystery Religion
I wish to cover the shadows first. I do this as to not seem to emphasize these as the outcome of all mystery religions. Instead, I only list these negative outcomes as warnings of what can happen. The shadow side of the mystery religion rests in it's small size and insular nature. The small size of the religion threatens it with extinction if key members are no longer present. Teachings can be lost if not passed down prior to the removal of members. The insular nature provides little recourse if there is perceived abusive behavior towards initiates. The path for remediation is an exit into the world of the profane. The insular nature also resists growth and furthering of beliefs, potentially moving from a dynamic heart of spirit to a dogmatic heart of stone. Lastly, in battling the profane world, the guardians of the mystery religions are perceived as xenophobic, close minded, mean-spirited, and aggressive. The goodwill of the outside world is disdained. The initiates of the religion are painted with a brush most unfair. These shadows are avoided when a mystery religion remains aware of it's charter purpose and scope, abandoning dead dogma for the divine realities of life.
Benefits of a Mystery Religion
The mystery religion and tribal religion are an incredible place to develop spiritually. The pace is focused and intentional. The spiritual progression is more rapid than the lone individual can attain. There is companionship and a sense of a family. The mysteries shared with the initiate bind them to archetypal truths. Grand vistas are glimpsed as the landscape shifts during each phase of the teachings. Ultimately, the initiate truly knows the Divine. The mystery religion and tribal religion are the pathway, the pathworking, on which the initiate walks to met their God(s).
The Greatest Sin of the Mystery Religion
There is a sin that is highest among all those that the mystery religion and tribal religion can commit. It is the sin of hubris, excessive pride or self confidence. I speak of the sin of assuming sole ownership of a concept, belief, or practice inherent in the lives of many seekers. These are the divine archetypes. I will draw upon an Eastern story that I read years ago. The religions of the world point to the reflection of the Moon in the puddle of water. Some only see the finger of the teacher, assuming this to be the goal of the religion. Others can see the imperfect reflection of the Moon in the water, and assume this is the goal of religion. Only a few look up, seeing the true face of the Moon. The finger and the puddle are forgotten as the enlightened grasp that divinity stands outside of religious prompting. The Moon is perfect unto itself, separate from all direction and tutelage of religion. Those religions that seek to claim the Moon for their own, stretching their teachings to places that are not divinely reasonable, do their members and the other members of the world, a disfavor. A group's over reaching assumption of divine truth only hurts themselves. Other seekers are content, knowing that they have seen the Moon themselves, and no claims of spiritual proprietorship hold sway over this connection.
Bringing it Back to the Plastic Shaman and Fluffy Pagan
So, what is the Plastic Shaman and the Fluffy Pagan? Those who seek to take the ways of a mystery religion or a tribal religion, and then practice it in ways profane to the original meaning, are rightly called plastic and fluffy. Only the members and initiates of these groups are rightful adherents of the hidden ways. Guardians rightfully strike out at those who encroach on holy ground. Profanity is not taken lightly. Swift action is required. The calls of plastic and fluffy are called upon the guilty.
What of the greatest sin of hubris? Where does the insular end and the larger acknowledgment of the divine begin? This is the challenge for those who bravely volunteer, or are called to, guard the mystery religions and tribal religions. The mystery groups seek to be in the world but not of the world. The mystery groups seek to maintain a refuge for their charges while existing with contrasting religious structures. The goals of focused protection and instruction are worthy, but in them lay great challenges.
Calling a person a plastic shaman or a fluffy pagan is not wrong. It is also OK to be called such by others. The true measure for both is having integrity in each case. The name caller must have integrity that they are truly protecting, affirming and nurturing their religious path, without extending the scope of that attention to arrogant lengths. Being snide or snarky is not the same as being a guardian. The person applied with the name 'plastic' or 'fluffy' should consider if they have misappropriated something that may not belong to them. The person who excessively "borrows" without embracing the core knowledge is indeed fluffy or plastic. However, if the 'fluffy' and 'plastic' have integrity that their path is wholesome unto itself, irrespective of what other belief systems say, than the other-applied name can be worn proudly and without shame. There is always somebody better and worst than you. There is always somebody more religious and less religious than you. Seek comfort and integrity in your own path, be you a self-proclaimed mystery initiate or an other-named plastic shaman/fluffy pagan.