This article addresses the human expression of tribal guardianship and outsider appropriation. The thoughts are not meant to be a global indictment. Instead, the words are an exploration of where human nature can take the best of intentions.
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 tribal religion 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 tribal religion.
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 Tribe'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. 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 becomes a misguided 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 Path of Guardianship
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.
The Greatest Sin of the Tribal Religion
There is a sin that is highest among all those that the 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 tribal beliefs 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
So, what is the Plastic Shaman? Those who seek to take the ways of a tribal religion, and then practice it in ways profane to the original meaning, are rightly called plastic. Only the members of these groups are rightful adherents of the traditional 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 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 tribal religions. The tribal groups seek to be in the world but not of the world. The goals of focused protection and instruction are worthy, but in them lay great challenges.