Sunday, October 25, 2009

Animist-Shamanist Terms for Animal Spirits, Totems, Power Animals, Animal Guides

English has few spiritual terms, compared to other languages. It is hard enough to describe completely nonverbal experiences in words in such a way that others can get a sense of what you are describing.

It is impossible if you literally do not have the words for it.

So spiritual terms are precious, and we need to use the same definitions so that they do not lose their usefulness, as many formerly useful words and phrases in English already have.

Taking the time to learn and understand the few spiritual terms that we do have for the fields that you are interested in seems pretty basic to me. So it bothers me that people seldom seem to bother to do that.

In shamanic studies, the constant misuse of the word totem is particularly annoying. And the misunderstanding of the meaning of the term power animal is not far behind.

As I read or listen to (or try to participate in) conversations about shamanism, I often find that people are using the same terms to mean different things. That results in confusion for all concerned.

If people notice the problem, they can agree on terms to use, but generally they do not even seem to notice.  The result can be either arguments or superficial conversations that go nowhere.

That is not totally their fault, since there are plenty of books on the market that misuse the terms and confuse readers as to what they actually mean. That's bad, because it is difficult enough to discuss spiritual experiences in English anyway.

I have just posted a new Houston Shamanism Examiner column on totems, power animals, spirit animals, and animal guides.

I won't recap the whole article here, but please stop by and read it. (It is pretty short.) And then, if you will, please leave a comment.

Let me know what you think.

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