Chapter 11. Religious Specialists

An image of a person dancing in front of fire.
Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash.

11.1 Religious Specialists

11.2 Who Should We Call A “Shaman?”

  • Receive their power directly from the divine (for example: through visions, from spirits, from direct messages from God)
  • Receive their power from a formal institution (for example: Rabbinical school, the Vatican, etc.)
  • Have a respected status in their society
  • Be viewed as dangerous, too powerful, engaging with dark forces, or mentally ill
  • Exclusively work in religious leadership; be a full-time religious specialist. This is typically true in a society where religious life is clearly defined as separate from secular life.
  • Engage in religious rituals on the side; be a part-time religious specialist. This is typically true in a society where religious life is not clearly separated from other parts of life.
  • Be viewed as acting on behalf of the divine.
  • Perform prescribed rituals for the community at pre-determined points throughout the year.
  • Perform unique rituals as-needed based on demand from the community.
  • Be responsible for moral guidance for the community; may be considered to personify the ideal type of person.
  • Need to memorize vast amounts of knowledge and religious texts.
  • Healer: Usually a religious specialist who is asked to cure illness or injury.
  • Herbalist: Specialists in the use of plants and other materials as cures.
  • Diviner: Someone who practices divination to gain knowledge of the future, supernatural, etc. Usually focusing on practical questions.
  • Prophets: Considered to be a mouthpiece for the divine. Their role is to share the words and will of the divine to her or his community.

11.3 Comparing Religious Specialists

11.4 The Priest in Patriarchal Society

11.5 The Priestess

11.6 The Voodoo Priestess

11.7 Religious Specialists and Altered States of Consciousness

10.4 “Dark Side of the Shaman”






Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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Amanda Zunner-Keating

Amanda Zunner-Keating

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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