Pagan Studies

At times I am angry and other times overflowing with joy. Sometimes I'm confused and sometimes I have absolute clarity. This blog will explore our human condition through an investigation of spiritual pain and how to transcend our pain to find peace.

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The Chaplain as Shaman

I wrote the essay below back in 2013 in an effort to explain my work as a chaplain and tie that work into my "earthy" spiritual roots.  I have recently started training in shamanic practices and find what I wrote below even more true now than when I wrote it a couple of years ago.  I hope to be able to continue to explore the similarities of shamanism and professional chaplaincy.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in Shamanism.  In my spiritual journey I've only touched upon shamanism; however, what I do know about shamanism gets me thinking about the similarity between shamanism and chaplaincy.  What I know about shamans is that they are typically considered a type of "wounded healer."  A shaman must have been sick to understand sickness.  A chaplain is like this too.  A chaplain deals with the spiritual and emotional pain of others.

If you're sick (or dying) and laying in a hospital bed with your mind racing through all sorts of things within your life you don't want a chaplain to come in and hand you a card with their phone number on it and read a couple of Bible passages and say a quick prayer.  You want them to engage with you in the emotional pain that you're holding and journey into those dark places you find yourself.  Prayer might be helpful but if the chaplain prays without entering into your dark place with you then the prayer becomes an effort to sanitize your pain.

The chaplain is a type of shaman.  A chaplain will use their own experiences of pain, grief, and emotional "traumas" in order to help others out of their dark spiritual dilemmas and into a "better place" spiritually and emotionally.  A chaplain, like a shaman, needs to be skilled to be able to escape the dark emotional states of the people with whom the chaplain ministers.  It can be emotionally tumultuous dealing with intense emotions and grief and the chaplain can draw upon their own woundedness to help others but if he or she is not careful the spiritual suffering of others can pull them in an unhealthy manner.   

A chaplain, unlike a therapist or counselor, has a spiritual element to their work.  Their realm is not simply that of the mind -- like the purview of mental health workers.  A chaplain's realm is the realm of spirit.  People in their lives can often become lost or feel incomplete.  The chaplain can use this spiritual dimension to help a person seek out wholeness.  Not simply through "psychological" principles but by helping the care seeker to seek spiritual wholeness.  Through assessment of spiritual pain the chaplain, with a shamanistic quality, can help the care seeker identify their spiritual pain and through identifying this pain help them work through it. 

I hope to develop these thoughts on Chaplaincy and Shamanism.  Just some random thoughts on the subject I've been thinking about.

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Tagged in: Chaplaincy shaman
Rev. David Oliver Kling is a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary and a graduate of Wright State University holding a B.A. degree in Religious Studies and a B.A. degree in Philosophy. He has a Master of Divinity from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a specialization in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies. While in college he worked as Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Yellow Springs and while in seminary he served the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship as consulting minister. He recently finished a chaplain residency at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV resulting in four units of clinical pastoral education. In addition to teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary he currently works as a hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio. He is ordained by Sacred Well Congregation and his religious background includes esoteric Christianity, Wicca, Druidry, Gnosticism, and Roman Paganism. His academic interests include Black Church studies, comparative theology, and spiritual/pastoral care.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 04 April 2016

    There is a scene in the Bible where King Saul is outside and a group of prophets comes down the mountain with sistrums and tambours. I think of those prophets as a group of shaman. Maybe I'm remembering the scene incorrectly but that's how it appears in my memory.

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