Under Holy Orders: Everyone A Shaman

Image Source: Museo del Prado – Public Domain

We are all potential “shamans in training.” We are being invited by the universe to step into our shamanic “garments” and consciously participate in our own evolution…Our species and civilization are currently in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown,…a collective shamanic initiation process , a genuine “death/rebirth” experience.

– Paul Levy, Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil

…The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way. Who are not, but could be. Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper. The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

— Eduardo Galeano, Nobodies/1, The Book of Embraces

What drew me to seminary and to, ultimately, “taking holy orders” (‘ordination,’ in plainer speech) is no story of being divinely nor even pragmatically inspired, but, rather, desperation-driven. By the time I was seriously contemplating my future in the early 70’s, I’d been in a downward spiral of continuous misfitting that had wrung me spiritually dry. Though I was dangerously trapped inside my (neurotic) mind, in thinking of what profession I might pursue, my imagination was limited to impractical things of the “mind!” Once back in college, after finding philosophy was not my bag, I thought I could do better in the – so I imagined – less exacting spiritual realm. Obviously, I knew nothing about religious history or theology!


“You have to have something that keeps you true. If not a religious faith, either some “flaw,” or some vital relationship link, like one might have with a laudable, loved parent.” This thought came to me one morning as I read that day’s entry in Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days, a practice I follow most days in order to be revived by Galeano’s deep identification with the nobodies, and the beauty of his writing about them. My thought was one needs something more than the good fortune of being born white in liberal society to draw one through the camel’s eye into the world of the damned (nobodies) that is also the world of the true. Galeano, like St. Paul, knew the “base” and “despised” are precisely the ones “God has chosen” to confound the wise and the mighty, that is, to set things right.

For centuries the wicked have prospered at the expense of the nobodies but most of us human beings have remained intent on getting a place in the world, identifying upward. This makes the identification with nobodies, this something that keeps one true, a matter of utmost importance for all of us who are to any degree “winners” in the current arrangements. Our collective dereliction of duty has caught up with us. Not only the nobodies are under the knife; all of us and our earth home are at the mercy of those who have it not.

To keep oneself true, one must have and make sense to oneself within a particular story, a before-and-after genesis of one’s own, that tells me who I am in relation to the whole. Not just like NYC mayor Eric Adams’s belief he was divinely ordained to be mayor, this story tells me who I am in the interrelated cosmos. It satisfies the heart. Without my story, I have only “history” – the history of the victors that rests – we educated people know this! – upon heartless plunder and exploitation of people and earth. Without one’s own story, there’s no “before” and “after,” just a timeless, continuous whitewashing that forces us to be hypocrits, identifying upward, in order to live!

To have one’s narrative outside the one “choice” granted us, one must go deeper than “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” It must take me to “who I am” beneath liberal reality’s whitewash, to find my identity downward.

Doing so, you may find your identity, like mine, is that of a misfit. A cracked vessel. A nobody who only needed for her whole self – soul included – to be seen, a desire liberal’s winner reality cannot grant. It needs people of low self worth who will fight its wars, work in its industries, and be blindly obedient. There’s no way out of the enclosure of liberal reality except, in the way of indigenous people, finding divine wisdom and obeying it.

This having a story of one’s own should concern all of us in an age when society is paralyzed, incapable of stopping ourselves from shuffling along with the herd into mass extinction. To get outside this one hideous, brutalizing reality, “the something that keeps you true, no matter the cost – must be found! I submit, the crack is the link to Galeano’s identification with“nobodies,” to Woody Guthrie’s hatred for “any song that makes you feel you’re bound to lose” that kept them nobly identified with the base and the despised, and with the good-for-all. The link absolutely cannot be found by writing checks nor even by joining protests. Definitely not by voting for Biden. Not by being on the right side at all, but only by being on the wrong side that is the right side.

This serious “difficulty factor” in switching identity downward is the reason that for most of us fortunate ones, the way down will not be found.


Existential pain such as I suffer from surely is endemic in our time. It has no generally agreed upon name that can be useful in its treatment, though it can be criminalized when it turns sociopathic. Loneliness, fragmentation, alienation, etc., have come to be names for society’s modern condition that society’s “winners” mostly opt to live with. Or, more personally, it is experienced in neurosis, in panic and anxiety disorders, depression, compulsions and obsessions that can be treated with meds and/or “talk therapy,” depending on whose advice you take. Either way, no alarm bells go off as to a real danger to our humanity if the underlying condition is allowed to continue.

That is, we’re in a spiritual crisis that can be addressed only spiritually, and that is why (I think) my story of being a misfit, a cracked vessel unconsciously seeking its true wholeness, includes experiences with churches. In my high school years my mother, who had difficulty with the conventional “God” belief of her Episcopalian upbringing, joined a Unitarian Church and its hip community. She was an enthusiastic evangelist for it, so grateful was she for its including her, doubts and all.

(The great feature of Unitarianism, it grants one belonging in a mainstream (though fringe-y) tradition – and the community that goes with it, without poking at the sore spot – the troubling, never answerable, “God” question. Membership, like God’s mercy or the priest’s blessing after confession, is free, no qualifications – except one. Perhaps due to post-WWII skittishness about emotion-based irrationalism, although some beliefs are tolerated, even wacky made-up ones, serious table-turning, inherently “unequal”ones calling for identification downward, are not.

Since like my mother I had strong aesthetic tastes, but not positive belief, I enrolled at Yale Divinity School as a Unitarian-Universalist. U-U’s at YDS were a tiny minority, but our fewness was not a sign of being “misfit!” Not a Minority as such, we were members in a kind of post-religious liberal vanguard, way ahead of those others still lingering in religious tradition’s blinded enclosure. From the “vanguard” perspective all the world’s religions were equally “valid,” and equally about nothing real.

Side bar: About minority status, it is liberal society’s way of recognizing or granting worth, or a status of dignity, to what otherwise is social misfittingness (otherness). While welcoming its benefits, we should beware of fitting ourselves into it. Though entitling one to social recognition with legal reinforcement, acceptance of minority-as-power-political-power-base can allow one to bypass the transformation that leads to “the something that keeps you true.” By taking the focus off “myself” and “how I really feel in my body in my life,” minority status bypasses the crack that is one’s truth and one’s otherness. Misfittingness can become a badge of honor covering the truth.


Although I continued to be misfit during 3 years at Div School I steadied myself knowing I had a real goal: Ordination! And a job! The job turned out to be congenial in many ways, but the misfittingness persisted; after 9 years it allowed me one decision: to leave ministry. However, ordination, it turned out, could not be left so easily.

In those days, still blocked by my agnosticism, I had not counted on the power of ordination to touch imagination, even to touch it beyond the invisible enclosure of Unitarian freedom. The power of ordination is in the fact that, any way you dice it, it means one takes one’s orders from God, no one else! Quite an idea! Historically, this uber-vow that should lead to universal heresy settles down for most persons-of-the-cloth to taking orders from God as mediated through the church’s congregational consensus or its dogma. In Unitarianism, religious ultimacy boiled down to the prophetic function; to being on the ( laudable) socially responsible side. But without expansion in imagination via shamanic knowing, social responsibility be defined outside the political framework of the “two-party system” that rests upon and perpetuates that brutal history.

Though much quieter these days than 50 years ago, liberal church leaders can still speak out on behalf of justice, as recently occurred here when local religious clergy held a press conference opposing Oneida County’s ban on asylum seekers. But without the heart’s wisdom leading, they cannot abandon their need to be taken seriously in the liberal establishment. They cannot place themselves outside the spectrum of liberal discourse and its history, within that territory of the imagination we could call “God,” the God that ordained Jesus, and MLK, Jr., Eduardo Galeano and Woody Guthrie, Dorothy Day and those poets and prophets who have shown a light on our darkness.

Though church leaders can be and often are creative – impressively so – the liberal church – because it is not a collective of artist shamans – is constrained by a mutual obligation to not blow each others cover. Though no doubt the leadership knows the grim end for humanity toward which capitalist civilization’s final feeding frenzy is taking us, to try to lead people into that consciousness would close down the church entirely. (On the plus side, waking people up would decisively end the church’s practice of blessing people for nonthinking.)


The confusion I contended with for forty years relatively cluelessly was the same confusion that had led my mother to the Unitarian Church. But U-Uism’s absence of theology that gave relief to her was for me “pouring water on a drowning [man].” Briefly, in the 90’s, I gained respite from unbelief in Catholicism, but found the patriarchal preference existing even in Catholicism’s liberal wing, offensive. For me, as maybe for you, the troubling incapacity for belief could not be answered either by dogmatic certainty nor by the reassurance of “Here you can believe anything you want!” but only by shamanic knowing. Anything less than direct connection with an alive interior “Other,” that can communicate itself only through me, fails to address the cruel and unjust stifling of the soul’s unitive imagination that is the cause of our political paralysis.


A young man named Jack, from an outlying town, has been working at our coffeeshop for several months. He’s contemplating making a greater commitment to our shop. A reader and thinker with a definite countercultural spirit, he’s the sort of young person who’s been attracted to the Cafe for 21 years. Twice he’s said to me, “ But I’m not sure about moving to Utica.” I intuit an unspoken question behind the words. People attracted to our Cafe, consciously or not, respond to a vision, the one Orin and I committed ourselves to. Its basis is archetypal (i.e., diversity-in-unity, the “God” archetype). I don’t know much about what it’s like to be young in this time of drastically lowered horizons. But I know the archetype’s attraction is to the very same place where “the rich young man” of Jesus’s parable cannot go, not per se because he’s rich, but because he cannot let go of his identification with winner reality.

W.B. Yeats wrote, “Love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement; nothing can be made sole or whole that has not first been rent (i.e., cracked).” What the uninitiated young don’t know is the dream locates us down with the base and the despised in a city that, viewed through eyes limited by liberalism’s enclosure in global corporatism, is the third world shit place. I suspect Jack’s hesitation is not from fear of leaving the trees and rolling hills, it’s not fear of racial, ethnic, or impoverished “others.” It’s fear of losing the premise/promise of liberal reality that I (that fiction of the isolated I) can live unaffiliated, rootless, free to leave at any time, uncommitted, shit-free, deathless. Liberalism’s promise, ever-constant, always takes one back into the no-exit brutish collective history. To accept its embrace, one forsakes the story of one’s own ongoing never-finished becoming that is inherently antithetical to inevitability.

More than in previous eras, commitment must carry for our young a heavy load of dread, of fear of death. Utica, it’s grubby implacability, its lack of a “destination” quality, does not yield its reality. It can be “cosmopolitan” only when initiated imaginations make it so in the dream of the world we want. The collective good is rooted and sustained in individual imagination. Therefore I say, ordain thyself. Stick! Stay! Remain! Put yourself under God’s orders, accept no middlemen. And not because I say so. Everyone a shaman.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.