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Christian meets Shaman

Christianity meets Shamanism

I have found that Christians in particular who have been drawn to shamanism (which is not surprising, as there is a great deal of ancient shamanism still very alive in contemporary Christianity) seem to struggle with integrating it. Of course, given an upbringing where truth, divinity and goodness were all cited as one thing (and one thing only), some kind of difficulty in integrating the two seems only natural.

With respect to Christianity, this difficulty is even more pronounced as Christianity has for hundreds of years pursued a program of misinformation about native spiritualities such as shamanism. Called 'evil' or 'ungodly', or simply derided as 'barbaric' of 'childish', those spiritualities that were other than Christian met a bloody fate as Christian powers took over native European lands.

In order to honor some of my student's request for confidentiality, and who seem to be primarily of a strongly Christian upbringing or who currently live in a deeply Christian community, I have put together an 'amalgam' question drawn from similar questions from several students, and followed with my response to one of them.

“Is it going against the Lord if I study this? I have power animals and I have connection with Spirit but I get worried for talking with them. Growing up in the church, I love God and don't want to do anything that He doesn't want. I want to do what's right, but I feel I'm doing wrong and don't want to be punished.

Steve:   Such thoughts and feelings are actually quite normal! First of all, you should follow your deepest instincts here. This is about you making your own decisions. I would be the last one to tell you to jettison one ‘god’ in lieu of another, or more correctly in this case, rally for one spirit helper over another! I do appreciate your question, as it strikes to the center of a huge issue in the contemporary reemergence of shamanism.

One of the more frequent first ‘alarm bells’ that go off in practitioner’s minds has to do with the degree to which they are challenging the automatic, normalized consensus acceptance of reality.

Just to put you at ease, nearly everyone who I have known who had a more intense dose of orthodox religion such as Christianity in their background goes through some kind of thought and emotional gymnastics over this business of a jealous god, that is, some omnipotent father figure that is going to get angry at us for considering anything to be as important as Itself. I don’t happen to worry about punishment. I have never seen it, aside from the self-punishment that such guilt-ridden human beings do to themselves. But again, each of us must make up our own minds about such things.

In terms of shamanic practice and understanding, those beings that many people throughout history have called this or that god, are most likely one or another of the helping spirits. They always show in the way that is most suited to the person seeking them. Hence, if you were Islamic, it would make sense that Allah would show. If Christian, it might be God, or Christ, or Mary or something. OK, some might consider these to be ‘super-spirits’, somehow more powerful than the rest. Who knows, I certainly don’t.

As I keep reminding us, it is the nature of the shaman to challenge the automatic consensus or socially accepted definition of ordinary reality. Actually, the shaman must do this in order to ‘break through’ social opinion or other people’s conceptions of reality to commune with these spirits. This is the case even in a shamanic society where helping spirits are not known by the terms such as ‘god’, but by the Oak Spirit, or Wind, Bear and Raven.

When you journey, you could eventually, very possibly, run into a helping spirit who is willing to be known as ‘God’, - or Christ or Allah depending on one’s experience. If this is a compassionate spirit, however, in terms of shamanic understanding, it is impossible that it would be jealous, or much less have anything to do with harming you, if this is what is meant by punishment. Remember, the spirits can present themselves to us in the manner with which they believe we can best hear and understand them.

I realize that given the tremendous amount of indoctrination and social inculcation by religions such as Catholicism that such ideas are a little upsetting. If I had said this in the wrong place and time in European history, I could easily be burned alive or submitted to drowning for having said, or even thought such a thing. There is a historic and unfortunate connection between this latent suspicion of shamanism in the United States and at various other places throughout the world, and Christianity. Christianity began as a cult of redemption (and actually, still is), and spread across Europe with a conscious program of inciting fear and proceeding to eradicate Europe's native spiritualities.

I’m answering this somewhat at length because the subject is crucial, even today. Just last night I ran across a fairly recent horrifying situation in Africa where 11 people from one village, most of them women, were dragged away in the middle of the night and burned alive, one by one, for suspicion of doing shamanic work.

It’s such a very important question though, and I am really glad you raised it. You will develop a clearer and clearer sense of where you ‘sit’ with this, and probably do as we all do, which is to begin to challenge things as you start working through your shamanic studies. That is the nature of the journey; more often than not it challenges us to our core

In the present, common United States world view, for instance, there is a terrific and long-inculcated reaction of suspicion to the 'reality' of anything that appears distant from the accepted ‘out there’ reality, which includes such usual things as trees, mountains, cars, hotels and skateboards, all of which exist in what shamanic practice refers to as ‘ordinary reality'.

However, this supposed distinction, this attempt at separation between the 'out there' in supposed 'reality', and the 'in here' of what happens in the mind, is lunacy, yet a matter that is obviously missed by the majority living in the States today, and perhaps, around the world. This separation between 'mental' and 'physical' is so taken for granted, yet everything, every last iota of ‘thinghood’ must necessarily be processed and ‘seen’ through the virtual experience of the mind. Dreams are processed by the mind, as are mountains and skateboards. Ultimately, there is no difference between the two when it comes to the simple fact that the mind must create a virtual representation of what it is supposedly experiencing

So, here's another very good question in answer to yours: "OK, if spirits such as God or Mary or Buddha are in my mind, am I making them up?" The answer might just as well be turned back on the question: and we discover that we are making it all up! Everything in human consciousness is necessarily an inner creation, relying on information it puts together from the body's sensory apparatus. The mind is a complete and necessary screen upon which images that are representations of the world are developed.

Even better, forget this supposed distinction between mind and matter, and to forgo any division between mental and physical, and return to that wholeness, that interconnectedness and just let that speak for itself.