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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 spiritualties such as shamanism. Called 'evil' or 'ungodly', or simply derided as 'barbaric' of 'childish', those spiritualties 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.

They have written:

“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.”

My response to such questions is that such thoughts and feelings are actually quite normal! First of all, one should follow their deepest instincts here. This is about you making your own decisions. I would be the last one to tell anyone to jettison one ‘god’ in lieu of another, or more correctly in this case, rally for one spirit helper over another! I do appreciate such questions, as they strike 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 considered 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 spiritualties.

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. Don't think this is just some kind of African anomaly. This is no different from what the west's Christian Fathers did to women in its own past, dragging them off one by one to be burned 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 that formerly had been taken for granted 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.