Jesus the Shaman – Chris Dierkes

In my long-running Integral theory and practice journal, Beams and Struts, I looked at the remnants of shamanic consciousness on contemporary fairy tale-based TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time. The journey into shamanic forms of experience and healing is one that I’ve found myself on in recent years, both for myself and those I work with. This has been an unexpected but beautiful turn in my life. Up until this switch, I had followed a path that would be characterized, in yogic terms, as one of bhakti (devotional practice), karma yoga (the path of service), and jnani yoga (the contemplative mind). These elements all remain rooted in my being but something else has developed more recently. Or at least something I’m now giving more time and attention to – which for lack of a better word I’ll call shamanic.

Shamanism includes things like kundalini energy or the experience of the chakras (especially the 6th, aka the third eye) and auras. It’s the seat of imagination, intuition, and what is often termed energy work. It’s also the home of The World Soul (Anima Mundi). This realm is often encountered through the use of entheogens or in (genuine) Pentecostal experiences: e.g. speaking in tongues, bodily ecstasy (aka holy rolling),  and so on. While shamanic consciousness is by no means solely reducible to these phenomena, they do constitute an important set of core elements in the shamanic tradition.

In the Western world many of these phenomena, like auras and chakras, are typically thought of as ‘New Age.’ And certainly there are those who would label themselves New Age who are connecting to those forms of experience. New Agers, however, don’t have a monopoly on such experience – these are simply domains of possible experience available to everyone. Human beings (traditionally called shamans) have founds ways of accessing, learning from, and working with those domains for many thousands of years across the globe: aboriginal peoples from Australia to the Americas to the Siberian tundra to sub-Saharan Africa…and even those in the Middle East (as we’ll see in a moment).

My experiences in recent years have opened my eyes to my own sacred scriptures – and to Jesus.

Jesus practiced shamanism.

native jesus
What I find most interesting is that these shamanic forms of practice surrounding Jesus are the stories that embarrass liberal Christians the most: exorcisms, healings, and apocalyptic language. Weirdly, these elements have become largely confined to much more conservative forms of Christianity like evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. They therefore get a bad rap for those of us who have outgrown certain rigid expressions of religion. And yet when we stop running from what’s right in front of our noses, the evidence is overwhelming that Jesus was a shaman.

The reason historically that liberal Christians denied these elements of Jesus’ life were because they were seen as irrational. Influenced as they were by the Western Enlightenment, liberal Christians emphasize reason and tolerance. They see Jesus as a Teacher of Morals and Eternal Wisdom. One great counterexample to this is the late liberal Christian scholar and priest Marcus Borg. Borg’s books on the historical Jesus argue correctly that Jesus was a charismatic healer and exorcist. Borg, however, stayed safely within the domain of the scholar, not a practitioner nor an advocate of this path.

The costs to liberal Jesus-followers of denying this reality are enormous. The New Age gains many of its adherents after they leave churches seeking precisely these forms of connection. In its liberal forms, Christianity tends to become either a very heady exercise or a social justice-only movement (or both). Liberals lack the fire and passion of many of their conservative brethren. Liberal Christians see the shamanic as pre-rational and therefore regressive (hence the embarrassment). They’re unable to grasp that a good deal of what’s going on in this arena is actually trans-rational (post-rational). It is more, not less, than rational.

So what if these shamanic ways are simply practices that could be taken up, interpreted and placed within a different worldview than that of arch-conservative Christianity? Is there something here for everyone?

I do believe many so-called fundamentalist Christians do have these experiences – though it’s clearly an area rife with charlatanism so separating the real from the fake can be tricky. Whether genuine or not, these believers embody these practices largely within a framework of traditional moral conservatism: e.g. anti-gay, patriarchal, non-Christians seen as bound for hell, merged with excessively literalistic readings of The Bible.

What I’m suggesting is to retrieve these practices but place them within a more progressive contemporary moral, political, and social framework, attempting to reconcile the best of both worlds. In this series, we’ll explore a few categories of shamanic work and look at representative stories from the gospels concerning Jesus that illustrate these very categories at work, establishing Jesus’ authentic shamanic identity. I’m not suggesting that this is the only lens through which to see Jesus, of course – but I’m discovering it to be a potent one that impacts me and many whom I serve.

Coming next week in the Jesus the Shaman series: Jesus the Healer.

chrisChris Dierkes is a long time student and practitioner of the Christ-consciousness mystical path. After receiving his MDiv., Chris worked in parish ministry for three years (Anglican Church of Canada) and now maintains a private practice in interspiritual soul work. In addition Chris has studied energy healing, intuitive arts, and shamanic practice. He writes frequently on subjects of spirituality in the contemporary world. He lives in Vancouver with his wife Chloe and their daughter Sage. You can check out his writing and practice here.

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7 thoughts on “Jesus the Shaman – Chris Dierkes

  1. Hi,
    Could you please describe in more detail how shamanic practice has entered your life? I am intrigued and neither skeptical nor judgmental. Could you please incorporate some practical means that have worked for you in connecting to this type of consciousness?

    I guess I am kind of asking for a “how to” alongside any exegesis. I am a very cerebral and quietness of mind kind of guy, and the only experience I have ever had of what is commonly known as spiritual ecstasy, I am now convinced, was just self hypnosis because I wanted desperately to belong. Does that make sense?

    What is the difference between shamanistic practice that touches the divine and the self delusion that triggers all those physiological and hormonal responses that look similar? How does one discern. Again, I am not asking in a confrontational “you’re wrong and here’s a question to show it” kind of way. I am sincerely interested.

    And, okay. There is some skepticism, but no more than a healthy one mixed as the minor part with a majority of inquisitiveness and expectation. God Blesses.

    PS. I have had some experiences of the divine union using salvia divinorum, but never with the repetitive worship songs of praise services. There was a kind of ecstasy there, but I would liken it more to a union with the group that was present like at a rally than I would a union with the transcendent whole. Hope that clarifies things a bit.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comment. You raise some really important questions.

    In terms of how this entered my life that was through a series of dreams. The dreamworld for many (though not necessarily everybody) is a profound teacher. For others it comes through drumming and more visionary experience. There are many routes. Energy healings (e.g. Reiki, Christian Healer, Healing Touch, etc.) are often a safe place to enter into this world.

    Working with our emotional lives I find is also a very important portal. On my website I have a number of pieces I write about what it means to liberate certain of our emotions. In shamanic language this is called alchemy or transmutation. Using what people might call “negative” emotions and turning them into their liberated form. (the link for the website is under my name).

    As to how to distinguish between those expressions and those of mental illness, that is a very complex question. There’s a growing body of literature on the question of shamanism vis a vis mental illness. The line can get blurry no doubt. And it’s entirely possible for people to have strong mystical experience and simultaneously have mental and emotional ailments that need tending to (and sometimes even those experiences can trigger unhealed wounds to come out). So it’s a very nuanced domain and needs to be handled with exquisite care. I rely on St. Paul’s discernment: does it bring greater peace, harmony, kindness, justice, mercy. Or not.

    The 1st Letter to the Corinthians is a paradigmatic example of what happens when shamanic types energies are released in a community and they are held and embodied in a distorted form. Distorted by shadow expressions of power, ego, unhealthy sexuality, class biases, and overall oneupmanship all around.

    As they are shamanic practices and energies are simply that–energies. They can be in service of the kingdom’s values or they can be opposed to them. The key I believe is to always remain humble. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark doesn’t want people to be only talking about his wonder working. In John’s Gospel his actions bring crowds but then he asks whether they want to be disciples and many leave (looking for the spiritual pyrotechnics).

    For me then the discernment is about whether one’s practice is guided by the Holy Spirit or guided by their own spiritual desires. All of us need to work on having our desires reform in light of the Spirit’s desires.

    Hope that is a beginning response to your question. Peace, Chris

  3. Finding Jesus, the risen Christ, in everything… although I don’t think we can find a molecule in the universe that hasn’t come from the Logos (allow me to not expand on this), I necessarily will scan my inner library to find if my recollection of Scriptures allows for painting Jesus as a pagan figure. Paul addresses the multitude of gods at the Aeropagus.

    The Apostles clearly called all world religions and practices/rituals of his time as “darkness.” So to say Jesus was a Shaman is a misuse of the term, imho. Theosophy has a powerful legacy in this regards too, as the Gnose, Rosicrucians, etc. They all seek to handle primal power at will.

    When I observe Jesus through Scriptures, I hear someone listening for His Father’s voice, miracles often happen spontaneously after a request for prayer from a believing member of the family, someone afflicted, or by sheer encounters.

    I remember some of the moments in my life where I personally have experienced moments of ecstasy and elation during worship times. A well, the presence and power of “darkness” in or around me, or in someone else. I remember enjoying the manifestations of “power” over someone when I laid hands on them to pray. But at some point it became trivialized, it didn’t lead anywhere, per say, although many were experiencing deep soul work.

    So I’d be careful with ascribing to Jesus a “Gandalf-ian” nature, as it can quickly become nothing more than a recycling and rebranding of Who He revealed Himself to be: the Son of God, the perfect Imprint of God, the sustainer of all the worlds, a brother in the household of God.

    Just brainstorming…



    1. Hi Andre,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to me that the assumption is that shamanism is a pagan figure. Jesus is clearly described as from the Galilee (the country) who works wonders. Exorcism, healings, and so on had a long history in Judaism, particularly in the northern Israel regions (e.g. Elijah, Elisha). As with those figures the wonder working can also be paired with strong devotional currents as well as prophetic or teaching functions. Jesus certainly inhabited those dimensions as well.

      The New Testament clearly describes such wonder working realities evident in the earliest Jesus followers. Acts, Paul’s Letters. It’s all there.

      Of course wonder working and teaching and prophetic capacities were certainly well known outside of Jewish circles as well. Certainly in the Greco-Roman world as well as (we now know) globally. So the term pagan seems odd to me in that it’s a much more universal process (with all kinds of unique diversity in local contexts).

      You mentioned in the Logos. Paul of course in his Areopagus speech was arguing that a spiritual reality which the pagans (as you call them) had already had intimations of (The Unknown God) had becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

      The idea of a Creator speaking a Word out of which comes all life is a very shamanic one. Shamans breathe (spirit or Spirit) words that effect birth. Like the Resurrected Jesus breathing on the disciples.

      So I think more to the point is your question about where does it this all go? That’s a valid question. One which the NT has an interesting series of responses to. That would require an entire text or two but some provisional thoughts along that line…

      Mark shows Jesus as a wonder worker but then moves to argue that paradoxically his greatest wonder working was entering into his passion, suffering and dying for the people. (There are similar views in shamanic traditions with the shaman taking on and transmuting the burdens of his/her community for the record).

      Luke draws a clear line connecting Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit and the liberation of the poor. Jesus begins by quoting the Jubilee text. Here Jesus’ shamanism (or indigenous Jewish exorcist and healing capacities) is a manifestation of the reign of God, as are the welcoming of outsiders back to the fold, the feeding of the hungry. The Cosmic Jubilee being a kind of Universal Restoration or Transmutation, the alchemical process whereby the first become last and the last become first.

      Whereas John has a very critical view of the wonder working tradition. The signs Jesus performs always lead to division, with some following him and others not.

      And then in Paul, particularly in 1 Corinthians, we have a long, profound discourse on the use and abuse of spiritual gifts (i.e. shamanic capacities). The famous “Love is patient, love is kind” passage being in response to the misuse of psychic-shamanic capacities. But yet in the same verses that Paul will say “seek the higher gifts” he will always show us a yet more beautiful (highest) way, namely love. But he still strongly values the higher gifts. But he’s clear throughout that the gifts can be become part of a spiritual egotism. Yet shorn of the egoic identification and tendencies, motivated by and sourced in love, then the gifts become potent forms of engagement with life and powerful signs and breaking-through of the kingdom.

      So overall I’d say the NT tradition (rightly) subordinates “shamanic” realities to Love. It does however hold a very important place for them. One that is native to the tradition itself.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Chris. Let me try this way:

        – shamanism is the use of spiritual powers that can be effectively used for both good AND evil.

        Nobody can force the Holy Spirit to do evil. He’s not a “power” to be handled at will in that sense. He responds only to what will glorify God and bless someone, and even then, we know that He does not always answer to prayers for healing, etc. the way we expect, or any prayer to God for that matter.

        Simon the Magician is a good example of the difference there is – once He saw the true power of God at work, he was ready to pay to get access to it. A very dangerous proposition, Peter told him. Simon had the good sense to repent immediately. I don’t know what could have happened to him, but we do hear numerous stories of shamans, witch doctors and so-called healers in primitive societies, who have either repented of their way and converted, or have met their demise in some way.

        My understanding of the records of Scriptures is that God does the miracles, through people. The only time there are mentions of magic or other powers involved, it’s to separate them from God’s.

        Acts 19:11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

        Regarding exorcists going around, we do read of them in this record in Acts 19: 13 : “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”

        They could not use the name of Jesus with authority, as they weren’t disciples, followers, believers. It’s not something to play with.

        Finally of note, are the next verses, when the news spread of what happened to the sons of Sceva:

        Acts 19:17 “When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done.”

        Acts 19:19 : “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”

        50,000 drachmas is the equivalent of 50,000 days of work pay. At an average wage of $10/hour for an 8 hours shift today, we’re talking a minimum $4 millions. That’s a lot of books/scrolls.

        In my opinion, if there was true value in the shamanic views and practices, they would be part of Jesus teachings or the Holy Spirit’s indwelling voice. There is no such thing present in the New Testament writings canon we have, although some Apocryphas may read a bit like New Age literature.

        Sometimes we may need to hold in tension flagrantly oppositional spiritual realities, to gain perspective. Studying the esoteric traditions has been part of my early spiritual awakening in the mid 1970s, so I have a grid for the search for spiritual realities in ancient traditions. I hope your research will bring you closer to the Truth that seeks you.



  4. I stumbled upon this article, to my delight.

    13 years ago, when I was a pastor’s wife, and homeschooling mama to 8 children, while sitting in a church parking lot, minding my own business Something Divine swooped down upon me and BAM! I was hit with an energy going up and down my spine, affecting my everything. In a nanosecond, I was transformed from (supposedly appropriate) frigidity into uber-aliveness … the energy foreverly-merged my spirituality with my sexuality, in a way that has been maintenance free, ever since.

    I would never be the same. In the aftermath of an excommunication (sexuality is unmentionable, doncha-know), I cried out for truth at all cost (I was terrified, but KNEW that my experience trumped all doctrine and dogma). The propaganda (disguised as truth) dominoes began to fall … I found myself leaving the institution and entering “house church” … I read and promoted “The Shack” (causing it to become a best-seller) … I questioned hell … and then questioned eschatology … then found Presence International … 3 conferences later I was on the Board … then I divorced (oopsie – no one seems to validate, much less honor, “starter marriages”) … then I explored “spirituality” (same problems as Christianity, with varying languages) … then I experienced shamanic ayahuasca ceremonies … then (after 3 years of digesting the former), I engaged the Medicine Wheel, and am now a medicine-person, i.e., shaman (of the Peruvian/Incan tradition).

    And I still love Yeshua, but not as a “savior” … I just no longer see that we *ever* needed to be saved from anything … but for the misperception that we needed to be saved in the first place.

    So … what a *delight* to stumble-upon this article! I feel all full-circle-y.

    Thank you for daring to be real about your own journey. May your own medicine fulfill you, and bring healing to our hurting planet, and the people upon it. <3

    1. Oh … almost forgot: I have that painting depicted above. Right after I cried out for “truth at all cost” I was shopping in Goodwill, and that painting fell off the wall, and landed in my shopping cart. It claimed me. No accident. I still have, and treasure, it. Every time I see it featured in a website, or on a book … I know I have found a member of my “Tribe.”

      And … in the ensuing years, I’ve real-eyes’d that the energy I felt, in that church parking lot, 13 years ago, is Kundalini.

      Who knew? I’d never heard of it, much less had I asked of it. But I was chosen to go on this Hero’s Journey … regardless of the cost … which (having lost nearly everything I once knew/had) as been both inordinate, and priceless.

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