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.
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.
Chris 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.