Monday, December 08, 2008

Jesus as Archetype Shaman?

In the recent edition of Jesus Manifesto there was an article by my friend and colleague, Phil Wyman of the Gathering in Salem. The article is titled "Jesus as the Archetype Shaman". I have copied it below for reflection and feedback. How might this concept be received by those in tribal cultures? What about the idea in the Neo-Pagan community? On to Phil's article:

Ascent to the heavens, descent to the underworld, an experience of death and resurrection, acting as a psychopomp to the lost souls of dead humans, story-teller, cultural icon and outcast, healer, exorcist…these are the works, and the personal experiences of a Shaman.

These are also the things which set Christ apart as unique in human history. These are things of which He is an exemplary model, and humanity’s ideal for spiritual excellence and success. These elements are identified by religious historians as the signs, and activities of a Shaman. It is the contention of this article (and any following articles on the subject) that the Nazarene was the ideal of shamanic power and practice, and therefore The Archetypal Shaman.

This concept is not a new one. Others such as Peiter Craffert, and John Pilch have already done studies along these lines. Their ideas have been considered revolutionary by some, and heretical by others. Both Craffert and Pilch have appeared to have cast Jesus as the Galilean Shaman, at the expense of the orthodox Christian position of Messiah, and resurrected Lord of Heaven and Earth.

In contrast I understand Jesus to be the Savior of all humanity by means of His death and resurrection, and the unique Son of God. My position here in this article, and those that might follow is that Jesus carries many characteristics of the ideal Shaman, and exemplifies the power aspects, and ecstatic experiences of shamanism. In a shamanistic culture Jesus would have been viewed as the greatest of all Shamans, and both previous and subsequent Shamans would be a viewed as a diminishing of shamanic power, but coming from Jewish culture he was obviously held as the greatest of all prophets (and even more than that) to those who would follow Him.

By saying this I am not saying that all Christian ministers should become Shamans, nor am I saying that Jesus saw Himself as a Shaman. This is a simple presentation suggesting only that the things Jesus did are things Shamans all over the world have attempted to do throughout history, and that Christ is the exemplar of the experiences of the Shaman, and the goals which the Shaman seeks to accomplish. Deeper concepts, and further conclusions, which the reader may come to are their own surmisings, and not those which I am presenting here.

The Shaman is a type of medicine man who works for the community to bring healing, and prosperity. He battles evil spirits seeking to trouble humanity. Usually through ecstatic experiences of trances and soul travel the Shaman will discover healing remedies known only to God, or the gods. The Shaman may also lead the souls of those who have died to paradise through the same ecstatic soul journeys.

Eliade Mircea’s landmark book “Shamanism” published in 1951, held this as a central theme: That the diminished powers of Shamans were an oft repeated mythos across the continents and islands in which elements of shamanism could be found. Somewhere in the stories of ancient Shamans there was an archetypal Shaman whose powers far exceeded those of more recent history.

The degradation of power and also of an open and clean communication with the unseen realm of gods, goddesses and spirits is a repeated theme in the mythic stories in shamanistic cultures. This mirrors the story of the Fall in scripture. Once humanity walked in complete confidence before God - without shame, and in open and direct communication with Him. The hunt for a return to paradise underlies the story of our Christian scripture, and underlies the traditional stories of shamanism as well, and so the worlds of shamanism and Christianity meet at a common place.

“More than once we have discerned in the shamanic experience a “nostalgia for paradise” that suggests one of the oldest types of Christian mystical experience.” wrote Eliade in the epilogue of the English edition of his book.

I am convinced Jesus answers the “nostalgia for paradise,” and by doing so becomes the archetype of the Shaman.

More to come. Follow me as I follow Christ through the world of Shamanism.

Author Bio: Phil Wyman pastors a church in Salem, MA. His friends are Witches, Druids, Pagans, and Shamans - and some Christians too. His wife, Bev, is recovering from hand surgery right now, so he is being a nurse at home, but their 10 year old greyhound Holly is probably doing a better job of it.


Anonymous said...

As someone who practices some shamanistic techniques, I agree that Jesus can certainly be seen as a type of shaman.

Stumbled onto your blog through The Wild Hunt. Thanks for encouraging dialogue and thoughtfulness.

John W. Morehead said...

Riverwolf, thanks for weighing in on this issue and for the kind words about my thoughts expressed here.

Andii said...

You've been given a 'superior scribbler' award. Check it out here
I've been enjoying your blog for a good while now and wanted you to know there was some appreciation out there!

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Andii. I had no idea. Glad to hear some folks appreciate my scribblings.