Thursday, October 23, 2008

Glossalalia and The Sacred Language of the Shaman: Christians as Pre-Mortem Psychopomps

Communication with the spirits beyond the curtain of our visible/audible/tangible world is a skill belonging to the most spiritual, and perhaps the most insane among us. Those who hear the voices of gods and goddesses, angels and demons, ancestors and ghosts have been revered, feared, and ridiculed through ages and cultures of human history.

These holy men and women appear to see and hear things the average person does not. Sometimes with the senses, sometimes beyond their senses they experience a tie to a realm invisible to human eyes, and inaudible to human ears.

What distinguished these holy people from the common public was not only having ears and eyes, which perceive things most people do not, but even their speech hearkened the unseen realm. These mystics of the other world spoke the language of the spirits, and their communication traveled in both directions. They heard the secrets of the heaven and hell, and somehow spoke the secrets in languages unknown to the uninitiated.

During the initiation of a Shaman, he/she often must learn a new language. It is a language of the spirits - sometimes a language of the earth's creatures. Especially common among the Northern Asian, and Arctic Shamans this secret language was also found among Shamans of Sumatra, Borneo, South America, North America, and Guiana.

The ability to communicate with spirits and animals set the Shaman apart from others, and gave evidence to the ecstatic, and supernatural component of his or her healing and blessing activities.

The Shaman is a psychopomp. Lost postmortem souls are supposed to be led by the Shaman to their place of rest. The fact that the shamans communicate with the unseen realm is evidence to the uninitiated that they truly walk in the unseen world - the place to which our souls travel after death, and therefore know the paths of death which the uninitiated are forced to someday travel alone.

I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian, and I find that there is a connection to these shamanic languages within my own faith. I speak the languages of angels, and men - languages which I have not learned through education, but which have spontaneously flowed from my tongue in times of worship and prayer.

Could it be that Charismatic Christians have become secret speakers who like the shaman speak the languages of men and angels, and declare divine mysteries hidden in the dark recesses of human history?

The shaman was required to communicate in the secret language of the spirits, and as such it was evidence that he held special communication with the realm of the Spirit.

Could it be that the Pentecostal languages of men and angels are God's way of giving evidence to the mystical, other-worldly travels of the souls of His followers? Could it be that it is evidence to a dying world that there are people who have mapped the way to a place of peace beyond the grave? Is this a portion of what Paul meant when he said that, "tongues are sign to the unbeliever?"

If Moses had been the leader of a Siberian tribe, he might have cried out "Oh, that all the Lord's people were [shamans] and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29) But as a leader among the Hebrews he called for us to be "prophets."

God's heart is the same toward shamanic cultures as it is toward the culture of the prophets, and He as such is developing leaders after His own heart who speak the languages of heaven, and know how to communicate the messages of heaven here on earth

This newly paganized, urban western culture requires people who hear the voice of the Spirit. Although every person will be forced to travel the path of death alone, those who have discovered the mysteries of the unseen world are called to become the pre-mortem psychopomps to those who fear that day of death. We are called to map the way to eternal peace for the uninitiated soul. The ecstatic languages rising from my innermost being declare that I have walked on the winds of the Spirit, and know the paths of life and death.

This gift is not limited to a few initiates of a special class, but to the common follower of Christ, and as such it demands of us that we take on the role of the shaman, and map the way toward eternal peace.


cern said...

That's the thing about shamanic techniques.... they cross religious divisions and crop up in all sorts of faith practices. They could also be described as the oldest form of spirituality (although the use of the WORD shaman obviously isn't anywhere near that old).

I see no reason why shamanic techniques couldn't be applied to Christianity (in some ways it could be said that Voodoo does this. But don't get hung up on that. that is just one cultural interpretation). The concept of the otherworlds may differ.... have a distinctly Christian spiritual landscape, and in some ways it could be argued that one role of a Pastor is to act as the psychopomp for Christian souls. But approaching this using shamanic techniques would need some deep thought in order to avoid compromising your faith and I would suggest that a Christian would only choose to have Christ as their ally (rather than animal and plant allies) in the otherworlds.

But it can be done, I'm sure.



ded said...

Since leaving pentecostal/charismatic circles, I have often wondered if the tongues of the NT and today's glossalalia is really a similar manifestation.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

I think that as pre-mortem psychopomps we are not guides in the purely shamanic sense, because as Christians we do travel with others toward judgment, but rather prep the soul for the travel it makes in death.

I does take on a different sense of guidance. It is more of a mapping by those "who have been there."

Pastor Phil said...

Hey ded,

I wonder more about the interpretations as they are practices than the tongues. I am sure some tongues are not NT practices, and others are.

cern said...

An interesting point about the pre-mortem psychopomp there. The shamanic psychopomp element is also post-mortem..... guiding the soul after death. But with regard to 'having been there'.... on the basis of many shamanic callings occur through some form of 'near death' experience, and aspects of the otherworlds being the next landscape for souls that have passed, shamanic journeying involves a familiarity with the destination that perhaps doesn't quite fit with the Christian position with regard to heaven. In other words, a Christian psychopomp would hope to provide a pre-mortem indicator to the direction a soul might wish to go post-mortem whilst not having visited that destination yet themselves.

I wonder.... in giving last rites, could a Christian enter into an altered state of consciousness and hand the soul of the departed across to Jesus?



IZenBet said...

man i learn so much from your blog phil. and it leaves me wondering how rhetorical any questions in the middle might be. mike, you raise an entirely new world of thought process, i enjoy your input. and to tell the truth the first time i ran across"toungues" and "slain in the spirit" and petacostalism in general it freaked me out to the labeling it of "occultish". but then again being more opened eared and studying has led me to know more about my faith, which accepts somethings that might be a little strange-and get stranger once one participates.

cern said...

That 'occultish' freak out is probably not an uncommon experience. After all, most people don't really touch the spirit realm (Christian or otherwise) in their lives. Sure, they may go to church or hang out at an open ritual or two. But REALLY living a spiritual life... 'well, don't you have to go into a monastery or become a hermit to do that kind of thing?' The word 'Occult' means simply 'hidden'. Unless you are working on developing a deeper spiritual awareness then spiritual happenings (where the effects become manifest in some way in the mundane world) will certainly appear occult... WILL be occult/hidden. A Christian mystic may well have occult experiences.... and that doesn't mean they will have been battling with the local ceremonial magician. that experience of the Holy spirit? Occult experience! :D That experience of divine healing? Occult experience! :) Yes, if our thinking/reasoning is such that it denies the possibility of genuine spiritual happenings, it WILL be scary and occultish. But at the same time, one has to wonder if one is really experiencing ones faith if one denies the spiritual made manifest.

We use different language, from a belief perspective we might even suggest that the 'spirit' aspect is a different source. ;) But I have to wonder if the 'fear' of the 'occult' has potentially damaged many Christians attempts to have a genuinely spiritual experience. That would definitely be sad because those Christians who DO manage to have genuinely spiritual experiences seem to have a much richer faith.

Again, this is not to suggest that Christians should compromise their faith by engaging in Pagan ritual or seeking out what might be thought of as the 'spirits' that Pagans might experience. Just that sometimes it could be that fear of something appearing 'occult' could deny Christians an embraced experience of the Holy spirit.



IZenBet said...

Good thing i'm finding out more about my faith, mystic Christianity seems to best describe my slightly cracked open mind...and steadfast heart.

cern said...

As a Christian mystic your focus is on God and Christ. But you may perhaps find yourself delving more deeply into that knowledge of God and Christ. That can scare people. they're not bad people because they act out of fear. But there may be times when it might seem harder to find compassion as a response. Keep trying. :)



IZenBet said...

cern, i am but a simple jesus lover/freak who chose the word mystic to illustrate the nature of a God of Love whom is mysterious. Compassion has yet to fail in any nonjudgemental encounters that expel hate and embrace true conversation. Paix!

cern said...

Yeah, I kinda got that impression about your ability to exercise compassion. :) It gets tough when those encounters become judgmental and could almost be said to promote hate. The thing is, compassion in those situations is INCREADIBLY powerful..... just very hard to achieve.

I've seen Phil exercise compassion in the face of very negative judgementalism and used it myself too (compassion is useful regardless of your faith perspective. People of any faith can find it difficult to face difference and can react in a hostile way).... it is almost a default mode for me now. It is hard to remain hostile when those you're being hostile to respond with compassion. If you sustain that compassion it can change an exchange to one where true conversation becomes a much greater possibility. But you've probably found that for yourself anyway. :)



steph said...

Pastor Phil,

You said, "I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian, and I find that there is a connection to these shamanic languages within my own faith." While I agree that those who have the gifts of tongues and translation of tongues may have a connection to those shamanic faiths, my bone of contention is your use of "Charismatic Christian." ALL Christians, regardless of their spiritual gifts, are charismatic. That's what charismatic means, and I know you know this. As a United Methodist, I am Charismatic, as are our Catholic, Lutheran, UCC, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, etc. brothers and sisters who are followers of Christ.

It's a small point, I know - but when one is trying to get more people in the Church to recognize that all Christians have gifts and ministries, as I am, to have the words "Charismatic Christian" applied only to one with the gift of tongues is a huge disservice to your readers and the Body of Christ.

Shutting up now.

IZenBet said...

steph i love your chuzpah! but as a foot washing baptist who judges rather than Gd, must we be gentil to them as well?

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Steph,

I used the term Charismatic Christian in a formal manner - meaning I belong to a group which like the Pentecostals (of which group I might loosely define myself by as well) I believe that the gifts of the Spirit including the gift of Tongues did not cease. In this formal sense of the word there are many people who would be loath to the term Charismatic to define their Christianity.

In another sense, of course you are correct, but I use the word in the manner which current Christian culture has dictated.

David said...

I have belonged to a number of Charismatic and Pentecostal denominations over the years. In the process I have heard lots of tongues and occasionally interpretations. I once heard a Brazilian gal spontaneously speak in English, giving Him praise and glory. On a different trip to Brazil I came across an odd thing, false tongues. The demons were cast out, and they were shut up.

As a Charismatic of any type - there are 11 other gifts in the list - according to Paul, the most desirable is prophecy.

I write a lot about the usefulness of the gifts in advancing the Kingdom of God. I don't know why we don't promote them and good character more often.

Very interesting blog.