Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jesus as the Archetype Shaman (Part 2): A Nostalgia for Paradise

This is part of May's SynchroBlog on the Kingdom of God. See the bottom for links to other posts.

As noted in my distantly past, last (and first) post on this topic, I believe that Jesus answers the haunting nostalgia for paradise, which follows the stories and myths of many shamanic cultures. This is not only a facet of the shamanic myths and their cultures, but also the leaning of Christianity as it hails back to the garden of Eden, and more often to the early and ancient church.

Yet shamanic culture and Christianity are not the only religious cultures to follow this primal call for paradise. Neo-Paganism began in a similar revivalist vein hoping to restore ancient, magical, and simple practices of Paganism. These primeval ties which Neo-Paganism has to supposed ancient Paganism have often proven to be as illusive as Christianity's hope of restoring the early church. Yet, this urge for a pristine and paradisaical system of religious practice remains a basic ideal for the cultus and theology of many religious systems. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, and other religious groups which began with a revivalist or reconstructionist call draw human hearts with promises of better days.

Jesus arrived upon the human scene declaring that the Kingdom of God had come. His work of healing, casting out devils, and preaching of a better way of living spoke to the human nostalgia for paradise.

His actions evidenced a benevolent power from an unseen Father. Accessed by faith this power promised to be available at some level to all the followers of Christ. It was a promise of a religious system founded in a paradisaical Kingdom, which would invade those who followed it with goodness.

Like the Shaman who ecstatically travels the unseen realm to seek healing for the sick, or blessing for the crops Jesus sought to bring paradise to earth in small packages of blessing and healing. These blessings answered the cry of paradise even if only for a moment.

The imagery of shamanic cultures includes a Cosmic Mountain, and a World Tree according to Mircea Eliade. Both these symbols imagine ascent to the heavens, and descent back to the earth with the hope of discovering blessing and power from above to help those on earth. This ascension imagery is seen in the words of Christ, "you shall see the heavens open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the the Son of Man."

Answering the utopian urge is one of the purposes of the Shaman, and was clearly a functional and foundational element of the messianic work of Christ. His declaration that the Kingdom of God had come was a challenge to a status quo of human mediocrity, and to the hordes of religious systems which had proven themselves to be hopelessly distopian. This nostalgia for paradise is among one of the many points which causes me to view Jesus of Nazareth as the Archetype Shaman.

For more reading on the Kingdom of God SynchroBlog see the links below:

• Susan Barnes (Christian currently attending a Baptist church) of
Abooklook on My kingdom goes
• Timothy Victor (Christian) of Tim Victor's Musings on The
reign of Godde

• Ronald van der Bergh (Dutch Reformed) of Ronalds Footnotes on
Notes on "the Kingdom of God" in the New Testament
• Nic Paton (fundamentalist, charismatic, liberationist, apophatic,
heterodox) of soundandsilence on The "Kingdom": of God?
• Beth Patterson (Non churched follower of Christ) of Virtual Tea
House on What it's like rather than what it is
• Jeff Goins (Non-denominational Christian) of Pilgrimage of the
Heart on The Kingdom of God: Now and Not Yet
• Brian Riley (YWAMer type o' dude and Jesus kinda guy) from Charis Shalom on Multiple Bloggers on the Kingdom of God
• Liz Dyer (follower of Jesus) of Grace Rules on
The Kingdom of God is at Hand
• Matt Stone (Christian) of Glocal Christianity on
The Only Christian Nation is the Kingdom of God
• Andrew Hendrikse of Fake expression of the Unknown on
The Kingdom of God is...
• Phil Wyman (Non-denominational Christian) of Square No More on
Jesus as the Archetype Shaman (Part 2): A Nostalgia for

• Stephen Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on
Kingdom, power and glory


Bryan Riley said...

as the archetype Shaman....and the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Interesting juxtaposition of traditions, Phil. I enjoyed reading this.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Bryan,

I do have a tendency to think that Jesus answers the cry of the human heart in every language, every tradition, and even every religion - of we can hear the answer, and learn to communicate it across the boundaries of tradition.

Beth P. said...

Are you talking of the cosmic Christ? Seems as if you are...

I liked this part II, but part I had more of you in it, somehow, or am I just remembering it incorrectly? Such is the nature of memory, and probably why our call to come Home gets distorted...

Thanks for this excellent integrative work, Phil--

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Beth,

Nope, I'm talking about the historic Jesus - the Messiah.

This actually had some thoughts uniquely my own, but probably wasn't as well thought out or studied as part 1.

Thanks for the kudos. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, a great read!

Anonymous said...

But I definitely see the Cosmic Christ in there! (And that's not to say the historic Jesus is missing).

Amen to your assertions. I particularly respond to the original idea that the KOG is a challenge to mediocrity. It is a call to passion, authenticity, loss of ego and reconnection with creation. A call to a journey of faith, and unknown and even dangerous sojourn.

Also, your use of the word nostalgia is interesting. As I read it it means "home sickness". In that light, the elusive Kingdom is the destiny for which our hearts yearn.

Pastor Phil said...


Thanks bro.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Nic,

I suppose I really don't separate the historic Jesus from the Cosmic Christ, so the distinction tends to get lost in my writings in a continuum of the being of Jesus.

If I was to use the word I like best fro nostalgia it might have been the Welsh word "hiraeth." It describes a longing for land, for home - in an almost dreamscape call toward the ancient and perhaps even lost elements. Elusive indeed - for now.

Beth P. said...

I love this discussion about nuances of nostalgia and 'hiraeth'. It seems like the longing for home is deep in our psyche, our soul. It's like an embedded chip that will eventually lead us through many dangers, toils and snares, home--through the thin places.

Thanks, Phil--it might be interesting sometime to do a synchroblog about the connection and/or particularities between the historical Jesus and the cosmic Christ.

Pastor Phil said...


I find this nostalgia or hiraeth to be a basic source of searching for myself, and a fulfilling melancholy (if that makes sense.)

I do think a synchroblog on the issue of the nature of the Christ might be quite cool for developing discussing along the Cosmic/hisotoric lines.

Anonymous said...


This is so interesting and I think it brings home the point that so many of us keep God in such confine spaces that we are not able to see how he reaches across cultures and traditions to communicate with his creation. Thank goodness for people like you.

You said

"Jesus sought to bring paradise to earth in small packages of blessing and healing. These blessings answered the cry of paradise even if only for a moment."

I thought that was a beautiful description of the Kingdom of God that is within us and at hand.

cern said...

Interesting. On the point of the world tree/cosmic mountain, the journey to the upper world and return to the middle, mundane plane is only one aspect of the imagery. Within the cosmology of the world tree there is the concept of the underworld traversed through a hollow at the base of the world tree and entering an underworld. In the cosmology of the cosmic mountain it is a cave at the base of the mountain that provides the access to the underworld. but unlike the underworld in the Christian cosmology where the concept is one of hell and possibly some kind of eternal punishment, the underworld is at least as much a valuable resource for seeking wisdom (healing or otherwise) as the middle or upper worlds. Applying the different shamanic otherworlds to psychology we might consider them to relate to Freuds Superego, ego and Id- Upper, middle and lower worlds. It's a tenuous link, but it DOES work to a certain extent. I wonder how that might fit in with the concept of Jesus as the archetype shaman. :)



Anonymous said...

Interesting take on it Phil. My own post was much more focussed on Jesus of the new covenant over Jesus of the new creation but of course the New Adam theme is an important dimention. You get me wondering what may come out from exploring Adam as shaman type.

Matt Stone said...

Interesting take on it Phil. My own post was much more focussed on Jesus of the new covenant over Jesus of the new creation but of course the New Adam theme is an important dimention. You get me wondering what may come out from exploring Adam as shaman type.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Grace-Rules,

I love that blog title by the way. It is a bit of work to find Christ in other cultures, and it is a work Christians often neglect.


Peace and Daffodils to You,

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Mike/Cernie bro,

I figured I would use the descent illustrations at another post. Thanks for the insiders view of the Shamanic world!

It is interesting that some shamanic cultures mirror the typical Christian model of good above/bad below, and others have struggles of good and evil both above and below - which is not really anti-Christian either.

I certainly see connections between Christ as the Archetypal Shaman in descent (and ascent) warfare imagery, but I am not sure about discovery of healing and help from below.

At some point illustrations and imagery breaks down. The differences between Shamans across cultures are unique and differing enough to make comparisons difficult at times. So I am sure that the observations of Christ as the Archetypal Shaman will have its difficulties in some areas.

Thanks for being a sounding board of this thinking. Your input is invaluable.

Miss you bro,

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Matt,

I sure hope we get to meet face to face someday.

Adam as Shaman-type is not something I have considered. Certainly Paul, Ezekiel, Daniel, or perhaps even Joseph - but Adam, hmmmmmmm...coming from the earth, being put to sleep by God to make woman, naming the animals, getting in trouble at the tree...hmmmmmm.

Yewtree said...

@ Cern: yes, and Jesus was said to have descended into the underworld (Peter 1:3 for those who want to check) so it's the archetypal hero journey.

@ Phil: interesting analogy, and yes Jesus is an archetypal shaman - but so is Odin, who is just as real.

The cosmic Christ-principle is different from the man Jesus, imho, though he could draw on its power (and that of Sophia too, perhaps).

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Yewtree,

I love the name. Once I was at a Llan in Wales - can;t tell you which one. It was one of those old church properties named after a celtic saint. In the church yard of the ancient chapel was an old yew tree, which was thought to maybe even have been around during the time of Christ. Wow - now that's just cool. Even if it is only a myth about the tree.

Anyway - back to the agenda at hand. Thanks for popping in. My buddy Cern is a Shaman in the UK, and is a pretty smart fellow with both Christianity and Shamanism. On this topic I sure do appreciate his comments highly.

You are correct about the underworld journey, and that will come up again in a following post on this topic.

I haven't met Odin, and can't speak to that topic. I am not being facetious, because I have met Jesus whom I can not see, so the possibility of meeting another unseen being certainly exists in my mind, but then that's another off-topic discussion.

I agree with you about the Cosmic Christ and the man Christ Jesus. I was raised as a Christian Scientist, and understand the distinction from that perspective obviously.

Thanks for joining the fray!

Kieran Conroy said...

Hi Phil. Wow, REALLY fun topic.

Appreciate Cern's gentle critique of the diversity of shamanic traditions, which you both acknowlege. I'm most familiar with Native American traditions which I've been studying here- and are also INCREDIBLY diverse- but do share alot of parallels within the Americas too.

It would be REALLY interesting, I think to contrast Celtic indigenous traditions in comparison with those of other places like the Americas, or Siberia (where the actual "shamans" are). I appreciate your linguistic part, which is SO important in studying other traditions. That sense of longing might, arguably be something in the Celtic world-view, perhaps influencing both their pre-Christian views of Otherworld/this World, and how the Celt's interpreted and recieved christian visions of paradise in their own context.

For Native American traditions, at least I have to respectfully notd some strong contrasts... for example, many Native peoples (as well as the Christians who first encountered them) claimed, and still claim this WAS their Eden. Many don't, in fact have a view of falling from their chosen place. They live where Creator put them, where they are meant to be (at least, until Westerners stole that land in the name of God and "progress").

In fact, many Native liberation theologians (including former Episcopal Div School Dean Stephen ?Charlseton, and Richard Twiss, who you mentioned to me and I've since read) speak VERY firmly of Covenants unique to the Native people- that the relationships they had to the Earth and Creator were a holy relationship, that such things can even be seen in terms of their "old testements"- and, that after 400 years non-Native Christians need to let THEM sort out their own religious affairs on these things- because they are tired of trying to explain it to us (this is, in fact the comments a professor shared to me when the United Church of Canada's First Nations Province founded its own seminary, fully integrating Christian and medicine man/traditional training in one school).

Kieran Conroy said...
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Kieran Conroy said...

But I digress... while the interaction of Christian and traditionalist views for Natives is important, I was focusing more on a straight comparison of them where they are more separate.

NOSTALGIA- again less of an issue in the Americas for a people who consider themselves IN their place of creation- most Native creation stories have them emerging, or appearing RIGHT there, with Creators isntructions to them for how to live in that place and right relationship to those non-human beings (animals, plants, spirit beings, all of whom are "persons" in a way that is non-herarchical- if anything humans are the MOST humble, most in need of help from other creatures and Creator).

PRIMAL CALL- Again, truly indigenous peoples in their original homelands are less likely to see a need to "return" to much- except where they were forced from their traditions. I've heard some interesting comments from Native people on the "severed" experience of Westerners, always seeking for a home in some sense in a way they don't relate to- and sometimes can lead to taking their sacred lands or traditions in search for a "connection."

KINGDOM OF GOD- Interestingly enough, some Native peoples ARE apocalyptic in a sense- they percieve a possible end of the world, often through humans messing things up. The Hopi have spoken passionately since the 1930's when the ravages of Uranium mining devestated them- and they believed the nuclear age fufilled ancient warnings of their prophets.

For the most part though, I'd say the imminance/HEREness Kingdom view is more parallel. Earth is not seen as evil, or even likely to pass away anytime soon for many. It is, in fact something we need to take care of because its all we have. The "all" often includes other realms- but those realms are also part of Creation, of all that is (most freqently and Above and Below realm, often mapped to male/female, Creator/sky realms and Mother Earth. Seen as complementary and each neccessary for sustained human life... its not clear, though, in the most traditional forms if it can be differentiated as "God(s)" the way we westerners do. Native philosophy is VERY complex, has a wholeness and integration that's quite different... Creator is a being you speak to... but in a way we are all part of the Great Mystery too (one of the most literal Lakota translations of "Great Spirit"- Wakantanka).

Kieran Conroy said...
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Kieran Conroy said...

TRAVELS/QUESTS FOR HEALING- Yes, there are many cases of sacred travels. Interstingly, in Native American traditions its not always needed though. In many tribes WOMEN are actually innately spiritually powerful, because of their life-giving gifts. They are seen as having a connection men don't- which is why many men need to establish that connection at a certain age in a vision quest or something similar. Women and Men can both go on further Quests to seek more power/Medicine- but for women, its often something they just have. ("Medicine"- which is not just healing, but other blessings or protections for their people, as you note as sense of power/spiritual gifts more than literal medicinal mixtures).

When Native people seek power, they do often go to high places to be close to Creator.. Eagle feathers, too often represent sky/creator/male power (though mother Earth is also DEEPLY holy- Sweat or Purification Lodges rely on the stones, gifts of the Earth to sacrifice themselves in the fire to help Native people pray and learn lessons about a good way to live)

JESUS' TEACHING OF WAY- "living in a good way" or "following the red rod" (red being a deeply holy color- of many face paints, and the pipestone so vital for prayer pipes) definately is powerful in echo... for many, following Creators original teachings is important for a good life- though somtimes movements or teachers have arisen to help people back to it. No a sense of "original sin" though- in many craetion stories peopel do mess something up- but that just explains something about the world, life might be harder but its not divine punishment but people or "trickster" figures throwing things out of balance. Many cases, such stories ARE used to teach right behavior- but not as abstract laws and punishments.

WARFARE IMAGERY- war medicine was definately prsent for indigenous peoples... though the Navajo, or example have war and peaceful medicines, and often hunters and warriors ahve to cleanse themselves to transition safetly back into society.

GOOD/EVIL PLACES and FORCES- there is a VERY strong moral ambiguity to the universe for most Native peoples. the concept of an Evil Spirit or Satan figure is VERY alien to most (and, arguably to much of hte Old Testement--- Satan doesn't pop up till Job, and there its not clear if he's against or working for God). For most Native traditions, there is joy and pain in all worlds, its just part of life. Someimes a sense of falling into an evil path... or perhaps "evils" from withcraft practiced against one... but ALL Creation, above, Earth and below are all holy.

But power can be ambiguous, even Creator seems ambiguous in places... spiritual power is helpful, but also dangerous, one can get too much, or misuse it and suffer for that.

Of course, as you say their is ambiguity in Christianity too. In parts of the OT God seems to claim sovrighty over good and evil things that happen to us. Satan does not emerge as a powerful figure right away. Judaism's view of the afterlife in ancient Israel is fuzzy.. where God is in Heaven, most don't get to go there (save Elijah, maybe Enoch). Many Patristics saw Satan or demons as opressing people who needed salvation as freedom, Anselm put the responsibility on God as punisher, and we need salvation from his punishment. There are tensions in both

In brief, the distances are VERY vast, esspecially across cultures. I'm drawing from the tribes i studied this year, ranging from the Lakota, Blackfeet and Arapaho (plains), Navajo and Apache(southwest), Cherokee (s. East), and others.

I DO think there might be differences between Celtic indignous ans American indigenous. it would be intersting to compare how peopel of each of these traditions interpet Christianity differently

Kieran Conroy said...

Oops- one last quick afterlife note:

Many Native cultures are ambiguous, or had a more cyclical view of the afterlife. In many cass, the results of wrong-doing are worked out in this life, they come back to you (in ways that echo Wiccan rules of 3-fold return).. though sometimes ripple into the afterlife too. Afterlife does, actually echo my understanding of OtherWorld for the Celts, just another realm, people eventaully make it back through to this world.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Kieran,

The contrasting studies you mention in your first post have been done to some extent by Mircea Eliade in his classic book on Shamanism, although little is made of the Celtic world. Most of those contrasts are between northern Asian, southern Asian, Pacifica, and North an South American shamanic practices.

Maybe Cern knows of studies contrasting Celtic Druids/Shamans and other cultures.

As far as the issue of "nostalgia" or "hiraeth": I am not considering an issue simply of return to a place of one's forefathers. I also view it as a cry of the heart for a return to prominence, health, prosperity, and any number of other things of which loss in some manner is the causation. Nostalgia runs deeper for the Native Americans in some ways than it does for we immigrants, because of the loss of so much of their culture, and even of their original locations/lands. In the dynamics of loss I see Jesus bringing a remedy for nostalgic sorrows - not necessarily in bringing a return, but offering something better than all nostalgic hopes. It doesn't matter then where someone's Eden was, because at it's heart the Gospel transcends cultural differences.

I think that Black Elk's vision from the turn of 19th to 20th century speaks to this nostalgia, and also to the Kingdom/apocalyptic issues as well. As someone who was influenced to some degree by the Ghost Dancers he traverses both the Native spirituality and Christian worldviews.

Pastor Phil said...


Another note on nostalgia:

Similar to the Siberian, Irkutsk, and Mongolian Shamans a Native American nostalgia for paradise may manifest itself in myths of earlier, more powerful shamans, and better days.

In our white immigrant culture of America this may only go back as far as the 50's or 60's, or even 80's rock and roll (heaven forbid) in remembering the "good old days."

Ellen Haroutunian said...

Our "memory" of a place we have never been is very telling!

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Ellen,

Indeed. CS Lewis had some thoughts along these lines, if I recall.