Friday, 21 October 2011

A Christian shamanism?


There is a strand of spirituality in modern culture sometimes called neo-shamanism.

This aims at altered conscious states in order to have contact with the spirit world to get knowledge, healing, or pleasure. Or perhaps to get relief from the endemic alienation of modern life.


On the whole, neo-shamanism is anti-Christian (or, at least, non-Christian) in motivation and in effect - it is a part of New Age spirituality, which aims at personal growth or gratification - nothing to do with salvation.

My impression is that - by and large - neo-shamanism is bad for people, makes them worse people, more-selfish, prouder etc.


Fr Seraphim Rose wrote about the problem with New Age type spirituality in Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.

From Fr. Seraphim's traditional perspective, neo-shamanism comes from an attempt to have spiritual, religious, supernatural, miraculous experiences.

The big problem is that it works - however, the spiritual experiences come from demons not angels; and serve the demonic agenda.


For the modern convert to Christianity there is the first step of conversion then the second step of 'what next'.

After the 'honeymoon period' (granted to many converts) where all seems easy and pleasant, problems emerge - one of which is the dryness of modern Christianity, and that the alienated state (which is the primary modern self-perceived spiritual malaise) is not helped by many or most forms of Christianity accessible to most modern converts.

Is there any possibility of using any kind of shamanism within the context of Christianity, to re-connect with the spiritual world, and heal alienation?


At one level the answer is a plain: yes!

This does not refer to the adoption of specific shamanic practices, but to the basic animistic perspective.

For a traditional, orthodox 'catholic' (small 'c') Christian, the world about them is alive with spirits, just as for the (real or imagined) native shaman; the difference being that Christianity recognized Good spirit (angels) and evil spirits (demons) - engaged in 'unseen warfare' over souls.


Further, the world is alive with intelligence for the Christian as the for shaman - as in the medieval view of the night sky, which sees the firmament as God's handiwork and the heavens as his province.

Rupert Sheldrake's morphic fields provide a language by which the animism of childhood and indigenous hunter gatherers can be conceptualized by moderns.

Anyone who lives by this traditional catholic type of Christianity gains the essence of that which the 'spiritual seekers' of neo-shamanism' hope for, insofar as the search is based on reality and not a self-gratifying fantasy.


The big difference between this kind of orthodox, traditional catholicism and neo-shamanism is that of motivation. Shamans, whether indigenous or 'neo' are seeking power and to use the spirit realm; Christians are (should be) seeking for truth and to love and worship God.

The snares of shamanism relate to power and pride; but worship and humility are some defense.

The lesson of traditional Orthodoxy strongly emphasizes the spiritual hazards of spirituality, meditation, altered states of consciousness, ascetic disciplines - that the fallen nature of humans and the world means that evil spirits are more numerous and likely to be encountered than good spirits.

Shamanism before or without repentance is the problem. Easy spirituality is evil spirituality.


Recommended practice is that all spiritual seeking should take place under supervision of an Elder (a spiritual 'Father'). Yet such supervision is not available for most people in most places.

Does this mean that modern Christianity - lacking a structure of spiritual supervision, must Christian life necessarily be dry and feeble and unambitious?

If the answer is yes - then will a dry, feeble and unambitious life be enough to support the near-solitary and unrewarded Christian against the temptations and deceptions of the world?

Let us therefore hope that the answer may be no - that there may, potentially, be such a thing as solitary and genuinely-Christian shamanism.