Was Jesus A Shaman?
“Shamanism is not a religion. It is a spiritual discipline that can be used in conjunction with any religion... Shamanic teachings were sharply curtailed and then expunged under the controlling rule of Christianity.”
(From Advanced Celtic Shamanism by D. J. Conway)
Take a look at the seven pictures above. Which one or ones would you say might depict a shaman?
Would you select the woman from the Hupa Indians of California on the far left or the man from Ecuador (top left)? Perhaps it is the man from Brazil (far right). Could a Jewish rabbi waving a lulav during the Feast of Tabernacles be a shaman? And what about the regular American guy at the top right or the woman in the middle? Then again, maybe it is the “cowboy” at the bottom left.
Though our choices might seem fairly obvious, those who know a little more about shamanism are aware that shamans can be rather different when it comes to appearance. Shamans can be found in just about every culture around the world.
For example, the “regular American guy” in the blue shirt just happens to be Dr. Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. From the foundation’s web site is this description of Dr. Harner.
“Michael Harner received his anthropology Ph.D. in 1963 from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught at various institutions, including UC Berkeley, Columbia University, Yale University, and the Graduate Faculty of the New School in New York, where he was chair of the anthropology department. He also served as co-chair of the anthropology section of the New York Academy of Sciences. He left academia in 1987 in order to devote himself full-time to shamanism.”
Apparently shamans can have PhDs and wear regular clothes based on their own culture
The “cowboy” and the woman in the middle are Rabbi Gershon Winkler and Rabbi Miriam Maron and both are involved in shamanistic practices.
Could Jesus, who many would see as a Jewish rabbi, among other things, be classified as a shaman?
It seems that Jewish rabbis could also be shamans which leads us to the question... “Could Jesus, who many would see as a Jewish rabbi, among other things, be classified as a shaman?”
First, we need to define the word shaman. If you google “define shaman” you will find many definitions including:
A) a religious specialist who uses supernatural power in curing
B) In traditional societies, a shaman is a person who, usually in an altered state of consciousness, acts as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds to predict and control the future, cure illness, generate miracles, and the like.
C) Part priest, part sorcerer, magician and seer, healer, prophet, male or female, shamans can enter into a state of trance... call upon benevolent spirits and fight to the death against malevolent ones, exercise justice, heal the body and save the soul, condemn, forgive, take or give life. Mediums, sages and sorcerers, they act as intermediaries between the world of the living and the supernatural world of shadows and spirits.
In the Introduction in his book, The Way of The Shaman, Dr. Harner describes a shaman as follows: “the keepers of a remarkable body of ancient techniques that they use to achieve and maintain well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities shamanism is a great mental and emotional adventure, one in which the patient as well as the shaman-healer are involved. Through is heroic journey and efforts, the shaman helps his patients transcend their normal, ordinary definition of reality, including the definition of themselves as ill. The shaman shows his patients that they are not emotionally and spiritually alone in their struggles against illness and death. The shaman shares his special powers and convinces his patients, on a deep level of consciousness, that another human being is willing to offer up his own self to help them. The shaman’s self-sacrifice calls forth a commensurate emotional commitment from his patients, a sense of obligation to struggle alongside the shaman to save one’s self. Caring and curing go hand in hand.”
If I took that paragraph and simply altered a few words, none of which would alter the meaning or context, I could read that paragraph as a description of Jesus and his ministry in most evangelical, fundamental Christian churches and get a big “AMEN.”
Recognizing that this is a giant oversimplification, shamans take supernatural journeys through an altered state of consciousness in order to gain insight, revelation and knowledge so that they may bring healing, wholeness, and provision to an individual or group.
Through this journeying and other methods, healings in the body, soul and spirit as well as other types of miracles can occur including things such as controlling spiritual forces, altering the weather and predicting the future.
If we can get past the stereotype of a shaman only being a Indian medicine man or woman or an African witch doctor and realize that one could be a shaman in virtually any culture, including the Jewish culture of the 1st century, it is not difficult to see how the teachings and ministry of Jesus were very shamanistic.
Was Jesus interested in achieving and maintaining the well being of individuals, communities and in fact, the world? Absolutely!
Would it be wrong to classify Jesus’ entire life as a heroic journey? Did he help people transcend the normal, ordinary definition of reality? If you wonder about that, consider raising Lazarus after he was buried for three days or feeding thousands with very little food, or stilling a storm. That might transcend the ordinary definition of reality. Did Jesus teach his “patients/followers” that they would have to face their struggles against illness or death all alone? No! Instead, he actually promised to be with them always, no matter what. Did he offer up his own “self” to help others? And yet, did he expect a commitment from those who wanted his “help?” YES!
Did Jesus somehow supernaturally control nature, deal with malevolent spirits, heal, forgive, predict the future, etc.? Again “YES!”
And if we look at Jesus’ disciples, didn’t they also do the same things? Did they heal, predict the future and “journey?” We certainly have examples of healing and raising the dead in the New Testament when it come to Peter and Paul. Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 both experience dreams and/or trances. Paul states that he “journeyed” to the 3rd heaven. The apostle, John had an amazing journey to other realms that became the book of Revelation. Of course, once we see the book of Revelation as a shamanistic journey, it just might force us to reinterpret and adjust our interpretation of that book.
One objection some may raise in opposition to my premise that Jesus was a shaman is the altered state of consciousness issue. Let me suggest that when one is in a trance, when one sees a ladder stretching to heaven with angels going up and down the ladder as Jacob did, when one sees visions such as Daniel did or John did in the book of Revelation, it is not stretching things to suggest that one would be in an altered state of consciousness while experiencing these events. If an altered state of consciousness means one experiences a state of consciousness beyond the normal, ordinary human capacity, I would suggest to you that if someone claims that all of his words come directly from God, that person would definitely be experiencing a state of consciousness well beyond the ordinary, which is exactly what Jesus claimed.
Spirit Person - Mediator of the Sacred
One of my favourite books is by Marcus Borg, entitled Meeting Jesus Again - For The First Time. In it, Dr. Borg uses the terms “spirit person” and “mediator of the sacred” to describe Jesus. He writes...
"Spirit persons are known cross-culturally. They are people who have vivid and frequent subjective experiences of another level or dimension of reality. These experiences involve momentary entry into non-ordinary states of consciousness and take a number of different forms. Sometimes there is a vivid sense of momentarily seeing into another layer of reality; these are visionary experiences. Sometimes there is the experience of journeying into that other dimension of reality; this is the classic experience of the shaman. Sometimes there is a strong sense of another reality coming upon one, as in the ancient expression “the Spirit fell upon me.” Sometimes the experience is of nature or an object within nature momentarily transfigured by “the sacred” shining through it.... What all persons who have these experiences share is a strong sense of there being more to reality than the tangible world of our ordinary experience. They share a compelling sense of having experienced something “real.” They feel strongly that they know something they didn't know before. Their experiences are noetic, involving not simply a feeling of ecstasy, but a knowing. What such persons know is the sacred. Spirit persons are people who experience the sacred frequently and vividly. They mediate the Spirit in various ways. Sometimes they speak the word or the will of God. Sometimes they mediate the power of God in the form of healings and/or exorcisms. Sometimes they function as game finders or rainmakers in hunting-and-gathering and early agricultural societies. Sometimes they become charismatic warriors and military leaders. What they all have in common is that they become funnels or conduits for the power or wisdom of God to enter into this world. Anthropologically speaking, they are delegates of the tribe to another layer of reality, mediators who connect their communities to the Spirit."
So did Jesus function as a 1st century Jewish “shaman?” It is an interesting concept, especially if we see ourselves as one of his disciples with the mandate to do what he did and even greater things (John 14:12). Could it be that we too are to be “shamans” journeying into spiritual realms to help others? And remember that the first shamans were probably a combination of priest and healer... isn’t that combination a description of Jesus? Could it be that Jesus was, among other things, a first century Jewish shaman? To quote an old saying, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck... well you get the point. Jesus’ life and ministry just might be the perfect description of a “shaman” and if that is true, are there “shamans” out in the world who are “imitating” Christ and doing what Jesus did, far more than many “Christians?” Could it be that there are “pagans” who resemble Jesus more than those who claim to be Christians? Or am I deluded to even suggest such a thing? I will have to leave that decision up to you but as for me, I think I just might go and attend a basic shamanic workshop. I will keep you posted.
Blessings, shalom, namaste
On November 8th and 9th, 2008 we hosted a basic shamanic workshop. If you would like to read about the experience, click HERE.