Archive for the 'shaman' Category


September 3, 2013

Reading a NYTimes post about women in philosophy, I got to thinking about an old spiritual story.

The Times piece starts off with the author’s difficulty fielding responses to her self-description as a philosopher when people ask her what she does.

In this spiritual story I’m thinking about, a young girl is questioned by some men from another culture what she is.  I suspect they meant whether she’s a servant, a princess, a weaver, etc.  She answers something like “Energy worker.”  She is a shaman, I guess we might say.

They end up pressing her into prostitution.  She at some point blames herself for her easily misconstrued answer; maybe if she had not thought to present herself as accomplished they would have let her alone.

Nowadays we would say she was trafficked and we wouldn’t see her as the cause of her misfortune.


Freeing souls

December 9, 2012

I was reading Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, which begins with a passage from Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”  Isaiah 61:1

Father Rohr connects this to Jesus’ ministry in a sort of metaphorical way, but sometimes I think what Jesus was really trying to do was to get unstuck some people’s souls that were more literally trapped, that his mission was similar to that of a traditional shaman but he used other methods.

I think Jesus’ teachings were in a sense secondary to a more targeted mission of figuring out why all these souls were getting stuck in their development.  I also think his strategies for helping people get unstuck have been in part misunderstood, that accommodations and study aids, as it were, have been mistaken for the real deal, but for me, his mission was hugely important, even if I don’t see it as Christians do.  I think people were having trouble connecting viscerally to “God” and I think thinking of “God” in the terms provided by Judaism and Christianity have been ways for helping people to try to connect to the universe more effectively and successfully.

The problem now, I think, is that people have gotten too wrapped up in literal interpretations of devices meant only for opening up the heart.  Once the heart has been opened, I think more abstract conceptualizations are then available and that we should be open to them.

The following really has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I’ve been wanting to link to this song for awhile.  It’s “Jesus” by Amos Lee.

Why isn’t the answer reincarnation?

August 29, 2012

I was reading a piece about how we sometimes acquire memories of things we haven’t directly experienced in our physical lives, and a letter criticizing it.  Both were in The New York Times, and I thought, not for the first time, “I guess to Times‘ readers and writers, a notion like reincarnation is just not on the radar.”

Reincarnation provides a conceptualization and vocabulary for understanding, talking about, and learning from this phenomenon, I think — it has utility even if people find it foreign at first.  Like scientists who find the notion of time travel so incredible, these folks are confusing the limitations of their understanding with the limitations of human understanding.

In universities I used to notice how people could get so much mileage out of discussing fairly commonplace understandings from one discipline in another department or school within the university.  This strikes me as similar but opposite: it’s the failure to import the ideas across departmental lines that is notable here.  I am hopeful that some enterprising scientist from a culture that uses the concept of reincarnation or shamans will eventually help cross-pollinate those ideas with what grows in scientific fields.

Shattering falls

August 14, 2012

I was reading a Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, and I was struck by something he said about needing to let our children fall in order to allow them to find their balance.

In large measure I agree, but I think the universe is a little more complicated than that.  I think just as we realize that young children will be harmed by having sex before they are ready, some falls will wreak havoc on a person of whatever age if they are not sufficiently developed spiritually for the challenge.

It happens, people occasionally do experience falls that not only open up their ego structures but go much further and shatter their souls.  Shamans and others who engage in soul retrieval can testify that while it’s not the end of the world and healing is always possible, redressing this kind of situation is not easy or a matter of the person just getting back up on their own.

Physicists and shamans

November 10, 2011

I watched the Brian Greene program about time on Nova last night and wondered why he was acting as if he’d never heard of a shaman or what one does.  Even if he personally doesn’t “believe” in what shamans do, he could learn from the parallel concepts.  But it’s like someone who doesn’t want to ask for directions, he and his friends are going to find this stuff out for themselves.  Which is probably as it should be, but if in the interim they destroy the planet, and for personal profit, it’ll be a pretty hollow moment of understanding, for all of us.

Applied spirituality

October 19, 2011

From a spiritual vantage point, I see science and its discoveries and explanations as lots of lovely and detailed footnotes that help us appreciate our world from within it.  I think I see the significance of that level of understanding differently from the scientists — I don’t think those discoveries and explanations are wrong, but I see them as an echo of other things, like overtones to the original note, and I would probably conceptualize the original note as sounding maybe in another dimension or something.  Maybe our world is something like a microcosm to something else.

Where I probably also diverge from the scientific mindset is from the wanting to use the understanding through the discoveries to control and change things in ways that suit our short-sighted desires and fears but have long-term negative consequences that we just don’t have the perspective to see.  To me, the impact of trying to control and manipulate, even for good objectives, is kind of like the indirect effect on other things far away in space and time of a butterfly moving its wings.

I can also see scientific understandings of phenomena as basically just another language for understanding concepts that can be understood through other languages, too.  I think I’ve said this before:  for example, if scientists have found a way in their language to explain what shamans already understand in their own ways of understanding, that we can “send a telegram,” or more, back in time, terrific.

Detachment and detachment

September 27, 2011

I’m thinking about the detachment of a spiritually disciplined person and the detachment of someone with a pathological emotional disorder (psychopath, sociopath, whatever we label people when there seems to be no there there).  The difference between the two approaches seems to be whether the seam of detachment includes the bobbin thread of compassion that comes from engagement with something beyond ourselves and makes the detachment only a piece of a greater interaction that includes something positive.

I think about this from time to time because I have known people who do the pathological variety, and it has struck me that maybe they (erroneously) think they’re doing something they should, because they are unaware that they are not engaged with what they’re not engaged with — how do you know you’re missing something when you’re missing it, how do you know what you don’t know, in effect, especially if you’ve arranged for all your feedback from others to be rerouted to your spam folder?  Such people are part of why I harbor such an aversion to the notion of “fake it til you make it” — faking things can be misleading to others — trompe l’oeil is fun to look at but what happens if we try to open the painted window when there’s a fire?

Once I am beyond the reach of such people, though, I can wonder what I think they should do; wear a scarlet letter so people know there’s a sink hole where there should be something positive, that there’s concavity where there should be something convex?  I think I have finally learned that one of the ways of detecting them is that when I interact with them my perception is mirrored back to me upside down and backwards — maybe their perception is that way, too, and that’s how they came to be so maladaptively self-protective.  Because if you’re constantly getting very different outcomes from what you foresee, maybe you become disengaged from the whole project of listening for guidance.  And then I start thinking of the Hubble Space Telescope and how its original mirror was misshapen.  I wonder whether some of us function as lenses that can compensate for such deformities in others and allow the disabled to make spiritual progress, and whether some religious tales have developed to explain what happens when such a lens is shattered by the person whom it is trying to help?  Lucky for everyone involved there are second chances (and even thirds and fourths and so on), but the person doing the helping needs to learn to maintain both their detachment and their compassion while in a complicated hall of mirrors and being buffeted by all kinds of difficult phantasms, as the story of Tam Lin seems to suggest.

Shamans and the speed of light

September 25, 2011

I’m kind of relieved that maybe scientists have found that the speed of light is not as ultimate a bound as they thought.

I read the piece on the PBS NewsHour’s blog and the article in the NYTimes to which it links, and my reaction is, “Well, yes, sending telegrams back in time, or even the plumber or a tow truck back to help out, that’s what shamans do.”  And it would be nice for scientists to be on that same page.

I wonder what, if anything, will happen when they do.

I sometimes think scientists could use a shaman or someone similar to help direct where fruitful paths for research might lie, but we’re all too busy tending to our separate magisteria or attending our own conferences or otherwise keeping ourselves in our separate camps.

The quest for fusion

August 12, 2011

I’m not sure what the current status is of science’s quest for nuclear fusion.  But I am pretty sure it has a spiritual analog, the attempt to unite pieces of a unified whole.

Plato, I think, was getting at something similar in the Parmenides, with its discussion of the one, the many, the all — I don’t have it in front of me, and my recollection is that the ideas in the dialogue are even more obscure in translation into English than they are in the Greek  — the grammatical structure of the Greek helps elucidate the concept.

I tend to experience spiritual understandings with “homey” metaphors, I’m not sure why.  For me, the concept of fusion has been about a shattered soul whose shards have been scattered.  They became embedded in others’ psyches, and the project is to retrieve them and put them together, like pieces to a shattered ceramic cup.  This is done in a sort of incubating vessel, a kind of spiritual womb (Plato seems to have had a similar concept too, in the Timaeus — I think I’ve mentioned this before); and where shards have been pulverized, this mothering force supplies what is missing, like improvising where some bars to a piece of music have been lost.

So, when all is said and done, and the fusion is complete, what do we get?  (I kind of feel like when we all worked an arithmetic problem back at our seats in about the third grade, and then the teacher went around the room asking, “What did you get for the answer?”)  I got a very young and seemingly disabled female child who couldn’t tell me much but kept repeating, as if she had been trained to do so in order to remember an important message for when someone should come along and have the understanding to ask, that she was the true one, not the other who was posing as such.

For me it came across as what I refer to here as a “spiritual story” (in other contexts, I suspect it would be called a past life regression, in others a fantasy — I’m sure there are even more ways to understand it).  But if I take my ego out of the way, and stop looking at it from a point of view as a character within the story, such as a heroic shaman coming to the rescue of and healing a damaged soul, it starts sounding as if I am trying to perceive my most authentic self, my spiritual core, to get back to my original self.

I often see lost pacifiers along the sidewalks and paths where I walk, and I’ve never had a clear idea of how to interpret that (beyond the obvious fact that somebody in a stroller or something similar probably passed by earlier).  Maybe it’s about spiritual rebirth, about being born again in the sense of rediscovering who we are.  Because in getting to the point of hearing that mantra of a small child who was difficult to reach, who could communicate through emotional exchanges more than verbal ones and who was so vulnerable beneath an outer layer of mistrust and fear, I had located in myself that kind of nurturing love that allows flow to occur between self and soul, self and others, self and the universe, I think.