Shamanism - Part 1
Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr.
Introduction and Influence
The term "shaman" is
apparently a derivative of the vedic1 sram, meaning
"to heat oneself or practice austerities."
Shamanism is, in some form,
indigenous to nearly all cultures. However, in technologically advanced
Western nations, the influence of Christian belief, science, and
rationalism has suppressed or muted its development, at least until
recently. Today, shamanism is making a significant resurgence.
Reader’s Digest says of
shamanistic healing methods that "these alternate systems merit our
attention," and yet it realizes that the purpose of the shaman is to
"mediate between the ordinary world and the world of the spirits."2
A number of periodicals (e.g., Shaman’s Drum) and
organizations (e.g., "Shaman Pharmaceuticals" in California) now promote
shamanism in sundry ways. For example, Shaman’s Drum combines
accounts of contemporary experiential and experimental shamanism and
related practices (e.g., voodoo) as well as historic anthropological
reports, and is a clearinghouse of sorts for dozens of shamanistically
Several organizations seek to
integrate shamanism with contemporary American life. These include
Shamanic Journey Counseling in Oakland, California; the Center for
Shamanistic Studies in Norwalk, Connecticut; the Church of Loving Hands
in Eureka, California; Four Winds Circle in Mill Valley, California;
Hawaiian Shaman Training in Santa Monica, California; and Transformative
Arts Institute in Albany, California.
In addition, literally
thousands of "vision quests"—shamanic wilderness retreats conducted by
Native Americans—have introduced shamanistic concepts and practices to
untold numbers of teens and adults. "The most famous method of acquiring
a guardian spirit is the vision quest or vigil conducted in a solitary
wilderness location, as among the Plains tribes of North America."3
Throughout the country, the
renewed interest in Native American cultural and religious life is
introducing aspects of shamanism to thousands of adults, and even to
children. (Over 500 federally recognized Native American communities now
exist.) One example is the "As the Indians Lived" day camps that are
held in various places to teach children ages 6-15 the traditions and
culture of Native Americans. Such camps are usually taught by Indians or
sometimes even by shamans themselves. One camp in Chattanooga,
Tennessee, was led by "Flaming Warrior" (Michael Ziegler) of the Lakota
Despite its primitive,
animistic nature, the direct and indirect influence of shamanism is
significant in many areas of modern American culture.4
Veteran spiritual counterfeits researcher Brooks Alexander comments, "A
variety of shamanistic forms and images pervades contemporary art,
literature and music at all levels,"—especially rock music.5
Dr. Robert S. Ellwood of the
University of Southern California is a well-known authority on the
resurgence of new religions and cults in America. He points out there
are "striking parallels" between modern cults and shamanism and suggests
that the modern revival of scores of new cults "could almost be called a
modern resurgence of shamanism."6 Many of the founders of
these new religions experienced a type of shaman initiation in their
quest for the occult empowerment, which granted them the spiritual
authority and charisma necessary to institute and lead the new religion.
Our detailed research into some two dozen Eastern gurus repeatedly
uncovered shamanistic motifs.7
Shamanistic techniques are
also being incorporated into segments of modern psychotherapy.8
Some people have suggested that shamanism has "a crucial role to play in
preventive psychiatry."9 Even the National Institute of
Mental Health and other U.S. government agencies occasionally award
grants "to finance the training" of shamans.10
In Inner Work, Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, a disciple of Sri
Aurobindo, suggests the importance of shamanism for psychological
We have begun to rediscover
[shamanistic] ritual as a natural human tool for connecting to our
inner selves, focusing and refining our religious insights, and
constellating psychological energy.... Jung anticipated this new
awareness decades ago when he demonstrated that ritual and ceremony
are important avenues to the unconscious.... Without thinking about it
in psychological terms, ancient and primitive cultures have always
understood instinctively that ritual had a true function in their
psychic lives. They understood ritual as a set of formal acts that
brought them into immediate contact with the gods.11
Unfortunately, shamanism is
also influencing some segments of the church.12
Many Native American shamans were formerly active in Protestant or
Catholic churches. After conversion to their birth religion, they now
seek to "enlighten" the churches. Other shamans have visions of "Jesus"
and believe that their ministry is to be directed toward Christians.
Still others combine elements of Christianity with shamanism.13
To varying degrees, some ministers, theologians, and psychologists of a
Christian persuasion variously endorse shamanism. In The Christian
and the Supernatural, Morton Kelsey, a Jungian analyst and Episcopal
priest associated with the charismatic movement, argues that Jesus and
His true disciples were either shamans or exercised the power of
therapist and Christian author John A. Sanford also argues that
shamanistic motifs were common among the Old Testament prophets and that
Jesus was a shaman. Sanford believes shamanism is a legitimate form of
Doran C. McCarty is Professor
of Ministry at Golden Gate Baptist Theologian Seminary in Mill Valley,
California. In his convocation address to the seminarians titled "The
Making of the New Shaman," he spoke of the need for Christian ministers
to adopt aspects of a more refined shamanism, and that this shamanism
should become "a model for Christian ministry." Indeed, "The New
Testament picture of Jesus was that of a shaman," and, "Seminaries now
face the task of creating ‘the new shaman,’" who is to become "the
minister of Jesus Christ"!16
(to be continued)
Veda— "Any of the oldest and most authoritative Hindu sacred
texts, composed in Sanskrit and gathered into four collections."
American Heritage Dictionary
Alma Guinness, ed., Reader’s Digest Association, Family Guide to
Natural Medicine: How to Stay Healthy the Natural Way
(Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1993), p. 31.
Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing
(New York: Bantam, 1986), p. 81.
Dave Hunt, The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice (Eugene, OR: Harvest
House Publishers, 1989).
Brooks Alexander, "A Generation of Wizards: Shamanism and Contemporary
Culture," SCP Journal, Winter 1984, p. 28.
Robert S. Ellwood, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973), p. 12.
John Weldon, "Eastern Gurus in a Western Milieu: A Critique from the
Perspective of Biblical Revelation," Ph.D. dissertation, Pacific
College of Graduate Studies, Melbourne, Australia, 1988).
Raymond J. Corsini, ed., Handbook of Innovative Therapies (New
York: John Wiley, 1981); Alberto Villoldo and Stanley Krippner,
Healing States: A Journey into the World of Spiritual Healing and
Shamanism (New York: Fireside/Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1987), p.
200; I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of
Spirit Possession and Shamanism (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1975),
pp. 197-199; Larry G. Peters, "An Experiential Study of Napalese
Shamanism," The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, vol. 13,
no. 1, 1981, pp. 1-26.
Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, p. 192.
e.g., Villoldo and Krippner, Healing States, p. 200.
Robert A. Johnson, Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination
for Personal Growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), pp.
Hunt, The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice.
Shaman’s Drum, Spring 1986, p. 47; Fall 1985, pp. 21, 42.
Morton T. Kelsey, The Christian and the Supernatural
(Minneapolis, MN: Ausburg Publishing House, 1976), pp. 16-17, 69,
Rudolf Steiner, "How We Can Help Our Dead," The Christian Community
Journal, vol. 7, 1953, p. 48; Rudolf Steiner, lecture, "The Dead
Are with Us," London, 1945, pp. 75, 80-81.
Doran C. McCarty, "The Making of the New Shaman," photocopy of lecture
transcript given Feb. 6, 1986, pp. 5-6, 25-28.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute