The Return Project: 2.0: The Galilean Shaman
Stretching to larger perspectives! That is what our conversation is about, right? During this holiday season, I launched a fresh inquiry in this blog into the question: who is Jesus? For over four decades I have been cautious about this question after having my fingers burned in organized religion as a young man.
That said, the results have surprised and delighted me, and all of you are contributing to our process. In previous blogs I have built on current research that directs us to consider that the most accurate and basic entry to the man, Jesus, is to view him first and foremost as a shaman. Pieter Caffert in his seminal book,The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective, has advanced this hypothesis and rocked the world of New Testament experts. If Caffert and a growing brace of scholars are on target, then the most accurate way to view Jesus is through the lens of the nature-based pathway.
Further, if the hypothesis is even somewhat accurate, it could influence and encourage people interested in nature-based spirituality, whether of a Christian background or not. In that regard I want briefly to link the Jesus narrative to my understanding of fourteen marks of a shamanic figure to see if there is a correlation. See what you think.
1.Birth. Jesus’ birth connects with stars, wisdom seekers, animals, fresh air, and predictions of his impact on not just his Bedouin tribe but also Earth herself, as in peace and goodwill. Sky messengers from the Unseen announce and, in some accounts, actually impregnate his mother. His mother gives birth at the edge of civilization as if to put him immediately in tension with his current culture. Auspicious births such as this one are typical of shamanic figures throughout the Mid-East. Marduk in ancient Babylonia was born of a virgin, as was Horus in Egypt. Tecumseh’s birth in North America was announced by a streaking star across the early morning sky, and the star gave him his name. A principal marking of the shamanic figure almost always comes through the birth story. The birth story is not so much an historic fact as it is a way to honor the shamanic figure and acknowledge his/her powerful influence in the affairs of Earth.
2.Songs from Upper World. Sky messengers from the upper domain visit and often impart songs at the point of birth and death, as well as important transitions throughout life. We have only fragments of the choruses given for Jesus such as “Hallelujahs.” As many of you know, in the Earthtribe, the eco-fields, spirit webs, give songs for almost every occasions, seemingly out of the blue. Such is almost always the case in shamanic communities. A stunning example is the Lakota story of Buffalo Calf woman’s coming to the Americas to bring the Sacred Pipe Song from the Upper World.
3.Visits from Elders and early challenges. Wise people often visit during birth and early years as hints about initiation rites begin to unfold. Parents, aunts, and uncles receive instruction and direction for working with the newborn. Sometimes the family responds, but also may become an obstacle to shamanic development. Early challenges from the culture are almost always present, as in Jesus’ family journey to Egypt to escape the scourge of Herod. Black Elk’s relationship with his uncles speaks to this point to assist him when his boyhood visions drove him to the brink of insanity.
4.Seeking a Nature-based Mentor. Assume for a moment that Jesus was what the church eventually claimed, uniquely spiritual, perhaps divine. If so, he could have any teacher he wanted: priest, intellectual, rabbi, politician, or revolutionary/activist. Yet, he chose as his primary teacher an untamed, unruly man, John, who lived in the wilderness, who wore animal skins, who ate locusts and wild honey as a regular diet, and whose houses of worship were river beds and deserts. Jesus’ mentor was, by almost any standard, a nature-based wise person.
5.Nature-based Ceremonies.Jesus adult’ life of teaching began with a wading into the afore-mentioned river with John’s pouring water over his head. The skies opened up, and sky messengers sent a dove-like spiritual ally to guide the young man. A voice from Grandfather sky came to affirm Jesus as a beloved offspring.
6.Altered States of Consciousness. Throughout his life Jesus practiced achieving altered states of consciousness, what anthropologists call shamanic states of consciousness. These states were almost always achieved in natural areas(eco-fields) where Jesus’ wild heart could be nourished. These states of consciousness open portals wherein the mother tongue can be spoken. Such states are typical of shamans, not so much priests, rabbis, ministers, or even sages.
7.Wilderness(Vision) Quests. Jesus used his river experience to launch him into a profound wilderness quest in the desert where he fasted and cried for a vision. The spirit of the river sent him not to the Temple in Jerusalem but out into the desert. There he received wild animal allies and wrestled with the dark side. When all seemed dark, sky messengers of light returned to bolster him and heal his wounds. This account, by the way, is the earliest account we have of Jesus.(Mark) Later accounts of this same wilderness quest startlingly omit any reference to wild animals as his students already may already demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of who he was.(Matthew, Luke)
8.Nature-based Harmony. A central feature of the shamanic figure is an ability to connect so deeply with the natural order that there are unusual occurrences in the eco-field. To uninitiated students, it appears that the forces of nature “obey” the shaman. Actually, there is in shamanic figures a profound exchange of intelligence between the human and more-than-human within the eco-field so that collaboration is increasingly explicit. With this in mind, observe that Jesus walked on water, calmed waters and storms, and collaborated with unpredictable weather patterns. During both his birth and death there were very unusual events of nature, including comets and earthquakes. This profound relationship with events in nature is a key mark of the shamanic figure.
9.Predictions of Game Location. People in Galilee struggled. During Jesus’ life there was constant drought. Poverty abounded. Nazareth had a population of about 75 people. They all used one bath and one central well for water. Food was scarce. So, we note that Jesus, like shamans around the planet, predicted where fishermen could catch fish. He knew which side of the boat might yield fish. Very important information for hungry folk, and we can infer from the limited accounts that Jesus exercised this shamanic ability with some frequency.
10.Tribal Language.Jesus spoke a rural, tribal-oriented form of Aramaic. His language was earthy, filled with idioms from the natural order, and connected to the eco-fields of the Galilean landscape. He was a speaker of the mother tongue. He did not speak the language of urban Jerusalem or the Temple or the synagogue (ceremonial Hebrew) or Greek Hellenism. He could if he had to, but he consistently chose a language filled with verbs and short on abstractions, typical of shamanic expressions. The most reliable way to understand Jesus is deeply to connect with his landscape. His culture? Yes, but his landscape even more. I would love to visit there one day. I have little interest in the usual sites, but I would love to speak with the eco-scape that sprouted him.
11.Healing Events. Depending on how you classify them, there were 30-40 healing events recorded in the synoptic accounts. Nearly 1/5 of the Jesus narratives are devoted to these healing experiences, and, in fact, healing is given more attention than any other subject. These stories are typical of shamanic stories around the world and include giving sight to the blind, walking to the lame, and return of life to the dead.
12.Mountain Visions and Emerging Identity.Jesus journeyed to the mountain tops on various occasions with the support of his tribal community. While on these quests, he identity was constantly unfolding. So much so, that his community wondered if he was a re-incarnation of previous holy people. Crazy Horse had similar experiences on thirteen occasions through his life as a Lakota shaman when he vision quested time and again as his identity unfolded.
13.Journey to Upper World. On many occasions during his life and, especially, at the point of his transition, Jesus journeyed to what shamans around the world know as the upper world. Eventually, clouds came to carry him. Energetic beings dressed in white light came to his tribal community to interpret what was happening. The purpose of the journey was to prepare for a larger experience and something that I am correlating with The Return Project advocated in this blog.
14.The Great Return. Up until know I have followed very closely the events in the accepted narratives in what we call The New Testament. Allow me to go out on a limb here by offering my interpretation of The Great Return. I am proposing on this blog that the central thrust of current evolution is a great return of humans to the circle of life after millennia of estrangement through over identification with abstraction and reason. Very soon after Jesus’ death, his followers became obsessed with transcendent experiences. They wrote down his story in the more abstract language of Greek. They turned to students like Paul and his followers to be the basic interpreters of his life and message. Paul had never met Jesus, and he showed little interest in Jesus’ life, especially as a shaman. Hence, organized Christianity has largely missed the essence of Jesus’ life and relationship with the Sacred Web of eco-fields.
With that in mind, I suggest that The Great Return is deeply tied to humans’ returning to be participants in landscape. Herein is our healing. Herein is our true identity. Herein is our hope.
Jesus as ancestor may well be part of that Return. It may be that a hidden meaning of the Messiah/Christ resides in this Great Return to human identity within the natural order. Next spring I will address that issue. Meanwhile, I will announce soon the next domain of our conversation beyond our holiday excursion with the hidden Galilean.