Thursday, February 23, 2012

God is an Animal (or is he?): Shamanism

Weiner provides an overview of shamanism in this chapter. He mentions that shamans have been found throughout human history and in many cultures around the world; they are also referred to by different terms such as medicine men, witch doctors, and healers. To quote Weiner:

"Shamans are lovers of nature, in the tradition of St. Francis. They relate to the natural worlds as equals, as family. The shaman does not take pity on animals but aims to tap into their superior wisdom. Another characteristic of shamans: they work quickly. Shamanism promises a sort of spiritual shortcut, allowing people (me?) to 'achieve in a few hours experiences that might otherwise take years of silent meditation,' says Michael Horner, anthropologist turned shaman. This appeals to me immensely. I mean, who doesn't love a shortcut? (p.267)

The Little Flowers of St. Francis (discussed in an earlier post) do mention that St. Francis preached a sermon to the birds, who afterwards flew away in the shape of a giant cross. While obviously an eloquent speaker, St. Francis does not act in a shamanic fashion. Shamans will observe animals in order to gain information about future events, or use them to help move between this world and the spirit world. Francis provided the birds with information about God, then dispatched them into this world to dessiminate it.

Mircea Eliade, in his classic book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, describes shamans as psychopomps who move between worlds - our world and the sacred worlds of a particular religion. The shaman's journey is taken to get something from the sacred world to help someone in our world.  Animal guides assist the shaman in this journey. To say that "God is an animal" is to distort the shamanic view of existence; to the shaman, the animal is god since repesents an aspect of the divine.

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