David Palladin often refers to himself as an “artist-shaman.” He also shares his story with us, how as a teen-ager he joined the army to fight in the Second World War and was almost immediately captured and put—not in a GI camp but in a concentration camp. He was the only Native American there and was tortured mercilessly by the Nazis. For example, one Christmas day they nailed one of his feet to the floor and made him twirl for 24 hours.
When he was liberated, he weighed sixty-two pounds, was comatose and a paraplegic. They brought him back to Arizona and in two years he came out of his coma. His elders told him he had a choice: To spend the rest of his life in the VA hospital in a wheelchair; or to try healing in the ancient ways. He chose the latter. They threw him into an ice cold river. It worked. He could walk and subsequently made several pilgrimages on foot to Mexico.
Later in life, his elders taught him that all that pain he endured as a young man served as an initiation into becoming a shaman. What did he learn from that? He says:
Shamans know that those wounds are not theirs but the world’s. Those pains are not theirs but Mother Earth’s. You can gift the world as shaman because you’re a wounded warrior. A wounded healer and a wounded warrior are one.
Instead of returning pain for pain, the warrior-shaman rises above his own dead body and says, ‘I have died, too. Now let’s dance. We’re free. The spirit is ours because we have died. Now we are resurrected from the ashes.’
David used to say that he was sick and tired hearing white people say “I am not an artist.” His opinion? If you can talk, you’re an artist. So get over it. Says he:
If you’re talking, you are being creative. You’re taking concepts and changing them into words so that you can communicate with me. You’re more creative than you think you are.
Many indigenous languages don’t have the word “art” in them—all of life is making beauty and being creative.
In addition to being a painter, Paladin worked as a police chaplain. Often he had to deliver death notices to peoples’ loved one or to work with people contemplating suicide. Standing in a stranger’s doorway at 3AM to tell them their loved one was suddenly killed took as much creativity as painting a painting. He comments:
In that role I use a lot of creativity. I become an actor, because I try to sense what they need and fulfill it. This is the role of the artist, the shaman, the minister.
He encourages the rest of us to tap into our creativity when he says:
Look at yourself as magicians, as healers, as lovers of humanity, as givers and sharers. From that perspective living becomes an art in itself. Then everything you do becomes magic!
See David Paladin, Painting The Dream (Rochester, Vt. Park Street Press, 1992), p. 97.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 172, 214f., 220.
Banner Image: Petroglyph of a Shaman, Largo Canyon NM. Photo by Kurt Wagner on Flickr.
Are you learning that your wounds are not yours but the world’s? Not yours but Mother Earth’s? What follows from that?
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin