A Personal Note on Shamanism a la Thomas Berry

For a week or so we have been discussing shamanism in our DM’s.  I rarely choose to insert myself explicitly into my teachings, but given the importance of Thomas Berry’s teaching today that we need “fewer priests, fewer professors and more shamans,” I am going to share with you today his insight about myself as shaman.  Dr. Thomas Berry is author of The Great Work and The Dream of the Earth.  He wrote this twenty years ago, but now, at 80 years old, its meaning is beginning to sink in on me and helps to explain for me a lot of my life journey and spiritual journey including the great gifts I have received from indigenous teachers and ceremonial leaders. Here is what Thomas Berry has written.

Portrait of Matthew Fox taken from his website page discussing the pedagogy he has been teaching for the past several decades. For original post, CLICK HERE

“When I think of Matt Fox I recall a passage written by Henry David Thoreau in his essay on Walking: ‘In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.’  For there is something wild in Matt, something primordial, a realization that humans are not here to control but to participate in the wonders of those vast cosmic phenomena beyond all human understanding.  These experiences evoke within us an overwhelming delight and thoughts so profound that their meaning is revealed to us only in our dreams.

Matt has a vivid awareness of the fragility and ultimately the lack of fulfillment in any cultural tradition that has lost its experience of those unmeasured forces that inspire and bring fulfillment to the human mind and imagination.  Forces that find expression in the vast range of natural phenomena in the heavens and on the Earth.  In the full range of their ever-evolving sequence these phenomena constitute a cosmic liturgy.  Indigenous peoples and the classical civilization in the vital periods of their creativity situate themselves deep within this sacred order of the universe….

In identifying the over-all context of his work, Matt is sometimes considered to be fulfilling a prophetic role and this designation does indicate an aspect of the work of Matt.  Indeed he has critiqued the church in the light of its own most relevant intellectual, spiritual and social exponents in the past.  Yet there is, I believe, a more critical role that Matt is fulfilling within the Christian community, the role of Shaman.  While both Prophet and Shaman have special roles in their relation to the human community, the Shaman is more comprehensive in his field of consciousness.  The prophet speaks somewhat directly in the name of God, the prophet is a message bearer, the prophet is interpreter of historical situations and the prophet critiques the ruling powers.

Video showing Matthew Fox’s Rome protest. Originally posted to YouTube by drmatthewfoxfcs

The Shaman functions in a less personal relationship with the divine.  He is more cosmological, more primordial, personally more inventive in the source of his insight and his power.  Matt speaks of his teaching as Creation Spirituality, it seems to me, because he feels the need to understand the deep experience of the human soul within the sacred dimension of the universe itself.  That Matt has consistently used the word ‘Creation’ in identifying his work indicates the cosmic orientation of his thinking.  By the term ‘creation spirituality’ he turns the western mind away from its exclusive redemption fixation to the more primordial experience available for the Western soul in the universe itself….*

*Thomas Berry in Mary Ford Grabowsky, ed., The Unfolding of a Prophet: Matthew Fox at Sixty (Berkeley, CA: 2000), pp. 59, 60, 68.

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 363-376

Banner Image: Participants in ecstatic dance at a Cosmic Mass.

What is your understanding of shamanism?  Do you agree that it is more cosmological and primordial and inventive than many other spiritual modalities?  Do you recognize an important role for it today in our struggle to preserve Mother Earth’s health?

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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11 thoughts on “A Personal Note on Shamanism a la Thomas Berry”

  1. Avatar

    Matthew’s ‘shamanistic/prophetic’ path and initiatives re Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen remind me of the prophet Jeremiah’s vision of the “woman encircling the man”. It also causes me to wonder if Jeremiah could be categorized as a ‘prophet/shaman’.
    As stated by Susan Handelman in her essay on Feminism and Orthodoxy:
    “And that is the deeper reason, this line of thinking holds, that the innovations and increase in Torah study of recent generations connects to and is emphasized more in relation to women. That would be the deeper meaning of the famous verse from Proverbs (12:4): “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband,” and from the prophet Jeremiah “the woman will encircle the man” (31:21). The crown, symbolizing the highest kabbalistic Divine attribute of “Keter,” sits on top of and encircles the head. Similarly, in the prophecy of Jeremiah, “the woman encircling the man,” signifies the highest level of Divine revelation, in the mode of a circle (makkif). In a circle, all points are also equidistant from the center, rather than in the hierarchical structure of a line. A circle also symbolizes what encompasses and can’t be contained and delimited.”

    Dr. Susan Handelman is a professor of English at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. A native of Chicago, she is the author and editor of numerous books on Jewish thought. [The JewishWoman.org].

  2. Avatar

    And yet, all true shamans (humility is key here) know that they don’t know. They are cosmic, spiritual scientists. They have open, inquiring minds fueled by hearts at peace. And now, I have said too much. }:- a.m.

  3. Avatar

    Shamans are said to be mediums for heavenly and earthly spirits, e.g. Shinto kami. Many were “possessed of the spirit,” but not in the negative sense often persecuted during the history of some major religions. Their unitary sense was as great as most mystics of other faiths; the devotion of their followers is just as intense.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Yes Ron, Shamans are mediums of the spirit. And many have been possessed by the spirit, while those who have been looked at in a negative sense, were considered “demon possessed.” We see this in the story of the demon possessed man who was said to dwell among the tombs, and the people tried to keep him in chains…

  4. Avatar

    Shaman, prophet, whatever title Matthew Fox has, at heart I see him as a deeply good and courageous man, who never hesitates to speak the truth to power and who has suffered greatly for it.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, Matthew is a Shaman, and mystic-prophet, and so much more, but as you say, “at heart I see him as a deeply good and courageous man, who never hesitates to speak the truth to power and who has suffered greatly for it.” And to this I say, amen, amen.

  5. Avatar

    Recently, my appreciation for Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality has been renewed and I’ve been sharing this Daily Meditation and his website to my ‘Spiritual Friends’ on my email list in case they haven’t heard of our long human spiritual tradition of Creation Spirituality so beautifully revived and needed in our modern troubled society and earth by Matthew Fox. May God continue blessing him in his important spiritual ministry.
    – Damian Maureira
    El Paso, Texas

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Damian, thank you so much for your support in sharing our Daily Meditations with your “Spiritual Friends.” I too believe the message of Creation Spirituality is a message for our time, and all in this tradition are grateful to Matthew for his very important ministry.

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