Exploring Shamanhood with Thomas Berry, continued

If Thomas Berry is correct, that our species is in need of more shamans, let us take a harder look at what he is saying.  If we need “fewer priests and professors and more shamans,” then organized religion and education as we know them are in need of a deep fix. Today’s academia needs a deep fix.  Young people who in a previous era might have felt called to be monks, friars, clergy, nuns, sisters, ministers or academicians might be of greater use to others by developing their shamanhood.

Seminarians in procession. Photo by Z I on Unsplash

Berry proposes that a primary characteristic of shamanhood is to function “in a less personal relationship with the divine.”  I have maintained for some time that Western religion can and has overpersonalized the Divine, even “psychologized it.” 

The East, on the other hand, has often depersonalized the Divine.  There is a middle way where we can draw from the strengths of East meeting West. (Father Bede Griffiths developed this idea as we shall see in subsequent DMs.)

Another characteristic of shamanhood according to Berry, is that the shaman “is more cosmological, more primordial, personally more inventive in the source of his insight and his power.”  This translates first into the following action: That we truly pray the new cosmology.  Ingest it via lectio divina.  Aquinas says “revelation comes in two volumes—nature and the Scriptures.” 

Paloma Cervantes, Mexican shaman. Photo by Paloma Cervantes, Wikimedia Commons

We need to spend more time praying and contemplating the awe and wonder, reverence and gratitude, that flows from the new creation story of our 13.8 billion year voyage as earth, as supernova, as galaxy, as atoms, as fireball that ultimately birthed us human beings.  That would satisfy the first layer of shamanhood that Berry is speaking to: “more cosmological.”

The second layer is “more primordial.”  Let us get down to the basics–to being (that is always a becoming, for being never stands still).  Being over having.  Being comes first.  Being is raw.  It “is what it is” as we like to say in today’s parlance.  It is relationship and relations, a verb, in its own way, and everything else depends on it. 

The mystics know this.  Eckhart: “the essence of everything is relation.”  Lakota teaching: “all our relations.”  (Which can mean “all our beings.”)  Eckhart: “every being is a word of God and a book [i.e. Bible] about God.”  And “isness is God.”   

Chair at the portal. Photo by Henri Lajarrige Lombard on Unsplash

What is our response to being?  To answer that question, it often helps to meditate on non-being. Take an empty chair and put into it all your brothers and sisters that were never born and never will be born.  (hint: There are a lot of them!).  Meditate on that empty chair.  Why are you here and they are not?  When you can stare at that question long enough, you are unpacking the “more primordial.”

Learn to meditate on nothingness.  Let nothingness teach you.

Mystics understand God as “the ground of being.”  (Indeed, that is Thich Naht Hanh’s favorite name for the divine.)  Can we touch the “ground of being?”  Is that part of the shaman’s quest?  To be continued

See Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: Meister Eckhart’s Earth-Honoring Spirituality, pp. 57-64, 198, 218-225, 245-250.

Banner Image: Drumming to the sunrise, Piestwa Peak, Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Alfred Guzman on Unsplash

Have you tasted being and non-being, ecstasy and nothingness?  The cosmic and the primordial?  What transpires from these happenings in you and your work?

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Shamanhood with Thomas Berry, continued”

  1. Avatar

    Poem to honour Einstein’s burning of his
    Cosmological Constant in 1929

    Fudge factors
    original as sin
    stand still Reality so
    we can fill in your
    spaces with knowing
    you mustn’t keep growing

    We need images and models
    to freeze for our heads
    we tie flowing is-ness
    to neat procrustean beds
    stretching then chopping
    a factor here
    a factor there

    Still in darkness we pout
    in consternation we shout
    “Shape up to the model so we
    can just get a handle…”

    But You slip away
    dancing your own kind
    of dance ’til we burn
    our fudge factors and
    take the next chance

    You slip through
    air tight infallibilities
    You spin away from
    mock-up realities
    then laughing You scold in
    your most serious take

    “For Goodness’ sake
    you’re all tied up in knots,
    it just doesn’t matter
    let’s try a gavotte!”

  2. Avatar

    Daily, I am pondering Matthew Fox’s discussion of the diverse expressions and experiences of shamanism in the teachings of these (mostly) Western mystics, medieval and modern. They not only introduce me to deeper understanding of their messages, but this discussion reinforces my appreciation for shamanic messages in the writings of Rabbi David Cooper, GOD IS A VERB, and of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s liturgical poems in MINYAN. I was blessed to meet Fr. Thomas Berry and attend his Riverdale Center of Religious Research in The Bronx in the 1980s. There I was first introduced to the worldview of Shamanism, as well as the philosophy and writings of Teilhard de Chardin, most especially his “Hymn of the Universe.” I would very much like Matthew to address how Teilhard approaches shamanism in his writings. I most certainly see this in the very Heart of his message: FIRE and how it animates life and the creative, evolving process of Being, of sharing in Divine Being. Also, I find Jung’s RED BOOK, his art and writings, to be shamanic expressions that can inform our collective STORY, accompanying and partnering with the Creation Story as expressed by you, Matthew, and the other mystics, with us now and passed. Thank you for these discussions of shamanism; they stir my spirit each morning. Edythe Ann Quinn, Ph.D., “Edie”

  3. Avatar

    I suppose I will forever be cautioning that “shamanhood” can easily fall prey to pride, greed, lust and in general worldly foolishness. Humility and simplicity characterize any true “shaman”. There is much more I could say, but this will suffice. }:- a.m.

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