Shamanism: The Roots of Religion, Art and Creativity

We have been meditating on the shaman for a number of days in our daily meditations.  I give credit to Thomas Berry for his insistence that the shaman archetype needs to return in our time—it needs to move from the periphery to the center (which is the very definition of paradigm change according to scientist Thomas Kuhn: what used to be considered peripheral moves to the center).

“The Four Faces of God” by David Paladin. On Used with permission.

The shaman archetype can assist religion to be renewed and move from its anthropocentric narcissism to authentic spirituality.  Much of our deepest spiritual relationships to the earth, to the divine mother and feminine as well as to the sacred and healthy masculine will be restored.  Time is clearly running out for our species, so we need to call on our deepest powers of healing at this time.  Healing ourselves, healing one another, healing our professions and institutions and healing Mother Earth who is suffering so much.

David Paladin is one of our wisest shaman teachers.  He identifies as a Navajo “artist shaman,” and reminds us that “the roots of religion, art, and human creativity spring from shamanic tradition.”  If we are interested in waking religion up so that it becomes part of the solution of humanity’s blindness and denial about climate change and the suffering of Earth and her creatures, we should take heed of his teaching. 

To me it resonates with Carl Jung’s observation that “only the mystic brings what is creative to religion itself.”  We renew religion through mysticism and shamanism. 

Erdemt is a 54-year-old former herder and shaman in Chinese Mongolia, mediating between the human and spiritual worlds. Uploaded to YouTube by The Guardian.

David continues his teaching: “The creative response to others and to the universe is the thread that connects us to the whole.”  Einstein said we are now entering the “third stage” of human religion which to be a “cosmic religion”—one that embraces the whole therefore.  Shamanism can assist us in this movement to a third stage of religion.  It is about the “whole” or the “All” (a term used by St. Paul actually). 

Paladin continues:

I have long been deeply interested in understanding altered states of consciousness as they related to the role of the artist-shaman, even though my own Navajo tribe does not have a shamanic heritage.  My involvement with shamanism is an attempt to reach back into my own mind, to reexperience the primordial unity.

“Sun Spirit and Guardians of the Southwest” On Used with permission.

To this end he studied shamanic understanding with the Tarahumara and Huichol peoples of Mexico as well as the Lakota people in North America.  Vision quests and peyote were part of the former training, but

I learned to achieve an altered state of consciousness without peyote and to create shamanic paintings that were relevant to them….Though hallucinogens may intensify the visions, I find them counterproductive because they interfere with my ability to paint.

Undergoing sweat lodges and dancing the Sun Dance with Lakota people in Nevada resulted in a

…major vision….The actual ceremony was a peaceful, quiet experience.  At one time I felt myself tugging against external reality, finally falling into the sun and into the gateway of All.*

*David Paladin, Painting the Dream, pp. 20f.

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest.

Banner Image: “Forest of Life” by David Paladin. On Used with permission.

Do you sense a deep need for religion to be renewed today?  Do you recognize the roots of religion, art and creativity to emerge from ancient shamanistic places as David Paladin does?

Painting the Dream: The Shamanic Life and Art of David Chethlahe Paladin

By David Chethlahe Paladin, Foreword by Matthew Fox
A glimpse into the remarkable life and visionary artwork of spiritual artist and activist David Chethlahe Paladin. Looks at the spiritual traditions surrounding the images that Paladin features in his art. Discusses the importance of Paladin’s shamanic history in the creation of his artwork. Features commentaries by Matthew Fox and others on Paladin’s life and art.

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5 thoughts on “Shamanism: The Roots of Religion, Art and Creativity”

  1. Avatar

    I’ve been enjoying all of these reflections on shamanism, but I also am reminded that “performance” diminishes the spiritual depth and transformational healing power of any shaman. A desire for attention or gain can not be present. Humility and emptiness prepare the true shaman to be a vessel of grace in Divine LOVE. }:- a.m.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    In today’s contemplative question the words renewed religion stands out. One thing that comes to mind are some of the beautiful and transforming spiritual practices within the Christian religion. One such spiritual practice, that of Lectio Divina, which has withstood the test of time, I personally have discovered in a renewed way, which came by the writings of E. PAINTERS books. Renewing religious spiritual practices in a new way, not only retains there essence but it enlivens their potency to creatively transform our hearts, minds, souls and lives in relationship to the needs of each generation. Religious spiritual practices, traditions and rituals need not be static, but rather aught to be more fluid and organic, and if one is really open to the movements of the Holy Spirit, one will learn to trust, and surrender to this flow of infinite creative expression.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment Jeannette, I too appreciate the practice of Lectio Divina–in fact that is my primary practice. I would also suggest you read Matthew’s book, THE NEW REFORMATION where he lays out 95 theses for the church which also involves the renewal of the Christian Religion!

  3. Avatar

    Dear Matthew,
    The “Three worlds of the Shaman” remind me of what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin described in his “Phenomenon of Man”. He taught, what I think of as, human collective subconscious, conscious and superconscious (noosphere).

    I am fascinated by how our awareness and knowledge seem to confirm and validate themselves through multiple sources.

    Thank you for your DMs! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us through your many books. Thank you for visiting Auburn Ca. where I finally had the pleasure of meeting you in person. Mark

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      And thank you so much for your comment… and Mark, we can discuss this in Auburn where I live too! But briefly, your comparison to Teilhard’s human collective conscious, subconscious, and superconscious do make an interesting comparison!

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