David Paladin on the Three Worlds of the Shaman

David Paladin instructs us about “the three worlds of the shaman”—the Middle World, the Lower World, and the Upper World.  We live our daily lives mostly in the “middle world.”

“Shamanic Tree of Life,” showing the Lower, Middle, and Upper worlds, by David Paladin. On DavidPaladin.com. Used with permission.

The worlds of the shaman are symbolic of our own consciousness.  The middle world is the one we occupy now—a world of density, of disintegration, of separation.  Mother Earth is whole and beautiful, but here we see people as apart from us, not of us, and experience nature ‘out there.’  In this world we are victims of disintegrative thought processes.

Our visions and our breakdowns (I call them “ruptures”) break through this everyday state that so surrounds us today with the noise of politicians, lies, ego extensions, denial and hatred.  These announcers of separation get lots of airtime and feed into what Otto Rank called the “original wound” that we all carry: That of separation from our mothers at birth.  This profound wound of separation that we all inherit can make us crazy if we do not attend to it.

David continues:

In a shamanic vision, you begin in the middle world—this reality.  You become aware that your separation from other things is an illusion.  You begin to see the barriers that exist between you and others as self-created and limiting structures of your own mind. 

(Compare Julian of Norwich’s experience of oneing and Eckhart’s of breakthrough wherein we learn that “God and I are one.”)

“Struggle in the Lower World,” by David Paladin. On DavidPaladin.com. Used with permission.

Shamans visit the Lower World also where, according to David, they

visit the spirits, the ancestors that linger in the lower world….The lower world is symbolic of the universal consciousness, the total human experience, the collective unconscious.  Every experience lingers in this world, every thought, every horror, every joy.  It contains the wisdom of the ages, and also everything we have created that separates us.

In this deep place we encounter a potential shadow side to the shaman’s journey. 

For the shaman, the lower world is the source of the tools to heal and the tools to harm.  (Some shamans believe that their role is to manipulate and harm rather than to heal.) 

Once again, Jesus’ advice to “test the spirits” and judge the tree by its fruit holds true.  “By their fruits you will know them.” 

Gerry Starnes, M.Ed., discusses the Three Worlds of the shamanic journey.

For David, we confront the shadow in the lower world

…through ritual, dancing, art, music, chanting they [shamans] transform the demons they have created for themselves in that underworld.

Artist-shamans “participate in this universal process as they create their art.”  Making art is itself a ritual. 

The Upper World is the place of dreaming, the Spirit-Talking-Place, the Dreamtime, the garden of origins.  It is the final goal of the shaman’s vision…the peak religious experience….There is a sense of being whole, of knowing everything.  It is total wonderment, nearly impossible to describe….When we reach the point where we are nothing—the void, the source of all creativity—we are empty vessels, and the spirit of God, the creator, the wholeness, can move through us.

*David Paladin, Painting the Dream, pp. 22-24.

Norbert Krapf,Canyon de Chelly Reflections: After a painting by David Paladin,” in Norbert Krapf, Southwest by Midwest, Dos Madres Press.

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

Banner Image: “The Cave Wall Speaks of Wonders,” by David Paladin. On DavidPaladin.com. Used with permission.

Paladin talks of the work of the artist-shaman that participates in the universal process as they create their art.  But I ask: Is all our work meant to be such a ritual where we encounter both joyful ancestors and certain demonic shadows?  Is all your work in the world your art in the world?

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 “David Paladin on the Three Worlds of the Shaman”

  1. Avatar

    Dear Matt,

    My world has been expanded and enriched by your Daily Meditations over these two years–thank you!
    I should have written this a few days ago–if you refer to Canyon de Chelly again, it is actually pronounced Canyon de Shay. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is pronounced in Arizona.

    Thanks again for your amazing work!

    Sally Rings

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment. I make this on behalf of Matthew and we will let him know of the correct pronunciation.

  2. Avatar

    If we sit with these reflections, and hold them while letting them inform us, we will begin to see Great Mystery revealed. For those of us who identify as Christ followers, we will “see” as the apostle Paul saw. And too, many of the mystics throughout time; Lady Julian immediately comes to mind as well as others Matthew has mentioned. I include Rumi to Rohr, Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Meister and more. }:- a.m.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment Patrick! We too embrace many more mystics such as Rumi, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart and Matthew has even written a book on Thomas Merton titled, A WAY TO GOD: THOMAS MERTON’S CREATION SPIRITUALITY JOURNEY.

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