We have been discussing the shaman as understood by David Paladin and others.Is Emily Dickinson a shaman?
In his book, Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times, Jungian analyst Steve Herrmann singles out Emily Dickinson as a medicine woman who underwent a deep rupture when she was excluded from the male-dominated world of publishing in the 19th century. This rupture he describes as a “crucifixion of her ego on the cross of her poetic vocation.” She suffered a breakdown, but described her rising from the event as like riding “the Ether into the air or sky as shamans do.” Herrmann sees her as “no frail and fragile daisy but a shaman that has been dismembered and has transformed the very foundation of the Judeo-christian mythos from the ground up.”
How did she do that? In many ways Emily Dickinson set herself to dismembering a pessimistic and patriarchal version of Christianity that in effect throws out the first chapter of the Bible (which is about the goodness and “very goodness” of creation). How did she do that?
She discards pretty much the notion of original sin. She prays: “Heavenly Father”–/…We apologize to thee/For thine own Duplicity—“. She criticizes original sin consciousness and posits an original blessing as the proper starting point for healthy religion.
Of God we ask one favor,
That we may be forgiven—
For what, he is presumed to know—
The Crime, from us, is hidden—
Immured the whole of Life
Within a magic Prison
We reprimand the Happiness
That too competes with Heaven.**
Here she critiques the very meaning of original sin which we are ignorant about, it “is hidden” and in fact has never been defined by the church. (Though for Saint Augustine, who first named the notion in the fourth century, it was our sexuality.) Nevertheless, we carry this “great crime” with us that imprisons us our whole life long. Dickinson realizes that projection onto a life hereafter prevents our being fully present to the Happiness of the present time; we are taught to postpone joy for the sake of a hereafter; the two, existence and heaven, creation and the next life, are supposedly in competition. We are set up for failure in this life (and possibly in the next).
In contrast to pursuing a “life after death,” Emily is bent on a realized eschatology, namely that we are to render the earth a heaven while we are here. In this regard she is echoing other mystics such as Jesus (“on earth as it is in heaven”) and Meister Eckhart (“we are to become a heaven on earth so that God might find a home here”). The “Now of creation” is dear to her (Eckhart talked about the “eternal now”) and this lies at the essence of her mystical path.
*Steven Herrmann, Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times 2018)
**Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, # 1601.
See also: Matthew Fox, Original Blessing.
What in these words and stories of Emily Dickinson speak most deeply to you?