Emily Dickinson, Shaman and Creation Mystic, continued

Like shamans everywhere, Emily was very much in touch with animal spirits and named those who taught her the most, for example the hummingbird and also the snake.  (Hildegard of Bingen, seven centuries earlier, decried the bad rap that Genesis gave the snake who was after all key to the goddess culture, and she strove to redeem the snake symbol and in the process I believe to make peace with our reptilian brain.)

The cheerful sounds of an American Robin singing its heart out. Uploaded to YouTube by MyBackyardBirding

Emily invoked the spider who spins tapestries from deep within himself as she does her poems; the “little green people” or frogs; and the bird or robin who

…lifted up his Throat
And squandered such a Note–
A Universe that overheard
Is stricken by it yet— 

A finding of her voice, her fifth chakra indeed.  Is this what she was doing with her poetry?  Practicing her throat chakra and thereby awakening the universe itself?

A ‘new religion’ or an ancient tradition? 

In a letter Dickinson wonders if she was “the apostle of a new ‘religion’ that was from Nature, and was free with the beauty and Bliss of creation.”

“In a tranquil Alpine meadow,” Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

To me the religion she is speaking of is creation spirituality and it only appears to be a new religion because for so many centuries anthropocentrism, emboldened by the Enlightenment and redemption religion, emboldened by the black death of the 14th century, swamped our reverence for the sacredness of creation. 

Emily clearly is a sister to Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich.  And to Jesus and the wisdom (that is, creation centered), tradition of Israel.

Being a “bride to awe,” she is a bride to the Via Positiva (even though she tastes the via negativa daily, having been “crucified” by a patriarchal society and religion that rejected her theology and verse). 

She observes that grass “so little has to do” still does manage to “hold the Sunshine in its lap/and bow to everything.”  Even grass exalts and has a role to play and renders reverence an everyday thing as it threads

Dew-spangled grass. Photo by Ochir-Erdene Oyunmedeg on Unsplash

…the Dews, all night, like Pearls–
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing–

More of nature mysticism in this poem:

The earth has many keys….
Beauty is nature’s fact.
But witness for her land,
And witness for her sea,
The cricket is her utmost
Of elegy to me. 

“Beauty is nature’s key” and “nature’s fact”—very likely the source of her own revelations and summarizes nature’s essence in one word: Beauty.  She pays obeisance to the Via Positiva again in this brief poem.

Children at play, Cao Lãnh, Vietnam. Photo by Mi Pham on Unsplash

Bliss is the plaything of the child—
The secret of the man
The sacred stealth of Boy and Girl
Rebuke it if we can

Joy and delight are not to be trifled with.  They are at the heart of what moves the child, the man and relationships themselves.  The Via Positiva has a primal role to play in all our relationships. 

Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1600, 333, 1775, 1553

Steven Herrmann, Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times (Kingfisher Press, 2018), 92, 219f

See Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, 173-178

See also Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 20-33.

Banner Image: “A narrow Fellow in the Grass / Occasionally rides” – Garter snake in dried grass. Photo by Aaron Fernando on Unsplash

Do you see beauty as the “key to nature” and “Nature’s fact?”  What follows from that?

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

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10 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson, Shaman and Creation Mystic, continued”

  1. Avatar

    Yes, I experience the Blessing of Beauty every day, in some way. Sitting outdoors for morning meditation today I am overcome by the scent of Beauty from the greening beings around us and awestruck as we’re serenaded by the Robins, Mourning Doves, Chickadees, Nuthatches and multiple migrating songsters. From here I can rise with joy to meet the day (in my case, taking action to address eco-justice challenges from the military who want to clear cut 170 acres of forested land on Cape
    Cod to build a Machine Gun Range on our sole source aquifer). I think I’ll do a bit of gardening first however.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Susan, thank you for your comment. I affirm that you experience the Blessing every day in some ways especially outdoors, but I can see that it is quite a challenge for you in terms of what the military want to do. Stand firm and do what you can, then let it go and return to the joy!

  2. Avatar

    I continue to see a comparison of the vision of Emily Dickinson and Emily Carr, while totally acknowledging the breath taking uniqueness of Dickinson’s poetry:

    Margaret Hirst writes that
    “Carr was never truly in step with any group, movement, or trend and therefore “the question of direct influence on her work remains mainly a matter of conjecture.”23 As she developed her technical skills and style,
    expression of the Almighty remained foremost in her artistic purpose. By 1934 she could write: “I am
    painting my own vision now, thinking of no one else’s approach.”24 Carr had synthesized her faith
    into a personal, non-dogmatic Christianity, accented by traces of Pantheism, all of which would be
    reflected in her famous “sky” paintings….

    The earth-centered, established religion depicted in her “Indian Church” painting has surrendered to a
    mystic Christianity through which Carr’s soul has “slip[ped] the surly bonds of earth…. / …and
    touched the face of God.”30 This joyous ascent is intensely depicted in her “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.”

    1. Avatar
      Jeanette Metler

      Last July I was very broken and burnt out from my work, tending to the elders in Long-term care, during this whole covid pendemic. So I went away to Manitoulin Island, to a bunkie offered to me to stay in, on the land of Twin Ravens. It’s 100 acres of land with three rivers that converge into one river. Here I immersed myself in the solitude and sounds of nature, journaling and painting, listening for that small still voice. My sister-in-law and some friends invited to take me to a special dinner, hosted by a woman who grows her own garden of vegetables and flowers, and then whom hosts a dinner party, with two people playing acoustic guitars and singing. At first I relented. I didn’t want to be around people. I’d been immersed in so much suffering, sorrow, pain and death for so long, caring for others that I had become numb, kind of lost in this darkness of pandemic life. Reluctantly I went to the dinner. This place they took me to was filled with colorful flowers and amazing scents, lush vegetables, trees, lit candles, small circles of tables and chairs, and a stage where two people were playing their guitars and singing. Everything was so welcoming and inviting. Slowly we were served her homemade dishes of delectable things made from her garden. Then the musicians dedicated a song that they had wrote to caregivers like me, a song about being brave and courageous. This light of all that I was experiencing in the moment, entered into my darkness, and my heart, my emotions poured forth in uncontrollable tears. I realized that I wasn’t crying because I was sad, but that I was actually crying because I was being shown that there still is great beauty and goodness here, now, in the midst of all the suffering, the sorrow, the pain and death, this darkness that I had been immersed in for so long. This revelation was a gift being given me, to heal me, to restore me, to renew me, to strengthen me, to help me persevere and endure, knowing that I would be returning to the elders in need of care soon. But I would be returning with this gift, that reminds me daily now, to look for and see the beauty and goodness that is also there in the midst of suffering. I am grateful for these moments of seeing beauty, for they are like little gems, little flowers offered daily, a garland that sustains me.

  3. Avatar

    Dear Susan, Gwen and Jeannette, Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful stories! Isn’t it wonderful to be able to get so much healing from our love and admiration of Nature! Truly, I feel so deeply for anyone incarcerated (prison, hospital, bed-ridden at home, or stuck in crowded cities) and cannot imagine any day without being able to get out in Nature. Even just putting my nose out the door to breathe in the wondrous air when it is too cold or snowy or windy to go out, is enough to clear my mind, fill my heart with joy, and restore my spirit. Hopefully the ‘powers that be’ will one day come to see the Light and change from narcissistic, self-centered living and once more taste and see the Goodness of God and Nature and rejoice in the beauty that is available to us every moment of every day.
    God bless you for the loving, inspiring work that you do to help much needed change happen in our beloved world. NAMASTE!

  4. Avatar

    A special thank you to you, Jeanette, for the important work you and your colleagues do daily and have been doing since the pandemic struck. And deep thanks for sharing this moving story of the renewal that creation/nature/beauty brings even in the midst of a harrowing time and work place. How wonderfully the Via Positiva feeds the Via Transformativa (our work) and the cycle goes on, one feeding the other. And, of course, what you do is a great effort to heal people so that they can return to the joy of living, the via positiva, again. Along the way, of course, some are lost to the ravages of the disease, but part of the beauty of the world and nature is human nature making a generous effort to heal–including your friends who designed so special a meal. We are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

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