Holy Saturday is often minimized, since the great events and archetypes of Good Friday and Easter Sunday that sandwich it get all the attention. In fact, the great launching of Easter Sunday begins on Saturday evening in most Christian churches so Easter is so full of anticipation that it spills over into the prolonged liturgy of Holy Saturday.
In the process, the Saturday visit of Jesus spoken of in the Scriptures often gets short shift. But there are important lessons to take in about Jesus’s visit to the “underworld” on Saturday prior to the Easter event.
One such lesson is a shamanic one, for in the shamanistic world view there is an underworld that shaman’s visit. David Palladin, the amazing Navajo artist who underwent profound torture as a young soldier for four years in a concentration camp in World War II, came back home a paraplegic. He was eventually cured by ancient Navajo healing practices and was told late in his life by his elders that his suffering was an “initiation” into shamanhood.
His wife, whom it was my privilege to spend time with, testified to how David lived in two worlds at once, as shamans often do. And how sometimes dead artists came to him at night and dictated paintings to him (such as Paul Klee whose painting she showed me).
This is how David put it:
Shamans know that those wounds are not theirs but the world’s. Those pains are not theirs but Mother Earth’s. You can gift the world as shaman because you’re a wounded warrior. A wounded warrior and a wounded warrior are one. Instead of returning pain for pain, the warrior-shaman raises above his own dead body and says, ‘I have died too. Now let’s dance. We’re free. The spirit is ours because we have died. Now we are resurrected from the ashes.’
Jesus’s mentor John the Baptist was shamanistic in many ways and Jesus was shamanic when he went into the desert for forty days after his baptism in Marc’s gospel to wrestle with angels, evil spirits and wild animals; when he calmed the waters; when he healed by using saliva; when he suffered for the people on the cross not unlike a Sundance. His “Our Father” prayer read in his Aramaic language is very shamanic.
Holy Saturday, when Jesus descended into the underworld was a shamanistic journey. And surely, he was that wounded warrior who underwent the crucifixion on Good Friday.
How about us? Do we see our sufferings as initiations into a deeper journey, one that results in our own spiritual warriorhood?
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, p. 173.
See also: “Do Christianity and Buddhism have Shamanic Roots? A Virtual Teach-In with Isa Gucciardi and Matthew Fox,” https://faithlead.org/p/shamanicpractice
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: “Christ in the Wilderness” Painting by Ivan Kramskoi, Russian artist of Ukrainian descent, 1872. Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
What are your thoughts of Jesus as shaman? And his Holy Saturday descent as a journey into the depths where shamanic initiations take place? Do you undergo parallel experiences?
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin