Holy Saturday and the Shamanic Descent of Jesus

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.

Christ’s Descent into Limbo, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, c. 1510. Wikimedia Commons.

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: 

“Struggle in the Lower World” by David Chethlahe Paladin. From DavidPaladin.com; Printed with permission.

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?

Recommended Reading

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 FundamentalismLiving in Sin

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19 thoughts on “Holy Saturday and the Shamanic Descent of Jesus”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, What happened to Good Friday ??? Any way, here goes. First, in our Queries for Contemplation you ask: “What are your thoughts of Jesus as shaman?” I think that Jesus, in his wilderness experience and his descent into hell on Holy Saturday (1 Peter 3:19 & The Apostles’ Creed) was acting like a Shamans, but I don’t think that Jesus believed that he was a Shaman, if he even knew what that meant. Rather he was very Jewish, fully immersed in that tradition, and it seemed that he believed that he was the Jewish Messiah. You write, “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.” Then you give David Palladin, the Navajo artist as an example of one who has undergone the shamanic initiation experience.
    “Do you undergo parallel experiences?” I have because I have studied, practiced and have taught classes on Shamanism. The best things to read on this subject are: Mircea EIiade’s book on Shamanism and Michael Harner’s, THE WAY OF THE SHAMAN.

      1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
        Richard Reich-Kuykendall

        Saturday’s DM came out before Friday’s. Note how many comments came out on Saturday compared to Friday, and note that when you wrote about the DM for Holy Saturday, it was still Friday…

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I rarely speak of the journey into the depths of Shamanic Initiations that I have participated in during my Gateway Apprenticeship in Indigenous Spirituality. However, today’s inquiries compell me to be open with this community. I will speak of two that relate to Jesus’ spiritual initiations.

    One gateway ceremony is called the Mountain of Fear. During this ceremony, much like Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, you spend 3 days deep in the forest in my case, facing the temptations of all of your fears related to the eight directions. You have no shelter, no food, no water… remaining in the center of your stone medicine wheel, traversing the different directions… identifying, facing and releasing yourself from the bondage of these fears, through the stories you learnt them from through your life experiences… bringing light into this darkness… so that you no longer project these into your present reality.

    The second ceremony is called the Hole in Ground. In this ceremony, you dig your own grave and you lie in this grave for 3 days, without food or water… entering the depths and darkness of confronting death… as you journey through your book of life. After 3 days you resurrect… being spiritually born anew. This relates to the story of Lazarus being resurrected and unbound from the sackcloth wrappings of the fear of death. The story of Jesus’ resurrection exemplifies this in a greater measure… having completely overcome and conquered this.

    These Shamanic gateway ceremonies may seem extreme to some, however personally in my experience of having descended into the depths of these initiations… I found them to be profoundly healing, liberating and transformational an many levels. Whether we call them Shamanic or any other Holy name is not as important as what one experiences through descending into the depths of the journey itself and what unfolds, evolves and emerges from this.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Your “Mountain of Fear” and your “Hole in Ground” ceremonies seem as if they would have been very moving, and were truly Shamanic experiences. You even say that you, “I found them to be profoundly healing, liberating and transformational an many levels.” God bless you and Mitakuye Oyasin–all our relations !!!

  3. Avatar

    To our DM Team,
    I received both Friday and Saturday’s DM on Friday. It appears they both went out together on Friday.
    Elle Kennedy

  4. Avatar

    Matthew, thank you for reminding us of the spiritual values and wisdom of Shamanic spirituality in Indigenous cultures, and its deep connection with Mother Earth, the Cosmos, and our Mother~Father Creator/Creative Spirit within and among us…. Yes, Jesus is another Shaman/mystic in our deeper eternal ongoing human mystical journeys with-in God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Creativity~Life….

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    Thank you for a profound meditation. I find the painting of Jesus, thoughtful at dusk very moving, and would like to know the artist. Please♥️

  6. Avatar

    Thank you for this stirring Meditation, Matthew! I very much appreciate the way you invite us to open up to our own mystical depths, healing capacities, and prophetic possibilities by showing us the incredible beauty of different spiritual traditions, and where they sometimes parallel the ways of Jesus.

    It’s a joy to learn of David Palladin and his Navajo shamanic wisdom on this Holy Saturday when I’m sure many of us ordinary, empathic people are given to prayer for overwhelming numbers of people, animals, plants, earth, sea and sky who suffer and die around the world, often needlessly, due to entrenched, systematic violence.

    David Palladin, Jesus and you reinvigorate my faith that Love really is greater than all the world’s evil havoc, and that all people, no matter how gravely desecrated they may be, are invited to deepen their wounded healer capacities and actions. Your Meditation richly nourishes my own nascent work and aspirations, as a wounded healer and a worker for systematic transformation.

    May the love and wisdom you pour out on us in your Meditations come round and surprise you in beautiful, amazing ways this Easter!

  7. Avatar

    Dear Mathew
    I follow you for a few years now. I find inspirational and grounding in my finite spiritual journey. God Bless you eternally my dear fellow traveler. I’ve suffered a very serious accident riding my bicycle 3 years ago where I sustained several injuries some are life changing. Still recovering from a mild brain injury, hip, shoulder and hand injuries.
    Now the Saturday email about the shaman David touched me in a deeper way and would like to explore it further.
    Can you please let me know which books or whatever else I can do?
    Just to let you know that you, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Ilia Delio and James Finley are my mystics alive. So I am always in the best company in this world!
    P.S l live in London UK

    Have a blessed Easter

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Alberto, I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. May God bless your recovery and grant you healing. In terms of books, the best book on Creation Spirituality, which is what Matthew teaches, would be his newest book, MATTHEW FOX: ESSENTIAL WRITINGS ON CREATION SPIRITUALITY from the “Modern Spiritual Masters Series.”

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