Thursday, November 6, 2014

Literalists against the shamanic

Literalist interpretations of ancient scripture or ancient sacred tradition -- and especially the literalistic interpretations of the ancient scriptures of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible which make up literalist Christianity -- have always been inimical to the shamanic worldview and the practice of shamanism.

This can be demonstrated in history. Once literalist Christianity had taken over the Roman Empire (stamping out the more metaphorical approach to the scriptures taken by the Gnostics in the process), it turned the might of that empire against shamanic cultures in the rest of Europe, including in western and northern Europe and the British isles. 

This process continued in western Europe after the split of the Roman Empire into east and west, and after the split Empire's eventually dissolution in the west, where it was replaced by a western European system no less inimical to shamanic cultures. Below is a drawing depicting the forces of Charlemagne (who lived from the 740s through AD 814) destroying an "Irminsul," or sacred tree, which in northern Europe was used as a representation of the World Tree and which has clear shamanic connections, as discussed in this previous post on the sacrifice of Odin (and others).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Contemporary records from the period attest to the fact that at the same time that Charlemagne's forces were ripping down the sacred Irminsul trees, they were "converting" the Germanic peoples at the point of the sword, offering them the option of baptism into Christianity or death on the spot. This process effectively destroyed the continuance and practice of the shamanic worldview in western Europe, except for some of the very far northern reaches where shamanism continued among the Saami or Lapp people (note that throughout this article, the term "shamanism" is broadly employed to describe spirituality which can be shown to conform to a shamanic worldview which includes the belief that there is a spirit world connected to this world and that contact with and even travel to that other world is sometimes necessary in this life, and that regular contact with and travel to that other world is beneficial on an individual and societal level).

The process of deliberately destroying the shamanic worldview by western European forces dedicated to literalistic Christianity continued on the other side of the Atlantic, once western Europeans began to arrive in the Americas. The centuries-long campaign to eradicate the shamanic culture of the American Indians is well documented, and included the forced removal of children from their parents to be placed into schools where they were forced to speak only English and where they were taught literalist Christianity. This practice of the forced seizure and re-education of Native American children continued right up to the final decades of the twentieth century in some areas.

These horrible practices constitute clear violations of the universal inherent rights of individual men and women and children. It is difficult to argue that they do not represent a sustained campaign against the shamanic worldview. What is tragically ironic is the fact that literalist Christianity can be argued to be based upon a mistaken interpretation of ancient scriptures which themselves are at their core shamanic in nature!

In other words: the Bible can be shown to be composed of Star Myths, and these Star Myths can be shown to be teaching a shamanic worldview. The evidence to support these assertions is presented in numerous previous posts, as well as at greater length in The Undying Stars.

Some readers may be surprised to learn that representatives of literalistic Christianity are still engaged in attempts to convert shamanic cultures to their religion. The film clip above is an "advertisement" from an annual campaign in which members of churches are asked to pack shoeboxes with gifts appropriate for a young boy or girl, which will then be given to children in remote countries (typically countries which escaped the direct influence of the western Roman Empire or its western European descendants  and hence where the people were able to retain their indigenous forms of spirituality), accompanied by an evangelistic tract and counseling on how to convert to literalist Christianity.

These film clips are shown in churches in order to encourage churchgoers to participate in this annual worldwide effort (I know, because this particular film clip embedded above was shown in the church that I attended at the time, and it was very disturbing to me even then, when I still believed the Bible was intended to be interpreted literally).

The film above focuses on the people of Mongolia -- one of the regions of the world in which traditional shamanic knowledge has survived even until the present day (in fact, shamanic practitioner and teacher Michael Drake was first introduced to shamanic drumming by a shaman from the  Mongolian tradition -- you can read more about this in his books and on his excellent website here).

The film clip above begins as follows:
CHRISTIAN MAN: Mongolia has an incredibly diverse history. They've endured the rise and fall of communism, and they've been influenced by ancient religions. Through Operation Christmas Child we bring the gospel to Mongolia: a gospel of peace, of love, of a relationship with our savior, a relationship with God. During communist times, religion was forbidden, so we started seeing some small house churches, and some small churches, begin to grow. This is an incredibly new movement.
CHRISTIAN WOMAN: Shamans, like spirit-worshippers, they actually know the spirit of Christian: they know it's a different spirit, and it's greater than their spirit. And therefore they are really aghast because more and more people are coming to Christ.
This opening to what is really a very slickly-produced and conceived video betrays what can only be described as quite open disdain for and hostility towards the shamanic worldview and the shamans who practice it on the behalf of their people. The video belittles their cultural heritage, an ancient shamanic spirituality which has survived in Mongolia for so many centuries, and it belittles those who follow it. In doing so, it sets the stage for the scenes which follow and for the unstated goal of supplanting and replacing that ancient spirituality with literalist Christianity, starting with the children.

This goal is really objectionable, as is the tactic of appealing to the children using boxes of trinkets. There is, of course, nothing wrong with giving toys and necessities such as those which are typically included in these boxes, and the genuine expressions of joy and gratitude on the faces of the children in this and other videos like it shows that these items are truly needed and treasured by those who receive them, showing that these children are truly not used to having such things. I myself can attest to the incredible morale-boosting effect of receiving even a small package containing a few items such as toothpaste and soap and photographs and chewing gum while on extended field deployments in the army, and if a little box like that can have such an effect on a grown man who has spent most of his life with easy access to such things and who is only temporarily without them while out in the field, imagine what an impact it can have on a little child who is not without such comforts because of a temporary field deployment but has instead lived his or her entire life without them.

But it is one thing to want to help one's neighbor (even distant neighbors) and address their needs, and it is another thing to do so as part of an overt attempt to convert them to a foreign religion (and to do so while belittling their traditional spirituality behind their back, and snickering at their shamans).

In fact, the name of this particular organization which produced the above video takes its inspiration from the famous "parable of the good Samaritan" found in chapter 10 of the gospel of Luke, a parable which the character of Jesus relates in order to demonstrate selflessly helping one's neighbor and ministering to his or her needs, without placing any obligation on that neighbor or expecting anything in return.

In fact, the parable's dramatic tension, which would have been very clear in the cultural context in which it was first told, stems from the deep, longstanding differences between religious practice in Samaria and Judea, with the Samaritans apparently worshiping at a Temple at Mount Gerazim as opposed to the Temple at Jerusalem, differences which apparently led to widespread animosity between the two groups. And yet, in the parable, a priest and a Levite both ignore the plight of the man who has been robbed, beaten (or otherwise wounded), stripped of his raiment, and left by the roadside half dead, while a Samaritan has compassion on him and takes care of him at his own expense.

There is nothing in the parable, of course, which indicates that the Samaritan tried to convince the man that worship at Mount Gerazim was better than worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, after he had nursed him back to health. In fact, the entire thrust of the story is that compassion between human beings should overcome even the deepest differences in faith, spirituality, or religious practice.

But well-orchestrated and well-funded efforts such as those on display in the video above indicate that some practitioners of literalist Christianity are equipping a "good Samaritan" who actually wants to eradicate the religious traditions of the person or people being helped. Shamanism in Mongolia has survived, even through the oppression of communism (during which shamanic drums were outlawed): will it now be swept away as a result of campaigns such as the one show in the film above?

As was made abundantly clear when this annual campaign was being described in church, these shoeboxes are always accompanied by a gospel tract, and by classes in which the children who receive the boxes are encouraged to become Christians. While we were never actually shown these gospel tracts in person, the contents are now available for examination on the web, here. Like the videos shown above, these tracts are clearly very professionally-produced, with drawings which are reminiscent of Disney animated films and which leave no doubt as to what emotions they are intended to evoke in the reader (and remember, these are targeted at young children, and the tracts are given to the children in conjunction with lots of well-choreographed singing, dancing and clapping, as can be seen in the video above).

This website, by someone who opposes this worldwide campaign to convert children to literalist Christianity, explains that "it was something of a struggle to get hold of this booklet." But, there is absolutely no doubt that this is the booklet which is given to the children along with their gift box -- that website has a photo at the top showing a child receiving a box with this booklet clearly visible on top (you can see the colors of the shirts of the three characters -- Dad, son and daughter -- corresponding to the colors of the shirts on the color of the tract linked above, if you look to the far left of the image at the top of that website that said it was a struggle to obtain a copy).

But you don't have to squint at that rather grainy image: the tract linked above is quite plainly visible at several points during the above-linked video about evangelism in Mongolia and the "superiority" of literalist Christianity to shamanic spirituality. Here are just a few of them, in which the cover is clearly identical to that in the linked tract (of course, the tracts handed out in Mongolia and other places are translated out of English, and you can see on the covers of the tracts shown that the Roman lettering has been replaced by the Mongolian Cyrillic used in Mongolia, although the actual illustrations on the covers are obviously the same):



and even

Each of the above screenshots from the video leaves absolutely no doubt that the tract linked above is the one being given to the children in the video.

The terrible irony is that, unknown to most readers or students or even scholars of the Bible today (and for the past seventeen centuries), the stories in the Old and New Testaments can be demonstrated to be built upon celestial foundations -- the very same celestial foundations which form the foundations for almost all of the world's sacred traditions through history, from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece to northern Europe to the traditional spirituality which survived among the American Indians and other indigenous people who escaped the heavy hand of westernization right up until the twentieth century, and even those which have preserved their shamanic heritage to this day!

These celestial metaphors can be shown to teach a worldview which is probably best described by the adjective "shamanic" (or, more precisely I think, by the compound adjective that I use in my book, "shamanic-holographic").

To be fair, I firmly believe that the vast majority of literalist Christians who support campaigns such as the one shown above are not aware of the strong evidence demonstrating that the stories in the Bible were not intended to be taken literally, and that they really point to a shamanic worldview (a shamanic worldview of the very same type as the one being denigrated in such a paternalistic and condescending fashion in the video above, and of the very same type as they are undermining by trying to convert the children away from in Mongolia). The vast majority, I believe, of those who support such campaigns and make them possible are well-intentioned and well-meaning believers who want to help others, and who are genuinely inspired by parables such as the parable of the good Samaritan.

Nevertheless, I believe this campaign is gravely mistaken. I also believe that the centuries-long targeting of the shamanic worldview may indicate something else, to those who can read between the lines: it may be that someone out there does not like the shamanic, because it actually empowers individuals and cultures and enables them to gain knowledge and effect changes which cannot be accomplished within the material realm alone. This ongoing campaign against the shamanic may just indicate that the shamanic worldview actually provides the most accurate description of our reality, and that shamanic practice including contact with and journeying to the invisible world actually imparts strength to resist some of the negative forces running rampant around the globe. Indeed, the shamanic may be revealed to be the last, best hope in the ongoing "War on Consciousness."

The esoteric system of celestial metaphor underlying the world's mythologies (including the myths in the Bible) is plainly described in numerous previous posts, and in even greater length in my book.

This system has been kept secret for centuries. While some may argue that these beautiful truths should remain a secret, to be uncovered only by those who seek earnestly for them (an argument to which I am actually partly sympathetic), but there are problems with this position, obviously. First, these celestial metaphors are humanity's shared inheritance: they are not the property of any one subset or group of humanity. The stars above shine on everyone alike, and the Star Myths are found on every continent of the globe. They are not anyone's special property.

Further, it is a sad fact that keeping these truths secret has enabled the perpetration of horrible violations of the rights of countless men and women. If keeping these celestial correspondences secret enables deceit, oppression, exploitation, cultural imperialism, and even genocide, then the truth about the scriptures should be revealed so that they can no longer be used to trick people into supporting such violations.

The people of Mongolia with their traditional spirituality and traditional shamans actually already have access to the very thing that the ancient scriptures of the Old and New Testament actually teach as well. That is part of the tragic irony of the situation: those being evangelized actually have the truth which those doing the evangelizing have missed.

The scriptural stories contained in the tract being handed out can all be shown to have celestial foundations, and to teach a message that can be described as shamanic. This is the major paradigm-shifting understanding that the distributors of these tracts (and the opponents of the shamanic) seem to be missing. Since they do not understand this, their tract could use some help. Below is a re-write of them, from this very different perspective: that is to say, from the perspective of understanding that the scriptures of the Bible contain Star Myths which are in fact teaching a message which can be said to be shamanic (or shamanic-holographic).

In other words, what follows is my re-write of what these tracts should actually say, if they were written from that perspective.  Again, here is the link to the file of the tract to which I am referring (in case you want to see the pictures and follow along). You can turn to the appropriate page in the tract to see the images which go with my suggested re-written script. We'll turn past the cover and the introductory material and jump right in on page 3 of 18 (using the pagination shown in the online version linked above):

Page 3 of 18 (children tackling their Dad and demanding he read them the Bible):

DAD: OK, OK guys, if you insist, we'll read from this little booklet that's based on ancient scriptures that you're so excited about. And, I'll tell you a secret: it actually contains stories that are based on the stars! That's right, kids -- the stars! In fact, just about every single culture on our planet had Star Myths which appear to teach the same message, a message about this world we inhabit, and about our existence in these human bodies during this thing we call "life." The Bible happens to dress up the myths in the cultural settings of the people who lived in an area around the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, but the same myths can be found clothed in the characteristics of the people of ancient Egypt, of ancient Greece, of the land of the Norse, of the Pacific Islands -- even of our own ancestors (wherever in the world we may be when we receive this little gospel tract, including Mongolia)!

KIDS: Hey, I know a shaman!

DAD: That's right! Shamanism is actually the shared heritage of the entire human family! The ancient scriptures of the entire planet have a shamanic message in them. Shamans are so important because there is an unseen world that is actually the real world that is behind this one, and contact with that unseen world is necessary in this life for our health and the health of the entire community! Unfortunately, there are a lot of places in the world where this shamanic worldview has been stamped out, in some places centuries ago. They may not even know that their ancient traditions have a shamanic message in them. Let's turn the page here . . .

Page 4 of 18 (Adam and Eve in Paradise):

DAD: Check this out, kids! Adam already knew how to shave really well -- he may have even used western shaving cream and razors!"

KIDS: Come on, Dad! You're joking, right?

DAD: All right -- just kidding, kids -- he obviously didn't grow a beard until after the Fall.

KIDS: Da-ad! Come on!

DAD: OK, sorry. But actually, I have a serious point. These are just drawings, so we shouldn't get caught up with whether or not someone draws Adam as having a beard or not, or with what color Eve's hair is, or any other physical details about them, because in fact Adam and Eve can be seen in the sky -- they are actually constellations! These stories are actually Star Myths, to teach us that we all come down here from the spirit world to be incarnated in physical form. That's why Adam and Eve are called the 'parents of all living' -- because we are all in one sense "children of the stars!"

KIDS: Wow! Really?

DAD: Yup! At least, that's what the ancient sacred scriptures all around the world seem to be trying to tell us -- even these scriptures from the Old and New Testaments, although they usually are not interpreted that way, sad to say. These stories are built on the motions of the stars, as well as the sun and the moon and the five visible planets, but really they are not actually about the stars either -- the stars and the starry heavens are themselves acting as a metaphor for the spirit world, the unseen world, the other realm . . . come on, let's turn the page . . .

Page 5 of 18 (Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise):

DAD: OK guys, I know this image is full of negative connotations, but don't let that alarm you or upset you kids. Remember that these are celestial metaphors designed to teach us about our existence here in the material world. Remember we said that Adam and Eve are constellations (the Serpent is too), and Paradise or Eden is the starry sky. So when it says Adam and Eve were thrown out of Paradise it means that the constellations sank down below the horizon, as the stars do each night, and as the sun does too at the end of the day. If we go out into the night sky, you two will be able to see the Serpent and Eve and then Adam all being "cast down" from Paradise as they sink into the west to "return to the dust."

KIDS: Can we go out and see that tonight?

DAD: Sure, although the constellations for the Adam and Eve story are not really visible during the night at this time of year -- in the spring it will be better for that one. Now, notice that in this drawing, Adam and Eve are shown wearing "coats of skins" -- that's another metaphorical way of saying that we ourselves are really spiritual beings who are currently dressed up in "coats of skins" in this life! The "skins" are actually our skin, because we're in a human body!

KIDS: Really? If that's really true, then how come they have to make metaphors to tell us that?

DAD: Great question! You see, one of the things this story of being thrown out of Eden is there to remind us is exactly that point: that we come from another place, a spiritual place. But we tend to forget that fact. It's like we have amnesia or something. This story is telling us that we all have a divine "spark" inside us, just like the stars are "divine sparks," in a sense -- but that this divine spark is hidden inside our "coats of skin," our incarnate bodies. One of the purposes of these metaphors is to remind us of who we are, and where we come from, so that we don't get so caught up in our physical selves that we forget that we are also spiritual beings!

KIDS: Wow! That's incredible! But how does that relate to shamanism?

DAD: Wouldn't you like to know! But you're too young.

KIDS: Daaaaaaad!!!!

DAD: OK, remember that all the stars and their heavenly realm are like a metaphor for the spirit world, because down here on earth everything is material, made out of earth and water, but up there there isn't anything that looks material, and it seems like it's just a realm of air and fire: a spirit realm. So, if these stories teach us that we have a hidden spiritual component, then we can realize that there is actually spirit hidden in everything: this entire world actually has contact with the spiritual realm. After all, we came from there, so there must be some points of contact or communication between the spirit realm and the physical realm. In fact, everything down here mirrors the world up there: that's what these stories are showing, after all. The stories are talking about the actions of stars, but they are bringing those actions down to the human realm. Well, the shamanic worldview is all about the idea that there is a hidden spirit world behind everything we see down here, and that part of our job in this life is to recognize that and work to call the spirit world out, to awaken to the spirit world and to wake up the spirit that is within everything!

KIDS: Everything including us!

DAD: Including us! And all the plants and animals too! But, let's read on . . .

Page 6 of 18 (you can ignore this page -- it is based on literalistic misinterpretations -- let's continue on)

Pages 7 through 12 of 18 (episodes from the life of Jesus as related in the four gospels):

DAD: OK, kids, there are actually a lot of additional celestial metaphors here regarding the life of Jesus, as well as some important numerical metaphors regarding the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (which also contains important zodiac metaphors), but I'm not going to lay all of those out right now, for reasons of my own. The important thing I want you to realize is that these stories involve very powerful metaphors about the hidden spark inside each and every man, woman and child. These stories show Jesus going around and opening people's eyes to that fact.

KIDS: Opening people's eyes? I don't actually see him doing that in any of these pictures.

DAD: Well, there are actually stories where that does happen, but what I'm talking about is actually opening up perception that is not one of our five physical senses -- not physical sight, or hearing, or smell, touch or taste. We don't actually perceive the reality of the unseen realm and of the hidden divine spark inside of us with our physical senses.

KIDS: Then what do we perceive it with?

DAD: Well, that's a good question. With something that is called many different things in many different places. Sometimes it's called spiritual sight, or second sight -- sometimes it's just called "consciousness." But anyway, that's why when I said "opening up people's eyes," I was using sight in a kind of metaphorical sense, even though I wasn't talking about physical sight. We can talk more about this stuff later -- as we go along, so to speak. It's actually not something that is good to talk too much about all at once. Let's turn the page and finish up for tonight -- it's getting late . . .

Page 13 of 18 (the Crucifixion):

DAD: OK, I kind of wish they wouldn't show this stuff in books that they hand out to really little kids, but you guys are old enough to discuss it a bit, I guess. Once again, these are actually metaphors, and the cross is actually a very profound metaphor about human existence in this life. We have a material or physical or animal component: that's the horizontal bar on the cross. And we have a spiritual component: that's the vertical part of the Cross. So, we're all "on a Cross" in this life, in one sense, a combination of the spiritual and the animal.

KIDS: You mean, it's kind of telling us the same thing as the "coats of skins" metaphor in the Adam and Eve story?

DAD: Izzzactly! Strong work! You kids actually have been paying attention, haven't you? I'm impressive! Yes, that's part of what's going on here -- these stories are telling us about our incarnate life, and that our spirit will "rise again" into the spirit realm after coming down here to be "crucified" in a human body, which is a kind of being "stretched out" between the material and the spiritual, and which actually looks like a Cross, if you think about it. But also, the Bible actually calls the Cross "the Tree" a lot of times -- and the Tree is a very shamanic symbol. In shamanic cultures, ascending up the Tree is often an important way to access the spirit world in order to gain knowledge that cannot be gained in the material world alone, and even to participate in actions in the spirit world which can make changes  "down here" in the material world.

KIDS: Oh yeah! I've seen shamans go up a pole or tree outside their yurts in ceremonies before!

DAD: That's right! In other mythologies, such as the Norse myths, a god has to ascend a tree and hang there in order to gain access to wisdom that cannot be gained any other way -- and to be able to "see" with a vision that is more than just the physical sense of sight. This has to do with gaining consciousness, and it is a big part of what we are supposed to be doing here in this incarnate existence, while we are "crucified" in this human body, so to speak -- this incarnation we're all going through. In fact, it may be a big part of the reason we spiritual beings come here to this incarnate human body in the first place -- to gain consciousness that maybe we can't obtain any other way. There are a lot of ways that human life helps us to gain consciousness -- it's not just by hanging on a tree at all: that's a metaphor for human existence in this cross-shaped body that crosses matter and spirit.

Pages 14 and 15 of 18 (Resurrection and Ascension):

DAD: OK, I think by now you guys should be starting to see how these sacred stories are teaching us something about our existence here, and how they might very well be shamanic in nature. I think based on what we've discussed so far, you can figure out some of the things that are being taught here on pages 14 and 15.

KIDS: Come on, Dad! Tell us!

DAD: Nope! Not gonna do it -- you have to think about these things for yourself, you know.

KIDS: Wait, what about these other pages, at the end -- 16 through 18?

DAD: Oh, those are based on a literalistic interpretation of these stories. Some people don't know that all the world's sacred traditions are actually teaching very much the same profound truths, and so they want to try to get people to stop following one ancient teaching and exchange it for theirs, but that seems to me to be based on a big mistake in the way they are reading the stories.

KIDS: Wow! That's too bad. Do people actually stop following their ancient teachings and exchange them for these "literalistic interpretations"?

DAD: I'm afraid so. But listen, you kids have to get off to bed! You've got to get up before daybreak and chase down all the crazy herd animals while riding on your ponies like the expert little horse-men and horse-women that you are! And, while you're at it, you can check out the heliacal rising of the sun in the zodiac constellation of Virgo -- who is also a shamanic figure, by the way! Yes -- the ancient myths aren't always about male gods or deities being shamanic: Isis does a lot of things that are clearly shamanic, especially when she puts on wings and ascends like a bird, which is also something that the Norse goddess Freya was known to do quite often as well. Also, don't forget that Jupiter is really visible in the morning before sunrise, just in front of Leo the Lion right now!

KIDS: Oh, I love Jupiter! I can't wait to get up before sunrise tomorrow and ride around in the frosty morning! Thanks, Dad, for explaining this Bible tract to us!

DAD: You're welcome, kids. Hey, you know: you guys are all right! I'm glad you were so fired-up to dig into these ancient scriptures. And, I think it's safe to say that the shamanic worldview is going to continue to thrive and survive, even though people have been trying to stamp it out for ages now! After all, if it really is the truth, you can't keep it a secret forever!