image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The previous two posts have examined the assertion of Alvin Boyd Kuhn that the sacred scriptures and traditions of humanity cannot be fully grasped without the understanding that they do not describe the "experiences of people not ourselves" but rather that they are meant to convey "that which is our living experience at all times." They do not describe "incidents of a remote epoch" or time of legends, but rather they describe "the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth" (see here and here).
This understanding leads directly to the conclusion that, if the sacred stories are meant to describe "our living experience at all times," then we as individuals actually have access to the reality of the super-material world at all times, and we have access to it immediately: that is to say, without the mediation of any other human being.
Note that this conclusion is quite the opposite conclusion of that taught by the literalist approach taken by the west for the past seventeen hundred years, which teaches that the stories are meant to be understood as literally describing the experience of someone else living in some other time. If the myths are about someone else, then it stands to reason that we might require a go-between to intercede between us and them. If the stories are actually about us, about our experience of taking on flesh to experience this material realm without losing our inherent nativity in that realm of spirit from which we came and to which we will return, then we have as much right to direct access to our native realm as any alleged mediator can claim.
There is abundant evidence that, prior to the dawn of literalist Christianity, the fundamental importance of the individual's capacity for direct communication with the realm of the gods was well understood. For instance, in the Mysteries of Eleusis, where men and women experienced direct contact with the realm of the gods and of which we have numerous ancient accounts by participants who reported that it changed their life, there is no evidence that any mediator tried to "explain" the meaning of what the participant experienced directly, and every evidence that whatever happened during the life-altering experience was between the gods and each individual man or woman who went through the ritual.
There is further abundant evidence that, in the lands where literalist Christianity did not stamp out the traditions of direct contact with the realm of the gods, the idea that each and every individual has the capacity for direct and unmediated access to the other world was almost universal.
In his extended examination of the subject in his landmark book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951), Mircea Eliade explains that, "A shaman is a man who has immediate, concrete experiences with gods and spirits; he sees them face to face, he talks with them, prays to them, implores them [ . . .]" (88). Note that this translation may sound to us today as though Eliade was only talking about "men," but this is almost certainly a function of the way this passage was translated from the original French: it is quite clear from Eliade's text that he would include both men and women in this description, and that shamanism has been and continues to be practiced around the world by both men and women.
Further, it is quite clear that, while Eliade would certainly assert that the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that in shamanic cultures there are specific individuals who are marked out and distinguished as shamans by calling, in shamanic cultures there is a universal understanding that direct contact with the spirit world is available to everyone. He cites extensive evidence to support the conclusion that "nowhere does the shaman monopolize" the access to such direct contact (297). "Every individual" can seek contact with "certain tutelary or helping 'spirits'" (297). In other words, each and every man and woman has access to teaching (or tutelage) which comes, not from other human beings, but directly from the realm of the spirits or gods. Elsewhere, he writes that "Besides the shamans, any Eskimo can consult the spirits" (296).
This conclusion is borne out by other testimony, such as the extremely important record of the wisdom of the Lakota holy man Black Elk, who describes the power of vision which Crazy Horse received from the spirit realm, a vision which gave him power throughout his life at important times, even though by all accounts Crazy Horse himself was not technically a "shaman" as his primary calling (see previous discussions here and here).
Those shamanic practitioners today who have decades of personal experience communicating with the spirit world often express the importance of the direct and unmediated contact with the spirit world available to each and every individual.
In Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation (2010), shamanic teacher Sandra Ingerman says:
[. . .] first and foremost, shamanism has always been a practice in which each practitioner gets unique directions and guidance from their helping spirits -- those same transpersonal beings that are often referred to as spirit guides and angels. [. . .]
There is [. . .] a pervasive tendency for people to give their power away to others. Such seekers often desire to find a teacher who will act as an intermediary between themselves and their helping spirits -- a trait that is more characteristic of our organized religions in which bureaucratized priesthoods stand between us and the sacred realms. This is not typical of the path of shamanism and it is not a path of direct revelation. x - xi.
In the same book, shamanic teacher Hank Wesselman relates a similar emphasis on direct revelation from his own decades of experience:
Perhaps the most fundamental shamanic principle from which everyone may benefit is that in the shaman's practice, there is no hierarchy or set of dogmas handed down to supplicants from some higher religious authority complex. Shamanism is the path of immediate and direct personal contact with Spirit, deeply intuitive, and not subject to definition, censorship, or judgment by others. On this path, each seeker has access to this transcendent connection and all that this provides. xix.
And again, shamanic teacher Michael Drake writes in the beginning of his book The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming (2009):
No intermediary such as the church or priesthood is needed to access personal revelation and spiritual experience. All dimensions of reality and the mystical knowledge and powers they contain are available to one who practices shamanism. Every shamanic practitioner becomes his or her own teacher, priest, and prophet. Shamanic practice brings one ultimate power over one's own life and the power to help others do the same. 9.
From the above discussion, it should be evident that this tradition of direct revelation is directly empowering to each individual man and woman -- and that this empowerment is completely in line with the assertion that the sacred traditions of the human race are in fact meant to describe the living experience of each individual soul. It would not be too great a stretch to assert that this understanding of the availability of direct and unmediated access to the transcendent is profoundly antithetical to the concept of "mind control" -- while the opposite teaching that we must be dependent upon others who will act as our intermediaries tends to lend itself to mind control and the "giving away of our power to others."
In fact, the previous post entitled "Crazy Horse against mind control" discussed the high regard for human dignity and freedom exemplified by individuals such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, who each clearly had a strong personal understanding of direct access to the spirit world.
Over a hundred years ago, self-taught scholar Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) articulated the contrast between direct revelation and mediated revelation, and the threat that direct revelation posed to those who wish to proclaim their own monopoly on revelation, and to those who wish to use that self-proclaimed monopoly to inflict violence upon other men and women. In an essay entitled "Man in search of his soul during fifty thousand years, and how he found it!" Massey writes that in ancient times, before the literalist doctrine took over the west, the immortality of the soul was not believed as an article of faith, but rather it was known from the actual experience of personal contact with and travel to the spirit world -- what Eliade carefully defined as the distinguishing feature of the shamanic. Massey writes:
So Nirvana becomes a present possession to the Esoteric Buddhist, because in trance he can enter the eternal state.
This Gnosis included that mystery of transformation which was the change spoken of by Paul, when he exclaimed -- "Behold, I tell you a mystery," "We shall not entirely sleep, we shall be transformed!" according to the mystery that was revealed to him in the state of trance. This was the transformation which finally established the existence of a spiritual entity that could be detached, more or less, from the bodily conditions for the time being in life, and, as was finally held, for evermore in death. [. . .]
What do you think is the use of telling the adept, whether the Hindu Buddhist, the African Seer, or the Finnic Magician, who experiences his "Tulla-intoon," or supra-human ecstasy, that he must live by faith, or be saved by belief? He will reply that he lives by knowledge, and walks by the open sight; and that another life is thus demonstrated to him in this. As for death, the practical Gnostic will tell you, he sees through it, and death itself is no more for him! Such have no doubt, because they know. The Mosaic and other sacred writings contain no annunciation of a mere doctrine of immortality, and the fact has excited constant wonder amongst the uninstructed. But the subject was not told of old, as matter of written precepts, but as matter of fact; it was a natural reality, not a manufactured idealism. It was not the promise of immortality that was set forth, or needed, when a demonstration was considered attainable in the mysteries of the abnormal human conditions, which were once common enough to be considered a known part of nature!
Massey makes it quite clear that this direct access to the spirit world, and to direct personal knowledge (as opposed to "faith" or "belief") came from what today we typically indicate by the practice of the shamanic: "by those who could enter the abnormal conditions, and be as spirits among spirits."
He then makes clear that the teachings of literalist Christianity, which he asserts to be built upon a misinterpretation of ancient Egyptian teachings, stand in direct opposition to this universal possession of the pre-Christian understanding:
What has the Christian Church done with the human soul, which was an assured possession of the pre-Christian religions? It was handed over to their keeping and they have lost it! They have acted exactly like the dog in Aesop's fable -- who, seeing the likeness of the shoulder of mutton reflected in the water, dropped the substance which he held in his mouth, and plunged in to try and seize its shadow! They substituted a phantom of faith for the knowledge of phenomena! Hence their deadly enmity against the Gnostics, the men who knew. [. . .] They parted company with nature, and cut themselves adrift from the ground of phenomenal fact. They became the murderous enemies of the ancient spiritism which had demonstrated the existence and continuity of the soul and [which had] offered evidence of another life on the sole ground of fact to be found in nature. And ever since they have waged a ceaseless warfare against the phenomena and the agents -- which are as live and active to-day as they were in any time past.
But note that Massey in the passage quoted above clearly argues that the ancient scriptures -- including those he calls "the Mosaic and other sacred writings" -- were all originally shamanic in nature: they all actually teach the direct access of the soul to the spirit-world, the direct unmediated experience by the individual in this life to the transcendent (rather than the description of the transcendent and the requirement to accept it on faith). And note that he asserts at the end of the passages quoted that the phenomena of direct contact, and the practice of such direct contact by shamanic personages or "agents," is as alive today as ever in the past.
In fact, I believe that it can be convincingly demonstrated that all the world's ancient sacred scriptures and traditions, from dynastic Egypt to the Lakota or the Inuit, and from the Norse myths to the "Mosaic scriptures," can be seen as being shamanic in nature, and that direct access to the divine is taught by all of them.
I also believe that this conclusion directly flows from an understanding that the world's ancient myths and sacred stories are telling the story of each and every human soul, and were not originally intended to be understood in a primarily literalistic way. I believe that as we again begin to understand them in this light, we will become more aware of the birthright of each and every individual to direct and unmediated access to the transcendent, and that this in turn cannot but help to be a powerful antidote to mind control, violence, and an artificial and disastrous disconnection from nature.