One of my shaman sisters spoke recently with her church about this phenomenon of transfiguration. I met these ladies, our “Shaman Collective,” during a training in Shamanic Journeying with Sandra Ingerman in early 2017 where we learned this technique. Transfiguration has been taught cross-culturally around the world.
This got me thinking about 2 visions I had. The first was in my teens. I was studying and had a gorgeous vision of Jesus, in purple and golden robes flowing behind him. He must have been over 8 feet tall hovering over me. Not a word was spoken but I felt so much love. The second vision happened when I was 24 and driving home from work after finding out my mother had died. A huge angelic being, much larger than my car, swooped down in front of my windshield. I knew it was my Mom saying goodbye. Again, this sense of peace and love flooded me. Weeks later, I was sharing this with my Dad and my youngest brother overheard our conversation. He said at that exact moment, he also had the same angel experience. Not until I was introduced to Shamanism did I realize how many of these experiences I was having (and there are many more) were shamanic initiations.
This month’s e-news is for those of you who connect with Jesus Christ and it allows me to bridge two topics which are important to me.
The transfiguration of Jesus is a story told in the New Testament when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. The transfiguration is one of the 5 major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, the others being baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
In Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, the shaman typically underwent a spiritual secondary birth with an initiation ritual in which he symbolically died in an altered, “ecstatic” trance state, traveled to the spirit world and was “reborn” with supernatural abilities.
Mark 1:12–13: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Here Jesus encountered the struggle with dark forces and finally was cared for by benevolent spirits. What shamans call helping spirits. These temptations parallel shamanic experiences in that Jesus is being prepared for a life of service to the community.
According to Mark, Jesus was a man who was tortured and crucified then miraculously reborn after being buried in a tomb. In the Apostles’ Creed: “He descended into Hell, on the third day he rose again. He ascended into Heaven.”
These images take on a renewed meaning when viewed as a shamanic initiation, complete with suffering, spiritual death through isolation in the wilderness, and even a reference to guardian spirits who attended to him. And he is made more powerful through that suffering via resurrection. Jesus is viewed as sufferer or “wounded healer”. This theme is present within the Gospel accounts of the torture and crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
This reminded me of the stories I heard about the Yatiri, a special subclass of healers among the Aymara culture of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The confirmation of this calling is marked by being struck by lightning and surviving. At the lightning strike, the person is said to have died and passed from death to rebirth (i.e. resurrection).
The shaman is also considered a wounded healer. According to Mary Schmidt in Crazy Wisdom: The Shaman as Mediator of Realities, “The spirits destroy and break the shaman, yet he is reborn and returns to earth with the power to heal.” This often includes a symbolic death (dismemberment of their body also called soul re-membering) which through their experience of suffering, invokes these mystical powers. Shamans often gain their powers from their own experience of suffering and more often from near death experience(s) as in the case of the Oglala Sioux medicine man Black Elk. The Akawaio Indians say, “a man must die before he becomes a shaman.”
There are references to spirit possession in the Hebrew scriptures. Interestingly, exorcisms constitute a large portion of Jesus’ healings indicating he is a master over the spirit world. This implies that the notion of “witches,” (or brujas/brujos shamans who could manipulate spirits for evil purposes) historically existed. Jesus’ frequent exorcisms (spirit possession) casting out devils (entity extraction) throughout the Gospels strengthens the idea that he was also seen as a sorcerer and illustrates the similarity to indigenous cultures’ cosmology of good and evil shamans.
Jesus’ “unusual gifts” appeared when he was 12. “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:47) He claims to know the secrets of a person’s heart and to be able to foretell the future. He foretold that the man at the pool of Bethsaida was handicapped for many years (John 5:6), that Lazarus was dead before Jesus reached Bethany (John 11:11), and that Judas is about to betray him (Matthew 26:20-25). He even predicted the downfall of Jerusalem (Mark 13:1-8). Jesus had foreseen his death. He is resurrected and proclaimed he would return with full, divine power, bringing healing to the rest of the world just as a shaman. Jesus’ apparent knowledge of his death parallel clairvoyant abilities. These unusual spiritual superpowers are what yogis call “siddhis.” As you see there are many parallels between Christian events and shamanic themes.
If you perceive darkness in the world, do not fight the darkness, as the fight itself will inherently contain elements of the darkness. Instead shine light intensely, bravely, and with relentless love. Create so much illumination around the pockets of darkness, that it is clear for all to see what those pockets are, and they will dissolve in the power of this glaring brilliance.
There are other similarities as well. These initiation stories represent a universal theme of death and mystical resurrection by means of a descent to the underworld (hell) and an ascent to the sky (heaven). Eliade says that such a theme is not only present in the archaic and indigenous cultures but “has its place in a symbolic or ritual system well known to the history of religions.”
In What is a Shaman?, Roger Walsh states: “The remarkable similarities among shamans from widely dispersed areas of the world raise the question of how these similarities developed.”
Shaman is an indigenous word of the Tungus people of Siberia. The term refers to those who are called by “the spirits” for the purpose of helping and serving the community; it literally means he/she who knows. It has replaced the older English language term witch doctor, a term which unites the 2 stereotypical functions of the shaman – knowledge of the mystical & magical, and the ability to cure. Native Americans prefer the term “medicine-man,” or “spiritual elder.” The Russian term “shaman” is widely accepted; however, it is anthropologically inaccurate.
The shamanic practices of many cultures were virtually wiped out with the spread of Christianity. Starting around 400 CE, the Christian church was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek and Roman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed, and key ceremonies were outlawed. During the Renaissance, remnants of European shamanism were wiped out by campaigns against witches. This repression continued with Spanish colonization. Catholic priests and the Conquistadors were instrumental in the destruction of local traditions, denouncing practitioners as “devil worshippers.”
“Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me,” says the Hebrew Bible Exodus 20:2. Christianity made it impossible to consider any other option.
When I was working with the Q’ero healers of Peru, I was amazed at how seamlessly they blended their Incan traditions with the Christian faith that was forced upon them by the Spanish Conquistadors. Their cultural framework was oppressed by the inculturation of Christ. However, despite evangelization attempts, many of the indigenous cultures maintained their beliefs and rituals (privately) right alongside Christianity.
I understand that the Church might be reluctant to embrace this paradigm, mostly because of cultural terms such as “witch doctor” or “witchcraft,” for example. Dark magic or evil spirits feeds into Western stereotypes. However, these do not represent the authentic meaning of medicine person or healer.
It seems as if each society gives birth to its own shamanic figures (the Tungsic to the shaman, the Navajo to their medicine-men, ancient Israel to the Jewish charismatics, and the African nganga) including the healing figure of Jesus. Maybe Jesus “picked up” where the shaman left off.
Shamanism, once universal, survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, as more of these wisdom keepers move to the cities, their children do not wish to continue the family vocation. Thus, many of these medicine men and women are passing their knowledge to Westerners like me – the bridge workers or stealth shamans.
The spirit world is where shamans derive their power. Shamans commune with the unseen world which aids them in their healing work including control over natural forces. Dan and I were attending a fire ceremony with Q’ero elder don Sebastian. The clouds were getting thick above us and it started sprinkling. At that moment our son texted that it was pouring rain and he couldn’t mow the lawn. We looked at don Sebastian as he blew his wishes to the sky and the clouds parted above us.
This happened once again while we were meditating at sunrise on top of Manchu Picchu and the clouds were very thick. As a group, we worked with don Sebastian to clear the clouds. The people surrounding us cheered as the clouds separated just in time to witness a gorgeous sunrise. Like don Sebastian, the prophet Elijah controls the weather in II Kings 18 in a rainmaking contest against Baal.
Be around the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifters, the game shakers. They challenge you, break you open, uplift & expand you. They don’t let you play small with your life. These heartbeats are your people. These people are your tribe.
In Aboriginal Cultures and the Christ, Carl Starkloff asks how do you communicate Jesus Christ to cultures without imposing a European world view? This was difficult to do in Africa until one uses concepts derived from tribal roles (i.e. medicine-persons or nganga). However, when one views the importance of the nganga role, it is easy to see how this compares with the importance of Christ.
Just as the role of the High Priest in the Old Testament is to serve as mediator between God and humankind, so the nganga’s role is to mediate between the spirit world and the human world. In the New Testament, Christ is considered the “High Priest of the New Covenant.” This would indicate that Christ is the medicine man or nganga since his functional role resembles that of healer as well as mediator between the unseen world and seen world.
Having a more contemporary view of a multi-faceted image of Jesus allows us to explore in more depth the notion of Jesus as a shamanic figure; and this archetypal nature of shamanism also allows for the individual cultures to communicate concepts that are specific to their traditions. Cross-culturally, it is just as natural for a woman to be a shaman as a man. So this image of Christ/Christa as shaman may provide an image which is functionally more inclusive.
There is also some evidence that the members of the Essene communities practiced healings, exorcisms, clairvoyance, divination, as well as dream interpretations – shaman-like behavior.
Healing was a major concern in the Gospel depictions of Jesus. In Psychology, Medicine, and Christian Healing, Morton Kelsey points out that approximately 1/5 of the Gospels are healing related. He lists 41 (71 including Gospel overlap) specific incidents which involve physical or mental healings, often invoking shamanic techniques. The most common involved laying on of hands (Mark 6:5, Luke 22:51). People came looking for magic and got the Messiah.
Jesus heals many people in the book of Mark. Sometimes he touches them. Sometimes they touch his clothes. Sometimes he speaks and sometimes he “puts his fingers in his ears”; he “spits and touches his tongue”; he “looks up to heaven’; he “sighs”; he says, “Ephphatha!” (which means “be opened” in Aramaic). And the deaf-mute man was healed. (Mark 7:31-37)
Spit was considered a healing agent. There are 3 occasions where saliva is used. While Jesus makes a poultice out of mud & spit, the Q’ero healers are known for spitting Florida water on each individual as part of their limpias - cleansing ceremonies. This also indicates knowledge of plant and herbal treatments. Several of Jesus’ parables reflect his reverence for nature. Matthew 21:33-43 refers to the “vineyard earth” which is God’s creation and is pure gift, “leased” for stewardship and for mutual sharing. Abuse of this gift through greed and wanton destruction brings death upon others and ultimately upon ourselves. Hmmm…makes one wonder about how deforestation of the rain forests (Earth’s lungs) and a tiny virus that damages our lungs might be interrelated.
Similarly, the shamans have a deep reverence for nature. In fact, the Shipibo claim they learn directly from the plants. One of the oldest tribes of the Amazon, they were never conquered by the Inca Empire so they still maintain their knowledge of rainforest plant medicines. All plants have their own songs – icaros/ikaros – and these songs are taught to the healer once he/she has their permission. The healer becomes a channel for the healing energies of the plant spirits to transmit their signature song. This combination and cooperation allows the healers to remove illness, negative energies or harmful patterns in their guest.
And finally, the technique of transfiguration! Jesus’ transfiguration is described in Matthew 17:2 as: “his face shone like the sun, and his garments became as light.” Working with spiritual light is a shamanic healing method which allows connection with one’s own Divine Consciousness. Transfiguration stimulates the healing light energy in all living things. Any one can access this light energy for the natural order of things to be restored whether healing a physical illness, purifying water or transmuting heavy energies. Ancients saw this practice as “turning lead into gold” as denser energies are shifted into the golden light of the Divine. The Aramaic definition of the word alchemy is work that is done with and through the dense darkness inside. Through transfiguring into our divinity, we can work through dense or lower vibration energies.
In her book Medicine for the Earth: How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins, Sandra Ingerman started some scientific experiments which included poisoning water with ammonium hydroxide. This is a strong base easily checked with pH strips. Within 20 minutes of transfiguration, the water’s pH changed 1-3 points toward neutral again and again, year after year. Scientifically, this would be seen as impossible. You can check out the GDV (Gas Discharge Visualization) results here.
We are being asked to shine our light – transfigure and transmute – on the heavy energies of outdated and fear-based structures that have been corrupted for centuries. Fear cannot co-exist with love. We must continue to weave this beautiful web of light and love. This year is about owning your light, living it, being it, and showing it.
The world needs skilled light workers at this time. The light must come through a human apparatus. - Christy Whitman
Ingerman says: “As a spiritual community, we need to hold space, keep up our transfiguration practice, to keep radiating light, and to keep being a presence of love. We have to have harmonious thoughts within to create harmony without. Just in doing that, we end up shifting whatever is happening on the planet. And just hold love for the planet and all of life in your heart.” Before you go to sleep each evening, where is the light inside your body? (I like to imagine 10,000 suns radiating at my heart center.) Place your hands over that place and ask, “show me how to let it shine.”
May 2021 bring right relationships (ayni) into the world as a result of the hard but necessary year that just came to a close. May we remember it gratefully & respectfully as we continue the work of transfiguration & transformation of ourselves, humanity and our home, Mother Earth.
Let’s all strengthen our inner light and use this time to strengthen our body, inspire our mind, and keep the flame of our hearts going strong.