Drew Jacob, a self-described priest of many gods, recently told his friends that he will be walking across two continents to meet the gods. They reacted a little skeptically, asking him, “What do you mean, you’re going to meet the gods?”
The sacred stories paint a picture of the world that is rich with myth and miracle, as if every action on earth carries the echo of a divine voice. Reading the Odyssey or the Táin, you get the sense that at any moment you could stumble into one of the gods, face-to-face, in the flesh.
Even more promising is the story of Gilgamesh: a tireless and lengthy journey into parts unknown in search of something that may not exist. In Gilgamesh’s case it was a cure for death; for me it’s meeting the gods. Only after years of relentless wandering did Gilgamesh find a way to cross into the gods’ world, to approach their sanctuary and find what he sought.
I like the Gilgamesh model. It refuses to believe that prayer or shamanism or metaphor are the very best access to the divine that we can ever have. It exhibits faith, not in the gods themselves, but in the spirit of heroic determination to accomplish any task, however impossible it may seem.
I don’t know if I will ever meet the gods. I don’t know if they exist beyond the fringe of the human psyche. I don’t know if they hover behind the apparent world, unseen but intimately involved in all we do.
But if they are there I’m coming to meet them. There is no force on earth that can stop me. You’ve been forewarned, gods, and if you need to challenge me along the way, then bring it. Bring it.
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Drew Jacob’s reflections inspire me to take a moment to discuss the relationship between monotheism and polytheism. A quest or a pilgrimage in the service of a priestly vocation is one that commands respect. And in my worldview, there is room for all of that — the gods, the forces of magic, the rites of sacrifice and purification, and reverence for Nature. All of that and more.
The ways in which an Integral Christian worldview harmonize with a shamanic vocation are legion. Here are three themes of importance:
1. The divinized Earth, the sacred cosmos
There is no place in the universe in which all that is divine does not dwell. In the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible, of course there is a division between Creator and Creation, and for thousands of years there have been a variety of ways of understanding the relationship between the two.
Christianity teaches that God is self-sacrificial Love, and this Love manifests in history by his taking on the form of a human being in order to heal the split between Creator and Creator and usher in a new world in which this division is overthrown, the Kingdom of Heaven. And so with the principle of Incarnation — God becoming a flesh and blood person — there is an understanding that history is the way Creator and Creation are ultimately unified into a divinized world.
I experience a relationship with the Godhead as an evolving unfolding of greater degrees of harmony, unification, and integration in every dimension of life. But our experience of life is also one of apparent brokenness and suffering and mortality, a quest to be reunited with Spirit that will not be fulfilled until the end of all things.
In nature-based spiritualities, there is often a sacredness that transcends distinctions between the immanent and transcendent. Nature-centered views usually honor both the spirit world and the material world. In the figure of the shaman, the mediator between the spirit’s domain and mundane world, is a figure representing the union between the worlds. The vocation to shaman is not unlike the vocation to Christ-like consciousness in this respect.
2. The prophet Christian consciousness
I’ve recently begun to explain my understanding of a prophetic Christian consciousness, and want to highlight that the indwelling of Spirit is not merely an abstract dogma or personal belief, but for the prophetic mystic it is an experience of encountering the Trinity as the emergence of a Trinitarian inner life.
Drew writes that he does not know if the gods are inside his brain or in a space beyond the human psyche. I would invite anyone puzzling over such a quandry to inquire whether the language of belief, “I will meet the gods,” is a statement about the brain or cosmology or something that includes and transcends both of those places.
We can change our worldview by changing our language, right down to our pronouns and verb tenses. “I will meet the gods” is different than “We are meeting the gods,” even though both may be uttered by the same person to refer to a forthcoming pilgrimage.
Christianity teaches that Logos is Christ, which is divinity (as John 1:1 puts it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,”) but it is not necessary to practice Christianity to understand that the Divine is immediately accessible through words. One only needs to believe that God is everywhere and in all things, so certainly God must be in our language.
As I know God, God speaks through me as “I AM.” (Exodous 3:14) To the extent that I am not merely “self” but Divine, every word from my mouth and every word I write occurs as an outpouring of the holy.
With that in mind, my impulse to be impeccable in thought and speech (to use a phrase similar to Don Miguel Ruiz) is central to my spiritual practice. When I inevitably find myself speaking something in conflict with what I believe God would say, this is a moment of awareness to redirect and refocus my mindfulness of language from the ego and back to God’s voice.
As I know Jesus Christ, Christ speaks to me as “You are.” When I find myself speaking not as God, I hear the voice of Christ engaging me to return to mindfulness of my Supreme identity.
If I think, “I really hate bugs,” then Christ might say, “Do you really hate?” And if I think, “I am lonely,” then Christ might say, “You are not alone. I am with you always, My Beloved.”
And if I ask Christ who I am, He might say, “You are I AM, Yahweh, God Almighty … only to the extent that you are also fully in harmony with Me. It is Our Love, and Our Friendship, which is your path to transformation from a Fallen state (“i am”) to a Risen state (“I AM.”) And you can find Me not only in you, but in all beings.”
As I know the Holy Spirit, Spirit speaks through me as “We are.” When I return from a Risen state to a Fallen state of consciousness, I forget that I am a “We.” The conventions of our language make it difficult to engage in everyday discourse using the first-person plural pronoun.
If you are alone and someone asks how you are doing, the answer “We are fine,” is rather odd. And yet within consciousness there are these three Voices of the Divine accessible to all.
The language to intercourse with the Godhead is accessible to all, but few people outside of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions have much motivation to understand a calling to prophetic mysticism … and without expecting to find God in language, the Logos, Christ, Revelation … there is little incentive to encounter God so intimately in language.
In sum, we are the Trinity, every one of us … except our speech is Fallen, our ability to pray in the Divine Tongue is largely lost, and thus we have forgotten so much of our inner sacredness. The prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam knew all about this. But too often they thought they were special, and others projected their own ability to communicate with the Divine upon them, failing to understand that the source of holiness which speaks through the prophets can just as easily speak through them.
3. One god or many?
From my view, the parallels between Christian prophetic mysticism and shamanism become increasingly blurry, for both approaches look for the Divine to communicate with us. So often have Christian contemplatives sought union with God in silence and wordless rituals that much of the power of prophetic mysticism has been lost.
The Logos has fallen out of favor, replaced with Eastern-inspired silent meditations. And yet within a resurgent Christian mysticism of sound symbols, there are new ways to begin exploring the relationship between all faiths … if the explorations are understood with an Integral embrace.
Polytheistic religions have proclaimed the existence of many gods. I’m not sure how many of today’s neo-pagans literally believe in the existence of those gods, or if they really think of them as psychological archetypes, symbols, or metaphors of humanistic truths. Drew has embraced a mystic’s path: the radical openness to discovery of the unknown, a quest to meet the gods.
Let me say that I would not be surprised if he meets the gods he wishes to meet. The gods speak not only in words, but in whispers of wind through trees, movements of the stars in the heavens, and treks to ancient sacred temples.
Polytheism as a belief system is certainly different from monotheism. But the experience of polytheistic sacred consciousness is not necessarily so different from the experience of a Christian prophetic mystic consciousness. Just as our psychic world contains a multiplicity of subpersonalities, each of which can be accessed through a practice of relationship, the pagan worldview contains gods which can be encountered through invocation.
Drew may not find it useful to talk to God, Christ, and Spirit if those aren’t the gods with which he has relationships. But his gods too could be as real as mine, I am sure, to the extent that he cultivates the relationship with his gods with the seriousness with which he invests his most precious relationships to human beings and the natural world.
Gilgamesh communicated with the gods who sent him on his quest for eternal life, but his quest did not work out so well despite his spirit of heroic determination. I wonder how the story might have ended differently if King Gilgamesh had journeyed to the place of indwelling timelessness within himself, the “I-AM-ness,” the “You-AREness,” and “We-AREness” present at every moment.