Jung & Shamanism

Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue: Retrieving the Soul / Retrieving the Sacred

by C. Michael Smith

This is not a new book, but it is an important book if you are a student of shamanism and the psyche.
If you are interested in the cross-section of the archaic and contemporary healing traditions of shamanism and depth psychology, C. Michael Smith’s Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue is a great place to start (or delve deeper). Smith hails from the Eliade tradition of shamanic studies, but he has delved farther and deeper, as those who come after are compelled to do.
While there is little textual commentary about shamanism by Jung, his extensive studies in philosophies, mythologies, and mysticism provide a viable means for comparing his concepts of psyche, soul, and symptoms with elements of archaic soul-based healing traditions.
There are many great tomes on shamanism and the psyche, separately and in comparison, and while Smith’s book should not be the only book you read, it provides a great overview of the comparisons between modern analytical psychology and the archaic traditions.
 What I especially appreciate about this book is that it is both academic and readable. It does not rely on complications of thought or jargon, yet it does not sacrifice critical “scholarship in its comparative analysis.

Here are a few quotes from the book to give you a taste of Smith’s pragmatic and insightful study:

“Neither shamanism nor analytical psychology are mere healing professions. Their concerns spread out over many dimensions of life, including the way of life itself. The common ground of this way of life is earth-honoring and attuned to Nature, it is heart centered, and holds to the sacred value of the inner being, call it soul, or simply the person inside, or what have you, and not the symptoms and problems that come to the healer’s attention.” (Preface: “The Heart of Jung and Shamanism”)

“Shamanism is not itself a religion, although it constitutes an original form of religious experience. It is more accurate to say that shamanism is a set of techniques and an ideology which becomes attached to a religion (or tribal mythology) and which has its own history and system of beliefs. As such, shamanism must always be considered within the context of the religion and the society which it serves” (14).

“The shamanic flight presupposes a sacred cosmology, often objectified in tribal myths and beliefs which envision the sacred or ultimate reality as structured in what might be called an archetypally ordered, three-storied cosmology. This cosmology entails the concept of the earth, which is our world and for the shaman a plane of non-ordinary reality. There is also the upperworld (sky world) as the abode of helping spirits, angelic beings, and the like, and the underworld below, with its ghosts, ancestral and malignant spirits, and various mysterious places.” (15).

“Animism is a view of the world as ensouled, or enspirited. Like the view of many theoretical physicists today, nature is alive, everything is alive with spirits. In the animistic world, there are ancestral spirits, plant and animal spirits, benevolent and dangerous spirits and numerous others. Proper concourse with the spirits is necessary for harmonious and healthy living. (38)

“In traditional shamanic therapeutics, it is the sacred which is the healing and transformative power. Human efforts are necessary to constitute and maintain a ritual structure within which the sacred transformative energies can be evoked” (53).

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