Saturday, May 20, 2006

Creative Spirituality: The Meta-Shaman

Once upon a time, in the waiting area at a muffler shop in Tucson, I thought I had a bright idea. I thought it would be very cool to modify Beck and Cowan's vision of the "Spiral Wizard" to be more of a "Meta-Shaman." So, having nothing better to do while the mechanics smoked cigarettes rather than replace my little muffler, I jotted down a whole bunch of notes and typed them up as soon as I got home that evening.

Now, several years later, I wonder if there is anything to the idea. I think that it might fit in with the Creative Spirituality project that Jay launched on his Pagan Bodhisattva blog and at Zaadz. So, lacking any sense of value for these notes, I'm posting them here. If you find a thread of something useful in here, leave me a comment, please.

I must acknowledge that real shamans are not very fond of us westerners calling them shamans, a word that actually comes from a Siberian tribe (the Tungus) and is not found anywhere else. But Mircea Eliade, among others, made the word a universal name for spiritual traditions that involve ecstatic experiences of alternate realities.

That said, here are my rather brief preliminary notes.

Navigating the Spiral:
An Introduction to Meta-Shamanism

THEORY: The central theme of meta-shamanism is replacing the traditional images of the axis mundi, around which all shamanic traditions are constructed (often a mountain or a tree, but also a tent pole or sometimes a ladder), with the spiral from
Spiral Dynamics as defined by Beck and Cowan, based on the pioneering work of Clare Graves. In this theoretical construct, the spiral becomes the axis mundi for the post-postmodern world. Meta-shamanism offers a vertical orientation along the spiral, with horizontal expansion within each of the Memes (the capital denotes reference to a "values meme" rather than a simple meme) being possible. In fact, vertical expression within each Meme is also possible, depending on the spiritual orientation of the specific Meme.

Meta-shamanism presupposes and, in fact, requires a working knowledge of some form of developmental model of psychological, moral, emotional, and spiritual evolution. While Ken Wilber's model is one of the most comprehensive systems available, the model offered by Spiral Dynamics is simpler and, in some ways, more appropriate to the work demanded of the meta-shaman.

Using the Spiral Dynamics model, only a person who has reached second tier consciousness (Yellow or higher) is qualified to be a meta-shaman. Those who are in any of the first tier Memes (Beige through Green) are incapable of seeing any reality outside of their own Meme, and therefore are incapable of navigating the Spiral. Ideally, the meta-shaman would be Turquoise or beyond.

Where the shaman in traditional societies moves vertically from the Meme in which s/he resides (most often Purple, Red, or Blue), the meta-shaman moves vertically along the whole Spiral, accessing the necessary energies, values, or traits of any given Meme as needed to solve the current situation. Within the Meme accessed, the meta-shaman is able to move within the horizontal or vertical orientation of that Meme as needed.

HISTORY: Traditional shamanism began during the Purple period of human evolution (late
Paleolithic to early Mesolithic), when Blue was the leading edge of human consciousness. A shaman in this period could have access to second tier consciousness (psychic to subtle) as a peak state, but not in any kind of stable way. The person who could name and communicate with -- and win concessions from -- the spirits/gods was very powerful and very important to the well-being of the tribe.

In Wilber's system, the shamanic realms are the mythic and magic stages of human consciousness development, which transcend the purely Purple level of Spiral Dynamics. He goes into this in detail in Up From Eden. Many of the world's major religious traditions grew out of cultures that practiced some form of shamanic faith. As a prime example,
Vajrayana Buddhism, which developed in Tibet, is a mixture of the imported Mahayana Buddhism and the indigenous Bon tradition, which is distinctly shamanic.

Traditional shamanism remains largely unchanged in the present day among those cultures that have not been exterminated. Neo-shamanism (as in New Age circles) is a regressive attempt to re-ensoul a world that has been stripped of meaning through the flatland dominance of the hard sciences (the right hand side of Wilber's four-quadrant map of the Kosmos). Neo-shamanism suffers the classic trap of the pre/trans fallacy (as first identified by Wilber), in that it mistakes a previous level for an advanced level. In a world that has been stripped of soul and Spirit, anything that feels like soul or Spirit, even if it is from an earlier period of human evolution (the spirits and gods of the Purple Meme, for example), is elevated to the level of the transcendent. The
Romanticist longing for simpler times (return to Eden or childhood innocence) as a higher state of being is a classic example.

The meta-shaman recognizes the entire Kosmos as a manifestation of Spirit, the source and destination of the manifest Universe. The gods, goddesses, and spirits humans have recognized throughout their history remain alive and valid within each of the vMemes that spawned them.

ECSTASY: The special skill of the traditional shaman was the ability to enter into ecstatic trance and, within the trance state, to traverse the various "worlds" defined within the Meme in which s/he resides (an advanced state within a lower stage). Shamans were "technicians of ecstasy" according to Eliade. The trance-state, and its mastery, was the defining characteristic of the traditional shaman.

Meta-shamans are capable of selecting, through a conscious process, the Meme required at any given time. Within the selected Meme, whichever form of consciousness transformation is appropriate to that Meme is accessible, whether it's the trance state of the traditional shaman in Purple, or the nature mysticism of the Green Meme.

APPLICATIONS: It seems that the meta-shaman might be an amazing peace broker. S/he might also be a healer, incorporating intuitive energy medicine (
Caroline Myss), allopathic medicine, and the "folk" medicine of indigenous peoples. Or this person could be a more traditional spiritual counselor, working much as a priest or therapist. The potential applications are endless.

Okay, that's all I have. If it seems worthless, hack away at it. If there might be something in here worth pursuing as a kind of practice, I'd also like to know that.

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The Zero Boss said...

My problem with putting this in Spiral terms and talking about "the Meme required at a given time" is that it seems to bias the discussion in favor of Formless and Nondual Mysticism, and seems dismissive of Nature and Deity Mysticism as "stepping stones" along the way to the nondual. You're essentially saying that Nature and Deity Mysticism are inherently not second-tier, and can never be second-tier. And I don't agree.

A great mystic Ramakrishna did not abandon his Deity Mysticism practice, e.g., even after he achieved nondual awareness.

Bill, can't we simply say that a meta-shaman is someone skilled in all four forms of mysticism, and that the expression of each form by the meta-shaman is always second-tier and not prerational?

william harryman said...


I think that deity and nature mysticism can both be second tier, and although I mention nature mysticism as a Green meme skill, I don' think I ever suggest that they cannot be second tier.

I think deity mysticism is nearly always second tier and that nature mysticism only begins in Green (in its simplest form) and is clearly a psychic and subtle realm endeavor.

This system (apparently I didn't explain it on the page the way it looks in my head) is not about placing any one form of mysticism above another. It's about recognizing a hierarchy of development in all spheres of life, as integral thinking dicates, and being able to navigate that hierarchy, that Spiral of development, at will -- meaning that one is not bound by any one level, meme, worldview being the "right" one.

The meta-shaman, in this system, is tasked with being able to identify imbalances in the system, either individual or collective, and then being able to realign energies, conditions, thoughts, and so on as a way of addressing that imbalance, much in the way a traditional shaman works, only on a bigger scale and with greater span and depth.

It looks like I need to expand the ideas here more fully. That was a good reality check.

Thanks for looking at his and voicing your concerns.


The Zero Boss said...

I love that explanation, Bill, and am totally on board with it. What I hear you saying is that certain activities may have their *origin* on a certain part of the spiral, but those practices evolve as the practitioner evolves.

I'm working on my own manifesto on "The Way of the Pagan Bodhisattva" at the moment, which will try and present some of this without very much Integral-ese. I find bantering around this issue very helpful. Thanks for clarifying!

Anonymous said...

This conscious selection of a "world tree" ladder, etc is interesting but that's about all it is... Before i studied and entered into shamanic practice i dreamed of ladders, trees, etc.. never a spiral.. i wonder why that is.. maybe the axis mundi chooses to be what it is for a reason.. rofl.. been serving shamans / mystics etc for countless centuries then along comes a few "thinkers" and they gonna remake a cosmic highway in the image they choose... rofl... very big egos need ego dismemberment.. must be new age hooey shamans talkin bout this stuff.. rofl.. heyoka say spiral not tree and u never capture thing u seek......

Anonymous said...

you all talk too much.....