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Shamanism/Indigenous Peoples
Record Type: Review   ID: 280

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

Smith, C. Michael

This stimulating work by a psychologist who codirects a counseling center and is an adjunct psychology professor at Chicago Theological Seminary weaves a tapestry of meaning with strands of both Jungian psychology and shamanism. In the introduction I was struck by these lines: "Jungian psychology offers a way of self-understanding that gives a place to the sacred (and the numinous) in grounding and directing one’s life from a center of meaning and knowledge greater than the individual’s ego can provide" (p. 3). The latter is the MORE of William James. It is the transpersonal realm in transpersonal psychology. I cut my eyeteeth on Jung in the 1950s. I have received both the Journal of Analytical Psychology and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology since volume 1. Why do I bother with EHE theory when these two masterful disciplines already cover the same territory? (Of course the list could be lengthened with the names of many outstanding scholars such as Stanislav Grof, Michael Murphy, and Ken Wilber, just to name a few.) Why drag EHEs into it? I thought one of my contributions would be to use the language of experiencers, but I also have felt the need to coin several new terms as a result of reading and listening to people describe their experiences. This becomes necessary when I try to generalize across experiencers.

My primary motive, however, and what distinguishes my work from any other, is that I put these experiences first and honor them as the most potential sources of meaning in human life, individual and collective. It is very important to do this because both in scholarly discourse and in daily living it is logic and reasoning that are given the most credit and everything is judged by their standard. I think we need to value the opposite pole as well—the full range of over 200 types of exceptional human experience. But I freely admit that the basic pattern I follow I learned in my 20s when Jung was the writer I turned to most. But even Jung did not put experiences of the sacred and the numinous and (I would add) the paranormal first. He was a psychiatrist and a therapist and he had to see everything in the context of the whole person and the whole of life. My main concern is rescuing the baby that got thrown out when the Enlightenment washed the slate clean and started over from scratch depending on empiricism and reason.

In the 1950s, Yeats’ "things fall apart" was very true and it continued to be the case for decades, but now I think we have turned a corner and things are coming together, as evidenced by this book that brings Jung and shamanism together. Many people in many ways are saying the same things in different ways. I think we must celebrate the fact of these many ways, for the key to our sameness is our difference. We are all little streams headed toward the same sea, but the only way we can get there is to take our own lonely way, and in the long run, it is not that lonely, and the ending, for which we were made separate, is well worth any of the rigors of the trip. My trip was made much easier than many because of the guidance of countless people’s writings, including Jung and books and articles on shamanism. May we continue to come together by pursuing our separate ways in the large mandala that is human life.

Smith’s specific aim is to look "at both disciplines to examine more carefully what forms of self-understanding and healing they are offering, and to see if they can be brought together in some intentional and collaborative way that may increase the place of their insights and methods in the diagnosis of modern western forms of illness" (p. 23).

He then proposes that the most outstanding feature they hold in common is that "they both offer a way of soulful living that takes its direction from spirit, a transcendent dimension of wisdom and power" (p. 3). For me, the ways of spirit are mediated to humans via exceptional human experiences. Smith makes good use of a method of dialogue in which "each fundamental aspect of shamanism" is reviewed and then compared and contrasted with the basic tenets of Jungian psychology and vice versa. This procedure highlights various "implications and/or problems," which he points out.

Although Smith is not the first to link shamanism with Jung (or vice versa), he has the most thorough treatment, to my knowledge. He thinks "both Jung and shamanism offer considerable possibilities for helping the modern western health care professional understand how to draw upon the sacred for healing purposes" (p. 3).. He covers every conceivable aspect in some detail. Part 1 has two chapters on shamanism. One provides a detailed overview of classic shamanic theory and techniques. Shamanic healing is explored as it is expressed across many cultures. Shamanic rituals are described and Smith points out "the possibilities of good ritual process and leadership in psychotherapeutic treatment from a cross-disciplinary perspective" (p. 5).

The second part consists of 3 chapters on Jung and Shamanism. The first explores Jung’s biography and work, comparing and contrasting it to shamanism. The next chapter sets forth Jung’s theory of the soul, which is then compared and contrasted with shamanism. The fifth chapter reviews what Jung actually wrote about shamanism, which for Jung, at base, was that it is "an archaic individuation process … surrounded by parallels from alchemy, in which Jung looks at certain shamanic phenomena … as manifestations of the archetypal Self" (p. 6).

Part 3, Some Implications and Applications, has three chapters: "Dissociation, Possession and Soul Loss," in which Smith discusses the similarities between modern theories of dissociation and multiple personality with shamanic experiences and theories. In a chapter titled "The Power of Ritual, Image, and Archetype" he emphasizes the important role played by image "as a potential cause or case of illness," relating it to neurobiological data and post-Jungian archetypal theory. The role of image and ritual in both psychotherapy and shamanism is stressed. The final chapter, "Implications for the Future," is about the loss of a sense of the sacred in today’s world. Smith argues that it is necessary to retrieve the sacred in western culture as a whole and specifically in western health care. "Retrieving the sacred is an important part of retrieving the soul in post-modern Western society" (p. 8).

Smith notes that the primary problem in discussing shamanism in a modern Western context is a social one. Traditional shamanism was practical in societies in which the sacred was a given, whereas in the West this sense of the sacred has been lost and must be retrieved not only for the good of individual souls but for the planet as well. He says that from the shamanic viewpoint, Westerners suffer "from a lack of any effective relating with the sacred" (p. 243). He follows this with Jung’s response to the loss of the sacred. This is a valuable work not only in the depth of coverage Smith has given of both Shamanism and Jungian psychology, but especially the dialogical approach which relates one to the other in ways that are focused on what we can do here and now.

Publisher Information:Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1997. Pp. xi + 274. Bibl: 267-274; Chapnotes: 252-265
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