Content Warning: Suicide, abuse
The purpose of this post is to discuss how a Catholic Christian could be a shaman, or how a shaman could be Catholic Christian. I discuss a bit of my own personal life and struggles in this post, so please pay attention to the content warning above if you can’t handle certain topics.
First, we need to define what is a shaman. Archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have done the world a disservice by misusing the term. Thus, these days people think the word “shaman” is synonymous with “medicine chief” or a tribal spiritual leader. In that context, one cannot call oneself a shaman, because it’s a title of respect given to someone who is to oversee a whole tribe’s spiritual practice. However, that’s not the original sense of the word “shaman.”
Originally, shaman was a descriptive term. It describes a state of being, not a position of authority. Being a shaman, in that context, doesn’t mean one oversees the spiritual walk of a tribe. Instead, it means that one has had a certain kind of awakening which allows one to see the spiritual world in a unique way. That awakening usually comes through trauma, often in childhood. It involves losing oneself almost completely, and then finding one’s way back through guidance from the spirit realm.
For one who is Catholic from childhood, the form that spirit realm would take is angels and probably saints; people and other beings who are in Heaven. It may be the Archangel Michael, the Mother Mary, or even a family member who has passed on and now dwells in Heaven. For a protestant, it would probably manifest simply as angels, as most protestants don’t believe people in Heaven provide any help to people on Earth (though there are exceptions, and a few protestant denominations allow for such Heavenly intervention from people who have passed on.) The spirit world usually interacts with an individual within the context of that individual’s beliefs, but ultimately one’s beliefs will be drastically altered by that interaction.
I knew from childhood that my life was dedicated to God. My family didn’t go to church, but when I found out my cousin was attending church somewhere, I got excited and begged to be able to go with him. I probably didn’t need to beg, but the point is that I was allowed to have the church bus pick me up to take me to church. It was a Southern Baptist church.
I have also always had contact with the spirit world, though I wasn’t born a “shaman” exactly. Having contact with the spirit world doesn’t automatically make one a shaman, rather it’s how one interacts with the spirit world and the world around them. I’ve always known spirits were real, and had contact with my angel guide (spirit guide, guardian angel, whatever term you like) since my earliest memories, which go back to when I was a toddler.
Along with other spirits, I also developed a friendship with the Archangel Michael when I was a child, and with Mother Mary who would appear and comfort me when I was down. My extended family were Catholic, but I otherwise didn’t have any exposure to Catholicism nor was I ever taken to a Catholic church service (other than funerals later on in life) which I can recall.
My father was Ludad, a group of Gypsies from Romania who are related to the Romani people but who don’t speak the Romani language. We have our own language, of which I know only a few words, and our own culture. Most of my Ludad relatives lived nearby where I grew up, so I grew up in the Ludad culture.
My father was a violent man, and I was a violent child. He never hit me, except a spanking when I misbehaved (and even then, he held back greatly.) However, he did abuse my mother. I never saw him hit her, they would always go into their bedroom, so I don’t know the extent of the abuse. I do know that we went through at least a few coffee tables because he would get angry and break them.
My own violence manifested in pre-school, when poor Mrs. Larson (my teacher) told me I could be first to name the colors for her. She would show us colors on a card and have us name what the color was. Well, at recess I saw her sitting with another boy who was naming the colors for her. I took that as her lying to me, and I got angry. I punched her, kicked her in the shin, and threw my yoyo at her. I was absolutely out of control. I was suspended from pre-school for a week because of it.
In second grade, it was discovered that I have a genius level I.Q. My awesome second grade teacher realized I was far outpacing my classmates in every subject, and that I had a zeal for learning. So, she had my I.Q. tested, and it was shown that I am a genius.
The ultimate manifestation of my father’s violence came when I was 9 years old. On Father’s Day, he shot himself in the head in front of my mother, and he died. I’ll never forget my grandma running out of the house screaming for someone to call my uncle because my dad had shot himself. I had been staying with my grandma for that Summer, supposedly as a way for my cousin (who lived with her full time) and I to spend time together; my cousin was my best friend at the time.
The trauma of losing my father caused me to have a nervous breakdown, and I went quite insane for a few years afterwards. I was good at still pretending that everything was alright, and I acted mostly normal. I still got good grades in school, and in fact I used school as a hyper-focus to distract myself from the insanity going on in my brain.
Adding to the trauma, my dad’s family accused my mom of killing my dad, so we were separated from the only extended family I ever knew. I was no longer allowed to see my best-friend cousin, nor any of my Ludad family at all. In addition, because my grandmother tried to see us by going to church with us one day, my mom immediately forced us to even change churches. I’m grateful that she didn’t make us stop going to church altogether, but it was a big forced change for me to suddenly have to go to a different church.
The trauma was heightened after a few years, when the room in which my dad shot and killed himself became my bedroom. I started to think all kinds of strange things, but I quickly learned not to tell anyone about them because it would always get back to my mother who would then lecture me, or worse.
It was also around this time that my mother began to lose her temper with me over stupid little things and would beat me into a corner. I would wash the dishes while she was out playing Bingo, and I would get a beating because I didn’t sweep under the table or didn’t do a good enough job sweeping under the table. I should note that doing the dishes wasn’t even my chore, it was just something I did to be nice. There were many instances of this abuse, and verbal abuse was even worse and far more frequent. I won’t go into more details, because that’s not what this post is about. I do want to say that I have forgiven my mother and my father, and even the step-creature (man who married my mom after my dad’s death.) My mother (may she rest in peace) was otherwise a wonderful woman, and I know that she loved us deeply.
I was still attending church, and I prayed daily. I even eventually became an usher for the church. At one point, I started taking private classes with my pastor because I told him I wanted to be a minister. Nonetheless, I was still mentally shattered. I was just really good at hiding it.
When I had a falling out with my church over a major doctrinal issue (that’s for another blog post) it was the final nail in my mental coffin. I no longer even had church to turn to. That event happened in my middle teenage years.
It was around that same time when I decided I also hated school. Academics had been my other crutch, but I ended up taking that one away from myself. I got tired of the structure, the rules, and the lack of challenge. It seemed inane to me, and I started skipping classes and eventually was kicked out of high school. I did later get a G.E.D.
So, without church or school, my two main crutches, I was lost. I started to go deeper into insanity. It was at the height of this insanity when I was brought back around by the spirit world.
As I mentioned, I had known my spirit friend since I was a small child, often calling him my angel friend, my invisible friend, and later my spirit guide. I learned not to tell people about him, because they weren’t prepared to believe it was anything more than an imaginary friend. However, it was this guide, along with two others who appeared later, who helped me to begin to unravel the morass in my mind.
I was given visions of the whole world at once, and felt more connected to everything than I had ever believed possible prior to that time. I was taught to connect to spiritual realms in new, indescribable ways, and to be connected with all of Creation. I stopped being afraid of snakes and spiders, and saw them as family; I had previously been terrified of both.
One major change for me was that I no longer had any violent tendencies, just a passionate love for all people, plants, and creatures. That part of my awakening actually started a few years earlier, in 9th grade, but it was at this point where all violent tendencies disappeared and were replaced with a heightening of my already loving spirit. I still have a temper which can get out of control, but I have not hit anyone since 7th grade, and have not gotten physically violent at all towards anyone since the 9th grade (which is when I was going to hurt a good friend for making fun of my dad, but didn’t end up actually hurting him because it scared a teacher and her scream snapped me out of it.) In fact, I became so non-violent that I found myself sad if I had to even kill a spider, mosquito, flies, ants, or anything else. I eventually came to terms with the fact that sometimes those things must go, but I will do so in the least harmful way and avoid killing them if at all possible. I still feel bad if I do have to kill some creatures, such as a black widow spider which is an immediate threat to me or my loved ones, but I allow myself to do so. Hurting a human, even emotionally, is something I can’t bring myself to do at all, and I feel bad if I do it even accidentally. I will defend myself and others, but otherwise I do not cause harm intentionally, ever. I even feel bad if I cause any level of physical or emotional harm when defending myself or others, but I accept it as necessary with strict limitations.
I still eat meat, even though I can’t bring myself to harm an animal other than a dangerous insect, and I accept it as being part of the natural cycle of this plane of existence. I pray for the spirits of the animals I eat, just as I pray for roadkill I see when traveling. I don’t like the life/death cycle, even though I understand it and accept its necessity.
It was at this time when I first almost joined the Catholic Church. One of the figures who had appeared to me was Mother Mary, in the form of Our Lady of Lourdes the first time and in the form of the painting “Madonna and Child” the second time. I started catechism classes at the Catholic parish nearest my home, but the nun who taught it scared me and the priest who was pastor of the parish was rude and nasty towards me. So, I decided that wasn’t my path at that time.
Catholicism was really the only form of Christianity which appealed to me at that point, as it’s the only one which made sense with my new spiritual awakening. I’ll get to that more in a moment. The point is, that with Catholicism off the table, I eventually grew away from Christianity.
“Mormonism,” the LDS church, intrigued me because it seemed like it had a certain mysticism, so I tried it for a while. Eventually, I realized I didn’t believe as they do and turned away from it. I became pagan for a few years after that.
It was during this initial stint as a pagan that I attained the title “High Priest,” and learned about shamanism. I learned that shaman was the most appropriate descriptive term for the type of awakening I underwent. I read about many different shaman who described their awakenings almost exactly how I remembered mine being.
After a few years as a pagan, I realized I still love Yeshua, so I wanted to try Christianity again. The Eastern Orthodox Church, very similar to the Roman Catholic Church though following the Patriarch of Constantinople instead of the Pope, suited me for a while after a spiritual experience in a Russian Orthodox Church. Eventually, my ride there moved out of town, and I didn’t drive (still don’t) so I could no longer attend.
I tried a Pentecostal Church for a while, and it seemed mystical enough to suit my new awakening, though eventually I realized it really didn’t suit me at all. So, I tried a couple of other Christian churches, even trying the LDS church again, but ultimately decided that Christianity didn’t have what I needed.
I resumed the pagan path I was on, and accepted once again the title of High Priest. I didn’t embrace “shaman” as a title, because people too often misunderstood what it meant and thought I was essentially calling myself a “Medicine Chief” or something along those lines. So, I would say my path is “shamanistic,” rather than referring to myself as a “shaman.”
After a few years on that path, I also became an interfaith minister and was ordained through one of those online ordination services since no seminary suited my path and my own studies had far exceeded years in a seminary. I studied various religions and cultures from around the world, and adopted practices from some of them along the way.
Along the way, I never lost my love for Yeshua. I reinterpreted my beliefs about him a dozen times or more, mainly because Christian churches had so soured me against their interpretations, but I never lost my love for him and his message. In fact, when I started a video ministry as part of my interfaith/interreligious ministry efforts, my first video was about him and his message of love. (It’s still on YouTube if you can find it. It’s called “Yeshua Love” and is under my spirit name at the time “AncientWolf.”)
In 2013, after decades of shamanic pagan practice, I had an encounter with the Archangel Michael. He interrupted a vision journey I was doing, and stood in my path until I would listen to him. He asked me to attend Advent services at a local Catholic mission parish (a historic California mission.) I agreed, and he left me to finish that journey.
I attended the services as requested, but never thought I’d even be Christian again at all, much less give Catholicism another try. As I said, Christian churches had really soured me on the possibility of ever following any form of it again. Besides, I was a happy pagan with my own ministry, and a Tarot reader and teacher who also used I-Ching for divination. I didn’t want to destroy all that I had built up. Nonetheless, I was drawn to try to take Catechism classes because I wanted to know more about Catholicism; not because I wanted to actually be Catholic. My best friend, who had been attending with me and who was also pagan, talked me out of it.
The one thing which did come from that vision of Saint Michael the Archangel, was my first book, “An Angelic Journey Within.” It was while attending those masses when I received my visions about the book. I started writing it immediately when I got home, using my phone since it was the only working computer I had, and finished and published it in May of 2014. I used the computer at the library to edit it and submit it to a self-publishing site. I immediately started on the sequel, but it wouldn’t be until early 2018 when I would finish it and title it, “Awakening Mama Sarah.”
A year after the first vision, in late 2014, Mother Mary appeared to me in a dream and asked me to again attend Advent services at that same mission parish. So, I did. What followed were a series of dreams she sent me to explain why she needed me in the Catholic Church. I still wasn’t convinced, but I agreed to take the Catechism classes, and that time my best friend (same friend) said he was also interested; for him, Pope Francis had convinced him that exploring Catholicism might be alright.
After a few classes, I realized that Catholicism wasn’t at odds with me being a shaman, and had the mysticism for which I sought. I also learned that the Catholic Church was more true to the teachings of Yeshua than any other Christian church I had attended or studied. I had sorely misjudged the Catholic Church.
In addition, one of my Catechism instructors was a Third Order Secular Franciscan (OFS,) and had invited my friend and I to one of their gatherings. It was through that gathering where my best friend and I both decided at the same time that we needed to join the Catholic Church. It surprised us more than anyone else.
So, in 2015, my best friend and I were confirmed into the Catholic Church. Less than a year later, we were accepted to start studying with the Secular Franciscans. Almost 3 years after that, he and I were professed as Secular Franciscans.
Now to the heart of it; why I believe that Catholicism and shamanism are not opposed.
The main reason is that Catholic mystics, including many saints, describe their experiences in very shamanic terms. The way they received their visions and their awakening, including Saint Francis of Assisi, was very much in line with a description of a shaman.
In addition, the Catholic Church is one of few churches which accepts ongoing visions of Divine beings, and interaction with spirits (saints and angels.) The people who received the Marian apparitions often describe them in terms which would be familiar to a shaman from any one of many different cultures.
So, basically, I am a Catholic and a shaman because “shaman” is something I am, not a pagan title I held. It’s still a descriptive term which applies to me and how I interact with the world. The Franciscans in particular emphasize a connection to nature as part of God’s Creation, and simply phrase it in Catholic/Christian terminology. Because the Catholic Church hasn’t let go of the mysticism which permeated Judaism, it allows another outlet for my shamanic nature. It doesn’t try to cram people into little boxes (no joke intended about confessionals,) rather it lets people be Catholic in their own way; including allowing various cultures to adopt some of their former pagan practices to Christian purposes.
As a Christian shaman, I study Cabbala. I had already studied a bit of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in my study of various religions, cultures, and mystical traditions, but I now study it more with a Christian focus; hence, Cabbala, since that is usually how it is spelled when put into a Christian context. I have found that studying Cabbala and practicing Catholicism has allowed me to remain true to my shamanic nature, even though it has to be done in a new, non-pagan manner.
Yeverechecha Ha’Shem veyishmerecha. Ya’er Ha’Shem panav eleycha viyachunecha. Yissa Ha’Shem panav eleycha viyaseym leycha shalom! May (The Name) bless you and keep you. May (The Name) shine His face upon you and watch over you. May (The Name) shine His face upon you and grant you peace. (Ha’Shem is a Hebrew compound which literally means “The Name” and is used in writing and speaking to refrain from actually writing/speaking the ineffable Name of God itself, which is represented by the tetragrammaton.)