New Age Spirituality is No More Pure than Old-Time Religion

We must make this article required reading for Mystery School members.
By Robert Wright
July 29, 2009

Wouldn't it be great to be back in hunter-gatherer days? Back before the
human spiritual quest had been corrupted by the "relentless onslaught of
Western scientific materialism" and "dogmatic male-dominated religion"? Back
when there were shamans -- spiritual leaders -- who could plug us into "the
realm of the magical," show us "the reality behind apparent reality," and
thus lead us to understand "how the universe really works"?

The quotes come from Leo Rutherford, a leading advocate of neo-shamanism,
which is a subset of neo-paganism, which is a subset of New Age
spirituality. But the basic idea -- that there was a golden age of spiritual
purity which we fallen moderns need to recover -- goes beyond New Age
circles. You see traces of it even in such serious scholars as Karen
Armstrong, who wrote in A History of God that early Abrahamic religion had
created a gulf "between humanity and the divine, rupturing the holistic
vision of paganism."

As the author of the just-published book The Evolution of God, about the
history of religion, I'm primed to do some debunking. But before I start, I
want to stress two points:

1) I think it's great for people to find spiritual peace and sound moral
orientation wherever they can, including neo-paganism;

2) I don't doubt that back before Western monotheism took shape there were
earnest seekers of a "holistic vision" who selflessly sought to share that

What I do doubt is that these earnest, selfless spiritual leaders were any
more common in the heyday of shamanism than today, or that the spiritual
quest was any less corrupted by manipulation and outright charlatanism than
today, or that there was a coherent philosophy of shamanism that makes more
sense than the average religion of today.

Of course, there's no way to resurrect long-dead cultures to find out, and
there is by definition no such thing as a written record of prehistoric
societies. But we have the next best thing: accounts from anthropologists
who visited hunter-gatherer societies before they had been corrupted by much
contact with modernity. These anthropologists observed shamans doing what
shamans do: prophesying, curing people, improving the weather, casting
spells, casting out evil spirits, etc. And the anthropological record
suggests the following about the age of shamanism.

1) There was a lot of fakery. Eskimo shamans have been seen spewing blood
upon contact with a ceremonial harpoon, wowing audiences unaware of the
animal bladder full of blood beneath their clothing. The sleight of hand by
which shamans "suck" a malignant object out of a sick patient and then
dramatically display it works so well that anthropologists have observed
this trick in Tasmania, North America, and lands in between. Other examples

2) Shamans -- lots of them -- were in it partly for the money. In exchange
for treating a patient, a shaman might receive yams (in Micronesia), sleds
and harnesses (among the Eastern Eskimo), beads and coconuts (the Mentawai
of Sumatra), tobacco (the Ojibwa of northeastern North America), or slaves
(the Haida of western Canada). In California, if a Nomlaki shaman said,
"These beads are pretty rough," it meant that he would need more beads if he
was to cure anything that day.

3) Shamans -- some of them, at least -- were in it for the sex. In his
classic study The Law of Primitive Man, E. Adamson Hoebel observed that,
among some Eskimos, "A forceful shaman of established reputation may
denounce a member of his group as guilty of an act repulsive to animals or
spirits, and on his own authority he may command penance. An apparently
common atonement is for the shaman to direct an allegedly erring woman to
have intercourse with him (his supernatural power counteracts the effects of
her sinning)." Nice work if you can get it. Sometimes the magic-for-sex swap
was subtler. Ojibwa shamans, one anthropologist reports, received "minimal
remuneration," working for "prestige, not pay. One of the symbols of
religious leadership prestige was polygyny. Male leaders took more than
one wife."

4) Shamans -- some of them, at least -- ran protection rackets. Here is
anthropologist Edward Horace Man on shamans in the Andamanese Islands: "It
is thought that they can bring trouble, sickness, and death upon those who
fail to evince their belief in them in some substantial form; they thus
generally manage to obtain the best of everything, for it is considered
foolhardy to deny them, and they do not scruple to ask for any article to
which they may take a fancy." Among the Ona of Tierra del Fuego, payment for
service was rare, but, as one anthropologist observed, "One abstains from
anything and everything" that might put the shaman "out of sorts or irritate

As for the "philosophy" of shamanism -- the vision that, in Rutherford's
words, shows us "how the universe really works": Well, for the most part,
the worldview of shamans was a lot like that of followers of early Abrahamic
religion, except with more gods, more evil spirits, and more raw
superstition (though there's more raw superstition in the Bible than most
people realize).

Of course, some shamans did have the advantage, compared with biblical
figures, of psychedelic drugs. An Amazonian drug, as described by one
anthropologist, led the shaman to lie in his hammock, "growl and pant,
strike the air with claw-like fingers," signifying that "his wandering
soul has turned into a bloodthirsty feline."

So if shamanism is so crude, how did it get glamorized? In 1951, the
esteemed scholar Mircia Eliade published a book called Shamanism. While he
didn't whitewash shamanism, he did his best to see its more refined side. He
wrote that Eskimo shamanism and Buddhist mysticism share as their goal
"deliverance from the illusions of the flesh." And shamanism, he said,
features "the will to transcend the profane, individual condition" in order
to recover "the very source of spiritual existence, which is at once 'truth'
and 'life.' "

It's certainly true that ordinary consciousness could use some transcending.
Thanks to our designer, natural selection, we tend to be self-absorbed, with
a wary sense of separation from most of humanity. And it's true that various
shamanic techniques -- fasting, for example -- can improve things in this
regard (though fasting can also, as in the Native American "vision quest,"
convince you that you've been adopted by some spirit that will, say, help
you kill more people in battle). Anthropologist Melvin Konner once partook
of the Kung San curing dance, which can last 10 hours and send the dancer
into a trance state that converts his or her healing energy into useful
vaporous form and fosters discourse with gods. Konner didn't speak to any
gods, but he did report getting "that 'oceanic' feeling of oneness with the

I'm for that! In fact, I once did a one-week Buddhist meditation retreat
that gave me just that feeling. And there are traditions within Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam that are big on oneness. I recommend trying one of
them -- or trying neo-shamanism. But if you try neo-shamanism, don't be
under the illusion that you're helping to recover a lost age of authentic
spirituality. Religion has always been a product of human beings, for better
and worse.
Robert Wright's new book The Evolution of God is here:

Happy Magdalene Day!

MMicon2smToday, July 22, is Mary Magdalene’s Feastday as observed by the official Church for centuries.  Now it is a holiday for alternative Christians and I like to call it Magdalene Day, taking out that “Catholic” word “feast”.  I guess it’s my fussiness. Hah.

I have my red egg on its little stand on my home altar and red, white and green candles burning as they are Her colors. I have heard that some people try to wear those three colors today. What are you doing to mark Her day?


Here is a Magdalene Litany Margaret Starbird posted around today:

Margaret writes:

I love this Magdalene litany –hope you will, too!

Enjoy her blessed feast day!


Litany of Mary Magdalene from Catholic Liturgies

According to the tradition of the Western Church Mary Magdalene is identical with “the woman who was a sinner” (Luke 7) and with the sister of Lazarus (John 11:2 and 12:3), though this identification is challenged by the Fathers of the East. Liturgical devotion Mary Magdalenehas been immemorial. This litany is mellow with age; from an old German version this was translated many years ago. ….


Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

Response following each phrase:  “Show us the way of the heart”

Sister of Martha and Lazarus,

Who didst enter the Pharisee’s house to anoint the feet of Jesus,

Who didst wash His feet with thy tears,

Who didst dry them with thy hair,

Who didst cover them with kisses,

Wounded with the love of Christ,

Most dear to the Heart of Jesus.

Constant woman,

Last at the Cross of Jesus, first at His tomb,

Thou who wast the first to see Jesus risen,

Apostle of apostles,

Who didst choose the “better part,”

Sweet advocate of sinners,

Spouse of the King of Glory,

May the prayers of blessed Mary Magdalene help us, O Lord, for it was in answer to them that Thou didst call her brother Lazarus, four days after death, back from the grave to life.



© Copyright Trinity Communications 2005. All rights reserved.

Abridged from

In Memory of Her–


“Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile”

Interfaith Leaders Desperately Needed, Including Gnostic, Alternative Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and whatever you are…

Here’s an intriguing and mind-changing article I just read in ChristianityToday where a muslim professor is telling ministers in training to be MORE Christian and that will make muslims and those of other faiths feel more safe (not threatened) to be who they are. He teaches there is a great need for mature Interfaith leaders that get the idea we are not supposed to disrespect other faiths, but neither are we to disrespect our own by watering it down in order to not “offend” people and clergy of other faiths.

For esoteric Christian ministers, Independent Catholic priests or alternative clergy of any kind, you can take this muslim professor’s words of advice and insert, “be more WHATEVER YOU ARE.” So be more gnostic, be more alternative Christian, be more Jewish, etc. That is the way to get the respect YOU deserve, AND to get your message across, to accomplish YOUR mission.

Please read the article below…it represents the way of the future in ministry, in my opinion. — +Katia


The following article was retrieved from:

Ministry Lessons from a Muslim

His unexpected message to church leaders: fully embrace your Christian identity. Skye Jethani and Brandon O’Brien Monday, July 6, 2009

Eboo Patel is not the most likely seminary professor. His credentials are not the issue. Patel earned his doctorate from Oxford University, and he is a respected commentator on religion for The Washington Post and National Public Radio. He has spoken in venues across the world, including conferences for evangelical church leaders.What makes Eboo Patel an unlikely seminary professor is that he is Muslim.

The editors of Leadership first encountered Patel at the 2008 Q Conference, where he challenged 500 Christian leaders to change the rules of interfaith dialogue. “Muslims and Christians might not fully agree on worldview,” he said, “but we share a world.” Patel spoke of his enduring friendships with a number of evangelicals and his desire to move beyond the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric that dominates Christian/Muslim interaction. While holding firmly to his belief in Islam, he also affirmed church leaders. “Even though it is not my tradition and my community,” Patel wrote after the conference, “I believe deeply that this type of evangelical Christianity is one of the most positive forces on Earth.”

We were intrigued, so we contacted Patel to talk more about the ramifications of increasing religious diversity in America, as well as his outsider’s perspective of the church’s response. Patel gave us more than we bargained for. He invited us to attend a class he was teaching on interfaith leadership at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Patel is not on the seminary faculty. He serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC)—a Chicago-based international non-profit that brings together religiously diverse young leaders to serve their communities. The seminary invited Patel to co-teach the course on interfaith leadership with Cassie Meyer, a Christian who serves as the training director at IFYC.

Be more Christian

When we arrived in the class, which included twenty seminarians—men and women from diverse racial and denominational backgrounds—the students were discussing a newspaper article. Patel and Meyer were using the report about tensions between Somali Muslim immigrants and Latino workers at a meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, as a case study. The Muslims wanted the factory’s managers to adjust production schedules to accommodate their prayer times and holidays like Ramadan. Others in the rural community admitted being uncomfortable with the influx of so many Muslim neighbors—particularly after September 11, 2001.

“Imagine you are the pastor of a church in Grand Island, Nebraska,” Patel says to the class. “A reporter from The New York Times calls you because he is working on a story about the conflict between Muslims and Christians at the meatpacking plant. The reporter asks you, ‘What should Christians do?’ How would you respond?” After a few moments of reflection, a student answers.

“I would talk about the fact that this country was founded on religious freedom,” he says. “We have to respect other people’s beliefs.”

“Yes,” interjects another student. “But if they allow the Muslims to take breaks for prayer, it will disrupt the factory’s productivity. There is an economic reality to consider. If the plant shuts down, the whole community will suffer.”

For fifteen minutes the students debate the matter, fluctuating between constitutional rights and economic realities. Finally, Patel interrupts.

“I’m hearing you articulate two grand narratives. First, the narrative of American freedom. And second, the narrative of capitalism and productivity. But remember, the reporter is not calling you because you are an expert in economics or constitutional law. He’s calling you because you are a minister. Don’t be afraid to answer the question as a Christian. Answer out of the Christian narrative.”

The irony of a Muslim challenging a group of pastors to be more Christian was not lost on the students. Heads dropped as they contemplated a different response to the case study. Cassie Meyer assisted the students by adapting the scenario.

“Imagine you’re the pastoral intern at the church in Grand Island,” Meyer says, “and you’ve been given the responsibility to preach a sermon this Sunday addressing the conflict between the Christians and Muslims. What would you say from the pulpit? What would you use from Scripture?”

“The greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors,” says one student. “Whether we like it or not, these Somali Muslims are our neighbors and we are called to love them.”

“But many in the town don’t view the Muslims as their neighbors,” says another student. “They view them as intruders, unwanted outsiders, or even their enemies.”

“Do you think referring to the Muslims as ‘enemies’ in your sermon might inflame the problem?” Patel asks.

“I don’t think so,” the student responds. “Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to show kindness to aliens. But that would have to be made clear in the sermon. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind.” Patel is out of his chair, energized by what he is hearing.

“I want you to see what just happened,” he says. “I want to affirm this. You are using the grand Christian narrative to respond to an interfaith conflict. First, I heard the Christian story of loving God and loving your neighbor. Second, I heard the Christian story of the Good Samaritan and the call to love the stranger. By using these stories, you are defining reality through the Christian narrative.

“Remember, the three most powerful narratives on the planet are narratives of religion, narratives of nation, and narratives of ethnicity/race. You cannot afford to forfeit that territory by talking about economics or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Don’t be afraid to be Christian ministers. If you don’t use the Christian narrative to define reality for your people, then someone else will define reality for them with a different narrative.”

Patel’s call to stand firmly on the Christian narrative isn’t what most students expect to hear from a Muslim professor.

“The more theologically conservative students are usually uncomfortable at the beginning of the course,” says Patel. “But they leave feeling affirmed. It’s the liberal Christians that are more challenged. They’re not used to being told to ‘be more Christian.'”

A false dichotomy

The exhortation to “be more Christian” is reiterated repeatedly in the class we are attending, and it represents a different approach to interfaith dialogue. Cassie Meyer says that most Christians have been told there are two ways to engage people from other faiths.

“The more liberal side says that Christians need to let go of their unique identity and affirm that all religions are valid; all roads lead to God. The more conservative side holds firmly to Christian identity and belief, but they sometimes see people of other religions as the enemy, so there is little desire for cooperation,” she says.

Meyer believes this dichotomy is one reason some people raised in the church abandon the faith as adults.

“The girl who led me to Christ in high school actually walked away from her faith in college,” Meyer recounts. “She was the strongest Christian I knew, but once she left home and started becoming friends with Jews, Hindus, and Muslims, she had a crisis. She’d been told these people were going to hell, that they were the enemy. The only way she could reconcile her friendship and admiration for these people was by abandoning her faith and affirming that all religions are true.”

Meyer and Patel believe there is another way. Somewhere between religious relativism and religious fundamentalism is a third option—what they call religious pluralism. This is the foundational principle of the seminary course.

“Religious pluralism is different than relativism,” one student tells us. “Relativism says you cannot make exclusive truth claims, that everyone is right. Pluralism simply recognizes that we live in a very diverse culture; there are a lot of different religions. Pluralism means talking about how we can live together and still maintain our own religious identity. Truth claims are okay.”

Meyer believes church leaders need to model and teach Christians how to cooperate with and befriend people of other faiths without abandoning their own convictions.

“If we don’t,” she says, “it will either mean more people will leave the church, or there will be more conflict between Christians and other groups.” An African student in the class agrees.

“Where I come from, there is so much conflict,” he says. “People are killing each other because of their beliefs. As a Christian, I am called to have compassion on the crowds, like Jesus did, and love my neighbor—even the neighbor I disagree with.” Created in God’s image In our increasingly secular society, many people have come to view religion as a problem and the source of conflict between groups. This sentiment was popularized in John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine,” in which religion is presented as an obstacle to world peace and harmony. But Eboo Patel is helping these seminary students turn conventional wisdom upside down. He sees the potential for greater cooperation and coexistence by embracing our different religious identities, not abandoning them.

“If you enter a ministerial gathering as a Christian minister and downplay your Christian identity in an attempt to make everyone comfortable,” says Patel, “as a Muslim leader, I’m immediately suspicious. I don’t trust you. Embracing your identity as a Christian creates safety for me to be a Muslim.” A student from a liberal denomination jumps in to affirm Patel’s statement.

“In my experience, the hardest thing about interfaith dialogue is Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus, and that’s a tragedy” she says. “That’s what I appreciate about evangelicals. They enter the room and they want to talk about Jesus. They’re not afraid to own their identity and their narrative, and that gives freedom for everyone else to do the same.”

“We have often viewed particularity and pluralism as mutually exclusive,” says Patel. “We think that if you are one thing, you must be disrespectful of other things.”

The message of embracing identity and acknowledging theological distinctions brought great comfort to some students in the class. Maria, a self-identified Pentecostal, was initially hesitant about taking Eboo Patel’s class.

“I thought the class was a call to believe that all faiths lead to the same place,” says Maria, “and I don’t believe that.” She went on to explain that her denomination is very intentional about not engaging in interfaith dialogue. But now she realizes how important, and how possible, interfaith cooperation is. “Can my church respect another person’s identity? Yes. Can we have mutually encouraging relationships? I believe we can. Can we work together toward a common cause? I believe we can.

“This class has reminded me of a basic Christian belief—that we are all created in God’s image,” she says. “When I’m in conversation with my friend who is a Muslim, can I honor her as someone created in God’s image? I believe that’s what God calls me to do.”

Michael also confessed to being apprehensive about taking the class on interfaith leadership.

“As an army chaplain, I have to deal with religious pluralism all the time,” he says. “But God placed me in this class for a reason, because I’ve had a very negative view of Muslims.” Speaking to Patel, he says, “I’m an African-American man from one of the poorest sections of Chicago. I was raised Pentecostal and now I’m a very conservative Presbyterian. But God has shown me that I need to reach out and view you as a man created in the image of God, respect you, and when possible, work alongside of you. God humbled me, Dr. Patel, in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Maria and Michael, both from conservative Christian backgrounds, were not the only students challenged by Patel’s class. Amy comes from a mainline church with a more liberal theology.

“I grew up believing in Jesus,” says Amy, “but I was also told to accept what everyone else believed, too. I was supposed to love and accept everyone, and that meant taking different identities, including my Christian identity, and merging them together. But I’ve never really understood what that meant. It never made sense to me. How can I believe in Jesus and in everything else?

“This class has helped me see another way. Now I understand that I can love others, I can have compassion for others, I can even work alongside others, and still retain my identity as a Christian. I don’t have to give up my belief in Jesus.”

Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer hope their class will create more momentum for interfaith dialogue and leadership.

“With religious conflict on the front page every day,” says Patel, “you would think there would be a huge, robust field called interfaith leadership. But there isn’t because it is really hard.”

“It’s not easy to engage meaningfully with others and hold on to your own identity,” says Meyer.

“The ability to bring mutually exclusive people together is the gift of the great leaders of our time,” says Patel. “If religious leaders will not model for their people how to live beside other faiths, then who will?”

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today International

Mary Magdalene a Goddess?

We were discussing last week on the GoddessChristians forum whether Magdalene is a goddess or not. Many ask whether Jesus was a god, was he divine, was he “just” a spiritual teacher with a divine message. So when it comes to the Sacred Feminine we come up with the same questions.  Were Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene “goddesses”?Divine beings? Or enlightened teachers? Margaret Starbird wrote in to say:

I guess it’s time to ask the question, “What is a Goddess?”

Many theologians identify “God” as pure energy, personified in a
masculine image (like the Almighty Father in Michelangelo’s “Creation”
on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But everyone knows that “He” is
not really “the One”–who is ineffable and defies description. Judaism
and Islam allow no images of God because God is beyond all human
ability to create such an image.

Yet we know of many “gods” in the ancient world… Could we say that
they are “incarnations” of the masculine attributes of “God”? and,
given this, might we then say that Mary Magdalene is an “incarnation”
of the “Goddess” attributes of wisdom/compassion/love?

I believe that just as Jesus embodied the Jewish tradition of Yahweh
as the “Bridegroom of Israel,” Mary Magdalene embodied their tradition
of the “Daughter of Sion” as Bride (as in the rabbi’s interpretation
of the Song of Songs that has so many verses in common with an ancient
liturgy honoring Isis and Osiris). The Jesus/Mary Magdalene story was
a “personification” of the ancient and archetypal marriage covenant
between “God” and his Beloved–His chosen people.

peace and well-being,
“Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile”