Are we misreading development a bit


Always appreciate your perspectives Russ, and the clarity of your writing, and I’d like to make a few comments specifically on your statements about shamanism. While religious historians say shamanism is probably the root of all religions, it is actually not considered a religion itself. While religious phenomena can be and often is produced as a result of its practice, shamanism is more appropriately defined as a specific knowledge-and-skill-set. It is a compilation of techniques that are surprisingly similar throughout the various shamanic cultures of the world.

And yes, as far as we know, it originated during the magical stage of development, which we as integralists understand to mean, among other things, that psyche was still halfway fused with environment; the individual, separate-self sense of ego had yet to fully emerge. Yet it’s important to note that shamanism is not a “dead” thing; it is still practiced throughout the world by various indigenous people, and also by contemporary Westerners either as a form of “self-help” and personal problem-solving and healing, or as a livelihood/vocation in service to others. Western shamanic practitioners are practicing a form of “trans-rational magic,” different from what we suppose was the case during culture’s magical stage. Some health insurance companies have actually covered shamanic healing treatments in the same vein as coverage for mainstream medical or mental health services.

Shamanism can and does co-exist with religion, and nowadays in most places is influenced by them (as some religions in certain locales have been influenced by shamanism). There are shamans and shamanic practitioners who work with Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu deities, for instance, as well as plant, animal, mineral, and elemental energies. Not being a religion, it is able to be quite democratic in the sources from which it draws its “help.”

In terms of a trans-rational magical practice, shamanism has a lot to teach the world and its incessant need to fragment and split things: the profane and the “sacred,” self and other, society and nature.

As for shamans believing that if they eat an animal, they gain that animal’s power—just consider for a moment that if you take a handful of vitamins, will you not gain the power/energy of those vitamins? If you drink alcohol (often called “spirits”), will not your bodymind be influenced; will you not know the “power” of alcohol? Why else do we eat food, but to turn it into energy? Combine that with a practice/technique in which you are able to merge with the essence or ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ of an animal or plant you ingest (or vitamins or alcohol), and some of these shamanic beliefs and practices are not as far-fetched as one would think. There are still shamans who will put on a bear skin or deer antlers and “become” that animal, not through just donning the pelt or antlers, but through specific methods for “becoming one” with the animal.

While not a religion per se, shamanism probably was humanity’s first methodical healing and divination technique; developed out of necessity and through trial-and-error, and perhaps with the help of psychoactive plants (the jury is still out on that one.) And it was a community endeavor, with full participation of the community in the shaman’s ceremonies and such, as the shaman existed/exists to serve them. And while not a religion per se, today, many Westerners do use shamanic methods for spiritual development, and some have profound unity experiences through their practices.

I know your statements about shamanism during the “Purple” stage were meant to help readers see the psychological aspects of that stage as differentiated from Red, and you did that. I just wanted to fill in a little around the topic of shamanism. Thanks.


Thanks for your insight LaWanna! Right back at you about appreciating your posts.

One point of clarification and potential caution I want to throw out is the definition of “religion.” I’m using the word in the context of shamanism based on my own education from Dr. Sharon Coggan at U of C, Denver, who included it in our World Religions course as one of the first “religions” we studied. But she uses the word religion in a very postmodern way (and not necessarily unhealthy postmodern before we go down that rabbit hole!), acknowledging that historians and theologians alike are a bit hard pressed to nail down what a religion really is. Robert Ellwood and Barbara McGraw cover that conversation fairly comprehensively in Many Peoples, Many Faiths. Tying shamanism to the word is simply because it was included as a source “religion” in the course as well as the text. I myself don’t have a firm definition of religion due to all the potential factors that could influence its use.

So, when we start asking that question, what is a religion, we get some widely variable perspectives. We also have to be careful when talking about religion in general as it can be tempting to put negative connotations around the word based on how specific sects of our world religions have behaved in the past and today. The West is shifting toward a very secular way of being in many areas, and I’ve definitely experienced a sort of “anti-religion” bias where the very word can trigger folks (and I’m definitely not implying that’s why you responded here!). The reality is that there are many religions today that are just as democratic and inclusive of multiple paths and where they draw their influences. If religions are really self-aware, they’ll know that they include many influences from many seemingly adverse paths. Islam is the culmination of Christianity, which is the evolution of Judaism, which is the evolution of desert religions from nomadic tribes in the Arabian desert. The Kabbalah shares ties with Sufi Islam and vice versa (they were so close together during, I think, the 14th Century that it’s hard to say who influenced whom). Buddhism shares a modified idea of karma from Hinduism. Hinduism responded to Buddhism’s postmodernism by creating the idea of the “Godhead,” Brahman, that’s beyond all human knowing. All the apocalyptic religions like Islam and Christianty share the idea of “good vs. evil, darkness vs. light” from Zoroastrianism and the Ahura Mazda vs. Ahriman cosmology. Another fascinating tidbit is that Judaism drank the Zoroastrian kool-aid while the Jews were exiled in Persia and then later purged probably 95% of that duality after the reforms following the Roman occupation. (please forgive any minor inaccuracies here, I’m going off of pure memory and I am NOT a historian!)

Indeed, Hinduism could be considered a hodgepodge of dozens of root faiths, with a main focus on the thunder god Indra that the Aryians brought to India that mixed with the Dravidian Shiva/Shakti gods. In many ways I see Hinduism as taking shamanism to the extreme since everything has a god. Japanese Shinto also shares some similarities as do the spiritualist beliefs of China (another fascinating tidbit, the world “Shin-to” isn’t even Japanese; they borrowed the term from Chinese immigrants to describe their own religion). The “spirit” is in everything. It’s really just a different way of seeing and describing the divine, the numinous, in nature; yet there nevertheless is that common awareness of the divine in our natural world. That’s probably one of the reasons why I like Ernest Holmes so much… he was one of the first philosophers and theologians to start making connections between seemingly wildly different religions in the Western world. Maybe that’s because almost all religion can trace its way back to common shamanic roots? I don’t know, I wasn’t there! (as Dr. Coggan would so often state rather dramatically in her lectures)

In any event, my callout to shamanism (which I have practiced myself in various ways over the years) was merely to use a historic example to illustrate the development progression of ancient shamanic tribes from Purple to Red and what that means overall in the context of unhealthy Red. Hopefully it didn’t seem like I was trying to mischaracterize shamanism in any way (and I apologize if I did), as I think the practices can be very helpful in showing us how to tap into those primal archetypes that reside in our consciousness.

As you can see, I have a passion for religions and I’m always up for that discussion :smiley: I suppose that’s why I went to minister school. In any case, we’re talking about Red, so we should probably get back to that!


Thought I’d include this for everyone as well since New Thought tends to be the most open philosophy / religion to Integralism (it is, after all, the medium by which I was first introduced).

I wrote this for my History of New Thought class and my Dean has used it in the past to help spark conversation around the “Is New Thought Christian?” conversation. It helps illustrate the challenges with trying to pin any one thing down to a “religion” (Buddhism is another great example; depending on which Buddhist you ask, it’s either a philosophy, a religion, both, or neither).

Anyway, I’ll stop derailing this thread now. I do find the conversation about religion and what it actually is to be quite fascinating.


Hey Russ, great article on New Thought and its changes in evolution. I am not a religion historian or scholar either, so here we are, the blind leading the blind, or something like that. It sounds to me that New Thought’s experimentation or practice of scientific healing or healing with the mind (mesmerism, channeling, and such) is, in my language, tapping into subtle states of consciousness and subtle energies, as does shamanism. Responding to your prior post before this latest one, what I think the shamanic perspective would add is that, while some definitely are, not all of these energies are just or only primal archetypes that reside in one’s consciousness, but are energies that have an existence of their own.

And, I would also mention that Hinduism also “evolved” in the sense that the God Indra and other gods in nature, were early originations spoken of in the Rg Veda. The Upanishads came after this, and those scriptures/teachings focus largely on the central principles that help us make sense of life and the world; they are not philosophy per se, but they do focus on the desire “to know” and to realize–like, what happens when we die, what’s responsible for my being able to see or think, those kind of questions. As such, they give a lot of attention to consciousness itself and states of consciousness. Probably you already know this, but just thought I would mention it. While many Hindus do still acknowledge, pay homage to, and worship the old Vedic gods of nature and the elements, this is not the end-all in Hinduism.

Do you relate to the “3 faces of God” that Wilber has iterated? In your New Thought article, you said that the “God within” is something separated from the self, like a split personality. I wonder how you mean this. Eastern traditions emphasize a 1st person perspective, or identification, with the “God within,” which goes by different names, but it is far from any sense of ‘split personality.’ Were you speaking of this as just the orientation or experience of Christians? I think what I’m getting at is wondering if New Thought recognizes these different “faces” or ways of knowing “God”?

You’re right, there are lots of rabbit holes to go down when discussing religion and what it is, thank you Evolution!


What New Thought recognizes varies from person to person :slight_smile: But if it helps, part of my ministerial program was to get my Masters in Consciousness Studies, so that should give a clear indication of what New Thought most cares about.

If anything, New Thought could be seen as a western interpretation of the whole Hindu history (especially the Upanishads and their approach to consciousness, both human and divine). Thomas Troward spent much of his life as a judge in colonial India and was heavily influenced by their spiritual practices, and he is almost solely responsible for what we call the “Law of Attraction” in New Thought (though please don’t read it in the context of the move the Secret, which really I think misrepresents what it’s about). But yes, pretty much everything Hinduism can trace its way back to the Vedas. What I love about the Hindu path is how they started with these highly ritualistic ways of worshipping and then went straight to consciousness exploration, and then landed back into how we apply these things in the world with the Bhagavad Gita (probably one of my favorite holy texts, it’s like Integralism in beautiful poetry and prose).

I am a huge fan of Paul Smith, so I personally subscribe to the idea of the “Three Faces of God,” AND I also subscribe to the Hindu notion of the “godhead,” something that is beyond what we could comprehend as those three faces. I’m actually doing work to help bring New Thoughters back to the “I, Thou” relationship since we tend to either see God as this amorphous “whole,” or within ourselves, and miss the 2nd person perspective. That perspective is SO valuable because it gives us a way to relate to the Divine. IE, it’s hard to talk to some grand amorphous whole, and sometimes just talking to our inner Divine can get clouded by our ego. I’m not really worried about this being challenging for those folks who left traditional religions to get away from the 2nd person way of relating to God since New Thought is nothing if not highly utilitarian. The phrase “practical spirituality” is one I use regularly!


Sounds like we’re pretty much on the same page, Russ, regarding all this. Do you participate in the we-space groups offered by Integral Christian Network?


I honestly didn’t know there was an Integral Christian Network, so no…


Thanks Russ! That was very informative and much to think about! Appreciate your insights and honesty!


Is New Thought Christian or a religion at all? Well, I was raised in New Thought Christianity, most specifically the Unity Church but also Science of Mind. The people in the Unity Church probably thought they were in a religion, as it had many of the trappings of religion. It arose out of the 19th cenury evangelical movement.


Here is something that might be of interest. It’s a review of the recent adaptation of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The reviewer writes a lot about Spiral Dynamics. It’s his field of study as an academic.