Up for review: Discernment of Spirits, Soviet New Age, and Magic

I’ve received three books for review over the last few weeks, making for a hectic book review phase (I’m not gonna mention the ones I’m already late with). They are three fascinating collections, dealing with very diverse material. Here’s a quick preview.

Angels of Light? (Brill, 2012)

Angels of Light? (2012)

Clare Copeland and Jan Machielsen’s Angels of Light? (Brill, 2012) is a collection of essays dealing with that delicious problem of Christian theology and practice: how to discern real sanctity from demonic trickery? If an angel appears in all its splendour – whether in a dream, a vision, or in front of  your bare eyes – how do you know that it is not the devil masquerading to lure the devout to the dark side? This, in a nutshell, is the problem of discernment. It has had consequences not only on the abstract level of theological philosophizing, but also on the social level. Above all during the tumultuous reformation era, when new reformers led to the emergence of new sects with new creeds, new leaders, and new lines of authority. The devout had to fear not only false angels, but false prophets as well. From the blurb:

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Jesus was a … shaman (heterodox Christologies II)

Jesus the shaman

Jesus the shaman

Next up in what is quickly becoming a series on heterodox Christologies: Jesus was really a shaman. This claim was found in Norwegian media last week – more precisely in the Sami branch of the state channel NRK’s online news site. The (neo)shamanic healer Eirik Myrhaug went on record saying that he saw Jesus as “a great shaman”: “after all he was 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, and that’s a typical shamanic seance”.

This news item caught my attention because I have recently been working on an article on neoshamanism – or rather, on the genealogy and mythology of shamanism, as created by a motley crew of explorers, romantics, nationalists, psychedlelic gurus, anthropologists and historians since the 1600s – before it finally became a new religious movement in the 1960s. Myrhaug himself is of Sami descent, but his shamanic techniques appear to be derived from the anthropologist Michael Harner’s “core shamanism” – as is the case with the entire “revival” of shamanism in a Sami context. What struck me the most, however, was that Myrhaug’s shamanic interpretation of Jesus – which was heavily and predictably criticised by a Lutheran minister in the same news article – has a long history. “Jesus was a shaman” is in fact a stock element in the continuously expanding “universal shamanism” franchise.

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