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Christianity – Claims that the founders of Christianity—Jesus Christ and his disciples—were shamans have been made on the basis of the prevalence of healing and exorcism in the Bible. John Allegro’s claim that Christianity began among a group who ate hallucinogenic mushrooms is no more likely than the popular myth that Santa Claus was a shaman. John Pilch’s interpretation of Jesus as a shaman (or “holy man,” as Pilch prefers) is largely founded on the privileging of “sky journeying” (following Michael Winkelman and RogerWalsh). The many competing understandings of the “historical Jesus” and of earliest Christianity make any theory based on a single theme or issue highly unlikely.

Nonetheless, contact between Christianity and indigenous, animist, and shaman-employing cultures has often resulted in clearly shamanic fusions and possession cults. Many Caribbean and South American religious traditions, such as Vodou and Umbanda, creatively blend African and local cosmologies and performances with forms of Christianity. Although the majority of these blend Roman Catholic imagery of saints with significant deities from other traditions, Orthodox Christians can also be attracted to shamanic practices, as in the Zar possession cult in Ethiopia. While Protestant Christians generally oppose religions other than their own, Pentecostalist movements in Africa and Central America can fuse indigenous antipossession and anti-witchcraft practices with trance or ecstatic visionary performances. The Spiritual Baptist movement, originating in Saint Vincent but now also in the United States, creatively fused African-derived trance practices with revivalist Christianity. Also in the United States, the Native American Church typifies an indigenizing movement that fuses elements of Christianity with Native American and Central American (especially Huichol or Wixáritari) religious cultures.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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