Bradford Keeney,
Shamanic Christianity
(Destiny, 2006)

Evidently I'm not meant to be a shaman. Reading Bradford Keeney's book, which is designed to lead readers back to the practice of shamanic Christianity, I kept getting hung up on a few things. For example, in his opening chapter, Keeney tells us that Jesus, one of the prime shamans of all times, must have walked the entire world. "Among North and South American Indians, he was greeted as Kate-ZAhal and Mahnt-Azoma, among other names." According to Keeney, Jesus went up to Canada, "accompanied by a couple of wolves." There he was introduced to the use of the peace pipe and he instructed the Ojibways to meet the missionaries who would come later by telling them stories about Jesus's life. "They will be shocked to find that you know these things," he said.

This is fascinating stuff. It makes me wonder about Keeney's sources. Where did he discover this story? To find out, we need to go back to his preface where he states that "the stories and directives that are included in this book were written while I was in an altered state of consciousness inspired by the ecstatic practice of shamanic Christianity. Writing non-stop for several days in a shamanic literary experiment, I wrote the book largely as a continuous stream of prose." That might be the problem right there.

Where did he get the story of Jesus in Canada? From his own head in an altered state. So is it visionary truth or fiction? Is it symbolic truth or a fantasy? I've been in altered states brought on by many different activities, some legitimate and some questionable, and I've learned to be a touch skeptical of my visions. Keeney doesn't seem to ever question his.

I'm also, after struggling through the book, still looking for a clean definition of the term shaman. He associates it with Christian mysticism, which is fine, but then he goes on to claim that almost every mystic Christianity has produced was a shaman: Jesus, St. Francis, Hildegard, the Celtic saints and the New England Shakers, for example. I remember reading Thomas Moore's The Care of the Soul in search of a clear idea of what was meant by soul and finally being forced to conclude that everything Moore approved of was from the soul while everything he didn't was not. Keeney's work gives me that same feeling with regard to his central term.

The fact is, there's a lot of good stuff in this book. The exercises and meditations are valuable and much of the advice is worth considering. If, when he came out of his altered state, he'd given the text a good critical edit, Keeney might have come up with a work that spoke to more than just the already initiated.

by Michael Scott Cain
27 January 2007

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