Friday, February 22, 2008

Jesus the Shaman - Descent into the Underworld


Shamanism is a form of healing found across the world in many ancient cultures. When first encountered by the west, shamans were commonly refered to as "witch doctors". So what does this have to do with Jesus Christ? A lot, actually - which seems ironic as you would think Christianity and the belief system of a "witch doctor" has nothing in common. Shamans - good or bad - are in touch with the spiritual world. It is not all superstition, as I once saw a documentary of a shaman who hypnotized a man to be a badger of sorts, who then went underwater and came out after a few minutes with a live fish between his teeth. This man could then eat roots that were not harmful to the animal, but were deadly poison to humans. Before the shaman took him out of his trance, he made sure he removed all traces of the poisonous root from his teeth to ensure he did not die when he awoke.

This is the wikipedia defintion of Shamanism:

refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism:
  • The spirits can play important roles in human lives.
  • The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the community's benefit.
  • The spirits can be either good or bad.
  • Shamans engage various processes and techniques to incite trance; such as: singing, dancing, taking entheogens, meditating and drumming.
  • Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message-bearers, as well as representations of animal spirit guides.
  • The shaman's spirit leaves the body and enters into the supernatural world during certain tasks.
  • The shamans can treat illnesses or sickness.
  • Shamans are healers, gurus and magicians.
Shamans have the ability to diagnose and cure human suffering and, in some societies, the ability to cause suffering. This is believed to be accomplished by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistic traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times."

So are the abilities of a shaman similar to that of Jesus Christ? Yes, they are identical. Jesus was a healer. He could command the weather. He foretold the future. He had control over spirits, and cured many demoniacs. Many shamans will gain control over a spirit in order to gain more power. In this case, Jesus was different - he had the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Without understanding this, many will not understand the most essential belief in Christianity - why he had to die and rise from the dead. Shamans have a unique understanding of Jesus - to such an extent that they would often call him the world's greatest Shaman. One shaman - who happened to use his powers for ill - asked his spirits about Jesus Christ when he became aware of him from a missionary. His own spirits knew of him, and feared him. He later converted.

The scholar Morton Smith came close to understanding this, and wrote a book entitled Jesus the Magician. It has excellent research, but unfortunately, it was written with a hostile point of view. Although he compared Jesus to magicians of the ancient world, he did not compare Jesus to the practice of Shamanism. The Jewish pharisees of course accused Jesus of black magic, and said he was possessed by a demon. This accusation is even recorded in the Talmud.


One of the most dangerous practices of a shaman is to enter a trance, leave his body, and enter the realm of the underworld. If not undertaken properly, the shaman could actually never return to his body and die. For a description of this, here is a quote from Shamanism: An Introduction, by Margaret Stutley:
"Few shamans are capable of descending into the underworld; it is usually the specialty of 'Black Shamans' who are able to deal with powerful hostile spirits and demonic influences. However, whether the shaman is ascending or descending, his soul leaves his body. Accompanied by his helping spirits and the souls of his ancestors he makes a vertical descent from the Earth...until finally he reaches the seventh level, the source of the nine underworld rivers. Here is situated the heavily defended stone and black clay palace of Erlik, ruler of the dead. Dogs guard the palace and its domains. These dogs are reminiscent of the Greek Cerberus and the Indic Sarameyas who guard the way to the dead. Goldi shamans can not undertake the subterranean journey without the bird spirit that ensures their safe return to earth. Eliade suggests that Erlik's underworld is based on an Irano-Indian model.
...During the underworld journey the shaman often appears to be dead. An Alaskan shaman related that he had been dead for two days, during which time he traversed the well-trodden path of the dead and heard the weeping and wailing of the living. Finally he came to a village where two shades took him into a house where a bright fire was burning with meat in a pot boiling on it. He was warned not to eat the meat; otherwise he would be unable to return to earth. He resumed his journey, coming down to his own grave, whereupon he re-entered his body which came back to life. Then he returned to his village and recounted his adventures". (pages 34-35).

The fact that Jesus descended into the underworld, just like a shaman does in order to heal others, is often glossed over by most Christians who just concentrate on his death on the cross. But it is mentioned in several key passages:
"And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." (Matt. 27:50-53)
For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days on Noah. (1 Pet 3:18-20)
For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit. (1 Pet 4:6)
Jesus himself said he came to render judgement upon the dead:
"I tell you the truth, a time is coming, and has now come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (John 5:25-30)
So it is clear that he descended into the underworld, about which the Bible says scarcely anything. Instead, scripture tended to concentrate on the historical facts - that he died, and rose from the dead, and after that, the Holy Spirit became available to his followers. These passages would be a mere curiosity, except that the descent of Jesus into the underworld were seen by two great Christian visonaries: Anne Catherine Emmerich and Emanuel Swedenborg.


Anne Catherine Emmerich was a nun who lived from 1774-1824 A.D. and lived in Westphalia, Germany. From the year 1812 to her death she bore the stigmata of the Lord, including a cross over her heart and wounds from the crown of thorns. During the last five years of her life her visions and mystical experiences were recorded by Clemens Brentano. Her visions mainly concerned the past, and confirm many Biblical events, and also contain a wealth of information not found in the Bible. She has recently been made popular by Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion - which is largely based on her recorded visions. Before that, she became well known when some Catholics took information from her visions and were able to locate the house of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus Turkey.

Her visions mainly concerned the life and work of Jesus Christ, and she had some words to say about his descent into hell after his death on the cross. The following is taken from The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations, a record of all her visions, edited by Carl E. Schmoger:

"When my meditation turned to the Blessed virgin dwelling in thought upon our Saviour, I sometimes saw the holy tomb and about seven guards sitting or standing opposite the entrance. Close to the doors of the rocky cave, in which was the real tomb, the tomb proper, stood Cassius. He moved not from the spot, he was silent and recollected. I saw the closed doors of the tomb and the stone lying before them. But through the doors, I could see the body of the Lord lying just as it had been left. It was environed with light and splendor, and rested between two adoring angels, one at the head, the other at the foot. When my thoughts turned to the holy soul of our Redeemer, there was vouchsafed me a vision of His descent into Hell so great, so extended, that I have been able to retain only a very small portion. I shall, however, relate what I can of it.

"When Jesus with a loud cry gave up His most holy soul, I saw it as a luminous figure surrounded by angels, among them Gabriel, penetrating the earth at the foot of the holy cross. I saw His Divinity united with His soul, while at the same time, it remained united to His body hanging on the cross. I cannot express how this was. I saw the place whither the soul of Jesus went. It seemed to be divided into three parts. It was like three worlds, and I had a feeling that it was round, and that each one of those places was a kind of locality, a sphere separated from the others.

"Just in front of Limbo, there was a bright, cheerful tract of country clothed in verdure. It is into this that I always see the souls released from Purgatory entering before being conducted to Heaven. The Limbo in which were the souls awaiting Redemption was encompassed by a gray, foggy atmosphere, and divided into different circles. The Saviour, resplendent and conducted in triumph by angels, pressed on between two of these circles. The one on the left contained the souls of the Leaders of the people down to Abrabam, that on the right, the souls from Abraham to John the Baptist. Jesus went on between these two circles. They knew Him not, but all were filled with joy and ardent desire. It was as if this place of anxious, distressed longing was suddenly enlarged. The Redeemer passed through them like a refreshing breeze, like light, like dew, quickly like the sighing of the wind. The Lord passed quickly between these two circles to a dimly lighted place in which were our first parents, Adam and Eve. He addressed them, and they adored Him in unspeakable rapture. The procession of the Lord, accompanied by the first human beings, now turned to the left, to the Limbo of the Leaders of God's people before the time of Abraham. This was a species of Purgatory, for here and there were evil spirits, who in manifold ways worried and distressed some of those souls. The angels knocked and demanded admittance. There was an entrance, because there was a going in; a gate, because there was an unlocking; and a knocking, because the One that was coming had to be announced. It seemed to me that I heard the angel call out: "Open the gates! Open the doors!" Jesus entered in triumph, while the wicked spirits retired, crying out: "What hast Thou to do with us? What dost Thou want here? Art Thou now going to crucify us?" and so on. The angels bound them and drove them before them. The souls in this place had only a vague idea of Jesus, they knew Him only slightly; but when He told them clearly who He was, they broke forth into songs of praise and thanksgiving. And now the soul of the Lord turned to the circle on the right, to Limbo proper. There He met the soul of the good thief going under the escort of angels into Abraham's bosom, while the bad thief, encompassed by demons, was being dragged down into Hell. The soul of Jesus addressed some words to both and then, accompanied by a multitude of angels, of the redeemed, and by those demons that were driven out of the first circle, went likewise into the bosom of Abraham.

"This space, or circle, appeared to me to lie higher than the other. It was as if a person climbed from the earth the churchyard up into the church itself. The evil spirits struggled in their chains, and wanted not to enter, but the angels forced them on. In this second circle were all the holy Israelites to the left, the Patriarchs, Moses, the Judges, the Kings; on the right, the Prophets and all the ancestors of Jesus, as also His relatives down to Joachim, Anne, Joseph, Zachary, Elizabeth, and John. There were no demons in this circle, no pain nor torment, only the ardent longing for the fulfillment of the Promise now realized. Unspeakable felicity and rapture inundated these souls as they saluted and adored the Redeemer, and the demons in their fetters were forced to confess before them their ignominious defeat. Many of the souls were sent up to resuscitate their bodies from the tomb and in them to render ocular testimony to the Lord. This was the moment in which so many dead came forth from their tombs in Jerusalem. They looked to me like walking corpses. They laid their bodies again upon the earth, just as a messenger of justice lays aside his mantle of office after having fulfilled his superior's commands.

"I now saw the Saviour's triumphant procession entering another sphere lower than the last. It was the abiding place of pious pagans who, having had some presentiment of truth, had ardently sighed after it. It was a kind of Purgatory, a place of purification. There were evil spirits here, for I saw some idols. I saw the evil spirits compelled to confess the deception they had practiced. I saw the blessed spirits rendering homage to the Saviour with touching expressions of joy. Here, too, the demons were chained by the angels and driven forward before them.

"And thus I saw the Redeemer passing rapidly through these numerous abodes and freeing the souls therein confined. He did a great many other things, but in my present miserable state I am unable to relate them.

"At last I saw Him, His countenance grave and severe, approaching the center of the abyss, namely, Hell itself. In shape it looked to me like an immeasurably vast, frightful, black stone building that shone with a metallic luster. Its entrance was guarded by immense, awful-looking doors, black like the rest of the building, and furnished with bolts and locks that inspired feelings of terror. Roaring and yelling most horrible could plainly be heard, and when the doors were pushed open, a frightful gloomy world was disclosed to view.

"As I am accustomed to see the heavenly Jerusalem under the form of a city, and the abodes of the blessed therein under various kinds of palaces and gardens full of wonderful fruits and flowers, all according to the different degrees of glory, so here I saw everything under the appearance of a world whose buildings, open spaces, and various regions were all closely connected. But all proceeded from the opposite of happiness, all was pain and torment. As in the sojourns of the blessed all appears formed upon motives and conditions of infinite peace, eternal harmony and satisfaction, so here are the disorder, the malformation of eternal wrath, disunion, and despair.

"As in Heaven there are innumerable abodes of joy and worship, unspeakably beautiful in their glittering transparency, so here in Hell are gloomy prisons without number, caves of torment, of cursing, and despair. As in Heaven there are gardens most wonderful to behold, filled with fruits that afford divine nourishment, so here in Hell there are horrible wildernesses and swamps full of torture and pain and of all that can give birth to feelings of detestation, of loathing, and of horror. I saw here temples, altars, palaces, thrones, gardens, lakes, streams, all formed of blasphemy, hatred, cruelty, despair, confusion, pain, and torture, while in Heaven all is built up of benedictions, of love, harmony, joy, and delight. Here is the rending, eternal disunion of the damned; there is the blissful communion of the saints. All the roots of perversity and untruth are here cultivated in countless forms and deeds of punishment and affliction. Nothing here is right, no thought brings peace, for the terrible remembrance of divine justice casts every damned soul into the pain and torment that his own guilt has planted for him. All that is terrible here, both in appearance and reality, is the nature, the form, the fury of sin unmasked, the serpent that now turns against those in whose bosom it was once nourished. I saw there also frightful columns erected for the sole purpose of creating feelings of horror and terror, just as in the Kingdom of God they are intended to inspire peace and the sentiment of blissful rest, etc. All this is easily understood, but cannot be expressed in detail.

"When the gates were swung open by the angels, one beheld before him a struggling, blaspheming, mocking, howling, and lamenting throng. I saw that Jesus spoke some words to the soul of Judas. Some of the angels forced that multitude of evil spirits to prostrate before Jesus, for all had to acknowledge and adore Him. This was for them the most terrible torment. A great number were chained in a circle around others who were in turn bound down by them. In the center was an abyss of darkness. Lucifer was cast into it, chained, and thick black vapor mounted up around him. This took place by the Divine Decree. I heard that Lucifer (if I do not mistake) will be freed again for awhile fifty or sixty years before the year 2000 A.D. I have forgotten many other dates that were told me. Some other demons are to be freed before Lucifer, in order to chastise and tempt mankind. I think that some are let loose now in our own day, and others will be freed shortly after our time.

"It is impossible for me to relate all that was shown me. It is too much, I cannot reduce it to order, I cannot arrange it. I am also so dreadfully sick. When I try to speak of these things, they rise up before my eyes, and the sight is enough to make one die.

"I saw too the redeemed souls in countless numbers leaving the places of their purification, leaving Limbo, and accompanying the soul of the Lord to a place of bliss below the heavenly Jerusalem. It was there that some time ago I saw a deceased friend of mine. The soul of the good thief entered with the rest and again saw the Lord, according to His promise, in Paradise. I saw prepared here for the delight and refreshment of the souls celestial tables such as were open shown me in visions vouchsafed for my consolation.

"I cannot say exactly the time of these events, nor their duration, neither can I repeat all that I saw and heard, because some things were incomprehensible even to myself, and others would be misunderstood. I saw the Lord in many different places, even on the seas. It seemed as if He sanctified and delivered every creature; everywhere the evil spirits fled before Him into the abyss. Then I saw the soul of the Lord visiting many places on the earth. I saw Him in Adam's tomb under Golgotha. The souls of Adam and Eve came again to Him there. He conversed with them, and I saw Him as if under the earth, going with them in many directions, visiting tomb after tomb of the Prophets. Their souls entered their bodies, and Jesus explained many mysteries to them. Then I saw Him with this chosen band, among whom was David, visiting many scenes of His own life and Passion, explaining to them the typical events that had there taken place, and with inexpressible love pointing out to them their fulfillment.

"Among other places, I saw Him with these souls at that of His Baptism, where numerous figurative events had happened. He explained them all and, deeply touched, I beheld the everlasting mercy of Jesus in permitting the grace of His own holy baptism to flow upon them for their greater advantage.

"It was unspeakably touching to see the soul of the Lord encompassed by those happy, blessed spirits shining shining through the dark eanh, through rocks, through the water and the air, and lightly floating over the surface of the ground.

"These are the few points that I can remember of my meditations, so full, so extended, upon the descent of the Lord into Hell aher His death, and of His releasing the souls of the just Patriarchs of the earliest times. But besides this vision relating to time, I saw one connected with eternity, in which I was shown His mercy toward the poor souls on this day. I saw that, every year on the solemn celebration of this day (Good Friday) by the Church, He casts upon Purgatory a glance by which many souls are released. I saw that even today, Holy Saturday, upon which day I had this contemplation, He released from their place of purification some souls that had sinned at the time of His Crucifixion. I saw today the release of many souls, some unknown and others known to me, though I cannot name any of them."

(Being in a state of ecstasy today, Sister Emmerich related what follows:)

"The first descent of Jesus into Limbo was the fulfillment of early types, and in itself a type whose fulfillment is effected by today's releasing of the poor souls. The descent into Hell that I saw was a vision of time past, but the freeing of the souls today is a lasting truth. The descent of Jesus into Hell was the planting of the tree of grace, the tree of His own sacred merits, for the poor souls; and the constant recurrence of today's releasing of those souls is the fruit brought forth by that tree of grace in the spiritual garden of the ecclesiastical year. The Church Militant must cultivate the tree and gather the fruits, in which the Church Suffering must be allowed to share, since it can do nothing for itself. So it is with all the merits of the Lord. We must labor with Him, in order to share in them. We must eat our bread in the sweat of our brow. All that Jesus did for us in time brings forth fruit for eternity, but we must in time cultivate and gather that fruit, otherwise we shall not enjoy it in eternity. The Church is a most provident mother. Her year is in time the most complete garden of fruits for eternity. Her year contains a supply sufficient for the wants of all. Woe to the slothful and faithless laborers in that garden who, in any way, allow to go to waste a grace that might have restored health to the sick, strength to the weak, or furnished food to the hungry! On the Day of Judgment the Master of the garden will demand an account of even the least blade of grass."

As to why Mel Gibson stopped short his movie and did not describe the above event- well that was a big disappointment.


Emanuel Swedenborg lived from 1688-1772. He was a great thinker and scientist for his time, and was knowledgeable in all scientific disciplines. He studied all the physical sciences and anatomy in search for evidence of the human soul. He finally turned introspective, and started to record his dreams. He evidenced clairvoyant powers, and one of his clairvoyant visions became so well known that Immanuel Kant, a contemporary, sent someone to investigate. From the year 1745 onward his dreams turned into visions, and although he recorded many volumes, his best known work is Heaven and Hell, in which he describes the state of souls after death. In his first vision, in 1745, a spirit spoke to him about the need for God to reveal himself to a human in the manner of biblical visions as given to the prophets of the Old Testament. He spent the rest of his life recording these visions, but the topic that concerns us here is what he had to say about the descent of Jesus Christ into the region of Hell. I will sum up his basic thought on the matter, rather than to recount his visions in detail.

All angels and demons originate from the human race. The choices we make here between good and evil determine whether we spend eternity in hell or in heaven. Between Heaven and Hell there is a place that Swedenborg called the "world of spirits," in which man first enters after he dies. It is a waiting place where the interior of one's will is explored and examined, and the souls are prepared to enter heaven or hell. The time that souls spend here varies, according to their various states. This is the region known to Catholics as "purgatory" or "limbo," and to Jews as "Abraham's bosom." It is the souls in this region that were effectively released from captivity upon the descent of Jesus into hell.

Redemption of mankind was not achieved by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, but rather it was achieved by the subjugation of hells and the establishment of order in heaven between his death and resurrection. His death on the cross was merely his last temptation. He had to die in order to achieve this redemption for mankind. During his life, by resisting sin and temptation, Jesus was effectively engaged in combat with all of hell. At the time that Jesus Christ came, hell had full control over the world of spirits and threatened heaven itself, and thereby a total damnation of all mankind stood threatening at the door. By glorifying his human, and subjugating hell itself, God in human form effectively not only saved mankind, but all the angels.

In later times the cross became the focus of Christianity, and the belief later developed that as a "substitute" for guilt for one's sins Jesus saved all of mankind by his death on the cross. This is false and incorrect. Sin does not get transferred from one person to another. Sin is removed only through repentance, and man is cleansed from his sin through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is how Jesus Christ removes sin, for the Holy Spirit proceeds from him, but it could only proceed from him after he sanctified his body. It is through sin that man puts himself in conjunction with hell, and through doing good he puts himself in conjunction with heaven. By subjugating hell, and ordering the heavens, God allowed mankind to continue in a state of free will to choose between good and evil.


This blog is something I originally published in another blog back in 1999. Except I modified it a bit and added what I knew about shamanism. It was a bit too long, and I thought about not reposting it, but this morning I had a dream of a young man, for whom Christianity made no sense whatsoever. In the dream, I then explained what I just set forth in this blog. He seemed ready to listen, and understood. After awaking, I decided to post this.