William Everson was the first American poet to explore the living link between shamanism and poetry, between the shaman’s call and the vocational archetype in the dreams of contemporary students. The book builds upon Everson’s contributions to the field of American poetry as an emergent field and augments his research into dreams of destiny when I was his teaching assistant in “Birth of a Poet” from 1981-1982. In the book, I draw upon my own personal experiences as a Jungian writer and psychotherapist to question Everson about the central purpose in our life: our calling to charismatic vocation. Since the conversations with Everson were conducted in 1992-1993, when the poet “called” me to down to his home to interview him, I have included an introduction and commentaries to aid the reader in places where psychological or religious terms are introduced and the words or notions are now clarified in the transcripts, or in footnotes. William Everson The Shaman’s Call is organized around fourteen Chapters that center on themes such as Everson’s hypothesis of a vocational archetype, the Native American vision quest, Christ as shaman, Walt Whitman, the God-image in American poetry, Robinson Jeffers, and Everson’s stunning poems, October Tragedy, Black Hills, and The Blood of the Poet. The poems selected for discussion are evocative and known to students of American literature, but not widely familiar to practitioners of analytical psychology, or our general readership. Prior to these last interviews with one of America’s greatest living religious poets the shamanic themes in American poetry had never been deeply mined for their richness and depth of meaning. Our collaborative work is to illuminate the meaning of shamanic poetry by letting the images and rhythms of the poetry breathe in the text to reveal their own natural beauty, and hopefully, lead readers into states of mind and emotion that can transform consciousness utterly (Herrmann, 1998). The book is written with an Introduction by the author on the topic of shamanism in American poetry and he provides commentaries from a Jungian analytical perspective that elucidate how the archetype continues to operate in the American psyche as a pattern of personal and social transformation. The author provides a personal inside view into the way the calling to shamanic poetry emerges from the unconscious by way of dreams and ecstatic experiences. Everson brings the transcendent awareness of the archetype up front for readers through the powerful inflections of his voice and his invincible mastery over language. The conversations themselves form an empirical and aesthetic bridge between shamanism, analytical psychology, and American poetry. The conversations on the culminating influences of the shamanic archetype on the American West are written from the author’s personal discovery of his life’s meaning at his home bordering Joaquin Miller Park, where he lives with his wife, in the wooded hills of Oakland, California.
Steven gives an overview of the book:
Through Everson's collected interviews, essays, poems, and meditations, we can see the hole in the American psyche, the painful gash that was bequeathed to us, as the legacy of our journey across this continent in the name of "Manifest Destiny." This hole can be likened to a festering wound in the substance of our national consciousness, and it is "something," writes Everson that is "fundamental to all Americans—the wound of our disseverance from the earth"
However painful this wound may be, it is necessary that we experience it if cultural healing is to take place. Because it is through this wound that we can remain open to our feelings for birds, stones, trees, indigenous peoples, and all natural wildlife to which this land is heir. By sinking into it we can perceive the window in our American soul. Many sensitive poets, artists, and environmentalists have peered through this window into an unforeseen wilderness that was here before the first explorers. At that time this country was a land where the Animal Powers still spoke to man in the form of a voice. There was a minimal separation between nature, animal, and man. Indigenous Americans called this voice Great Spirit. Generally it was associated with an animal of some kind, such as the otter, bear, snake, hawk, or dove; but as Everson points out, the Great Spirit also spoke through "the other gods, the other presences of power—the rivers, the winds, the sun, the lightning."
To understand the meaning of our vocation on this continent we need to reconcile ourselves to this image, for it represents our collective legacy, the ancestral inheritance of our past, which was so stunningly portrayed in the movie Dances With Wolves. It is to this wound that Everson seeks to draw our attention in the last stanzas of his haunting poem "Black Hills," where he writes: "Suddenly I jump like a man stabbed.... but reaching down I feel blood on my thumb, / Where the bones of all the buffalo / Gashed my heel." Whether we know it or not, or whether we wish to accept it or not, we live in a land that was inhabited by a people who knew the true meaning of the word vocation, in the sense of a calling, and who sought it through the dark ordeal of the vision quest.
As a poet-shaman, Everson traces the structure of the vocational archetype to its atavistic roots in the historical past. In his examination of the literary field, what he finds in his descent into the American psyche are historical deposits in the cultural unconscious, images that make up the ground of our contemporary consciousness: "the gods which lie under the American earth."
We have used the interview format to bring the lyrical rhythms of American poetry to life and have tried our best to stay away from psychological terminology that fails to speak to the reader’s core Self, whether when discussing fields of literature, psychology, fine press printing, science, astronomy, religion, or the arts. Our mutual effort is to invite readers to participate in the process of transformation evoked by the electric quality of the poetry and to lead one to listen through dreams, fantasy-thinking, and emotional resonance for the call within. The interviews address themes that have been in the process of evolution in American poetry ever since they were first introduced by Emerson in his 1844 essay “The Poet.” They point to the importance of living in accordance with Nature and the lyrical rhythms of psyche, communing with animals of the soul, letting go of our heroism and accepting symbolic death as individuals and as a species, so that a new shamanism can be born in us. The dialogues are designed to lead readers into the central archetype of order and meaning in the psyche that unites the field of American poetry with the most profound findings of analytical psychology, what C. G. Jung called the “Self.” We are shown in the narrative that the central gateway into the mystery of psychological transformation is through vocational dreams, synchronistic events, and transformative relationships (Herrmann, 1998), which hold the key to the mystery of identity. Such transformative experiences remind us of our destined tasks in life in relation to the revolving panorama of psyche and attune our consciousness to our modest yet vitally important place in the cosmos. Our book challenges assumptions about the poet’s role in society by positing that the first and primary function of the poet is to speak to the collectivity as a shamanic seer, a visionary, and as healer of the human tribe. It is in this spiritual sense that I believe William Everson was the twentieth century’s greatest living witnesses to the power of the shamanic archetype to evoke the mystery of transformation as an American shaman-poet. My role, as a Jungian psychotherapist and writer, is to dispense the meaning of the mantle he wore in “Birth of a Poet” as living witness to his powers of Divinization. Eloquent Books has done a beautiful job with the front and back covers of the text and it is my great hope that these final interviews that Everson gave, prior to his death in 1994, and the poetry we discuss together, will continue inspire the interest of our readers. I have been told what a splendid sight it is to see the book in print after all these years, with the illuminated path on the book’s front cover-picture winding through the redwoods, with the golden glow of light inviting readers to enter the mystery of its printed pages.
Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT began his writing career in 1991 with an essay on the Santa Cruz poet William Everson. In 1997 he wrote his first paper for the C. G. Jung Institute Library Journal "The Visionary Artist." He has written many reviews on psychological and literary...