Last October I was asked to perform an informal blessing of the animals at my local community church on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I knew little about St. Francis beyond his designation as patron saint of ecology and the animals, so when he showed up as a choice for a research project for my interfaith seminary program, I dug in.
Despite years of working with guides during Shamanic Reiki sessions and in journeys, my logical mind tends to question what is going on when I am being called by Spirit to take some action. I project those doubts onto the visions of others, too, and wonder if their visions are just something they have conjured up in their imagination or the result of mental illness. All those questions surfaced when I read about Francis’ early life.
Francis, it turns out, liked to party. He came from wealth and privilege and behaved like a spoiled teenager. Francis thought it would be cool to be a knight, got himself top-of-the-line armor, and joined the army. Shortly after, Assisi went to war with Perugia and Francis’ first battle went horribly for Assisi. All of Francis’ friends and compatriots were killed, but Francis was taken prisoner because his expensive armor gave away his family’s wealth.
Francis was held prisoner in Perugia for a year while his ransom was negotiated. While imprisoned, Francis became seriously ill and began to receive messages from God.
Whoa. When I read that my alarm bells went off. Francis must have been insane, starving, or fevered when he “heard God,” right?
Contemplating further, I realized that most of the shamans and mystics I was aware of were fasting, praying, chanting, dancing, or meditating to intentionally alter their consciousness when they meet their guides. I use breathwork, drumming, and journeying to get myself in a receptive state. Perhaps the conditions of Francis’ imprisonment mimicked some of those practices, in the way that the initiation rites for shamans in some cultures did. Was St. Francis a shaman?
In one of his writings, Francis called his many illnesses “sisters,” which I interpret as acknowledging them as companions on his spiritual journey. I believe Francis understood that his illnesses created altered states which allowed him to hear messages from God, who was the spiritual guide of his understanding. While I suspect the Church would object to classifying St. Francis as such, in my mind he will always be a shaman.