A sacred balance

Book cover - The Shaman's QuestNevill Drury: The Shaman’s Quest

The Shaman’s Quest, first published in 2001, is a quartet of stories converging in a shorter final scene. Each of the first four imaginatively reconstructs the initiation and training of a shaman in a different culture (Inuit, Central Australian Aboriginal, Japanese and South American) and the finale brings the initiates together in a mystic meeting place beneath the world where “the Song of the Great Spirit spoke of … how the sacred earth had been spoiled and tarnished by the wrongdoings of the people … [but now] the world would be reborn, and new life would flow through its veins … and the poisons which now choked the land and oceans would be cleansed and washed away.”

The language and imagery are beautiful but, reduced to its barest bones, Nevill Drury’s message here is that we have messed up the world but we don’t actually need to do anything because the Great Spirit will fix it up for us. I couldn’t help thinking of a caustic movie review I read a little while ago: “Its heart is in the right place, but where is its brain?”

Rachael Kohn, of ABC Radio’s The Spirit of Things, is quoted on the cover as saying that The Shaman’s Quest is a perfect spiritual companion to Suzuki’s The Sacred Balance. There is indeed a connection but Suzuki is factual and practical as well as ethical.

Drury has apparently written forty books on shamanism and visionary consciousness, some of which are thoughtful studies of New Age religion, but this one is pure wishful thinking. The irritating thing is that it doesn’t need to be: for goodness’ sake, how hard would it have been for him to have his Song of the Great Spirit tell the four shamans to return to their people and inspire them to start repairing the damage? This aspect of The Shaman’s Quest exemplifies the worst failing of New-Ageism, its retreat from reality.

Religion as such is not the problem, however. A few minutes online will find literally millions of sites about religious approaches to caring for the world – Christian, Buddhist), Islamic (crosscurrents.org/islamecology and others), Baha’i (search), Taoism (search), Hinduism (search) and many more.

That’s not to say that all religious people are conscious of their responsibility for the environment (wish they were!), but that environmentalism is in complete accordance with the central teachings of all the major religions.

2 thoughts on “A sacred balance”

  1. Amitav Ghosh, a far better (and more highly regarded) novelist than Drury, commits the same error in his recent (2019) Gun Island, a novel which returns to the Sundarbans a generation after his wonderful The Hungry Tide. His theme is now environmental degradation and the treatment is magical-realist: psychic bonds, voices from beyond the grave, and protective deities intervening to save us from ourselves.
    His concern for the state of the planet is absolutely serious, as he showed in his The Great Derangement (non-fiction, 2016) and I do thank him for bringing environmental problems to an audience which might not otherwise think about them, but I can’t help wishing the positive final vision of his novel had been grounded in powerful human action.

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