jim morrison shamanEvolution of the Electric Shaman:
Jim Morrison's Journey Beyond Shamanism

Within the lexicon of material available on Jim Morrison, there is very little exploration into his spiritual life. We know that he felt those Doors performances which were successful were so because they transcended the concert experience to become a group cleansing and healing ritual. We know that he looked to Shamanism as a model for these ritual experiences. But if we look to his entire body of work, we find some surprising evidence that he possessed a deep well of spiritual and metaphysical knowledge which he employed in his written work, his performance, and indeed his entire life.

Just as seemingly impossible parallels, similarities and synchronicities may be observed in apparently unrelated events, so if we choose to look beyond our own limited reality as human beings, we find that evolution is the driving force not only in physical life forms, but also throughout the universe. The human experience, while indeed the focus of our universe, is not the pinnacle of our evolution. Just as we have evolved to become human, we will evolve beyond human, in our eternal journey back to God.

[With only a handful of exceptions, all religions which have come into being over time on this planet have had as their central focus a supreme creative force, which is called by many names. When I use the term God, I am referring to this supreme creative force, and not any particular definition of that force as set forth by any particular religious doctrine.]

All religions approach the concept of God in their own unique way, and while there are many who hold firmly to the belief that theirs is the one religion, in reality, all religions hold some seeds of a greater truth. For we as human beings must each have our own unique experience. It is simply not possible for any one system of beliefs to encompass all of human experience.

Just as we, as human beings, evolve through a series of incarnations, so must our spiritual tools evolve with us. It is the unfortunate fact that the majority of religions, though born of new ideas - even revelation - very quickly become static, out of the practitioners' belief that they have discovered an ultimate truth, and their subsequent attempt to hold on to that truth. Once the new belief system is crystallized, it becomes doctrine, and the religion begins to lose its validity in an ever-evolving universe. It is my belief that Jim Morrison, through his unique experience of Shamanism, augmented by his study of metaphysics and Eastern Philosophy and possibly other traditions, was experimenting with new, more evolved, and evolving experiential religious forms.


Shamanism is one of numerous pre-Christian ecstatic/experiential religions, usually associated with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, although it was also practiced by certain tribes of Northern Asia and Europe. Traditionally, the Shaman or Medicine Man, was the clan's spiritual leader, healer and mediator between the tribe and the spirit world. Through numerous techniques - including dance, music, psycho-active plants, food and sleep deprivation - the Shaman brought on periods of altered consciousness in a process designed to open him to communion with his ancestral spirits and spiritual guides.

If you compare certain events in the life of Jim Morrison to certain expected events during the course of the traditional Shaman's life, there is much to suggest that Jim Morrison was indeed called to the vocation, albeit through a life much removed from the majority of elements usually associated with the life of the traditional Shaman.

The vocation of Shaman is considered a calling which cannot be refused, and is traditionally initiated in one of three ways:

1) The shaman is born into a traditional family, and is raised with the vocation from childhood.

2) The individual realizes the vocation through a personal vision quest.

3) The individual is “called.”

Jim would be considered one who was called. This often happens in childhood, frequently precipitated through an extremely unusual event in which the child may have contact with a being in spirit, possibly divine, possibly the soul of an ancestor. Jim's experience on the New Mexico highway as a five-year-old is an excellent example of this type of "calling" experience. And while his family states that they do not recall the event, this in no way negates its authenticity. This type of ecstatic event can occur to one individual and be very real, and at the same time be veiled from the conscious experience of his companions.

While driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, the family came upon an overturned truck. Beside the truck, and scattered along the highway, were numerous passengers, one of whom was a Medicine Man who was in the process of passing into spirit. Throughout his life, Jim could vividly recall the spirit of this shaman entering his own body when he died. This was the initial calling and meeting with his guide, according to tradition. Another important element of shamanic tradition was also accomplished through this event. The calling is nearly always facilitated through crisis, followed by a period of spiritual derangement and subsequent rearrangement, but this event also marks Jim's “consecration” through a symbolic death and resurrection ritual. This symbolic encounter with death and subsequent rebirth is typical of the initiation ritual of all ecstatic religions.

Traditionally, young shaman initiates were taught by an elder, as were the priests and priestesses of other ecstatic religions. In more recent history, many have received a greater degree of their teaching through solitary practice in trance, meditation, dreams, etc. Clearly, this was the method by which Jim's apprenticeship was accomplished. Regardless of the method however, periods of solitude are an important part of the process. His time on the Venice rooftop was clearly an intensive period of solitary spiritual practice, followed by numerous short periods of time in his life when he would again choose solitude.

Shamans by nature are creative beings, and are often artists, poets and singers as well as spiritual leaders. Part of the mission of the Shaman is to teach others, through his own example, to transcend ordinary waking consciousness, and in the process, to realize the illusionary nature of separation. [This is a realization which is of paramount importance in many traditions.] In addition to the examples Jim set through his performance, he had the reputation of testing boundaries - of provoking others to come face-to-face with their own boundaries, providing them the opportunity to step beyond their personal limitations, thereby transcending small segments of their personal realities.


In ritual communion, the Shaman invokes a trance state within the tribe. Once in the trance state, clan members can participate much more fully than they would in ordinary waking consciousness, enabling the experience of catharsis and group healing. Traditionally, these rituals were facilitated through the use of music and dance, and were held in the evening hours. As previously mentioned, Jim saw the Doors' concerts as his communal ritual with his tribe, attempting to affect a similar group trance and healing. The healing ritual often includes spinning and circle dancing, as well as piercing screams, and cries which can only be described as “animal sounds,” all designed to drive the sickness from the patient or group. Jim exhibited all these behaviors in performance. His movements often became spasmodic as he circled the microphone stand. [This dance is very similar to a ritual in which the Shaman circles a small tree or other phallic symbol.]

In the healing process, the Shaman is often called upon to take the illness upon himself, in order to heal the patient. In this way, the Shaman becomes a scapegoat, often suffering much more than the patient himself. Jim Morrison described his role as artist to Lizze James in Creem magazine, as both shaman and scapegoat. He believed his audience projected their fantasies onto him, and lived them vicariously through him - in the end, condemning him for his courage to live the fantasies they themselves were too fearful to attempt. He revisited this concept numerous times - in The Lords, for example, he described this role as the “heroes who live for us, and whom we punish.”

Although the tradition often employs psycho-active plants to various degrees, the Shaman's art is accomplished through the state of consciousness; drugs are merely one of the vehicles used to achieve that state of consciousness, and are often discarded once one has achieved the ability to attain altered states of consciousness without them. After his intensive period of LSD use, Jim abandoned it completely, often stating that he could take the trip without the drug.

Shamans, as well as practitioners of other ecstatic religions, also share an intimate connection with a power animal; a "familiar' or a “totem” animal. This parallels Jim's obsession with snakes and lizards; obsession being an apt description, as native peoples often carve small stone animals, known as “fetishes,” in the shape of their personal power animal.


I believe it is clear that Jim's experience fulfilled the criteria of the Shaman's role. Further exploration into his work reveals that he expanded upon the traditional practice tremendously; broadening the tools, techniques, belief system and responsibilities of the role for a new and far greater group of people. This time-honored tradition of healing and spiritual development, indigenous to the New World, provided an excellent basis for Jim to adapt to the evolving consciousness of the American youth of his time - a generation which was clamoring for a more expansive and directly experiential path to God than that which was available through the organized religions of their own ancestors.

Archetypal references inherent to shamanism and other nature-based religions appear throughout Jim's work. These are the most basic of symbols - fire, the sun and moon, blood/the ocean - symbols which refer to the sacred wheel of life, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth - known in other traditions as the wheel of karma. Also prevalent in his work are post-modern, apocalyptic references; visions of a world of corruption, nearly devoid of the life force. Through these references, it would appear that Jim felt a responsibility to heal which was far greater than the boundaries of the traditional clan. Practicing his art on a global scale, he shouldered a responsibility which any shaman practicing in more traditional groups was never called upon to attempt. I believe this may have played a significant role in his need to move beyond the limitations of tradition.

While we have no direct knowledge of his study of other traditions, Jim's poetry contains an abundance of references which would indicate a significant study of Eastern philosophy, as evidenced by the high-level metaphysical concepts he presents in his works Yoga Powers, and it's later version, Power, as well as his song Universal Mind. Other stunning metaphors are his frequent use of the motel, a perfect model for the many pockets of individual reality which reside within the greater consensus reality, as well as the phrase “the romance of stones,” indicating the attraction which exists between even the apparently inanimate - the universal call to unity which drives the evolutionary force. These are concepts which suggest far more than a casual knowledge of metaphysics. They are indicative of the ways in which Jim expanded upon the traditional belief system of Shamanism.

It is unfortunate that we do not have any indication whose teachings he might have read, but it is clear that his study was conducted through reading as well as dream and waking spiritual experience, rather than through a direct physical relationship with a guru. As in Shamanism, it is also quite possible to undertake this study with a divine being who resides in spirit, and I believe that the lack of evidence of such study within the confines of the physical world is a good indication that his study of Eastern philosophy and metaphysics was indeed pursued in this manner.

While examples of other specific religious study are not so clear, what is clear is his interest in numerous other schools of philosophy, as well as artistic processes which are ecstatic in nature. This presents further possibilities for expansion of his tools and techniques beyond those of traditional shamanism. A good example of this is Surrealism, which was very important to Jim's creative work. Surrealism was based on the premise that derangement and rearrangement of the senses would break through the limitations which exist in human belief systems, ultimately, in this case, for the sake of producing a more “pure” art.

In my estimation, Jim's shamanic experiences were absolutely valid, but while he chose to use the title, in reality it is far too limiting to encompass the tremendous breadth of spiritual experience and knowledge he employed in his life and work. He displayed true wisdom in his ability to be open to the truth inherent within a source, without blindly acquiescing to any doctrine. This is wisdom which can only be acquired by the genius of a highly evolved human being, and gained through one's own experience and one's powers of discernment. Using the basic tools of Shamanism as his format or vehicle, Jim applied the knowledge he gained from his study of metaphysics and Eastern philosophy, and in allowing his approach to evolve, he ultimately moved beyond the confines of tradition, creating a new paradigm which held far more meaning for him, and ultimately for those of us he touched.

Shamanistic influenced art designs have been making a comeback over the last few years. Mushrom and other shamanic-related designs can be found on popular hard enamel pins worn by many young people today.

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Evolution of the Electric Shaman: Jim Morrison's Journey Beyond Shamanism