Shamanic Healing through Soul Retrieval

Shamans believe that we are all born with an amount of energy or power, which is enough to sustain us through life. But we can become attached to events or relationships with others (such as ex-lovers) and can give our energy away. Once this energy leaves us, it creates a ‘hole’ in our energy field which other energy can enter, which shamans call spirit intrusion. Or our own energy can continue to ‘leak away’, a situation known as soul loss.

In shamanic terms, therefore, illness comes about in two ways:

1. The loss of our power when we give away our energy, and
2. The entrance into our bodies of other, useless energy (shamans believe there is no such thing as ‘bad’ energy, just energy which is not helpful to us or which is in an inappropriate place)

The trick to maintain health or to recovering from illness is to recover the power (energy) we have lost. Soul retrieval is an effective way of doing this.

The practice of soul retrieval, in the last few years, has become seen by many people as a powerful alternative to psychotherapy, although shamanic healers would rather see it as an adjunct to therapy, since the approach itself is action-orientated rather than discussion-based or led by analysis.

Despite its name, soul retrieval is an intensely practical, ‘down to earth’, approach which produces surprisingly immediate and powerful results. It is also a very democratic procedure – everyone from high-pressured City financiers to labourers with back ache are turning to shamanic practitioners for help – this is not just a phenomenon for the therapied few looking for the latest head trip.

Debbie’s case is fairly typical of the reasons for seeking soul retrieval, and also illustrates the difference between retrieval and therapy, as well as the speed with which progress can sometimes be made.

Debbie lost her son in a tragic accident six years ago and has been in therapy ever since. Her depression and feelings of loss had improved over the years, but she still felt herself to be “incomplete”, even after six years. On her first guided shamanic journey, lasting just 20 minutes, she was introduced to her empowered self in the form of a power animal, or spirit ally, which represented her inner strength and courage.

“For the first time in a long, long time, I felt that I could go on”, she said. “I have never got this from therapy. I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel into a bright, warm light which is embracing and supportive. I have a future now”.

Part of the reason for the success of soul retrieval is its direct focus on the client in a totally holistic way. Soul retrieval supports the whole person and caters for their spiritual, mythic, and emotional needs, not just those of the body – the focus for conventional medicine – or the mind – the territory of the analyst.

The intense focus on the client does not fully explain why soul retrieval works so effectively, however. Whatever happens to the client during retrieval, it seems plain that they enter some other realm of understanding where their concerns are set in context against a bigger, deeper picture of reality. Here, for the first time, they see their true role and their unique place in the universe.

The shaman’s explanation is simple. Whenever we are traumatised, abused, hurt or neglected, parts of our soul split off and take refuge or become lost or trapped in what shamans call the ‘otherworlds’. Physical accidents, emotional trauma, abuse, childhood neglect, assault, and rape are a few of the more common reasons for visiting a soul retrieval practitioner. Love is also a culprit – sometimes an ex-partner will not or cannot return our soul parts to us when a relationship ends (“Till death us do part”) – and sometimes we give ourselves too freely in the first place (“All that I am I give to you”).

The soul part, faced with this hurt, takes flight. In itself, this is an action of positive healing and self-protection. It is only when the loss of this energy begins to have detrimental effects that the soul part needs to be returned.

Then, the task of the shaman in all cultures has been to search the otherworlds to find these fragments, or to guide the client so that she may enter this space to find them for herself, and then to bring them back. It is the return of these soul parts which explains the new feeling of wholeness on the part of the client, say the practitioners. The client is re-united with self and so, for the first time, actually can see their true situation and place in nature.

There is another aspect of healing here too. The shaman’s journey is a mythic, archetypal, one, the quest of the hero to find lost treasure, which, by its very nature, places the client at the centre of this drama, in a position of tremendous value. Just a few minutes into a typical soul retrieval consultation, the client – perhaps for the first time ever – has been listened to impartially, had their story believed and had a difficult and dangerous journey taken on their behalf by someone acting expressly in their interests. Perhaps they have also shared in the journey, an action of personal empowerment which automatically signals that they can change for the better and do have the strength and resources to do so.

Soul retrieval usually has three parts:

1. The shaman takes a journey for the client (or guides the client to take their own) to find the soul part (energy) they have given away. This is usually represented in human form as an image of the client at the time the energy was lost – so the shaman may see the adult client at the age of 6 for example in a situation of stress such as a car accident. It is not unusual for the shaman to be able to describe the child, the situation, what she is wearing, what she looks like, what is happening to her, etc, in some detail, and this is proved accurate on many occasions. The shaman will then recover this energy by holding the child to him and bringing her back to our reality. He then blows this energy into the client at the stomach and at the head. This returns the energy to the Energy Body. It sounds strange but it works, as the clients testify. This technique has been used by shamans for maybe 50,000 years.
2. The shaman guides the client to journey to find the soul parts of others that they may be holding on to. The client then asks these soul parts how they can be released and is often given a ritual or some other action to perform. This releases these parts back to their rightful owner.
3. The final stage is for the shaman to guide the client in journeying to the soul parts returned to her during the first meeting. She can ask questions of the soul parts, see any recurring patterns in her life where she is liable to give away her power (in relationships, for example) and help the soul parts themselves to reintegrate.

It is usual to leave a gap of at least 2 weeks between each of these stages, although most clients feel a beneficial effect very quickly. Many comment that they feel energy returning to them even as it is blown back into their bodies and 99% of people feel better within 2-3 weeks of a soul retrieval.

A typical soul retrieval session is as follows:

1. The shaman will purify and cleanse the room where the soul retrieval is to take place. This is done using smudge, a mixture of sacred herbs with cleansing properties. He will also smudge himself and the client.
2. The client and shaman discuss the problem and any symptoms.
3. The shaman decides whether he or the client should take this journey. If the latter, the client lies on the floor in a precise trance position and is given detailed instructions for the journey. The shaman maintains a steady beat throughout on a special medicine drum and will give the client other instructions as necessary.
4. When the client brings the soul part back, the shaman takes it and blows it into the Energy Body of the client, then uses a rattle to seal the soul part in by rattling around the client’s body four times.
5. There will then be a discussion of the client’s journey and the shaman may make further recommendations and observations.
6. The session ends again with smudging.
7. If the shaman is taking the journey, the stages are the same but the shaman himself returns the soul part and further explanation and discussion will be needed.

In order to do this kind of work, a soul retrieval practitioner must have developed considerable skills at journeying and have built a good working relationship with his own power animals and spirit allies. Contemporary shamanic practitioners can develop these skills at workshops now taught in America and Europe, where they will undertake many hours of supervised journeying into the otherworlds, and seek objects or energies which have been deliberately hidden.

One person may journey, for example, and then hide something, such as a personal symbol, in the otherworlds. Their partner must then enter that world and find it. Such ‘spiritual hide and seek’ is powerfully affirmative when something or someone hidden in this way is found by another with no prior knowledge of the person who is hiding, of their memories, the landscape of their personal world, or their interests. Far from being a land of imagination, a mental landscape, the otherworlds prove to be something much more – a transpersonal world which exists outside of us where our soul parts can find a home until it is safe for them to return.

“Think of a child lost in a deep wood, cold frightened and alone, who hears a warm voice singing a song of comfort and love, which he can follow back home and into the light”, is the way one contemporary shamanic practitioner explains soul retrieval.

Shamans have themselves been called ‘wounded healers’, reflecting the fact that most practitioners have been through a healing crisis of their own as part of their initiation into shamanism. Their survival and self-healing is testament to their ability to guide the client through similar distress and to find an outcome which works.

In Western societies it would probably be unique to find someone who had not suffered trauma, injury, neglect or abuse, or to have given themselves away to others in a dance of power and office politics. We all become more fragmented every day. But while Western physicians treat the body and psychoanalysts deal with the mind, the shamans are taking care of the soul.