We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole and great body.
– Joan Halifax
Shamans have been healing the living and the dead for forty thousand years. Shamanic healing deals with the spiritual aspects of problems and illness. In the shaman’s worldview, there are basically three common causes of illness.
1. The loss of one’s personal power can cause repeated misfortune, depression and chronic illness. When this happens, the shaman journeys in a trance state to find and retrieve the lost power in the form of a spirit animal.
2. Another cause of illness from a shamanic perspective is when a person has taken on negative energies which create blockages or pain in localized areas of the body. In this case, the shaman merges with a helping spirit, then works with the person to extract these intruded energies.
3. A frequent cause of illness is when a person loses a part of their soul. According to shamanic traditions, partial soul loss can occur during times of emotional or physical trauma. This loss of soul can result in depression, illness, addictions, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or even coma. The shaman tracks the parts of the soul that have fled and recovers them in a soul retrieval ceremony.
I have been a practitioner and teacher of shamanism here and in Europe for many years. I was in a wooden chalet on a writing retreat in the Swiss Alps the first time I heard about soul retrieval. I had a book with me that had a list of typical soul loss symptoms and a description of healing the soul through shamanic retrieval. Having even one of these symptoms (which I did), can be an indication of soul loss.
* Chronically ill as a child
* Problems with your immune system and your ability to resist illness
* Difficulty staying present in your body, feeling outside your body, looking in
* Feeling numb, deadened, apathetic
* Difficulty moving on after loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one
* Struggling with addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling
* Looking for external things to fill an internal void or emptiness
Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self
It became immediately apparent that soul retrieval was the next big step in my healing journey. I needed to have my vital core essence returned to me and with it a sense of joy, presence and wholeness. I looked out the small window, down to the alpine trail below. There stood an enormous bright red fox looking up at me, and I felt the power of the universe confirming my knowledge that my soul fragment wanted to come back home to me.
As I was growing up I noticed how some people changed after illness and loss. My grandmother was never the same after her beloved sister died tragically. And after her husband left her with five children to raise, my other grandmother remained completely stuck in the past. One girl in high school, who experienced an epileptic seizure out of the blue, was never present in the same way again, even though the condition was medically under control. Another family down the street whose handicapped daughter died, never recovered from the loss.
We all know people who, having gone through divorce, remain deadened for some time afterwards, or who, after a car accident or other personal tragedy, never fully recover their spirit. We see soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder, who feel that they are not completely here anymore.
These are all situations where the person may be suffering from the departure of a piece of their spiritual essence or soul. Soul is our vital essence and when it is fully present we radiate joy, vitality and life force. Soul loss can keep us from feeling our connections with others, from creating healthy relationships and from living the life we really want to live.
The shaman is concerned with the soul and its adventure – in all the realms the soul moves through, in all its stages – birth, life, and the passage through death and back into life again. (see Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy)
Where does the soul fragment go and how does the shaman track and retrieve what was lost?
Shamans divide the spiritual cosmos into three worlds; the Upper World, the Middle World, the Lower World. A missing soul essence may be found in any of these worlds.
Shamans most often use the beat of the drum to take them into an altered state of consciousness and carry them in spirit flight into the hidden universe of these worlds. Once there, they meet with their helping spirits, power animals and spirit teachers. It is the spirits who then lead the shaman to the places where lost soul essences are found. Working hand in hand with their spirits, the shaman retrieves the lost soul and carries it back to the person who is awaiting its return. The soul is sung back, blown into the body and welcomed home in a beautiful ceremony. This work takes training, great skill and compassion on the part of the shaman.
In my shamanic healing practice I have, for many years now, had the honor of helping people recover their souls and discover how to live from a place of renewed wholeness after the soul retrieval. Every practitioner experiences the spiritual worlds in their own ways. I often find lost souls waiting in the Great Forest of the hidden universe, in the Cave of Lost Children, in the Ocean of Souls and in the Void. Occasionally I discover a soul part is still in the Middle World, in the childhood home where a trauma occurred.
After the soul retrieval, life changes for the person. For some that change is major and immediately evident. For others it is more subtle as the returning essence enters into one’s present life. When welcomed home, the return of one’s soul can bring more enthusiasm back into life, help break old patterns and open up more choices in life.
All shamanic healing is a gift from the helping spirits.
The stars call out to you
the trees and streams sing your name
the moon and sun call out to you
the mountains, animals and ocean, too
saying, you belong to a greater whole,
you have a unity with all of life.
You are not alone.
Editor’s Note from Peter Clark: Soul retrieval is a central pillar of shamanic healing. Everything that a shaman does with regard to healing comes through the spirits, and this makes the process even more mysterious and ethereal than the most cutting edge high tech medical procedure. Many scientists and doctors would say that truly nothing has happened. But in case after case, distinct positive changes occur in the patient’s life after soul retrieval. These changes are often in the realm of the psyche or emotional state, but can just as easily be physical: distinct increases in energy, restored memories or physical abilities, restored bodily functions. The author of this article, Beth Beurkens, is a shamanic practitioner and teacher with decades of experience. She will be teaching a four day workshop in the practice of soul retrieval in Ashland, OR on September 13-16, 2012. See her website for more details.