What is shamanic soul retrieval, who needs one and why?
How did the knowledge of this vital healing technique get forgotten about, and how is it being recovered today – in an age where its benefits are needed more than ever?
How can you tell whether you are suffering from soul loss, and would be helped by a soul retrieval?
All these questions are answered in this video, as well as a description of how the shaman retrieves the lost soul from the Other Worlds. Or just carry on to read it as article:
Soul retrieval is a very important aspect of shamanic healing that is vitally needed today.
However, you could be forgiven for not knowing about it … let alone why it’s needed. That’s because for thousands of years, shamanism has been pushed underground and, with it, this very important healing role that the shaman used to perform, known as ‘soul retrieval’.
Now before going into what soul retrieval actually is, and how it can help us all today, I want to just quickly clarify the term. The words “soul retrieval” imply that the soul has got lost and has to be retrieved, from somewhere. But our souls can never actually get lost, and I think it’s important that we know that … that our souls are safely held in trust from the cradle to the grave.
Unfortunately, what the shaman actually retrieves was lost in translation at the end of the 19th century, mainly because the anthropologists who brought back their reports about shamans to Western academia came from a Christian mindset. And so in their interviews with shamans, they misinterpreted the retrieving of fragments of personalities from the Other Worlds. Instead, they thought the shaman meant he was saving lost souls from the fire pits of Hell.
And to be fair to everyone, the shaman had probably been indocrinated by Christian missionaries too and was trying to please the anthropologists by referring to the Other Worlds in terms they could understand. Ever since the publication of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the 14th century, the Lower and Upper Worlds of the shaman had become firmly engraved in Western minds as Heaven and Hell. So you can see how such confusion could easily occur.
But it was also because we, in our civilisation, don’t actually have a word for what has got lost and needs the shaman to retrieve. The Jungian psychologists come close to it, when they talk of the Shadow side. This comes about through the splintering of the personality, which can be caused by a traumatic event. But otherwise, it doesn’t really capture the idea of a part of ourselves that, due to the unbearable pain of existence, projects itself off into another dimension and then gets stuck there.
We humans have a tendency to use this sort of astral projection of parts of ourselves as a coping mechanism. And the strategy works … as a means of self-protection in that moment of time. It’s a bit like what yogis do when they lie on a bed of nails. They astrally project themselves to be somewhere else, so that they have to feel the pain of the nails going into their physical body.
Some firewalkers also use that technique.
But over time, the more we have to perform this maneouvre, the more we become quite discombobulated to the point that we’re unable to deal adequately with what’s in front of us.
So much of our personality is now somewhere else, that we are in a state of disassociation. There just isn’t enough of us left here, grounded in the physical, for us to be able to successfully navigate our lives. So we can end up feeling that nothing is working for us anymore.
It is why we live in a world today of so many who seem to be in a sort of daze, like zombies. They have so much unresolved trauma – either physical or mental – and so are only capable of pursuing a very limited existence. There is no creative sparking of ideas to produce innovatory solutions to the challenges of their lives, because their thought processes run glacially slow.
To some indigenous peoples, they are known as the dispossessed. In Latin American cultures they are referred to as the preta or ‘hungry ghosts’ … roaming a dystopian inner landscape of their broken dreams, very much as Jimmy Ruffin once sang… I’m sure some of you will remember the words of his song:
As I walk this land of broken dreams, I have visions of many things. Love’s happiness is just an illusion, Filled with sadness and confusion… The fruits of love grow all around But for me they come a tumblin’ down… I walk in shadows, Searching for light. Cold and alone, No comfort in sight. Hoping and praying for someone to care, Always moving and goin’ nowhere. What becomes of the broken hearted Who had love that’s now departed? I know I’ve got to find Some kind of peace of mind Maybe.
Jimmy Ruffin’s Motown soul ballad, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, was such a worldwide hit in the summer of 1966 because it hit a nerve – it sang to us of the human condition which is so marked by what we call, although wrongly, soul loss.
However, we will have to stick with the nomenclature of soul retrieval and soul loss because those are the terms that everyone’s got used to … and it would be too confusing now to try to rename them. And we really don’t need that confusion over such a vitally necessary healing technique. I think that soul retrieval is one of the greatest contributions that modern shamans can make in helping to heal our fractured mind-body-spirit world today.
Now, I’m going to explain about why and how the soul gets lost, and then how the shaman brings it back. And I will also go into how you can tell if you would benefit from a soul retrieval?
What is soul loss and soul retrieval?
A Native American shaman once described soul loss and retrieval in this way, and I quote:
“…the shaman is absolutely necessary, for only he can see and capture souls. In the societies that, in addition to shamans, have medicine men and healers – these can treat certain maladies, but “soul loss” is always the business of the shaman. The flight of the patient’s soul may be due to many causes: dreams or traumas may have frightened it away, and the loss can cause sudden death.”
The shaman is able to use his knowledge of the topography of the Other Worlds to find a person’s lost soul, although I find it much easier to simply ask my spirit guide to take to me to where it’s hiding itself.
The loss of a soul features heavily in the myths of the Amazonian and Andean tribes, and also to some extent in South America, and that’s because they are scripts of plays from sacred theatre.
A myth from the Taulipang peoples of Venezuela is about the search for the soul of a child that the moon had carried off and hidden under a pot. The shaman puts on a play of his experiences in the Other Worlds, of going up to the moon and, then after many adventures, finding the pot and freeing the child’s soul.
These stories are metaphorical… for the purposes of theatre, when the whole tribe is gathered in a circle to witness the shaman acting out how he retrieved the lost soul. This is because the actual story of the recovery of the lost soul is as vitally important to the healing of the patient as the actual act of retrieval itself, and it is even more powerfully therapeutic when the whole community comes out in witness and support.
When I was in India, I heard about a local ayurvedic doctor who instead of prescribing herbs for a malady, would tell the patient a story. I’m sure this practice must come from an older Indian form of shamanic soul retrieval. This is because story and healing are much more intrinsically linked than we often realise in the West, where we believe a play or movie is just a form of light entertainment. This ignorance allows our minds to be easily programmed by those who do not have our best interests at heart.
Among the Apinaye people of Brazil, the shaman acts out going to the Land of the Dead in what must have been an exciting performance. At the sight of him, the dead are stricken with panic and flee, whereupon he captures the patient’s soul and brings it back to the body.
I can’t say that I’ve ever scared away the denizens of the Land of the Dead. In fact, I’ve always found them to be extremely helpful when I’ve been guiding the Deceased to their rightful destinations. But then I’ve never tried to retrieve a soul of a dead person. I’m not even sure that it would be approved of in our modern Western society, and in any case, I have great respect for the wisdom of the “Grim Reaper”. As the Father of Time, he always knows when the time is right.
Souls that don’t, or cannot, leave this life at the right time get stuck here as what we call ghosts. This can happen when the death is sudden and unexpected… for instance, with soldiers on the battlefield, or for civilians in a car accident that comes suddenly out of nowhere. But this is impinging on a different function of the shaman, which is known as psychopomping, and there’s a lot to it, so it will have to be another story for another day.
For now, let’s stick with soul loss. So how can you know if you are in need of a soul retrieval?
What are the symptoms of soul loss?
My own practise of soul retrieval is more in line with how Robert Moss, the author who writes about lucid dreaming, describes here… about how loss of the soul affects the lives of the living, and how it can be retrieved. He says:
“On a visceral level, we all know how soul loss comes about. We suffer pain or trauma or abuse, we are overwhelmend by grief or guilt or shame, and part of us goes away because it doesn’t want to stay in a world that seems so harsh and cruel.
“We are compelled to make a wrenching life choice, leaving a partner or a job or a home, and a piece of us resists that choice and parts company with our dominant personality, clinging to the old relationship or the old place.
“Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life.
“Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out – and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away.
“Good analysts and therapists can help us to recognize parts of ourselves we have repressed and denied, including the famous Shadow, the term especially favored by Jungians for what we have tried to relegate to the basement of the personal unconscious because we would rather not own it as a part of ourselves.
“But the shamanic concept of soul loss reaches further. It recognizes that soul healing is not only about retrieving and integrating aspects of the self that we have buried or denied; it is retrieving pieces of soul that have literally gone missing and need to be located and persuaded to return and take up residence in the body where they belong.”
Moss then goes to add that, in his own practice, he has identified five different forms of symptoms, or complexes of symptoms, which indicate that a soul retrieval may help.
• Loss of vital energy – like ME or chronic fatigue • Loss of younger self – feeling old before your time
• Loss of animal spirits – feeling separate to Nature
• Loss of ancestral soul – feeling alienated from the ancestors or natural tribe
• Loss of connection with the Greater Self – the archetypal Wasteland
There is a further symptom that I’ve identified in my practice, which could be called ‘continually revisiting the scene of the crime’…
A good example of this is when the soul loss occurs through the trauma of abuse from a loved one. Even though they may have managed to escape the violent situation, the person may continually find themselves, after that, in serial relationships with abusers. It’s almost as if they keep attracting to themselves the same unhealthy relationships – the identical patterns of adverse life events – because they feel they need, if only at the subconscious level, to keep revisiting the scene of the crime in order to discover what they’ve lost.
How does the shaman retrieve a lost soul?
The shaman goes into trance, usually by the beat of a drum, and journeys to meet with their spirit allies, who then guide the shaman to where the soul or soul part has lodged itself.
When the shaman finds it, it is in the same physical age and form as when the soul part fled. Sometimes, it is afraid and needs to be persuaded that it really is now safe to return. And then the shaman returns with it and blows it into the client’s body.
As I mentioned before, shamans know the terrain of the Otherworlds, and of certain key places that are often go-to refuges.
If the soul fled for some reason during childhood, it could well have ended up in what we call The Cave of the Children. We find children here who are often victims of such emotionally and physically painful abuse that it was intolerable for them to stay in their bodies, and they just fled.
In fact, the story of Peter Pan provides a good metaphor with the Lost Boys of Never Never Land and the little boy who refuses to grow up is a very good allegory for soul loss, where often there is arrested psychological development. Psychologists refer to this as the Peter Pan complex. And when Wendy sews back on Peter Pan’s shadow, it is a Jungian reference to shamanic soul retrieval.
In visiting The Cave of the Children, in the other worlds, I found the inspiration to write the chapter in my book The Bright World of the Gods about a cave of lost children, who had become disembodied and stuck there, on the astral plains, because they had been so badly traumatised and abused.
But they were not safe in the cave … one of them had to be sacrificed every day on an altar-like rock out at sea, to be a feast, while still alive, for the terrifying, sabre-toothed half lion, half serpent quinotaurs.
I felt this was a good metaphor for how we are when we are that child in the cave. We went there for protection, but we are not safe because, back here on Earth, a vital part of us is missing. So we’re not able to operate our lives with full intelligence and awareness, and thus so often run a-foul of those who would make a feast of us.
Another place we shamans sometimes get taken to by our spirit guides during a soul retrieval is what’s known as the Ocean of Souls, and so that features in The Bright World of the Gods too.
In fact, many of the locations I visit in the Otherworlds end up in my books, and particularly in the trilogy of The Glastonbury Chronicles. These places really do exist – just not in this world.
Anyway, once the soul part is located, we bring it back to our client and reintegrate it into their body who, by the way (in case you were wondering) does not have to visit any of these strange and surreal locations, but can just relax and doze off, if they want to, while the shaman does all the work.
So I hope this has gone some way to explaining a little about soul retrieval, who needs it and why, and how it works.
But do ask if something doesn’t makes sense. You’re welcome to leave a question in the comments. Although, in another way, it has to be said, none of this makes any sense to the rational conscious mind, while the irrational subconscious mind, which drives most our lives, absolutely loves it!