Soul Retrieval: The Shamanic Nature Of The Soul
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.
::~ C.S. Lewis
The shaman’s toolbox is a personal and intimate gathering of powers. Some shamans learned through direct experience, others gleaned through master teachers, and still, others are simply gifted in the thrall of journeying to the depths of the invisible realms.
A few tools are so foundational, nearly every shaman utilizes them. Soul retrieval is one such tool. Not only is it universally effective, but it’s also the pervasive root cause of illness overlooked by many in the medical field.
The shaman performs soul retrievals, which are the result of soul loss. The basic idea is this: as traumas occur, little pieces of us take flight or run away. This is called soul loss. A soul retrieval gathers the soul’s “parts” and ushers them home.
Let’s break this down a few ways so we can understand why this spiritual illness is so damaging.
Navigating Soul Loss
The soul is our most basic life force. As soon as the soul leaves, the body dies. Anyone who has been with a loved one at the moment of passing can tell you once the soul departs, the person looks different, empty even.
Our soul is multi-faceted and complicated, to say the least. Not only does it venture through lifetimes, but it may even leave our body occasionally and visit other places. Shamanic journeying, astral projection, and remote viewing are examples of the soul taking an escapade, but not fully departing the physical body.
The soul can explore realms and come back. In a soul loss, however, parts of it venture off and stay gone until we come lookin’.
Soul loss occurs through a number of ways and for a number of reasons — from physical or sexual abuse to traumatic situations, or even just a bad fight. No one knows with certainty why a soul aspect decides to depart, but it’s a common occurrence and one rarely addressed in our modern society.
Soul loss cannot be prevented. It’s simply part of the package in this human condition, and one that can be normalized so it doesn’t sound as startling as the name suggests.
Shamans look for hints that soul loss has occurred. When they find clues, soul retrieval is a next step to restoration for the client.
Here are some red flags that may suggest soul retrieval needs to take place
- You may notice a part of you feels dead or lost.
- You were in an accident years ago and haven’t been the same since.
- There’s a long-gone relationship that you’ve never been able to shake.
Common symptoms of a soul loss include
- Feeling incomplete
- Feeling stuck and not knowing how to move through it, or
- Feeling not like yourself, disconnected from those you love.
Not all traumas cause soul loss and, in some instances, a piece may just decide it’s all too much and hightail it outta there. I had one piece do exactly that: she wasn’t happy with the choices I was making as a young adult — I enjoyed my drinking phase, while she found it destructive!
Though we cannot prevent soul loss, we can become energetically sensitive enough to recognize when something is off. With this skill, we can do our own psychic maintenance to ensure total wellbeing.
Activating Soul Retrieval
Soul retrieval is a favored tool in shamanic healing. It can be the much-needed blessing in any number of situations to bring the soul back to wholeness.
The healing session is much like a massage — lying down in a comfortable space — while the shaman works. Your shaman uses an ancient technique of “journeying” into the spirit realm to find the pieces of your soul that are ready to come back.
Journeying is the most trusted tool of the shaman (though to you, it may just look like someone with their eyes closed). Drums often help set the tone and aid in the voyage. Since you’re lying on the table, chances are it sounds pretty soothing!
The retrieval itself is incredibly interesting. In some cases, the parts are eager to come back, excited to once again experience the physical world. Other times, the parts are still repeating the trauma that sent them away in the first place, and they need sweet-talking…or even negotiation.
In one of my personal soul retrievals, I had a soul aspect who agreed to come back only if I soaked in a bath weekly. To her, this was an important need that wasn’t being met. To keep her around and bring completion to the healing, I needed to nurture her — and myself — more. Pretty cool, right? A perfect example of requiring negotiation before she agreed to return.
When the retrieval is complete, the shaman may blow on your head, heart, and/or stomach to help the pieces land back in their home.
The pieces who do come back act as blessings, helping us feel more complete, content, and purposeful. Our heart space opens wide to receive them, and whatever ailed us may be lifted. Heavy emotions, once centerstage, are lessened in intensity. All of this allows for better flow, appreciation, and a return to passion and vitality.
Once the retrieval is complete, your job is to celebrate their return and make them feel welcome! Talk to them, follow through with the requests they made, and do your best to avoid another departure. It may also help to write and share their story so you don’t repeat it!
In this traditional world of invisible medicine, it’s empowering to know that such tools are available. In all cases, find someone you trust or get referrals. Since this is energy work, we all navigate it differently and require our own unique subtleties.
Crocodiles and Plant Medicine: Lessons of the Modern Shaman
Crocodile came to me recently in ceremony. At first I was startled by his appearance, feeling I have already embraced every shadow aspect of myself he represents. Since his visit, however, I have spent time welcoming him and examining the teachings he now brings.
Crocodile/Snake holds our basal self, our deepest fears and lesser-evolved leanings which are held in the reptilian brain. In sacred ceremony and spiritual initiations, it is snake or crocodile who confronts you to face and embrace that which you fear most. His personal challenge to me: “You’re not a true shaman. You don’t work in the rain forest, you don’t ingest plant medicines, and you’re falsely holding your craft, thereby misleading those you serve.”
On more than one occasion I have been questioned and warned against calling myself a shaman. I haven’t studied in the jungle, I don’t have any hint of bronzed pigment in my Irish skin, and I don’t have a Maestro or don teaching me the ways. My path is unique in devoted past-life reclamation, shamanic journey, and an early proclamation at five-years-old that I would be a shaman. I was born ready and haven’t looked back. However, the thorny challenges still arise.
Enter the internal struggle of spirit and shadow. It’s brought me to a place of deep self-inquiry and an eventual and potent reclamation. It’s also offered me a new perspective on the path of the modern shaman.
What is a Shaman?
When asked, “What is a shaman?” my easiest answer is “someone who works in the invisible spaces to bring peace and healing to those whom they are in service.”
“Shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.”
In Cave and Cosmos, Michael Harner suggests it is simply “one who knows.”
Core and Indigenous Shamanism
The big divide in the shamanic communities lies between those who work in the rain forest with the lineage of indigenous wisdom in their blood; and so-called Plastic Shamans who have no connection to the cultures and traditions they represent.
As shamanism has gained prevalence in the modern era, “core shamanism” has become the accepted term for those who use the methods of the shaman but have not been raised in the traditional cultures. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has reintroduced the shamanic journey for self-healing, while the Psychonauts have lead a revolution through chemically assisted self-inquiry. Both are valid paths that differ greatly from a jungle education. While the efficacy of the practice is all that should matter, there still lies a division.
Another crucial distinction for indigenous shamans is their relationships with the plants. Dietas are ceremonial ingestions of plant medicines that teach the shaman how to walk between and within the astral worlds. Any number of teacher plants are used, from tobacco to ayahuasca. These ceremonies are performed with great reverence and honor and remain within sacred guidelines as sincere spiritual endeavors to deepen the path of the seeker. The illusion of this world fades away and great insights are gained, revealing the true nature of one’s own soul.
Freakin’ awesome when done in this sacred space, right?
I, however, am a different kind of shaman. I traverse the dimensions without the use of hallucinogens. Drums, deep meditation, and the psychic connection with spirits and plant allies, for me, have been enough. And Croc challenged me on this also: “Is your plant abstinence genuinely enough to gain such an alliance with the spirit realms?”
In the modern world, our relationship to the plants is vastly different than that of the indigenous shaman. We don’t commune with them personally, nor do we seek to hone their wisdom. As a result, contemporary seekers often misuse the medicines. In my younger days, I experimented with mushrooms recreationally. I found them an expansive and uplifting dalliance that only affirmed my path as a seer and healer. Yet I took them with no noble intent.
Recently, I found myself called to work more closely with the plants in ceremonial space and felt conflicted. My ego holds my hallucinogenic refrain as a badge of honor — a way of ensuring the purity of the messages received. And yet I found myself deeply appreciating the plant spirits again, in great awe and gratitude for the teachings they shared.
And what they shared was this: I’ve connected more than sufficiently with the plant spirits. I learn and walk beside them every day to offer blessings to my community. I need not ingest them, for they have been my allies all along!
In a recent Aubrey Marcus podcast, Astral Snakes and Binaural Beats (episode 59), Cory Allen shared his most recent devotion is not in using the plant medicines, but rather simply being in the astral plane without any enhancements. Under the influence of the medicine, “The consciousness of the plant is with you in that space and colors your vision of that space. If you get there without it, you are completely you and you are on your own.” Boom, validation! And Croc began to smile.
What I realized was, it all comes back to me not having any allies, any perceptions, any filters on my experience in these worlds. The mark of the shaman is not who they are when they’re on the medicines or how they handle these energies inside of them. It is who they are in the absence of any aids at all!