Monday, October 15, 2012

Soul Retrieval

Soul Retrieval is a shamanic practice used by indigenous people to attempt healing through the reclamation of parts of the psyche that have become lost due to trauma. The basic theory is that when an individual harbors internal feelings of the self not being complete or whole, a part of the person detaches from the psyche and becomes lost or otherwise disconnected. A shaman maybe called in to explore the situation through 'journeying', astral travel or ritual, much in the same way as a counselor would use cognitive therapy to delve into the hidden areas of  the client's mind.

I became interested soul retrieval a few years back when I was exploring different methods of trace to connect with past lives. Soul retrieval is a shamanic practice that aims to re-integrate 'lost' parts of the psyche.  I was fortunate to be able to attend some workshops on the subject Michael Harner and his associate Sandra Ingerman.[ Sandra Ingerman, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self (2006); ISBN 978-0-06-122786-8]

Having attended these workshops and read a number of books on the subject, I can honestly state that I prefer the Harner/Ingerman methods because they they address 'soul loss' from a psychological as well as spiritual one. I am aware of various theories, including the recapitulation technique of Carlos Casteneda, and I personally do not believe that the problem is singularly psychoanalytical and kept in the deep memory of the individual as he suggests, but psycho-spiritual in nature. From my perspective you cannot have one without the other, as both areas need to be addressed to make the retrieval effective.

There is a variety of reasons for soul loss: a wish to escape an abusive situation where upon a part of the soul leaves to escape harm, to avoid a traumatic event suck as an accident. Theoretically a part of the soul can be taken by a lover, or a departed loved one.A mother may give away part of herself to her child. These are all procedures which lead to a type of protection which in psychology would be termed a form of disassociation.In many cases this is temporary and the missing portion returns on its own. Other times it becomes necessary to assist the individual in becoming whole again, usually through the employment of shamanic techniques.

Our language reflects this subconscious depletion. We speak of "giving my heart" or "giving myself away" or "giving a situation my all", when in reality what has taken place is a loss of a piece of the self. This type of exchange may at first seem to be reasonable and noble, but rationally unwise because you cannot give away a "piece" of your self  (psyche) to another person and remain a healthy and fully integrated individual.

You cannot empower another person by giving them a 'piece' of yourself, as each of us are unique. To do so causes the individual with the missing piece  not to be fully present within themselves. How often have you heard it said that someone feels like they have a hole or a void inside them? This is unconscious acknowledgement of that which  is missing.Even if you love someone madly and deeply, you cannot-you must not-"give yourself away". The reason is simple: you need all of who you are, all of what you have become, to be the very best individual you can be. Giving a part of yourself away to someone, even if you love them, means you are no longer the same person they fell in love with. The result is often expressed in statements such as, " I lost a piece of myself" Or " I feel my heart was stolen."...which are truer statements than we realize.

We have lost legitimate  understanding of what it is to loose a piece of ourselves because we are so often out of touch with our inner selves. We are no longer readily able to communicate with that which resides in our deep and shadowy places: the relationship between the mundane and spiritual is not just a gap, it's a chasm. That's why the issue of soul loss has been relegated to the psychologists and shaman to act as intermediaries.

Soul stealing is another version of soul loss, one where the piece of the individuals psyche is taken by force. A good example is the domination of an abuser over his/her victim. Another is being afraid of loosing someone, so you unintentionally take a piece of that person so you will always have them with you. While it is at a glance rationally reasonable to do such a thing, the one who "takes" or  "borrows" is in effect weakening the other individual, leaving them with a wounded psyche.

"Take it!
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good."
~ Janis Joplin

It may make for cool lyrics in a rock song, but the fact is that taking another little piece of some one's heart (soul) strikes a devastating blow to their psychological integrity. Soul loss is a form of disassociation which can cause depression and loss of interest in things that normally gives the individual pleasure. It leaves you with the feeling that something is missing in your life...and it is.The void left crumbles away at the edges, leaving you feeling incomplete,helpless and ultimately worthless.

I find it interesting that the individual who has lost a piece of his or her soul to another person or situation often wishes to return physically to the place where the loss occurred. How often have you read of someone returning to their hometown after many years to 'face' their fears or to reconcile themselves with a particular personal event? I believe this is done by the individual in the hope that the lost part of themselves can be found there. The physiological event known as 'shock' is the loss of balance within the systems of the body: this also includes the regaining of equilibrium when the 'self' or 'soul' fully reenters the body. Until then, the person may feel disoriented.

Consultation with a shamanic practitioner concerning soul loss would result in that individual performing various techniques and rituals which would include astrally journeying  through trance in search of the client's lost soul fragments. Once located, it could possibly require another session in which to retrieve them, where upon the individual pieces would need to be ritually returned to the body until the soul's essence is once again felt to be in balance. It is a rare occurrence that the individual would be able to do this for themselves. This is where the objectivity of a skilled practitioner comes into play. The interpersonal exchange of being comforted by another during the process of  healing is a key element in this ritual, because the act is usually energetically and psychically exhausting. This is why I personally recommend the event take place in a ritual performed in sacred space.

I am not saying you cannot be active in your own healing; my point is that the process of journeying and the actual retrieval are very intense, and you will most certainly be energetically drained, perhaps so much so that you would be weakened to the point of being unable to complete the process properly. Engaging an experienced, knowledgeable practitioner who is aware of this and can reliably monitor the proceedings is paramount to a successful soul retrieval. 

For more information on methods of soul retrieval, visit:


  1. Thank you for a wonderfully integrated discussion on the topic. I also very much subscribe to the Jungian concepts of psychospirituality and the fact that the two aspects are indelibly connected and impossible to separate. I think the frequent failure of modern therapy is wound up in the failure to approach and address the spiritual aspects of the psyche.
    Carl Jung said “I simply believe that some part of the human self or soul is not subject to the laws of space and time. Suffering a loss of soul, a condition that sadly is everywhere present today.” I agree with him.
    I so enjoy your blog. Thank you for offering a lovely and intelligent review of many topics.

  2. I am often reminded that Jung's epitaph is " Bidden or unbidden, God is present" Thank you for reading.


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