by Kate Durda and Stephanie Tighe

This is part of a continuing series of articles about the spiritual healing practice of Shamanism, what it is, and how it can be of help to us with respect to healing and living fuller and healthier lives.

What is Soul Loss ?

First, what is "SOUL" ... from a shamanic perspective?"Soul is our essence. It is our vitality, our life force. Basically it’s what keeps us alive." Sandra Ingerman, a counseling psychologist, shaman, and arguably the leading practioner of soul retrieval in the world gave this answer in an interview (One Mind,One Spirit-Jan./Feb.1994) . Working with this defintion of soul, what then is "Soul Loss"? Ingerman lists the following questions in her book, "Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self"(p. 23).

* Do you ever have a difficult time staying "present" in your body? Do you sometimes feel you are outside  your body observing it as you would a movie?

* Do you ever feel numb, apathetic or deadened?

* Do you have problems with your immune system, or trouble resisting illness?

* Were you chronically ill as a child?

* Do you have gaps in your memory of your life after age five?

* Do you struggle with addictions, for example, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or gambling?

* Do you find yourself looking to external things to fill up an internal void or emptiness?

* Have you had difficulty moving on with your life after a divorce or the death of a loved one?

* Do you suffer from dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality syndrome?

Answering "yes" to any of the above questions may mean you are dealing with "soul loss", according to Ingerman. This has different interpretations and descriptions depending upon the modality of healing one is engaged in as well as the symptoms exhibited (for ex. dissociation, energy loss, post-traumatic-stress, depression, etc.) It is, however, commonly agreed that the organism, in order to survive, engages in a protective process so that the body and psyche do not have to experience the full impact of traumatic circumstances. Some comtemporary events that might trigger soul loss include trauma like accidents, verbal or sexual abuse, fright, rape, abortion, miscarriage, divorce, death of loved one, even accumulated suffering over time (such as chronic oppression over time, or living in a culture that is violent and promotes unhealthy living). The protective response is a normal process, and often the "energies" or "soul parts" in shamanic terms, return in time.

Sometimes , however, dependent upon the level of stress experienced, the soul parts can be "lost". This means that the energy or essence that was affected by the trauma is no longer available to the individual, that they are "not all there" after the traumatic experience. In indigenous Shamanic cultures, historically, the problems caused by the trauma were seen as being a result of "soul loss". The ancient cultures believed soul could be lost, frightened off or even "stolen" by others. The shaman would perform a "Soul Retrieval" in order to return the soul part, thereby restoring health and normal functioning to the individual. This powerful healing technique has been brought into our contemporary healing culture due to the renewed interest in shamanism. Ingerman has been one of the leading proponents of returning this healing practice to the culture.

There are varying degrees of soul loss. A person in a coma, for example, is considered to have experienced severe soul loss, while the extreme of entire loss of soul results in death. Soul loss is also a very individual experience. What one person experiences as severe trauma causing soul loss may for some inexplicable reason not harm another person as severely. An Australian aborigine unfamiliar with "modern" culture might experience soul loss at the sound of an alarm clock, whereas many of us are accustomed to this noise. Soul loss can also be cumulative, as in the case of chronic stressors or oppression at work, home, or school. If a child is continually teased by peers every day, they may numb out repeatedly until part of their soul leaves.

Why Do a Soul Retrieval?

Soul retrieval is very important for the individual’s well-being and health. Not only can it alleviate the symptoms and problems described above, it also just as importantly can prevent more serious physical and mental problems from developing. Carolyn Myss (in her book "Anatomy of Spirit" p41) addresses the example of depression as a symptom that " all is not well". As she points out, depression is "generally considered an emotional or mental disorder. But prolonged depression often precedes the development of a physical illness. In energy terms, depression literally is a release of energy - or life-force, if you will - without consciousness. ....without energy you cannot support your health". The definition of soul loss is loss of energy, soul parts, that left due to trauma. How much energy can we afford to live without? Both dwelling on the past , as well as allowing blockages and continued holding of trauma drain energy and can lead to serious illness and even death.

In our culture, psychologcal counseling/therapy is one of the commonly accepted methods of treating such conditions caused by soul loss, yet some mental health and other healing professionals find that this approach may not be effective in all circumstances. Some people can be in therapy for years and still not recover what is missing. Ingerman herself (with a degree in Counseling Psychology) finds that " psychotherapy only works on the parts of us that are "home", that is, present for the individual. In an interview in "Yoga Journal" (Sept/Oct. 1994), she discusses a situation where a young child, abandoned by her parent at an early age , may wonder as an adult why she keeps winding up getting abandoned in all relationships she has with others. Ingerman has found that soul retrieval, done in conjunction with other therapies, is most likely to lead to resolving those negative themes which repeat themselves over and over unless healing occurs.

How is Soul Retrieval Done?

When soul loss occurs, depending upon the circumstances and severity of the pain or trauma, the "soul part" might return on its’ own, or conversely , may never come back without some form of healing intervention. In the Shamanic healing technique of "Soul Retrieval," the focus is on restoring "lost energy", i.e. restoring the lost soul part. The shaman undertakes the classic "Shamanic Journey" in order to obtain guidance and insight about the problem , locate the lost soul part, and bring it back to restore the lost gift, vitality or capacity of the individual. The"Shamanic Journey" is the process of entering into an altered state , commonly done with a drum or other rhythmic device in indigenous cultures. The steady rhythmic beat facilitates a shift in consciousness, usually into the high alpha or theta brainwave states. Once there , the shaman works with spirit guides, teachers and other spiritual helpers. Like all spiritual forms of healing, it is not the Shamanic practitioner who does the healing, but Spirit, who works through the practitioner. In ancient Shamanic terms, the practitioner serves as a "hollow bone" channeling this energy.

After accessing information, the practitioner brings back, the description of the lost gift, capacity, ability, or energy, or however one may phrase it. In her book, "Soul Retrieval", Ingerman provides many compelling examples of soul retrievals in which she obtained vital information regarding individual’s earlier experiences and recovered their "essence", or soul parts.

In soul retrieval, the lost "soul part" can n be retrieved for the individual client, and what is returned is the vitality and energy, not the trauma. The individual can leave behind the pain now that the vitality has been restored. The healing strength of this technique for our modern culture is the restoration of our self, in its’ wholeness, and the opportunity integrate lost strengths and energies back into a fuller life for ourselves in the future.

What’s Next? - Participation in the Healing Process

After a soul retrieval is performed, people usually feel better in a number of ways. They often report increased energy, enhanced creativity, ability to feel emotions, or increased ability to focus or concentrate. The effects may be subtle as in shifts in dreams or interests, or be dramatically evidenced by a cure of a physical or psychological illness. However, while the path to health is furthered by the soul retrieval, it may not be completed. In shamanic cultures, soul retrieval was commonly practiced, and if an individual suffered a trauma or showed symptoms of soul loss, the shaman usually performed one within three days! In our western culture , it may be years before healing is sought for soul loss. The trauma may have become entrenched in our patterns of living, and our identity.

So while immediate benefits are experienced, it may be even more beneficial for some individuals to continue the healing process begun by the retrieval. An important distinction to understand is the difference between curing (e.g. removing a tumor, possibly only to have it recur), and healing (changing the circumstances that created the illness ). As Myss (p 48 Anatomy of Spirit) points out "Healing..., is an active and internal process that includes investigating one’s attitudes, memories, and beliefs with the desire to release all negative patterns that prevent one’s full emotional and spiritual recovery." Ingerman also discusses the difference between curing and healing: soul retrieval itself she considers to be the cure, but healing occurs when the individual does the work of integrating the newly returned gifts and strengths in a manner that allows one’s life to change and stay healthier. Important prerequisites for healing of any form are not only the individual’s willingness to "be healed", but also their participation in the healing process. Ingerman states "After soul retrieval, we write the next chapter of our lives; before that some event or someone else may have had the bigger impact on how our lives unfolded" (Aurora Center, Ontario 9/97).

Writing that chapter, and the work of integration and healing often requires further work . Often it includes continuing Shamanic work, with the individual doing their own "journeys" for insight, along with the Shamanic practitioner’s guidance. Some of this Shamanic work includes the individual either engaging in shamanic journeying themselves, or perhaps guided visualization with the practioner’s assistance, to understand the nature of the returned gift of themselves, and how to welcome it back ( integrate it into current self), and support its’ continued presence.

Other work of integration may involve establishing or strengthening our connection with nature. Most spiritual traditions hold our relationship with nature to be essential to our connection to Spirit, or the Sacred, which is seen as the source of our well-being. C. Michael Smith (interview in "Shamanic Applications Review) discusses the loss of soul and the loss of connection to the Sacred in modern Western culture, believing them to be closely connected. He states that the Sacred is the "Life Force itself, the source of vitality not only in our own lives, but in all that is." When asked how he works shamanically with the loss of connection to the Sacred, he responded

"One thing that a shaman should be able to do, is to evoke the Sacred, ritually steward its boundaries, and make it accessible in a healing and transformative way for his or her clients."

Further work that often is done is to use rituals and ceremony to help the client eliminate negative habitual patterns that need to be replaced. Ingerman reminds us that the German root of the word ritual means "truth". Ritual does seem to help individuals to discover their own truths. Joseph Campbell ( in video "First Storytellers") said "the function of ritual is to "pitch you out" - not wrap you back into where you are". He also presents the belief that "shamanism is the bridge from old ritual to new ritual , helping cultures to transform". From this same viewpoint, we can see that Shamanic healing practices such as "soul retrieval" offer a bridge from the old self to the new, helping the individual to transform.

An essential part of the re-integration work is using journeying and ritual to integrate and maintain the strength and vitality that is brought back through soul retrieval work.It is essential as well to re-channel that newfound energy in positive efforts or goals. In "Welcome Home: Life After Healing", a book about life after soul retrieval, Sandy Ingerman presents her belief that it is time for many of us to refocus our energy on creating a more positive present and future. It is up to us to heal ourselves and each other and to create a better future. May Spirit be with us!

In contemporary Western culture, many people may find themselves searching for something that will make them feel whole, balanced, or satisfied; something feels missing inside, they may not feel "all there", or may feel like they are "watching life , not participating. .We may live life in a passion-less way, feel bored, may try to "fill ourselves up" with drugs, work-aholism, busy-ness, and other addictions, or we may even attempt suicide as an end to our painful or numbed feeling.

If you feel that you may have soul loss and would like to talk with us about it or would like to schedule a healing session, please contact us.