“Despite its reputation for being ancient or primitive practice, shamanic teachings are as applicable today as they were in ages past. Shamanism continues to be a wellspring of inner wisdom, mystical enlightenment, and healing artistry for all who pursue it.”
~ Matthew Magee in Peruvian Shamanism: The Pachakuti Mesa
What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is a worldview, a spiritual practice, and a healing modality. Many researchers have investigated spiritual practices around the globe and have discovered shamanic traditions at some point in the history of every society. Mircea Eliade, in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, and Michael Harner, in The Way of the Shaman, have compiled this information and discussed the themes that define shamanism. As a result, they have helped preserve and develop the understanding of a practice that goes back tens of thousands of years down each of our ancestral lines.
A shaman is a healer for her community who is involved in all aspects of health: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. She is the mediator between the human community and the surrounding environment (i.e. nature). She performs healing ceremonies to remedy imbalances, honor that which is greater than us (aka “Great Spirit”), and solve mysteries.
Shamanism is the field in which the shaman practices. The uniting themes of shamanism are the journey trance, a specific journey landscape, a strong bond with spirit guides, and energetic [spiritual] healing.
What is a journey?
Although she is among the mystics, the shaman stands alone in the type of ecstatic experiences she has. These experiences are commonly referred to as journeys. To enter into the journey trance, the shaman leaves her body in spirit form and travels to worlds outside our current reality. A journey is similar to a waking dream where she can ask questions, obtain healings, and interact with spirits.
As Roger Walsh points out in The World of Shamanism, the key is that the shaman is trained to both direct the journey and surrender to it. She consciously leaves her body and travels to other worlds to communicate with spirit guides and then consciously returns to her body, carrying the information and healing. Different than creative visualization, the journey requires that the shaman allow the story to unfold rather than determine the path or outcome. A shaman can enter a journey trace by employing rhythmic percussion, usually in the form of a drum or rattle. The percussion helps quiet the mind and bring the journeyer into alignment with the earth. Some cultures or practices employ psychedelic plants to enter the journey trance, but that is not the technique used in this story.
The shamanic healer gathers information from the other worlds in the form of a story and brings back the story for her client. She assists her client in working with the metaphors in the story and using the guidance therein to inform choices. Spiritual and energetic healings are also obtained on shamanic journeys, the most common of which are power animal retrieval, extraction, and soul retrieval.
Where are these “other worlds”?
Those who embark on shamanic journeys travel to worlds that are both distant and within. Journeys are just like dreams in that they can come from our own psyche, stem from collective unconscious, or be sent by angels and ancestors. To make sense of the complex and sometimes confusing shamanic experience, a common language is necessary. Shamans use the concept of landscapes as the foundation.
The journey landscape consists of three basic realms: lower, middle, and upper worlds. Middle world is where we humans live, but is outside of time and space. A shaman can cover thousands of miles in a split second in a middle world journey or even go backward or forward in time. Lower world is often associated with the lower chakras of the body, is very earthlike, and is typically more concrete. The shaman accesses lower world by traveling downward through the earth via a central axis such as a tree, cave, or mountain. Upper world is visited by traveling upwards along a central axis and through the heavens. People on shamanic journeys commonly experience flight and can be accompanied by birds when traveling to upper world. It’s usually associated with the higher chakras of the body and is often very ethereal, with obscure colors and lights featuring prominently.
What is soul loss?
This can be one of the most puzzling belief systems of shamanic cultures. How can a person lose part or all of their soul? Where does it go?
Soul loss involves, in basic terms, the loss of personal power as a result of a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. This trauma could be a number of things, from an accident to a physical attack to the loss of a loved one. The part of a person’s essence or soul that cannot deal with the trauma splits off and is lost in the unconscious. Soul loss can be as simple as losing our right to voice our opinion to an authority figure or as complex as losing our right to safety in our own home.
Soul loss usually begets soul loss, as the person no longer has the power to protect herself from similarly damaging situations. We often see people who injure the same parts of their bodies over and over or end up in a series of unhealthy relationships. We know this is soul loss when no amount of psychological working or physical therapy heals the wound or prevents the trauma from recurring.
Shamanic Healing with Stacey Couch
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How does soul retrieval work?
The shamanic healer enters into a journey trance to retrieve the part of a client’s soul that was lost and brings it back into that person’s conscious working. The client then has the ability to choose to live differently.
In her book Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, Sandra Ingerman describes how soul retrievals involve finding an image of the lost soul part, speaking with the soul part, and joining it back to the person in this reality. The soul part appears as a reflection of the client at the time the trauma occurred. After talking about the event with the soul part, the shamanic healer asks the soul part if it would like to return. The soul part relays the gift it is bringing back. This is the key healing in this work. The healer is not returning the trauma and associated emotions, but rather the gift, power, and energy that were lost as a result of the event. This is a healing rather than a regression.
This work is not to be taken lightly and must involve a trained professional; the practitioner is dealing with extremely damaging material for the client. The shaman must be clear of agenda, have the client’s best interest in focus, and understand how to retrieve the soul part in such a way that the client has access to it. Extensive training and initiation ensure that the shamanic healer is a clear conduit through which spiritual information can flow. Agenda and ego can turn a shaman into a sorcerer. The training and initiation comes from both the practitioner’s spirit guides in other worlds and mentors in this world. I strongly urge you choose your shamanic practitioner carefully, to seek recommendations, to investigate a healer’s training, and to trust your inner knowing on how best to proceed. (Excerpt from the introduction of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey With Hawks)
Check out Stacey's blog posts on Understanding Shamanism
Below is a complimentary series of educational videos from Stacey Couch about the process of soul retrieval. To see the list of videos to watch, click on the "Playlist" button in the upper left hand corner. Enjoy!
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These methods are not intended to replace the advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment of a medical professional. It is recommended that you seek the assistance of a health care provider (or veterinarian for your pets) if medical attention is necessary.