Shamanic Healing & Soul Retrieval . . .
The Journey to Wholeness

By Irma Kaye Sawyer



Shamanism is an ancient tradition of knowledge of the unseen that is cross-cultural. It is thought to predate all known religions and philosophies. While shamans do not have a fixed dogma or religion, they do believe in the web of power that sustains all life. According to shamanism, all things in the environment are alive and inter-connected with the human world. The origin of the word "Shaman" comes from the language of the Tungus of North-Central Asia. It came into use in English via Russian.

The usual role of a shaman historically is priest, magician, metaphysician or healer. The Shaman serves as a bridge between the mundane and the higher and lower states of existence. It is common for one to be initiated as a shaman through a personal crisis of some sort such as an illness, or near-death experience. One can also be initiated through hereditary transmission, such as a familial bloodline, or through a personal "calling."

Dr. Roger N. Walsh in his book, "The Spirit of Shamanism", offers this definition: "Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirits, traveling to other realms at will, and interacting with other entities in order to serve their community." The shamanic journey is the most common of the shamanic practices. It is usually induced by a rhythmic sound of a drum or rattle, and is often used to contact the practitioners' guides in spirit. The shamanic journey is used for physical and emotional healing, personal guidance and spiritual expansion. It brings the practitioner in touch with what Carlos Castaneda called "non-ordinary reality."

The trance state is an important tool to the shamanic practitioner. Joseph Bearwalker Wilson from a paper written in 1978 states, "In order to journey to the other dimensions of existence a shaman induces an altered state of consciousness in him/herself to a state of self-hypnosis. While in this shamanic trance he is in complete control; communicates with and controls spirits, gains information, retrieves souls, and makes subtle changes in reality which may affect the physical world."

A person practicing shamanic journey techniques uses this state in order to fine tune his or her senses in order to see, feel, and hear more vividly while traveling in other dimensions. The ability to attain and control the trance state is the result of conditioning and mental training on the part of the practitioner.

According to Jose and Lena Stev-ens' book, "Secrets of Shamanism", shamanic practitioners have the following knowledge and characteristics:

They know about energy, how it works in many forms. They have an intense relationship with the spirit body and can communicate with it. They have the ability to journey for knowledge, insight, awareness, messages and memories. They know how to work with and interpret symbols, and can bring symbols alive through expression. They know how to heal others. They have excellent insight into others' personalities and character. They are disciplined and persistent in their attempts to gain power and apply it for the good of all concerned.

One of the symbols that arises during the journey process is Totem or Power Animals. They have been a part of many traditions throughout history including the North American Indians. They often appear during a journey to assist and guide the practitioner. Each animal possesses its own spiritual qualities or "medicine". For example, an eagle represents spiritual vision, enlightenment and freedom. A shamanic practitioner can journey to retrieve the totem animal for another person and to bring home the qualities that animal brings into daily life.

We have totem animals that come to us at different stages in our lives to assist with whatever lessons we are dealing with at that time. The animals that are encountered on the journey can have profound meaning and are helpful to discern the inner qualities of the practitioner or the person or people he/she is journeying for. The gifts they bring are power and healing.

Soul Retrieval is another service provided by a shamanic practitioner. Soul Retrieval is necessary when a person has experienced what is called soul loss, in which an individual loses a part of his or her spiritual energy. The causes of soul loss are many with most people experiencing some degree of soul loss in their lifetime. Children are particularly vulnerable to soul loss at the hands of adults. Soul loss is often associated with physical or sexual abuse, death of a loved one or severe or chronic illness.

Repressed, forgotten and gaps in memory could also be an effect of soul loss. This concept is becoming more prevalent with contemporary health professionals such as Carolyn Myss, PhD, who recommends "calling your spirit back." Today many of us are realizing that we are not completely whole. We may not feel "all together" or "all here." A shamanic practitioner can assist a person with soul loss by journeying on their behalf to uncover how and when the separation occurred and to return the missing soul part or energy to the person.

Symptoms of soul loss include: Fear of trusting others. Low self esteem. Shame. Generalized and in reaction to specific behaviors. Feelings of powerlessness. Inability to make decisions. Inability to think for oneself. Difficulty in relationships. Fear of intimacy. A history of any kind of abuse as victim and/or perpetrator. Addiction, co-dependence, obsessive/compulsive personality. Chronic pain, depression, anxiety.

Soul Retrieval is an excellent adjunct therapy to traditional psychotherapy and a growing number of therapists are consulting shamanic practitioners to assist their clients. The gifts of Soul Retrieval are increased personal power, clarity of purpose and life direction, healing of physical injury and illness and a shift to a positive state of consciousness.

Another service that a shamanic practitioner can perform is that of a "psychopomp" or "guide for the soul" for spirits that have died. The practitioner can also be of solace to surviving loved ones by journeying for them, or teaching them how to conduct a shamanic journey for themselves. Shamanic practitioners can also be of service to the community by performing rituals and journeywork at the scene of catastrophes as emergency psychopomps.

With the pressures in our changing world environment and with the increasing interest in personal growth and healing, shamanic work is timely and powerful.

Irma Kaye Sawyer resides in Huntington Beach, California. She is a shamanic practitioner, Reiki master, and is a member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. She can be reached at    (949) 225-9855.

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