Altar Work: Soul Retrieval

Magic or Science?

When I first studied soul retrieval from a western education point of view, many Native People, myself included, were being very suspicious of what any anthropologist, archeologist, or other western expert had to say about us or to us. It’s a long story but considering that group of “experts” began robbing our graves to study our bones, we have some questions when they show up with shovels and clipboards.

What made one particular anthropologist stand out from the other suspects, for a few of us, was the fact that he explained in the written word what I had experienced and witnessed from our oral history and life experience.

Words like “shaman, shaman’s journey and soul retrieval” were quite foreign to me, but when Dr. Michael Harner, author of Way of the Shaman, explained what I was witnessing in words the mainstream culture might respect, it made a big difference in my life.

On a conceptual, deep-belief level and in functional ways, this vocabulary allowed me to work in areas where our traditional ways are not respected or valued; it gave me vocabulary to deal, as it were.

Maybe this modern science, I thought, might understand some of our ancestors’ science.

I recommend reading from Harner, and also reading one of his best-known students, Sandra Ingerman, to patients considering having a soul retrieval. Ingerman was in the early generation of psychologists who saw the “science” in ancestral shamanic cultures enough to actually become shamans, and enough to help support our fight to not only preserve, but to live our traditions.

At this altar we define Soul Retrieval this way.

CAUSE: A trauma, shock, fright and/or time unconscious equal a momentary loss of consciousness. This consciousness doesn’t always come back to current, useful, consciousness.

A hard example is 10-year-old who witnesses the death of a parent. The consciousness of that child – dreams, goals, curiosity, puberty on the horizon, all that – steps away so the child can withstand the moment.

Modern psychology knows that happens, that in an impossible moment our consciousness simply opens a way for us to survive.

Like most of the children who witness a parent’s death go on, grow up, spouse and children. He heals more or less, but

EFFECT: Consciousness can never really be lost but it can be experienced as lost, become inaccessible, in other words. Ten, twenty, even 50 years later the person feels “something missing,” chronic frustration, perhaps, at never hitting the mark, lousy relationship patterns, stalled career, etc.

People, it seems from our experience, who seek “soul retrieval” usually, in some form or fashion, connect that “something missing” with the concept of soul retrieval, though what they find may not be called soul retrieval.

We feel that maybe the healing concept is so old it’s in our DNA and it’s good to know there are many ways to bring pieces of our soul back, when a person seeks healing.

I don’t know any human anywhere who doesn’t suffer trauma, shock, fright or loss of consciousness during their lifetime. Haven’t you? Rich, poor, pretty or ugly we all have those moments.

Back when human beings were facing grave dangers on a daily basis the shamans saw that perfectly strong, brave people, rocks of the tribe, could one day turn to mush, overcome by fear, trauma or shock. One can be overcome by fear even if we don’t think we were scared, even after one wins the fight, even if one fought fearlessly!

So, when you had to drop the basket of fruit to run from the panther, you simply were not yourself during that run. Dreams about the cute guy, thoughts about being found out for something you shouldn’t do, and of course, evening plans went out the window. You, runner, are not yourself.

So, our runner sleeps it off, tells and story many times growing up, and then comes into a mid-life crisis.  

CURE: A practitioner who journeys in mental/spiritual places through drumming and other means asks Spirit what part of this person needs to return. To be more accurate, we’re not talking about a complete soul, we’re talking about millions of moments of consciousness strung together into our memory. In other words, it’s pieces of the soul, pieces of consciousness that go away.

The lost piece shows up in the journey, usually with an age or time period attached, and with some detail that the practitioner could not have known.  

The journeyer “blows” the lost piece into the patient and tells the story of the journey. If the story connects with the patient and practitioner in some way, then we have a healing coming.

Next time we’ll breakdown a soul retrieval – the journey, the blowing in, the healing connection and the follow through. Meanwhile, questions or comments, we’re here.

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Published by Mike Callas

Named curandero, healer, by the people we serve, we're close to 40 years living around our humble altar. Our experience has created a legacy we are inclined to share, as well as inspired many a story and the making of myth. In true toltec fashion, we make art.

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