Shamans look not at the physical, but rather at the spiritual aspect of illness. An illness might manifest on an emotional or physical level, but the shaman journeys to seek for the root cause of the spiritual imbalance or disharmony.
From a shamanic perspective, there are three classic causes of illness:
- Power loss
- Spiritual intrusion or possessing spirit
- Soul Loss
And so, the shaman journeys….
The helping spirits of the shaman diagnose the cause and then help perform the required treatment for healing. The shaman acts as a “hollow bone” by merging with these helping spirits and calling upon the power of the Universe to channel healing energies.
Typically, a combination of causes happen to manifest an illness. Rarely, does one only have soul loss or a spiritual intrusion.
The helping spirits look down on the human world with a perspective that often cannot be seen by a practitioner. Therefore, shamans work in partnership with their helping spirits for healing work.
Power Loss occurs when a person has lost his power animal or a protective guardian spirit. Typical symptoms of power loss are chronic depression, ongoing suicidal tendencies, long-term illness, and persistent misfortune.
When a shaman is shown that power loss has occurred, a variety of ceremonies might be performed to retrieve a former power animal or guardian spirit to restore power and protection.
Spiritual Intrusions and Possessing Spirits
Often when a person is missing a guardian spirit or his vital essence has disappeared, there is an opening in the body. Since the universe cannot stand a void, something comes in to fill that space. Shamans might perceive a spiritual intrusion that has entered into a client who is missing power and vital essence.
Spiritual intrusions come from negative thought forms. In indigenous cultures, people understand the difference between expressing energy and sending energy. In the West, we often do not understand the difference.
It is important to properly express our “more negative” emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, etc. However, rather than express these in a healthy manner, we often send these energies to ourselves, others, and into the environment like a psychic arrow. These energies can create, what shamans call, “Spiritual Intrusions”.
The signs of a spiritual intrusion appear either on or within us in such forms as localized pain or some form of cancer. Since shamans do not distinguish between emotional and physical illness, a spiritual intrusion may also manifest in the form of chronic anger or depression.
In the treatment of this kind of spiritual problem, the shaman works with his or her helping spirits to diagnose the nature and location of the spiritual intrusion. The shaman then performs an extraction that removes the intrusion.
Shamans heal both the living and deceased by performing psychopomp work. This word comes from the Greek word psychopompous , which literally means leader of souls. When we die, there is usually a graceful transition into a transcendent reality. In shamanism it is understood that when someone suffers a traumatic death such as murder, accident, war, drug overdose, suicide, or in a violent and unexpected manner, there is a possibility that the soul may need assistance in crossing over into the transcendent realms. The reason is the soul may be confused at death and therefore, remains caught in what shamans call the Middle World.
A spirit stuck in the Middle World might wander into this, our world, or it may enter into a person who is missing his vital essence or power, causing a possession. From a shamanic perspective, this is one cause for schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders.
In such a case, the shaman would perform a de-possession—guiding the spirit out of the Middle World and into a transcendent reality.
Because psychopomp work is regularly done when people die in indigenous cultures that are accustomed to shamanic work, they do not have the kinds of emotional illness we experience in the West. Consequently, the need for de-possession work is well understood.
Soul Retrieval: How Shamans Heal Trauma
It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma, a piece of our soul flees the body in order to survive the experience. In shamanism, the soul is defined as our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.
The types of trauma that can cause soul loss in our culture are any kind of abuse, be it sexual, physical, or emotional. Other causes could be an accident, war experience(s), being a victim of a terrorist act, acting against our morals, being in a natural disaster (a fire, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc.), surgery and general anesthesia, addictions, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Any event that causes shock, could cause soul loss. And what might cause soul loss in one person, may not cause soul loss in another. Shamans believe that alarm clocks, because of their highly intrusive nature, can cause soul loss.
It is important to understand that soul loss is actually a good thing. It is how we survive pain. If you were about to be in a head-on car collision the last place you would want to be at the point of impact is in your body. Our psyches could not endure that kind of pain. Therefore, this brilliant self protection mechanism activates and a part of our essence (or soul) leaves the body so that we do not feel the full impact of the pain.
In psychology, this is known as dissociation. However, in psychology there is no talk about what disassociates or where that “part” goes. In shamanism, we know that a piece of the soul leaves the body and goes into a place in non-ordinary reality where that part waits until someone intervenes in the spiritual realms and facilitates its return.
Although soul loss is a survival mechanism, the problem from a shamanic point of view is that the soul part that left usually does not come back on its own. The soul may be lost, or perhaps stolen by another person, or it does not know that the trauma has passed and that it is now safe to return.
Thus, the shaman journeys and tracks down the soul part and returns it to the body of the client.
Some of the common symptoms of soul loss are when a person does not feel fully in his or her body nor feel alive and fully engaged in life.
Other symptoms include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress syndrome, immune deficiency problems, and grief that just does not heal. Addictions are also a sign of soul loss—seeking external sources to fill up the empty spaces inside with either illicit substances, food, relationships, work, or buying material objects. Anytime someone says, “ I have never been the same since (X)” (and its not positive) then soul loss has most likely occurred.
Look at our world today—we value money over life. Killing other life forms for material gains…feeling that buying one more car or material objects bring happiness…we see wide spread planetary soul loss today in how we behave towards each other and to those with whom we share Life.
In shamanic cultures, people who suffered traumas were given a soul retrieval within three days after a traumatic event. Today, because we have not been practicing soul retrieval, modern day practitioners often need to go back ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years or even more looking for lost soul parts.
In our culture, we are unaware that being out of spiritual harmony creates illness. Often, soul loss happens at such a young age we are not aware of the unconscious patterns that have been in place since followed. When there is soul loss, we always try to retrieve our soul by repeating the same trauma over and over again. The names of the people involved might change, but the story is often the same….
After a soul retrieval, people feel more present in their bodies and they sense the vibrancy of the world. Now engaged in their lives, and fully in spirit, they are more inspired to change their lives.
If the person has previously done personal work, the soul retrieval may bring an end of the work. If not, the soul retrieval will be the beginning of their Journey of Change.
Once any kind of shamanic healing work is performed, it is ultimately up to the client to use the returned energy and their new perspective to create their own positive present and future Life. From here, one now has the chance to thrive rather than survive. It is crucial to create long term healing after a soul retrieval or extraction work.