Soul Retrieval

Soul Retrieval – In a number of shamanic traditions, illness is understood to have supernatural causes, including soul loss, the stealing of a soul by spirits. It is the task of the shaman to undertake the dangerous journey to the other world (also called “soul projection” by Ioan Lewis) to retrieve the lost soul, usually with the assistance of spirit helpers. The task is usually understood as an arduous and dangerous one, in which the soul of the shaman is also at peril. The shaman persuades, cajoles, forces, or seduces the spirit(s) into returning the soul, which the shaman then recovers—or the shaman’s soul itself may be captured, then requiring further soul retrieval work on the part of another shaman, if available. Ideally, with the soul returned to the patient, a process of healing is initiated.

Soul retrieval has gained currency in neo-shamanisms, especially in core shamanism and the work of Sandra Ingerman, who explains soul retrieval as a process of “mending the fragmented self,” wherein various traumas experienced in life, such as sex abuse, can be healed by undertaking the retrieval of that part of the soul lost due to the harrowing event. The process appears, at least rhetorically, to have something in common with psychotherapy, and indeed many core shamanism–trained psychotherapists use it. Therapists and neoshamans have been charged with decontextualizing indigenous concepts of soul loss that involve malevolent spirits and a perilous journey into the spirit world for the shaman, replacing this with a more positive and essentially psychological discourse. Not all core shamanic soul retrieval can be read in this way, and indeed other neoshamans, particularly those involved in reconstructionist Paganisms, take an approach to soul loss that has more in common with indigenous shamanisms. Chas Clifton offers an insightful and amusing take on all this in his article “Training Your Soul Retriever.”
See also Heathenry; MacLellan, Gordon (“The Toad”); Matthews, John and Caitlin; Seidr.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007