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What is Shamanic Healing?

When I tell people I am a shamanic healer I often get quizzical looks. Many people have never heard of the term before, and even those familiar with the phrase "shamanic healing" are often confused as to what the work of a shamanic healer actually entails.

Shaman, Shamanic Healer & Shamanic Healing Defined

art12_ShamanicHealingThis confusion is justified as there is no standard definition of precisely what shamanic healing consists of. Very simply, a shaman is one who acts as an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds. A shamanic healer is one who intervenes on the spiritual planes on behalf of the person seeking physical and/or spiritual healing.

Although the term "shaman" itself is Siberian in origin, there are shamanic traditions from most indigenous cultures throughout the world. Michael Harner, an American anthropologist and founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, formulated Core Shamanism to make the fundamental shamanic practices common among indigenous cultures available to Western, industrialized society.

When most people today use the term "shaman", "shamanic healer", or "shamanic practitioner", they are usually referring to someone trained through a native/indigenous culture or someone trained in Core Shamanism. However, no one "owns" these terms. Today it is not uncommon for intuitive or energy healers to refer to their work as shamanic healing, although it might bear little resemblance to more traditional practices.

Please note that in pointing this out I am not advocating for the regulation of the terms "shaman", "shamanic healer", and so on. In my opinion that would be silly. The true test of any healer is the results produced in his or her clients. For shamanic healers this directly depends on his or her relationship with spirit and ability to navigate non-physical reality. A shamanic healer can be trained and initiated, but not "certified". However, when seeking out a shamanic healer, it is worth asking where they received their training and what methods they use.

Soul Retrieval: A Traditional Form of Shamanic Healing

Soul Retrieval is one traditional form of shamanic healing. Within the shamanic worldview there is the idea that one's soul can fragment and parts can be lost due to traumatic events such as car accidents, serious illness, abuse, etc. When faced with a traumatic event it is common for one's soul to leave one's body as a form of self-protection. The problem is, sometimes it doesn't all come back even when the immediate danger is past. We need all of our soul parts present in our body to function optimally in life.

Some signs of soul loss include:

  • - Feeling like a part of yourself is missing
  • - Depression, especially ongoing depression with no obvious cause
  • - Feeling like you are watching yourself go through life from outside your body
  • - Feeling dispirited, like you have lost your spark
  • - An inability to get past certain issues in your life
  • - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD-like symptoms
  • - Or even just sensing that you would benefit from a Soul Retrieval

During the Soul Retrieval it is the job of the shamanic healer to journey into non-ordinary reality with the aid of his or her helping spirits to find and retrieve the client's missing soul parts. Usually this is done with the client present in the room with the healer, although long-distance work is possible and effective as well.

In order to journey in non-ordinary reality, a shamanic healer will use a drum beat or other means to enter into a trance state; it is in this trance state that the finding and retrieval work takes place. Shamans and shamanic healers are adept at entering and exiting trance states in order to travel between ordinary and non-ordinary reality of the spirit world.

Once the soul part, or parts, are gathered, the shamanic healer will blow the soul parts back into the body of the client. Then the healer will relate any significant images or insights gained on behalf of the client that were received in non-ordinary reality. Many times during the process the client will have experienced imagery or sensations that directly relate to the journey of the healer, but this is not always the case.

In almost all cases Soul Retrieval leads to healthy changes in the client's life. Most people, after a Soul Retrieval, will go through a process of integration where they get used to the feeling of having their returned soul parts back in their body and actively contributing to their energy field. The integration process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year or more. This often depends on how significant the soul loss was, and how long the soul part or parts were missing.

Destructive patterns and behaviours are often coping mechanisms used to deal with soul loss. When the soul parts are returned, the destructive patterns often no longer feel right or comfortable. Sometimes very significant changes need to be made in a client's life in order to accommodate being healthier, more whole and complete. Many times the return of the soul parts provides the missing ingredient for a client to make the changes he or she has wanted to make for a long time but just could not seem to accomplish before.

Self Healing

promo_102611People sometimes ask if it is possible to do a Soul Retrieval for oneself. The answer is usually no, but it depends. Even highly skilled and experienced shamanic practitioners will seek out other shamanic healers for Soul Retrieval and other healing when they feel that it is needed. There seems to be something particularly effective about one person petitioning the spirits on behalf of another. This also allows the client to remain in an open, receptive and allowing frame of mind during the healing which is important when the soul parts are returned.

This being said, it is always possible to ask your own spiritual allies to help return soul parts to you. I remember one instance where I was a passenger in a car driving to the top of Mnt. Constitution on Orcas Island. I was with a close friend and we mostly remained silent, taking in the magical scenery. I strongly felt the intrinsic sacredness of the place and asked my spirit helpers to bring me any healing or insight that might be available. Since I was not driving I allowed myself to slip into a slightly altered state. As we wound our way up the mountain I felt myself become almost giddy with joy. I remembered instance after instance of pain from my past, situations that had been very difficult to forgive and let go. But there on that sacred mountain, in that state of joy, I was able to see those situations as separate from me and forgive everyone involved easily and without reservation. As I did so I felt soul parts returning. Little shudders ran through my body as each one came back. I did not count how many, but it was a profoundly healing experience.

If you wish to try something similar yourself I recommend finding a place that feels safe, and preferably a place where you feel connected to spirit. Having an already established spiritual practice and relationship with your personal spiritual allies helps. Talk to your spirit helpers--these could be your guides, angels, power animals...anyone who looks out for you from the spiritual realms. Reach out to them with your voice, your emotion, your thought. Let them know that you want any missing soul parts to return. If there is a specific situation in mind that you are seeking healing around, voice this as well, in specific detail. Then be quiet. Listen. Be ready to receive and absorb what your spirit helpers bring you. You may feel an emotional shift. You may have a physical sensation. You may receive insight or understanding. Or you may not feel or sense anything at all. This is ok too. You can try again another time, or spirit may choose to answer your request in a different way. Look for synchronicities and guidance that might lead to a solution you had not thought of.

Start Your Healing Process

Soul Retrieval is just one form of shamanic healing. If you are interested in finding a shamanic practitioner, it is important to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with. If possible, ask friends or acquaintances for recommendations, or seek out a healer you feel drawn to. Talk to him or her before setting up an appointment. Ask about their training and the methods they use. When you find someone you resonate with, then go ahead...your soul seeks healing!

Anna Fruchterman is a shamanic healer working in Seattle. Trained in Core Shamanism, Anna offers shamanic healing, energy work, coaching and classes to support clients in healing and navigating life transitions.

Photo credit: By ahlea