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Shamanic Healing Through Soul Retrieval

Soul retrieval ??" a contemporary therapeutic practice rooted in the ancient spiritual tradition of shamanism - is attracting significant attention in the modern world as the holistic healthcare movement continues to gather force.

Shamans believe that we are all born with an amount of energy or power, enough to sustain us through life. But we can become attached to events or relationships and can give part of our energy away. Once this energy leaves us, it creates a hole in our energy field through which our power can leak out, a situation known as soul loss.

The trick to maintaining health or recovering from illness is therefore to recover the power (energy) we have lost. This is the process of soul retrieval.


Despite its name, soul retrieval is an intensely practical, down-to-earth approach that can produce surprisingly immediate and powerful results. The following example case - of a woman named Debbie - includes fairly typical reasons for seeking soul retrieval. This case also illustrates the difference between retrieval and therapy, as well as the speed with which progress can sometimes be made.

Debbie husband left her a few years before she came to see me for a healing. Her depression and feelings of loss had improved over the years, but she still felt herself to be "incomplete." Therapy consisted of a guided shamanic journey. To the client, this feels somewhat like a visualisation. But, through the shaman’s intervention with the spiritual world, it is actually a way of bringing spiritual energy back to the client.

"For the first time in a long, long time, I felt that I could go on," she said. "I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel into a bright, warm light. I have a future now."

Part of the reason for the success of soul retrieval is its direct focus on the client in a totally holistic way. Soul retrieval supports the whole person. It caters to his or her spiritual, mythic, and emotional needs, not just those of the body (the focus of conventional medicine) or the mind (the territory of the analyst).

Whatever happens to the client during retrieval, it seems plain that they enter some other realm of understanding where their concerns are set in context against a broader picture of reality. Here - for the first time - they see their true role and their unique place in the universe.

The shaman’s explanation is simple. Whenever we are traumatised, abused, hurt, or neglected, parts of our soul split off. These soul fragments will take refuge or become lost or trapped in what shamans call the "otherworlds." The soul fragment, faced with this hurt, takes flight. In itself, this is an action of positive healing and self-protection. It is only when the loss of this energy begins to have detrimental effects that the soul fragment needs to be returned. Physical accidents, emotional trauma, abuse, or childhood neglect, are a few of the more common reasons for visiting a soul retrieval practitioner.

Then, the task of the shaman has been to search the otherworlds to find these fragments, or to guide the client so that she may enter this space to find them for herself. The ultimate goal is to bring them back. It is the return of these soul fragments that explains the new feeling of wholeness on the part of the client.

There is another aspect of healing here, too. The shaman’s journey is an archetypal, one; the quest of the hero to find lost treasure. By its very nature, this places the client at the centre of the drama, in a position of tremendous value. Just a few minutes into a typical soul retrieval consultation, the client - perhaps for the first time ever - has been listened to impartially. The client’s story is believed and a difficult and dangerous journey has been taken on their behalf by someone acting expressly in their interests. Perhaps they have also shared in the journey, an act of personal empowerment that automatically signals they can change for the better and do have the strength and resources to do so.


In order to do this kind of work, a soul retrieval practitioner must have developed considerable skills at journeying. Contemporary shamanic practitioners can now develop these skills at workshops, where they will undertake supervised journeying and seek objects or energies which have been deliberately hidden.

In these workshops, one person may journey to hide something, such as a personal symbol, in the otherworlds. Their partner must then enter that world and find it. Such "spiritual hide and seek" is powerfully affirmative when something or someone hidden in this way is found by another with no prior knowledge of the person who has done the hiding. Far from being a land of imagination or a mental landscape, the otherworlds prove to be something much more - a transpersonal world that exists outside of us where our soul fragments can find a home until it is safe for them to return.

In Western societies it would probably be unique to find someone who had not suffered trauma, injury, neglect or abuse. Someone who had not given themselves away to others in a dance of power and office politics. We all become more fragmented every day. Western physicians treat the body and psychoanalysts deal with the mind, but the shamans are taking care of the soul.


Ross Heaven is a psychologist, author, therapist, TV, radio and magazine contributor, workshop facilitator, and Europe’s first white priest of Haitian Vodou, having initiated into the tradition in January 2000 as part of the research for his books.

He has written numerous articles on psychology, shamanism, Vodou, and the healing traditions, for magazines in America, Europe and the UK, been interviewed by and been reviewed in a number of national newspapers, and been a guest on several radio and television programmes. He has also been called as an expert witness in cases concerning trance states and ritual and acted as a consultant to feature films such as 2004’s London Voodoo. He presents widely on his work and runs workshops in personal development and healing.

He is the author of four widely-acclaimed books on personal development psychology and modern spirituality, including Vodou Shaman, his book on Haitian Vodou, and Darkness Visible, to be published in 2005, which concerns his unique workshops in ceremonial darkness, where participants remain blindfolded for the entire five days of the course.

As well his qualifications in psychology, Ross has trained in various therapeutic approaches and has a healing practice near Brighton in the UK. He has a web site, where you can read articles and book extracts, find out about workshops and catch up on news, at He can be reached at
See also:  Shamanism
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