Tag Archives: Shamanism

Soul Retrieval – Sandra Ingerman

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Sandra Ingerman’s first book about shamanism, Soul Retrieval, is very explicit about journeying to find and restore soul parts that have split off due to trauma. Soul retrieval is at the heart of shamanic practice and involves a journey to the Upper, Middle or Lower World, often accompanied by a power animal and helping spirits. The book assumes you either accept the validity of shamanism or are curious enough to explore what it looks like and what you might expect if you consult a shaman.

I like Ingerman’s writing about her field–she isn’t all hung up in evil entities and the sorts of dark esoteric methods the few male shamans I have heard speak seem to focus on. Instead, she relates her knowledge to the work of Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade and other cultural anthropologists who give traditional healing practices as much weight as contemporary science. Her view allows for a serious amount of environmental concern–Ingerman feels that we are out of balance and that causes the imbalances that threaten the planet. She spoke about those threats early and often–this book was first written in 1991 and updated in 1998. 

But the main game is the journey to recover soul pieces split off due to childhood or even infant abandonment, rejection, accident, abuse or other painful and damaging incidents. This happens when the incident is too painful to be faced head-on and is a protective measure, aimed at preserving the self in a threatening situation. Such a reaction can occur at any time–divorce is one occasion when the soul may fragment; daddy raging at you for some perceived teenage shortcoming might be another.  Serious illness or surgery can cause the soul to splinter. There are as many reasons to misplace some soul as there are people. The loss of those soul bits leaves an uncomfortable, confusing and derailing gap in a life and shamans have ceremonies to restore a person to wholeness and begin to repair the damage. It’s very interesting material and makes intuitive sense.

The book details (with composite characters to preserve privacy) individual journeys to find and bring back missing soul parts for clients who experience physical and emotional sensations when the soul is “blown” back into their hearts by the shaman. The significance of drumming and using crystals and rattles is explained and there are photographs of carved soul catchers–exquisite artifacts from Native American tribes–used to hold the retrieved soul pieces on the journey back to the present moment and the client.

As a writer, I find the concept and trappings of the shaman’s journey as compelling as those of the hero’s journey. The work seems to fill a void overlooked by left-brain science with something juicier and more alive. Healing a life is work nearly everyone can benefit from and understanding this alternative way to restore integrity is both useful and fascinating. Sandra Ingerman makes the subject accessibe for a wide audience of skeptics and believers with her straightforward narrative of her own experience as both subject and shaman, and her no-nonsense prose.

Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self   Sandra Ingerman | HarperCollins   1991-8

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar – Martin Prechtel

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The Mayan culture has a rich tradition of shamanism that is as wild and wily as any indigenous spiritual way. In Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, Martin Prechtel, a Puebla Indian who hitchhiked to Guatemala and landed in Santiago de Atitlan, relates his own initiation into Tzutujil shamanism by an irascible ninety-year-old wise man nicknamed Chiv. Nicolas Chiviliu Tacaxoy was a famous shaman in the Tzutujil tradition and he believed Martin had been sent to him to train.

It’s really quite a good story—Chiv, the initiating shaman was a respected elder in the village, a powerful healer and sage. Prechtel was a mess, an Indian kid disenfranchised by the simultaneous marginalization and forced assimilation of his tribal culture, set adrift by the early death of his mother, penniless, open to adventure and drifting below the border in Oaxaca and then in the Mayan Highlands. But his visionary justification for all the rough adventures that befell him served him well enough. He had the gift of seeing what happened as portents and milestones on a pilgrimage, his own journey to discover who he was.

Daily life in the colorful village is brutally hard and beautifully symbolic. Ritual is shot through with grace, miracles abound, the gods and the people live in an intimate alliance that must be renewed continually with celebrations, ceremony, contributions and veneration. Prechtel learns deep qualities of attentiveness and mental toughness. He undergoes difficult trials to prepare him to hold the teachings and the power of a sacred lineage. He drinks a lot of local moonshine and learns to listen for the true voices of the rain, the spirits and the wind.

I knew Santiago for some of the time Prechtel studied with his master and lived there as a respected shaman although I had no knowledge of him. I was an outsider without the curiosity or courage to penetrate the closed traditional society and there was no ancient shaman to invite me in. I saw—and feared–the army post at the edge of town, the unease at the assassination of the mission’s Catholic priest and the anticipated reprisals, and the unsmiling faces and breathtaking embroidery of the women in the market. I could sense much of what Prechtel laments about the destruction of the villagers’ culture and vivid spiritual life but he fills in the facts.

The world he stepped into in the 1970s as a guitar-toting vagabond no longer exists. The beliefs he was entrusted with, the skills he was carefully taught, the sacred Village Heart, the medicine bundle of objects that would help him to invoke the power of the gods, all accompanied him into exile—back home to New Mexico. But before he was forced to leave, he trained with a wickedly funny trickster and gave his own heart to the place and its people. As a traveler, I could only glimpse the outside edges of what was forfeit to a modern, uncomprehending world. Martin Prechtel captures the old truths in the pages of a book, keeping them safe for the day when they might emerge into the light of the Highlands once again.    

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar   Martin Prechtel | Penguin Putnam

The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order and the author of several books on global consciousness and the concept of oneness. The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul is a collection of talks and teachings that expound on his thinking. I picked it up after hearing him speak in a conference with the shaman Sandra Ingerman. It’s unusual to hear a spiritual teacher so wholly committed to the concept that the patriarchal repression for millennia of matriarchal or feminine energy got us into this planetary mess we experience today. Vaughan-Lee believes we must rediscover and honor the feminine if the world is to heal itself and we are to survive.

He makes a compelling argument that the deep knowledge of creation is embodied in woman and that energy is the key to transforming our existence. His beliefs imbue the planet with a life and consciousness and he invokes teachings about the anima mundi or world soul and the lumen dei or divine light and how the material presence of the one is not inferior to the transcendence of the other.

It’s very interesting and might read at first as complicated to an initiate. But the chapters explain and revisit Vaughan-Lee’s arguments so you can grasp his meaning from various perspectives. This is both a strength and a failing of the book. I would recommend reading it over time rather than in one big gulp. Read in a single setting, it feels unnecessarily repetitive. Contemplated in a more leisurely study, The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul, is a lucid primer to another way of looking at the problems we have created on this planet and the ways in which we might fix them.

I borrowed the book from the library but it will go on my acquisitions list because I think I’ll want to revisit it more than once. I’m always resistant to male explanations of why women have the responsibility to repair the damage, but Vaughan-Lee’s writing does seem reasoned and sincere and there is a wisdom to be gained from it. The Return of the Feminine…is a book to underline and to work with. Many of the passages are powerful and beautiful and I will use them to inspire my intuitive inclusion of these ideas in my own fiction.

The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul   Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee | The Golden Sufi Center   2009

Awakening to the Spirit World — Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman

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Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman are well-known shamanic practitioners and this collaborative book is a primer for anyone wanting to know more about modern shamanism and how it works. The book includes a CD with drumming and flute sequences that allow you to practice taking a shamanic journey by entraining your attention to the beat. There are a number of suggested exercises to give you the experience of travel to one of the three spirit worlds–the Lower World, the Middle World and the Upper World—in search of revelation.

Instructions guide the reader to discover a power animal, experiment with intentional and lucid dreaming and interpret dreams. There are applications of shamanic practices to affect weather and heal the environment, create ceremony and ritual, enter a visionary state of consciousness through making art, evaluate the resonance of sounds and words, work with light, color and crystals and redefine a relationship with death.

The work in this book is all about healing and understanding at a deeper level of consciousness. It isn’t at all airy and insubstantial, the exercises are practical and many of the underlying beliefs are accepted precepts of widespread spiritual practices. The text is sprinkled with the observations and anecdotes of four additional contemporary shamans—a Celtic shaman from the Hudson River valley, a Native American shaman university professor, a psychotherapist who studied shamanism with Huichol elders and Incan and Peruvian Amazon shamans, and a medical anthropologist who practices Andean shamanism and energy medicine.

Ingerman, a licensed therapist and shamanic practitioner who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a respected workshop leader who has written a number of popular books about shamanism. Hank Wesselman is a paleoanthropologist and shamanic teacher with his own library shelf of books about the practice. He spent years studying the indigenous shamans in Africa and today lives and teaches in Hawaii.

I found this book fascinating—it’s written in a very down-to-earth style and addresses many key issues of our times. All of them need serious healing, from environmental degradation to medical diseases to pandemic violence to spiritual confusion and mental illnesses. The narrative of the shamanic journey is a close match to the narrative in a good story. Awakening to the Spirit World teaches the rudiments of a simple, accessible practice that doesn’t involve a lot of Hollywood theatrics and props. Rather it cuts to the heart of the human relationship to the planet and all of nature, the realization that we are first spirit and then the personas we cloak ourselves in, and the power each person has to tell their own story and shape a healed and whole life. Worth reading, contemplating and trying out—on my list to acquire for my own library and further exploration.    

Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation   Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman  |  Sounds True  2010