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