Snake Medicine
Shamanic Healing through Soul Retrieval
by Victoria Marina-Tompkins


In contemporary society it is not uncommon for us to arrive in adulthood with a pervasive sense of loss of trust accompanied by a long list of betrayals and disappointments. While there are currently a wide range of therapies available to assist us in the healing process, many are turning to the ways of the indigenous peoples in an effort to find health once again.

Shamans view most psychological imbalances as an indication that soul loss has occurred. Traditionally, if a community member experienced depression, loss of energy, sickness, or malaise, the Shaman would immediately consult with his Spirit Guides to determine if soul-loss had indeed occurred. In addition, he might ask very specific details about the individual's life, including stories from early childhood through adulthood. The shaman would listen for clues leading to either an event or a series of events where the loss may have occurred. Or he may choose to work directly with his spirit allies without hearing any of the client's story.

If he determined that a soul retrieval was in order, the Shaman would prepare during the day and typically journey for the lost soul during the night in total darkness. This was usually done inside the client's house or dwelling. In North America the Shaman would usually prepare through prayer, meditation, fasting, and the avoidance of certain foods and other impurities. One or more assistants were there as well, to drum and to watch over the Shaman's physical body while he journeyed into the Spirit World. After all the preparations had been completed (which may have included burning sage, gathering witnesses, singing, and chanting) the Shaman would journey to the Lower, Middle, or Upper Worlds, being guided and protected by his helping allies. He would look for the lost piece or pieces of the recipients soul. When he had fully recovered them, the Shaman would blow the energy back into his (client's) body, often into the heart area and the top of the head. At this point, any necessary instructions would be communicated, and most likely the client would be given into the care of his family and friends, while the shaman retired to a resting place.
Soul-retrieval today is based on the same principles. The primary difference is the function of the support system after the retrieval has occurred. In tribal communities, most families lived together, often in one dwelling. Sometimes the men and women lived in separate housing, but there still existed a strong familial bonding which served to support the member who was experiencing the loss. This arrangement also provided a safe environment for physical and emotional recovery and the integration of the energy which had been retrieved by the Shaman.

In today's Western Culture, it is often left up to the individual and her small group of supporters, to weather life transitions. We are expected to 'maintain appearances' even during times of extreme stress. Even illness or death of a loved one doesn't excuse one from the daily responsibilities of being in the world, or if it does, it is only briefly. It is in early childhood that we learn society's expectations of 'appropriate behavior' (which varies culturally) and we then internalize those rules. The family itself has a great influence on how the child will choose to incorporate these guidelines, for while one family may adhere rigidly to the norm, another may reject traditional values and structures in favor of a more open and flexible system. It is often at mid-life when these expectations are seriously evaluated and one decides whether to keep them or not. This internal struggle between what has been taught and what is 'truly one's own' is often what brings on the awareness that soul-loss has occurred. Many times the child willingly gives up a 'piece of her soul' in order to be loved and accepted in the family of origin. In other circumstances it just leaves; unable to witness and endure the horrors of abuse and neglect.

One such client was a woman named Jennifer. Her background was tragic. Jennifer's father had been extremely abusive and violent to her, dating back to her infancy. Her mother had all but been absent emotionally, for she suffered as well under the grip of terror which held her mercilessly and kept her in passive submission. Daily threats of violence were commonplace in this family and, to compound an already horrible scene, Jennifer's father also subjected her to daily rituals which involved sexual and emotional abuse. There was no place in the house where she was safe and by the time she was a teenager, she was already using drugs and alcohol to try to numb the pain which became more and more intolerable by the day. Along with the drugs and drinking, she became sexually promiscuous and spent as much as several days away from her home, finding 'peace' at any price. As an adult she went from relationship to relationship, unable to maintain intimacy on any level, frequently changing jobs, homes, and suffering from chronic physical symptoms including stomach aliments.

When Jennifer called me and asked me to do a session for her, she said that she wanted to make a 'leap forward' and there was something holding her back. She was enthusiastic about the possibility of the healing that a retrieval potentially held, and asked if we could do it immediately. I told her I would have to meditate about it and I would get back to her. I considered it, talked with my allies, and decided to do it for her. I also knew that the soul would probably be, not only reticent to return, but also reluctant to stay. We discussed these possibilities at length. In fact we spent several sessions preparing for the retrieval, talking at length, and also doing ceremony to prepare for her soul's return. We worked with her allies to insure their support and active participation.

At the session as I began rattling to call my allies, when I was ready, I lay down beside Jennifer and began the journey. I walked towards the World Tree, accompanied by Hawk and Panther. They told me to pull my cape up around me and walk very quietly. I entered the Tree in my usual way by climbing in the hole and down the rungs on the inside wall. Once inside and standing on solid ground, I looked around for the entrance that I would use today. Panther motioned to the right. I didn't remember having been that way before, but I followed, first sitting down and then sliding down the tunnel into the Lowerworld.

The tunnel seemed to go on forever, winding its way down through many levels. It was very dark. When I finally emerged, I was standing on the shore of a large lake near a boat sitting by the shore. I pulled my hood over my head even more, knowing now that my journey was to the Land of the Dead. Stepping into the boat and sitting down, I waited. The boat began to move slowly, and as it did, I noticed that the boat was being navigated by a tall 'man' dressed in black. I could feel the fear inside of me. Of course I couldn’t take my allies with me on the boat, for it would give me away. I realized that in order to cross the great waters, I had to appear dead and could not show any life.

I concentrated on my task, knowing that I had to find the lost soul and return it to Jennifer. I kept that thought in my mind, repeating it over and over again as the boat reached shore. What I saw before me was beyond description. It appeared to be an island, but this was no tropical paradise. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of 'lost souls', wandering aimlessly, without purpose or direction. They were of all ages, but they shared the same lack of life energy. I thought, " How will I ever find Jennifer?"

I moved out of the boat, hoping that I would not be asked for anything. (I had no money and remembered that in Greek mythology there is often a fee for crossing the river.) I slowly stepped forward and didn't look back. I began to move toward the people. I heard what sounded like sobbing and wailing and after some time I saw a young girl of about 5. I was beginning to feel very tired, as though the life was being drained out of me. I had begun to feel discouraged and defeated, and upon seeing this child held once again to the hope that I could return Jennifer's soul to her. I whispered to her, asking her if she was the child I was looking for. She barely nodded, but I knew that she was the lost soul. There was almost no energy at all in her, which seemed different from the others around. I suspected that this was true because she was a 'missing piece' of someone who still lived in the Middle World. Many of these souls were somehow lost or stuck during the death process. Their souls had not been able to move to the middle astral plane where the reevaluation between lives takes place. I felt elated that I was able to find Jennifer but the primary problem now was how to leave the Land of the Dead without being detected.

We moved slowly together toward the boat, but I realized that the boat was probably not the way we could return. Only my ally the Hawk could assist me at this point which was unfortunate since I had left her back on the other side of the river. I concentrated as much as I could, visualizing us flying back over the river to safe ground. My allies were waiting and quite anxious to attend to both of us. I quickly 'shrank' Jennifer and put her energy inside my Retrieving Crystal. I placed the Crystal in my Medicine Bag and began my journey back up to the light of the Middle World through the Great Tree, emerging into the green meadow that I had left just moments before. I took a deep breath and pulled down my hood as I let the sun shine on my face once again. My allies told me that retrieving Jennifer's child self was all the work I could do today. I agreed, and prepared to blow the lost energy back into the waiting adult Jennifer who was still lying beside me.

Upon my return I blew the child self into Jennifer, first through her heart and then through the top of her head. I rattled around her to seal the energy and welcomed her back. I shared my journey with her. She seemed happy and full of energy. We arranged to meet 2 weeks later for a follow-up session. Several days later I received a call from Jennifer. She said she had so much energy that she was literally bouncing off the walls! She was having a great time with her newly found inner child. She had bought crayons, paper, and toys. She was feeling a tremendous resurgence of vitality and optimism. She said she hadn't felt this good in years. During the upcoming weeks she would continue to work integrating her renewed energy. There was still more work to do, but this was, as she later told me, the great leap she had been looking for.

© 1997 by Victoria Marina-Tompkins

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