The Potential Healing Effects of Core Shamanism
for Women Who Have Experienced Trauma
Nancy Waring, Ph.D
Ann Drake, Psy.D.
Allie Knowlton, MSW, LCSW,DCSW
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for The Master of Arts Degree in Independent Study
Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences
The purpose of this thesis was to determine the effectiveness of core shamanic healing for women who have experienced trauma. My theory is that shamanic healing, applied as either a single healing system, or as an adjunct to other healing modalities, is a powerful method for healing trauma. The primary methodology I used to acquire the information I needed was from interviews with three experts in the field of core shamanism, and with four women who had sought out shamanic healing for trauma. I also included an extensive literary review on shamanism. The conclusion I drew from my primary research and literary review is that core shamanism is a highly effective tool for healing physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.
Table of Contents
Introduction (My Three Experts on Shamanism)…………………………………………………………………………pg. 4
History of Shamanism………………………………………………pg.7
Core Shamanism………………………………………………………pg. 12-26 (Includes Upper World, Lower World, Middle World, Shamanic State of Consciousness, Depossession and Extraction)
Interviews with shamans: Sandra Ingerman, MA, Allie Knowlton, MSW, LCSW, DCSW, and Ann DrakePsy.D…………………………………….. pg. 37
Interviews with four women who have experienced trauma……….pg. 55
The Potential Healing Effects of Core Shamanism for Women Who Have Experienced Trauma
My Three Experts on Shamanism
My interview with Sandra Ingerman focuses primarily on how a shaman perceives and interprets trauma. Sandra is internationally recognized as a leading authority on an ancient shamanic healing technique referred to as “soul retrieval,” one of the primary methods shamanic practitioners are currently utilizing to address trauma. As a result, my interview with her highlights this expertise as it relates to trauma. To date, Sandra estimates that through The Foundation for Shamanic Studies she has trained soul retrieval techniques to approximately 10,000 individuals in locations all over the world. She has stated that a large percentage of her students have been therapists and psychologists and other mental health experts.
For Allie and Ann, I prepared five open-ended questions which allowed for a deep understanding of the evolution in their thinking as each of these women, in their own private life journeys, expanded beyond the mainstream healing concepts they were taught in traditional Western academics. Both women now refer to themselves first and foremost as shamanic healers. My interviews with Ann and Allie helped me to understand how they were able to incorporate shamanism into their traditional therapy practices; and how their clients, particularly women who had suffered from trauma, had benefited from their shamanic expertise.
I interviewed Ann and Allie over the phone, and I taped our conversations and then transcribed them and wrote from the transcriptions. I presented their material in the thesis primarily as it was told to me, like a story unfolding. With Sandra, I sent her five questions in the mail, and she taped her responses. I felt the best possible presentation for her information was to quote her directly, which is what I did in the thesis. The interviews are presented differently for these reasons.
It is important to note at this point that research which attempts to explain the healing relationship between shamanism and trauma is rare. As far as I have been able to determine, serious research on this subject is limited to Sandra Ingerman’s groundbreaking book, Soul Retrieval:Mending the Fragmented Self, Ann Drake’s book Healing of the Soul: Shamanism & Psyche, and the information contained in this thesis.
Four Women Who Have Experienced Trauma
“Cathy”, Mimi”, “Maria” and “Judy”
When it was time for me to interview women who had received shamanic healing for issues related to trauma, I created a pamphlet expressing this interest, which Allie and Ann were nice enough to place in their offices. I knew how shamanism had helped me recover from trauma, and I was very interested in other women’s experiences. I had four women respond to my pamphlet, and these are the women whom I interviewed.
As it turned out, all the women were Caucasian who ranged in age from 42 to 59 and they all lived in New England. They were each highly educated, although from varying economic backgrounds. Their occupations when I interviewed them were: physician, artist/counselor, medical student, and a former director of a women’s residential rehabilitation clinic. Their presenting problems included: chronic depression, situational depression, suicidal ideation, multiple personality disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, a neck injury, anxiety, a disruption in sleep patterns, and irritation that progressed into a deep anger. These various problems had been triggered by traumas which included sexual abuse by a relative, priest ritual abuse, the death of a sibling, and an automobile accident. Interestingly, one woman considered the depth and the duration of her ten year long depression, during which time she had suicidal thoughts, as the trauma for which she eventually sought out the help of a shamanic counselor.
To protect the privacy of the women, I changed their names and omitted information which was too revealing. Otherwise the information I received from “Cathy,” “Mimi,” “Maria,” and “Judy” has been presented as it was told to me by them. I interviewed all the women in person, at least once, with the exception of Judy, whom I interviewed over the phone. As I did with Ann and Allie, I transcribed the tapes and wrote up the information from the transcription. I also received sign consent forms from each of the women.
These four women represent only a handful of the thousands who are now being treated for trauma with shamanism, but I believe they can serve as a model of healing for other women who have suffered from similar trauma. Maria speaks for the many women in our culture who have suffered rape, and other forms of abuse, as a result of the actions of misguided spiritual authority figures. In our interview, Maria talks candidly about her repeated ritual abuse by a Catholic priest, and the thirteen personalities she developed in response to her trauma.
Mimi speaks to the housewives of the world who have the “perfect” suburban life but nonetheless feel like they are living out an endless jail sentence. With carefully chosen words she describes how and why she made the decision to seek the roots of her depression rather than to suppress her symptoms with anti-depressant medications such as Prozac.
The problems each of the four women experienced as a result of trauma provide us with the opportunity to see how trauma and shamanic healing can affect all the major levels of our existence. But it is better to show than to tell, so I will let the women themselves tell their stories as they unfold in the last chapter of the thesis.
In my literary review I provide a relatively brief description of the history of shamanism in general, followed by an over view of the terminology basic to core shamanism. I felt it was important for the reader to understand some basic shamanic terms used by all of the women I interviewed for this thesis.
Throughout the text I use the words “shaman,” “shamanic practitioner,” and “shamanic counselor” interchangeably although the general opinion held by many core shamanic practitioners is that a “shaman” is a man or woman who is born and raised in an indigenous shamanic heritage. This would include people such as Black Elk, the famous medicine man of the Oglala Sioux, and Don Juan, Carlos Castanada’s famous shaman teacher.
A shamanic practitioner, on the other hand, is a man or woman highly trained in shamanism who has not been raised in a tradition of shamanic healers. This would describe most of the practitioners mentioned in this thesis, including Ann Drake, Allie Knowlton, Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman and Carlos Castanda. Many would argue that these people are shamans in the deepest sense of the word, regardless of their birth heritage. I believe that in time a new way to more perfectly describe these accomplished Western shamans who are much more than “practitioners” but aren’t shamans in the traditional sense of the word, will arise as core shamanism matures into adulthood. In the meantime, for the sake of simplicity, I use the terms interchangeably.
In the section of the thesis where I explain core shamanic terminology, I use some of my own knowledge gained in my ten years of study of core shamanism. Additionally, with respect and honor of power animals, which are central to shamanic healing work, I capitalize words such as Bear, Eagle, and Hawk when they are being used to describe as power animals.
General History of Shamanism
Shamanism is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality with experts dating its origins as far back as 100,000 BC. The word “shaman” is from the Tungas tribe of Siberia and is rooted in the word “saman” which translates into the concept of a person who is adept in the “techniques of ecstasy” (Eliade, l964, pg. 4). Michael Harner (l990) states that shamanism represents the most widespread and ancient methodological system of mind-body healing know to humankind. Archaeological and anthropological evidence have revealed shamanic activities in almost all points on earth including Asia, China, Japan, Australia, Siberia, Mongolia, Africa, Europe, and North and South America.
Traditional teachings which have determined that shamanism originated in North Asia about 40,000 year ago and migrated over the Bering Strait, has been challenged by evidence of Paleolithic shamanic sites on other continents including Europe, Asia and Australia (Tedlock, 2005, pg. 15). Dr. Barbara Tedlock, an anthropologist and Mayan-trained shaman ascertains that shamanism was independently reinvented again and again in many places on the planet. This theory is supported by neuroscience and medical anthropology research (Tedlock, 2005).
These studies reveal that shamanic consciousness and healing practices
are based on an understanding of the human immunological system and
psychobiology (the study of mental function) rather than on a narrow set of culture-historical traits or patterns.
An Upper Paleolithic archaeological site in the Pavlov Hills of the Czech Republic, referred to as the Dolni Vestonice, revealed what is believed to be the oldest known skeletal remains of a shaman. (Tedlock, 2005). Discovered at this site was the 60,000 year old skeletal remains of a female who had been buried with a splint spearhead and fox. A pair of shoulder blades from a mammoth formed a pitched roof above her and traces of red ocher paint were found on the skeleton.
The archaeological team, headed by Bohuslav Klima, maintained that the presence of a fox in the grave indicated that the person in the grave had been a shaman as it is generally believed that foxes were shaman spirit guides in Europe, across Asia, and into the Americas (Tedlock, 2005).
In close proximity to the grave of the skeleton the team later found an earth lodge containing bone flutes and an oven filled with nearly three thousand baked clay artifacts, many of which were animal figurines. The animal figurines were interpreted to be part of the shaman’s magical rituals.
In Lacuax, France, petroglyphs of a “bird-headed man” found in prehistoric caves (15,000 B.C.) are indicative of the shaman’s ability to take flight in a state of ecstasy. Images of horses, cows, deer, and bulls on these cave walls have been assessed to be power animals or spirit helpers of shamans. According to the late Dr. Marija Gimbutas, an expert on Baltic and Old European history, modern archaeological excavations of approximately 2,000 artifacts from Neolithic “Old Europe” indicate that 9,000 years ago in Old Europe, women were the “shaman rulers of the agricultural city-states” (Jamal, 1987).
Throughout history, it has generally been the role of the shaman to enter into non-ordinary realities in order to commune with the spirits of power animals, spirit helpers, plants, people, mountains, rivers, rocks, and other entities on behalf of herself, her community, tribe or family. Shamans have often been referred to as mystics, saints, warriors, magicians, seers, wizards, witches, priests, or priestesses. While it is true that a shaman may fit one or more of these descriptions in addition to being a shaman, it is the flight of the shaman’s soul into non-ordinary realities, with the assistance of a power animal or spirit guide, which distinguishes shamans from all other categories.
Shamans worldwide adhere to the understanding that all of creation is saturated with a holistic life force, vital energy, consciousness, soul, spirit, or other “ethereal immaterial substance that transcends the laws of classical physics” (Tedlock, 2005). Shamans of Paleolithic eras used their special powers to locate herds of wild animals in order to utilize them for food for their tribes.
There is some evidence which indicates that shamans were able to communicate cosmically, deriving information from the planets in our own galaxy, as well as from other far-reaching galaxies yet undiscovered by contemporary physicists. In a workshop I participated in September of 2006 with Claude Poncelet, a Belgium physicist and shaman, we undertook shamanic journeys to the “black hole”, to the moon, the stars, the sun, and to planets outside of our own galaxy, in part, to seek out wisdom which might be helpful in healing planet earth.
Historically, shamans have also been experts in divination. Seeing into the messages of dreams, the clouds, the direction of the wind, the caw of a crow, or the appearance of a certain animal, either in spirit or physical form, are all potential subjects for divination practiced by shamans. The Mayan shamans practice divination using rows of seeds and crystals following the grid of the Mayan Calendar which is based on 260 days (Tedlock, 2005).
The late anthropologist and shaman Carlos Castaneda (1972) extensively documented the divination skills of his shamanic teacher, don Juan, the Mexican sorcerer. In the book Journey to Ixtel by Castaneda (1972), the cry of crows and the direction a crow flew , signified shamanic communication to don Juan as he accompanied Castaneda on their walks in the Mexican desert. Don Juan told Castaneda, when teaching him to watch for omens, that the crow is an omen, and if Castaneda knew about crows he would have avoided that place “like the plague.” (Castaneda, 1972).
Castaneda’s (1972) documentation of his thirteen year apprenticeship with Don Juan highlights aspects of shamanism focused on warrior interactions, sorcery, and the acquisition of personal power. The warrior and sorcery aspects of shamanism were common is many cultures, including the Jivaro Indians, with whom anthropologist Dr. Michael Harner lived in 1956 and 1957. Harner returned to be with these people in the 1960’s, partly in search of a deeper understanding of their spirit helpers, called “tsentak” (Harner, 1990).
There is an ancient history of shamans performing soul retrieval, depossession, and extractions. (These subjects will be covered in more depth in the section on core shamanism). Shamans also historically worked in partnership with the spirits of the weather for the betterment of the lives of their tribes or communities. Throughout the world, shamanistic skills were called upon for matters related to pregnancy and childbirth, or when death was imminent. Shamans could assist with the death process, using herbs and potions, to help make death less painful. After death, ancient Celtic shamans “danced, sang and chanted the souls to their final rest” (Cowan, 1993, p. 155). Helping spirits cross over to the light, God, the Goddess, or Great Spirit is a common process practiced by shamans, and is often referred to as psychopomping.
Shamans may also be called upon to uplift the spiritual and emotional life of their community. The famous Ghost Dance, created by a Paiute shaman named Wovoka in 1889, was a Native American shamanic event designed to uplift the heavy hearts of the Native Americas who were starving, dying of diseases brought by the Europeans, and spiritually depleted from forced reservation life.
Fearing it was a war dance and unable to comprehend the fact it was a celebration of the return of a more fruitful, happier life, the Ghost Dance was outlawed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At that point, many natives gave up the dance, but the Lakota Sioux adopted the dance as their religion. The massacre of 350 unarmed Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, who were traveling by foot to the Pine Ridge Reservation, by the Seventh Cavalry in December of 1890, put an end to Wovoka’s Ghost Dance (Neihardt, 1961).
The Lakota Sioux shaman, Black Elk, who was a witness to the Wounded Knee massacre, summarizes the demise of his people’s dream of a new world. I include Black Elk’s statement about the demise of his people because it epitomizes the final forced repression (and, in some cases, dissolution) worldwide of ancient shamanic traditions during this particular era in history. Black Elk states:
I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead. (p. 270)
By the late nineteenth century, not only were Native American shamanic traditions being outlawed, but many shamanic traditions around the world had been repressed or annihilated by Christian, military, or other political forces. Torture or death were often the punishment for practicing shamanism. In Siberia, the shamans were imprisoned by the Communists and shot or thrown out of helicopters under Stalin’s dictatorship (Reid). The attempt at eliminating shamanic philosophy, culture, and ceremony was epidemic and was occurring at locations all across the globe including Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, and in North America with the Native Americans.
During the European Inquisition which began in medieval Europe and did not subside until the late eighteenth century, thousands, or possibly millions, of Europeans had been convicted of witchcraft, and were tried and executed. (William’s, l978). The primary force behind the executions was the Catholic Church and the infamous handbook, The Malleus Maleficarum or “Hammer of Witches” created by Dominican inquisitors Jakob Sprenger and Henrich Kramer.
The book declared witchcraft to be high treason against God and punishable by death (Williams, 1978). Despite the horrors of the Inquisition, Harner (1990) indicates that European witchcraft, which he stated was a form of shamanism, survived, in part, because the shamans began to ingest sacred herbs, such as nightshade, which allowed the traditions to be carried on in a quieter, but potentially less effective manner.
The Native American Ghost Dancers never lived to see their visions manifest on the earth but I do not believe it signified they had been misled by their spiritual leaders. Several decades after Wounded Knee, the uprising and revolutionary consciousness of the 1960’s, included not only a rise in feminist consciousness, a rebellion against racism and the war in Vietnam, but an expanding interest in alternative forms of spirituality, including Native American.
The return of Native American beliefs and customs, including shamanism, would be heralded in, surprisingly, in the hearts of young middle class white Americans. Desperately seeking to bust through the restrictive confines of the puritanical paradigms which had defined America until the 1960’s, the “Woodstock Generation”, as they were often called, utilized unconventional resources, including psychedelic drugs, sexual freedom, “radical” dress (including Native American styles and jewelry) music, and very visual and radical activism, to bring about the decline of many conventional American values.
The “wild “ dancing at Woodstock, New York, by young people clad in “strange” attire, which terrified conventional authority, may not have been exactly what the Ghost Dancers envisioned as the return of their relatives and their customs, it does, nonetheless, warrant our attention as a time history when our values were dismantled and reevaluated.
The restructuring of America included an inclination to recognize the beauty and power of the earth, empirical wisdom, (opposed to didactic religion) and the spirituality of indigenous peoples in this country and elsewhere such as that which was derived from Tibet and India. I have learned that visions we are given by Great Spirit often have their own time table. We also may never know exactly what they will look like when they manifest. One of the young revolutionary thinkers of the 1960’s was an anthropologist named Michael Harner and his discoveries are covered in detail in the following section.
Core Shamanism is a contemporary form of shamanism created by Dr. Michael Harner, an anthropologist and former professor at Columbia, Yale, and the University of California at Berkeley. It is theorized by many individuals associated with the recent resurgence of shamanism, that Harner’s worldwide research has been a primary force behind the reintroduction of shamanism into the Western world from the shadows of its near extinction during the Middle Ages and throughout the nineteenth century.
Early in his career Harner departed from academia to devote his life to the teaching of shamanism and to the creation of a nonprofit educational center called The Foundation of Shamanic Studies, located in Mill Valley, California. The goal of the Foundation is “the study, preservation, teaching, and application of shamanic knowledge” (Foundation of Shamanic Studies website, 2007). In an effort to preserve indigenous shamanic cultures the Foundation has sent field associates to Nepal, Siberia, China, Central Asia, the Amazon the Republic of Tuva, China, Siberia, Sami land, Australia, Canada, and the northeastern United States and Alaska.
In a letter to Michael Harner dated Dec. 30, 2006 from Sarah C. Sifous, PHD, a foundation field associate, Sifous stated that shaman Pau Kama Wangchuk, a shaman from Pulchara, Nepal, is able to continue his daily work as a shaman, in, part, because of the Foundation’s contribution which pays for his medicine, food, water, and electric bulbs (www.shamanism.org/fssinfo/living treasure.html). The Foundation is also involved in a “long-term project to develop the world’s foremost data base of cross-cultural accounts of shamanic journeys, near-death, and other non-ordinary exploration.” This information will be utilized to “construct a map of the hidden universe discovered and rediscovered by shaman and other through the ages” (website, 2007).
In his keynote address at the first annual conference of the newly created Society of Shamanic Practitioners, which was held in England in the summer of 2006, Celtic shaman and author, Tom Cowan, Ph.D., (and Foundation teacher) stated that shamanic education opportunities created by the Foundation have allowed western Europeans to carry the messages of shamanism to cultures all over the globe. He believes Westerners are bringing back ancient traditions to people who may have become disconnected from their own ancient heritage during preceding eras wherein shamanism had been repressed.
The Foundation’s Shamanism and Health Project, which is directed by Harner’s wife Dr. Sandra Harner, was created to determine the effectiveness of shamanism in regards to illness and other problems occurring in the daily problems of life (Foundation of Shamanic Studies, 2006). The findings of this program are incorporated into the training offered to medical doctors and psychotherapists. Another major research issue being addressed by the project is the study of shamanic journeying and drumming on the immune system and emotions (Horrigan, l997).
Harner’s (1990) first, and potentially one of his most comprehensive studies of shamanic cultures was in 1956, when, as part of his doctoral dissertation, he lived in the Ecuadorian Andes with the Jivaro Indians, (Shuars); a shamanic culture focused on warrior activities and sorcery. In 1960, the American Museum of Natural History engaged Harner in an expedition to the Amazon to study with the more peaceful Conibo Indians.
Harner believes it was his experiences with the Conibo, in particular his experience with the sacred herb ayahuasca, that led him to begin his serious study of shamanism. The ayahuasca plant provided him with profound and visionary insights on the origins of life on the planet. From the Conibo Indians, Harner also learned about “the journey into Lower World” and “the retrieval of spirits,” two major innate concepts in Core Shamanism (Harner, 1990, p. 8). Harner (1990) indicated that it was from Native American shamans within the tribes of the Lakota Sioux, the Wintun, Pomo, and Coasta Salish that he learned that shamanism could be practiced without using ayahuasca or other drugs of the Conibo or Jivaro and this information was useful in introducing Westerners to the practice of shamanism. In an interview with Bonnie Horrigan (1997) for Shamanism Magazine Harner stated,
In about 90% of the world, the altered states of consciousness used in shamanism are attained through consciousness-changing techniques involving a monotonous percussion sound, most typically with a drum, but also with sticks, rattles, and other instruments. In perhaps 10% of the cultures, shamans use psychedelic drugs to change their state of consciousness. (website, pg.3)
In his extensive literature review on shamanism, Harner (1990) was particularly influenced by Mercea Eliade (1964), a religious historian who, in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, he extensively documented similarities in shamanic methods throughout the world. Considered by many to be the most comprehensive recorded documentation of ancient shamanism, (although criticized by some scholars who conclude that Eliade excluded information that portrayed women as powerful shamans) Eliade (1964) includes in his book an extensive array of commonalities in shamanic ideologies, symbols, techniques, and myths in countries all over the world.
Harner (1990) deduced the basic goal of the shaman is to journey into non-ordinary realities, and with the help of spirit guides, to initiate a healing for self, community, or client. Dissimilar to some other ancient, as well as contemporary, shamanistic traditions, it is highly unethical to utilize core shamanic techniques for any type of negative sorcery or revengeful, invasive forms of spiritual work. Core Shamanism is taught, and is expected to be practiced, exclusively to facilitate healing.
Another unique aspect of core shamanism is the respect and kindness given by core shamanic practitioners to spirits which are often considered “evil” in other cultures. The fact that core shamanism was born into a culture with advanced psychological healing practices, may be part of the reason for the sympathetic nature of the practitioners of this type of shamanism. Currently, The Foundation provides 200 workshops in shamanism in the United States, Australia and Europe, with 5000 people participating each year in the workshops (website, 2007).
Core Shamanic Terminology
Terms central to both the meaning and application of Core Shamanism include: Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC), Non-Ordinary Reality, Shamanic Journeying, Upper world, Lower world, and Middle world, Power Animals and Spirit Guides, Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval, Extraction and Possession. In the following section, I have included a review of these concepts.
Shamanic State Of Consciousness
Prior to beginning shamanic healing work, a shaman must enter into what is referred to in Core Shamanism as a Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC), a term coined by Harner (1990), which is otherwise known as a trance or ecstatic state of consciousness. For a shaman, this trance is also specifically associated with maintaining a learned awareness of shamanic methods and assumptions while in the altered state (Harner, 1990, p. 21). The SSC state for shamans is also specific in that while in trance, the shaman’s soul is thought to leave his body, ascending to the sky or descending to the underworld (Eliade, l964).
In core shamanism, a state of altered consciousness, or SSC, is achieved primarily through the monotonous sound of a percussion instrument, such as a drum or rattle. In other shamanic traditions, SSC is achieved through drums or rattles, sticks, clapping, or dancing, as well as the use of hallucinogenic plants such as peyote or ayahuasca (as has been previously mentioned).
Dance is central in achieving trance for some female shamans in Korea (Tedlock, 2005). During what Dr. Barbara Tedlock (2005) refers to as the “skipping reindeer dance of a Sakhi woman shaman,” the shaman reaches a point of euphoria or trance (p. 81). Sanapia, a Comanche woman born in 1895, who was the leading eagle shaman of her time, used peyote buttons to achieve a state of trance (Tedlock, 2005, p. 161).
In core shamanism, the shamanic practitioner usually works in a darkened room, possibly with a lighted candle on an altar. The shaman’s healing arena may also include many other supportive items, such as feathers, crystals, gems, animal figurines, statues of gods or goddesses, or other icons. The shaman’s alter is often reflective of their individual religious beliefs. A Christian may have a Christ image, a pagan a Goddess, a Native American may have an image of the Great Spirit, etc. A shaman’s medicine bag, which contains special items representing her power, is often worn around her neck or placed on the altar. Shamans often express their gratitude, respect and love for their power animals and spirit guides by wearing jewelry or placing objects depicting these entities on their altars. It is also a reminder to the shaman of her own personal power.
Prior to the SSC, or sometimes during this initial period, shamans may whistle, sing, chant, rattle, dance, or drum, but most often use a combination of one or more of these activities to call in her power animals and spirit guides. To minimize the stimuli of ordinary reality, the shaman will close her eyes or blindfold herself with a scarf or “shaman’s mask,” or lie on the floor with one arm draped across her eyes.
At this point, the shaman is ready to enter into SSC (shamanic state of consciousness) and the shaman or the shaman’s assistant begins to beat a drum at a slow repetitive beat. If an assistant is not available, many core shamanism practitioners use a tape recording of a 20 to 30 minute drum beat. The latter method allows the shaman to be free to move around and to use her arms and hands for other purposes. In many shamanic healings, including a soul retrieval or power animal retrieval, the arms and hands are needed to gather the soul parts together and to carry them home to the clients.
The drum beat is a powerful tool for achieving altered states of consciousness and it has been referred to by indigenous shamans as the “horse” or “canoe” that carries the shaman into non-ordinary reality (Rysdyk, 1999). Shaman practitioner Evelyn Rysdyk (1999) states that repetitive auditory stimuli can create vivid visionary states rivaling those experienced under the influence of sacred, hallucinogenic botanicals (p. 25).
In her book Soul Retrieval, Ingerman (1991) states that scientists believe that listening to a monotonous beat facilitates the production of brain waves in the alpha and theta ranges (p. 28). Other studies indicate that the theta waves are connected to our creative and imaginary states of consciousness and that drumming may allow shamans to align their brains waves with the earth’s pulse (Ingerman, 1991).
Once entered into this state of SSC initiated by the drum beat, the shaman generally experiences an “indescribable joy in what is seen, an awe of the beautiful and mysterious world opening before him” (Harner, 1990). It is at the point when the shaman has drummed, rattled, or danced herself into a state of powerful ecstasy that she is prepared to safely begin her journey into what Carlos Castanada (1972) termed “non-ordinary reality.”
This journey into non-ordinary reality, or the “dream time” as it is called by the Aborigines, or the “otherworld” as it is referred to by the Celts, involves sending a portion of the shaman’s soul into non-ordinary realities while the client rests in a state of receptivity. In core shamanism, during a soul retrieval, the client and the shaman lie side by side on the floor, often with their ankles, knees, and shoulders touching.
The three primary unseen worlds where the shaman will journey, are referred to as the Upper world, Lower World, and Middle World.
Lower World and Upper World
In Lower world, the shaman often witnesses scenes and beings which are similar to or are associated with our own earth, such as jungles, green fields, forests, streams, rivers, or deserts, and animals such as the wolf, lion, bear, horse, fox, raven, or eagle. This is also the location of mythological beings and others associated with folklore, fairy tales or even cartoon characters or completely surreal characters. Lower World is considered to be a peaceful place where spirits of love, compassion, and wisdom reside and are available to assist shamanic practitioners in their healing work. Shamanic practitioner Evelyn C. Rysdyk (1999) describes Lower World as a place where:
You may find brilliant deserts, green valleys, flowery meadows, snow-capped mountains, great oceans, rivers with mighty waterfalls and steaming jungles (and/or) dragons, unicorns, centaurs, giant talking plants, blue oxen, extinct beasts or other fantastic creatures (p. 38).
The shaman accesses Lower World by means of a descent which signifies to her that she is going down into the earth. This point of descent is generally a real spot on earth which the journeyer is familiar with in ordinary reality. The most commonly taught method is to visualize a tunnel through which the journeyer slides down to Lower World, but the variety of ways a shaman performs this exercise are almost limitless. She may imagine a tunnel, roots of a tree, a slide, an elevator, a fireman’s pole, riding on the back of her power animal, or on a downward escalator.
Upper world is accessed by imagining an ascension process, such as rising up in a hot air balloon, following a rainbow, rising up on a cloud, or being carried up on a swirl of smoke. Again, the options are limited only by the imagination of the shaman or the directions given by the shaman’s spirit guides. Sandra Ingerman (1993) describes Upper world as an ethereal place where she has seen chambers of crystal and glass as well as a city of clouds (p. 34). Ann Drake (2006) describes Upper world as a multi layered realm housing the vibrations of the great teachers and masters along with other beings and spirits (p. 29).
In the book Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt (1961), the famous Oglala Sioux shaman Black Elk tells Neihardt that in 1872, when was his was only nine years old, he was taken by two male spirits and a “little cloud” to the Six Grandfathers of the Universe. He recalls looking back down at his mother and father in the tepee while he was being carried upwards (p. 22). Black Elk’s description of the world he is taken to by the spirits is strikingly similar to how contemporary core shamanic practitioners often perceive Upper world (Neihardt, 1961).
Then there was nothing but the air and the swiftness of the little cloud that bore me and those two men still leading up to where white clouds where piled like mountains on a wide blue plain, and in them thunder beings lived and leaped and flashed. Now suddenly there was nothing but a world of clouds and we were there alone in the middle of a great white plain with snowy hills and mountains staring at us; and it was very still… (p. 23)
The commonality among these Upper World dwellings is they all feel light and airy. It often feels are if you are floating on clouds or some other kind of ethereal substance. Both Upper world and Lower World are filled with loving, compassionate beings who are beyond pain and suffering (Harner, pg. 18, Shaman’s Drum No. 7, 2006) and are very happy to help shamans achieve their healing goals. This criterion is one of the major differences between these two worlds and Middle world.
Middle world is the world we live in here on the earth, although it is the unseen aspect of this reality. It is also considered to be the most dangerous location for shamans, primarily because lost or confused, and sometimes “negative” entities can get stuck in this realm. Trapped in a situation they seemingly cannot remove themselves from, these entities can create problems for ordinary people, as well as for shamans.
Deceased humans (who are referred to as “ghosts” by most people), may be looking for a “home” in Middle world and may try to possess vulnerable living human beings. These include entities who wander into Middle World who may have died traumatically and/or unexpectedly, such as those who died in the 9/ll plane crash or the tsunami catastrophe in India. These entities may have no ill intent, but are simply lost, confused, and unable to find a “porthole” from Middle world into the next step in their soul’s evolution, whether it be the light, God, or loving ancestors.
The problematic Middle World spirits often have unresolved anger issues or may be seeking revenge. Evelyn Rysdyk (1999), states that Middle world spirits may have retained human traits of trickery, jealously, greed, or hatred, and may exhibit great cruelty. She also described them as spirits who can be destructive, steal souls, and disturb dreams (p. 37).
The Foundation for Shamanic Studies sponsors a workshop entitled Shamanism: Death and Dying, which involves a shamanic healing method referred to as “psychopomping” which instructs shamanic practitioners how to safely journey into Middle World and potentially remove both benign and destructive spirits. Sandra Ingerman, a teacher for The Foundation of Shamanic Studies, is one of the primary instructors of this technique. In a recent Foundation workshop (which I attended), Ingerman stated that the extensive amount of death which has occurred in the past, and is currently occurring on this planet, under very traumatic circumstance, is creating an epidemic of lost souls who remain in Middle World.
These discarnate spirits are often seeking a human being which they can inhabit. Traumatic deaths which are occurring by natural forces such as Hurricane Katrina, as well as human-induced such as the war in Iraq and/or the rising seemingly unprovoked random gun shootings such as the one which occurred in April 2007 (and declared the worst shooting incident in U.S. history ) at Virginia Tech Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, have the potential to manifest lost souls who become stuck in Middle World.
A portion of this workshop was devoted to psychopomping souls from Middle world ( from several locations in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area) where there had been brutal conflicts between the Native Americans and the Spanish as well as between the Natives and white settlers and Mexican and Native American. An attitude of respect, non-judgment, and an intention of bringing these spirits to a place of love, which will ultimately be more appropriate and comfortable for them, were the guiding principles of this work.
The enormously powerful spirits of Air, Water, Earth and Fire also live in Middle world. These spirits can either be compassionate and helpful or destructive to humans. Foundation teachers and shamanic practitioners Nan Moss and David Corbin (2000) of Port Clyde, Maine, demonstrate to shamanic students how to work safely in Middle World with the four major elements.
In an article written by Moss and Corbin (2000), which is available on the Foundation website, they describe how shamans around the country were called upon to communicate with the spirit of the Wind in an attempt to divert a fire disaster in New Mexico in 2000. The situation involved high winds and uncontrolled fires which had been blazing for over a week, apparently burning 33,000 acres of land, including 260 homes in Los Alamos, NM. When the fires reached within 300 feet of the Los Alamos nuclear power plant, shaman Larry Kessler asked his Awaiku spirit guides to plead with the Spirit of the Wind to hold his breath for twenty-four hours. The next day, on May 12, the Associated Press reported that the winds and searing heat had subsided (Moss & Corbin, 2000). (I believe Sandra Ingerman and other shamans were also involved in this effort to subside the Wind). Middle world journeys by shamans to meet with and to rally the empathy of these powerful spirits can obviously be of great benefit to humanity.
The spirits of flowers, trees, herbs, mountains, rivers, and animals and many more earth-based beings are also in Middle world. Middle world is also the home to the “little people” or the “hidden folk.” This includes fairies, plant devas, gnomes, elves, leprechauns and “brownies.” In Australia, the little ones are called goowawa’s and in Hawaii they are the menehunes. Shamans and ordinary people often have a working partnership with these beings for a variety of reasons.
Shamans in South America communicate with the plant divas of the rain forest in order to obtain information about curing illnesses (Ingerman, 2006, p. 158). The government and construction crews in Iceland consult with “elves, dwarves, and fairies” prior to beginning any construction in order to avoid destroying the homes of nature spirits. According to Ingerman construction costs are double or tripled when these Middle world spirit beings are offended. (Ingerman, 2000)
In ancient times, shamans would travel through Middle world in search of game to feed their tribes. In Middle world, a shaman can journey back in time to visit ancestors or forward in time to visit with descendants. One primary reason why a shaman would travel back and forth in time is to locate a soul that has fled or been stolen from a client. The concept of soul loss and retrieval is primary to core shamanism and a description of this practice is discussed in the following section.
Soul Loss and Soul Retrieval
Sandra Ingerman is considered to be the individual primarily responsible for the contemporary revival of the ancient shamanic concepts of soul loss and soul retrieval. In her extensive work as a psychotherapist, it was her observation of her clients who had experienced severe trauma, such as sexual abuse, who also often complained of never feeling completely whole or joyful, that suggested to her that a part of the human soul can actually leave the body under severe stress (Ingerman).
Ingerman also observed that these client’ sense of emptiness never went away regardless of how much counseling they received. Having been a student of Michael Harner and a participant in many of the Foundation’s shamanic workshops, Ingerman understood the wide range of potential problems that can be created as a result of loss of power . She began to theorize that soul loss in her clients may be the source of many of their spiritual, physical and/or emotional illnesses. Eliede’s (1964) research into ancient shamanic cultures concurred with contemporary findings on soul loss deduced by Ingerman (1991,1993). He states:
The principal function of the shaman in Central and North Asia is magical healing. Several conceptions of the cause of illness are found in the area, but that of the rape of the soul is by far the most widespread. Disease is attributable to the soul’s having strayed away or been stolen, and treatment is in principle reduced to finding it, capturing it, and obliging it to resume it place in the patient’s body (pp. 215-216).
Ingerman (1991) pinpoints a specific shamanic journey which convinced her of the correctness of the ancient theory of soul loss and its link to physical, emotional and mental illness. In this journey, she asked her power animal how she could support her client, “Carol,” who had been raped when she was three years old. Ingerman was taken back in time in Middle world until she arrived at the location and time where the rape had occurred. She witnessed not only the rape, but Carol’s soul leaving her body as the rape was occurring. Ingerman (1991) said she began to “track” the lost soul part utilizing a strong intention, while calling out Carol’s name into the darkness. She realized her soul had gone into a place known in shamanism as “the void,” a place of “darkness, silence, and lifelessness,” and she surmised that Carol’s soul had been in the void ever since the rape.
The three-year-old soul essence was located and agreed to return to the adult Carol with Ingerman. Upon her return to ordinary reality, Ingerman blew the soul parts back into Carol’s body. The culmination of these latter processes is referred to as soul retrieval. The initial loss of Carol’s soul essence is referred to as “soul loss.” Several weeks after this session, Ingerman said Carol called her to report she felt present in her body for the first time in her adult life (p. 44).
Ingerman and thousands of other shamanic practitioners worldwide trained by Ingerman have identified an almost endless array of locations in Middle world, Upper World, and Lower World, where lost souls have fled, often in response to trauma. Lost souls are also found “frozen” at the site of the trauma, such as at the scene of a car accident or the location where a rape occurred in Middle World, according to Ann Drake (2006). Lost souls have also been found at locations in Middle world where the soul returned because it was a place and time where they had felt loved or had experienced happiness or peace.
Ingerman considers soul loss to be an intelligent strategy of adaptation by a person who simply cannot fully comprehend or successfully process a trauma such as rape, war, incest, psychological or emotional abuse, divorce, death of a loved one, or even invasive surgery. She also believes that psychotherapy is much more effective when the patient is fully present, which is often the case after a soul retrieval. Conversations with her clients after soul retrieval, as well as with other psychotherapists who she has trained in soul retrieval indicate that after soul retrieval, clients are much less focused on feelings of emptiness or issues of disassociation. The missing part has returned, so the client can deal with what happened, finish the issue and move on.
Psychologist Jeannette M.Gagan (1993) concurs with Ingerman’s belief that the marriage of shamanism and psychology has the potential to provide a more comprehensive and holistic form of mental health care. Gagan (1993) states that “shamanism and psychology meet behind a veil lifted by Carl Jung when he portrayed a supernatural world not found in psychological literature.” She writes:
Shamans search for lost pieces of soul and return them to members of their community. Psychologists investigate the workings of the mind and strive to validate their methodological approaches. The meeting of shamanic spirit and psychological mind animates the heart of holism. This heart, beating to an unbroken rhythm, unites with the cadence of humanity’s call. We, in turn, dance to the synergy of new healing pulses (p. 152).
Dr. Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., a scientist and psychologist has also embraced concepts of soul retrieval and other shamanic processes as critical aspects of healing for our culture. Achterberg stated in her article The Wounded Healer:
Soul loss is regarded as the gravest diagnosis in the shamanic nomenclature, being seen as a cause of illness and death. Yet is it not referred to at all in modern Western medical books. Nevertheless it is becoming increasingly clear that what the shaman refers to as soul loss–that is, injury to the inviolate core that is the essence of the person’s being–does manifest in despair, immunological damage, cancer, and a host of other very serious disorders. It seems to follow the demise of a relationship or career, or other significant attachments (Achterberg).
There are many reasons why souls may become lost, but in some cases they are stolen. Shamanic teachers in core shamanism often believe this is done unintentionally by a parent or a person who loves the victim, but who cannot seem to maintain their own power or feels lost or hopeless and are attracted to the bright light their children or others may possess. Due to their own inability to hold power, which is often related to their own trauma and subsequent soul loss, they subconsciously “steal” it from their children or other loved ones.
In other instances, soul theft is somewhat more intentional, such as when a rapist steals the soul of his victim. In both cases, many core shamanism practitioners believe that both the victim and the thief require soul retrievals
I was informed by my own soul retrieval teacher, Ann Drucker, who was trained by Sandra Ingerman, that empathy for soul “thieves” is a unique quality of core shamanism. Drucker said that in many other shamanic cultures there is no concern for the traumatic life circumstances of the thieves who are perceived as the enemy and are spiritually discarded after the battle for the soul is won by the shaman. The empathetic attitude of core shamanic practitioners toward soul thieves may be related to the fact that contemporary soul retrieval concepts are often practiced by individual trained in modern psychology.
In my interview with Sandra Ingerman, she mentioned the large number of therapists, doctors, and psychologists who attend her seminars. Innate in some psychological methods is the belief that illnesses or dysfunctions, such as alcoholism or codependency, are generational. The concept of passing down problems within families or cultures has broadened among shamanic healers, with psychological backgrounds, to include soul loss. In other words, if your mother or father suffered from loss, there is a greater risk that you, as well, will experience some degree of soul loss.
Psychologist Ann Drake (2006) indicated in her book that it is common for parents to unknowingly steal a piece of their child’s soul. A healing can be performed for the soul “thief” as well as for the person whose soul has been stolen. In my interviews with Drake and her client “Maria,” they both stated that Maria’s abusive father had stolen pieces of Maria’s soul. Maria told me in my interview with her that one of the most important aspects of shamanic healing for her was that Ann had brought back the soul’s of her abuser’s as well as her own lost soul fragments.
Ingerman has identified symptoms of soul loss to include: (1) a sense of being unable to stay fully “present” in your body, (2) a feeling of numbness, apathy or deadness, (3) chronic depression, (4) problems with the immune system, (5) chronic illness as a child, (6) memory gaps after age five, (7) struggles with addictions such as alcohol, food, drugs, sex, and gambling, (8) seeking external things to fill an internal void or emptiness, (9) difficulty moving on after a divorce or death of a loved one, and (10) multiple personality syndrome (more information on soul loss and soul retrieval in the section on “Trauma”)
Power Animals and Spirit Guides
A power animal, which is also called a spirit guide or spirit helper is unequivocally one of the shaman’s most important allies in the spirit world. Without a power animal and, more often, a series of power animals, a shaman is essentially powerless and thus vulnerable to innumerable misfortunes, including death and illness. A power animal provides a diagnosis, and then directs and performs much of the healing in core shamanism. They are the guiding force and protection in all shamanic journeys, whether for healing, returning power, or acquiring information for the shaman.
The relationship that builds between a shaman and power animal is one of deep trust, love and mutual respect. In both ordinary and non-ordinary reality, a shaman must continuously defer her intellectual perceptions to the deeper, animal instincts and authority of her power animal. In essence, she must become a “hollow bone” through which the spirits of the universe can perform their “magical” healing on earth.
A power animal, which is also called an animal totem, represents the “medicine” of its entire species. In effect, when a shaman is aligned or merged with a power animal such as a Bear, he or she is aligned not with just one animal, but with the strength, wisdom, and healing capabilities of the broad spectrum of the entire archetype of Bear. An alignment with an Eagle, for instance, gives the shaman the capabilities of Eagle. Traditionally, with Eagle, this often means the ability to perceive humanity or a certain problematic situation from a position high above the mundane realities of life. The Native Americans consider Eagle to be able to see with the eyes of God because he flies higher than any other bird or being. Eagle is also a great hunter and tracker. A prey has little hope of escape once caught in the powerful talons of Eagle. (I have witnessed the sublime grace and instinctual wisdom of an Eagle who is tracking and the awesome ferocity of Eagle when he attacks an illness or an intrusion inside the body of a human).
Power animals are in spirit form and reside primarily in Lower World. They represent a large array of animals from earth, including Mouse, Deer, Armadillo, Moose, Deer, Lion, Tiger Giraffe, Wolf and Coyote. In essence, almost every animal on earth has a collective, intelligent archetypal spirit representation in Lower World available to defend, protect, enlighten, direct, or heal ordinary people, as well as shamans here on earth. The exception to this rule is insects or beings which may appear disturbed and/or menacing, who may show their teeth or fangs, or in other ways behave or portray negative energy. In which case they are not a power animal, but most likely a spiritual intrusion which needs to be removed or ignored. If a spider or insect does not appear threatening and gives out a feeling of love or benevolence then they can be considered approachable and even helpful. In fact, in several shamanic traditions the spider is considered sacred.
Power animals and spirit guides can also appear as half human and half animal, as well as in other combinations, such as bird and human or human, bird, and animal. In Ann Drake’s (2006) book, she states that her primary spirit guides name is the “Garuda” and she describes him as being a “shape-shifting bird man in appearance” who has his origins in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. (p. 31). Spirit guides such as Drake’s may originate from other times on earth, but come forward to help shamans and their clients. Beings that we often classify as belonging only to myth and fairy tale, such as unicorns, mermaids, dragons, and centaurs, are very much alive for some shamans who acknowledge them as their spirit guides. Human-like spirit guides, Gods and Goddesses, Ascended Masters, ancestors who are our spirit guides, and other spirit helpers reside primarily in Upper World. The list is diverse and extensive but might include spirits such as Isis, Hecate, Diana, St. Germaine, St. Paul, Jesus, and or the Aztec Indian Goddess Lady Guadulupe.
Every culture has its own belief system and this is often reflected in their spiritual guidance.
Shaman Ted Andrews considers the “medicine” of an ant to be industriousness, orderliness, and discipline (Andrews, 1993, p. 336). Bee’s helpful qualities include teaching us about accomplishing things that are thought to be impossible, fertility, and extracting the “honey of life” (Andrews, 1993, p. 337-338). When Drake was given Alligator medicine by her shaman teacher “the Bomoh,” she had to walk through alligator infested waters and she described the power of Alligator as “ferocious”. Native American writer and shaman, Jamie Sams, describes “medicine” as “anything which improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life” (Sams, 1988, p. 13). She outlines the special medicine powers of 44 power animals in her cards and book (co-written by David Carson), Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals.
The supportive relationship between shamans and animals may seem surprising, but there are some people who believe that there once was a time when all humans, not only shamans, experienced a profound oneness with animals. Writer and shaman Ted Andrews (1993) states:
There are many myths of a magical time and place in which there were no boundaries between humans and animals. Humans were at peace with the animals and spoke their language. It reflected a time of mingling between divine and human. Wild and tame had no meaning. Animals and humans could speak together sometimes humans learning the animal tongue and sometimes animals learning the human tongue. (p. x)
A person who has a strong connection with her power animal is believed to be power-filled. This state of power makes the person generally immune to illness, bad luck, and provides protection from the negative energies which are believed to have originated in negative thought projections.
According to Allie Knowlton, there are some shamans who believe that epidemics such as the black plague, which have occurred throughout history, have been caused by a high concentration of negative thought forms contained in highly populated areas such as cities. A strong connection with a power animal would potentially protect a person against such plagues.
When a regular person loses their power animal it is possible that they can become dispirited, ill, depressed, experience a sense of hopelessness or powerlessness and/or become vulnerable to traumas. If a shaman loses her power animals she has lost her power and can no longer perform as a shaman until power is restored.
A “regular” person or a shaman can lose her power animal by repeatedly ignoring the power animal’s advice and direction, partaking in activities which disconnect them from true power, such as some addictive behavior, or otherwise not honoring the power animal. Power animals can be honored in a variety of ways, including creating its image in art, owning figurines representative of the animals, dancing its power, doing things the power animal likes to do, like running through the woods, or supporting its species by donating to organizations which help them in ordinary reality. Harner (1990) and Andrews (1993) talk extensively about the fact that the relationship with a power animal is reciprocal, and if the animals feel ignored or unnecessary, they will wander further and further away until they may ultimately leave for good. A power animal can be recovered or replaced by another through a core shamanic process known as “Power Animal Retrieval,” which is performed by a shaman for a client. A shaman can also work to retrieve her own power animal by utilizing a drumming, dancing and rattling ritual talked about by Harner (1990) in his book referred to as “Calling in the Beasts.”
A power animal can leave a person without causing power loss if a new animal immediately moves in to take its place. This switch is not due to disrespect to the human, but a natural event occurring frequently as the needs of the shaman or person changes over time. One of my shamanic teachers is currently experiencing the introduction of Snake and the loss of Wolf as her primary power animal.
Depossession and Extraction
Depossession is a shamanic healing process which removes the unwanted energies of a discarnate being from the energy system of an incarnate human. The entities which most often possess or inhabit incarnate humans are those who exist in Middle World who may be lost or confused or possibly malevolent who seek expression through a living human.
A possession is most likely to occur to an individual who has been weakened by power loss or soul loss which, in turn, is often linked to trauma. The related traumas can include mental, physical, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse, sickness, surgery, and participation in war or extreme violence. A person who is consumed with grosser human emotions such as deep fear or anger can also attract a possessing spirit.
A shaman’s role in a depossession process is to convince the possessing entity that they are dead and that it would behoove them to move out of Middle world and into “the light” or to whatever after death reality appeals to them, such as being reunited with lost loved ones. Betsey Bergstrom, a graduate of Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies Three year Shamanic Studies Program states in her website “Heart Centered Shamanic Healing that “possessing spirits can create a host of problems for an individual who is possessed including “substance abuse, illness, depression, phobias, emotional problems, and suicidal tendencies.” She indicates that the process she teaches to other shamanic students and she uses in her own practice for depossessing is “humane and benefits both the client and the attached suffering being” (betsybergstrom.com).
Ann Drake’s shamanic teacher, the Bomoh, taught her that the released possessing spirit can be transformed by the shaman into a benign being, which in turn, can then become a helping spirit to the human they had formally possessed. Additionally, core shamanism depossession processes often include a ritual to help the possessing spirit pass over to the next level of consciousness and/or to somehow uplift the consciousness of that troubled being.
Harner considers shamanic depossession an exciting healing practice that is unfortunately being repressed within mainstream western healing modalities, “which ignore that there may be spiritual forces involved in illness” (pg. 77, Shaman’s Drum). In a magazine interview with Shaman’s Drum, he indicated he had witnessed cases of psychosis that were cured by depossession. He also mentioned the Spiritist church in Brazil, whose members (which number around 13 million) advocate depossession healings. The Brazillian government once allocated the responsibility of entire mental institution in Brazil to the Spiritist Church. When the experiment was over a year later, the mental institution was emptied because all the patients had been healed utilizing shamanic depossession healing techniques (Shaman’s Drum). Psychologist Dr. Edith Fiore claims in her book The Unquiet Dead that the majority of patients in mental hospitals “are presenting their symptoms because they are possessed” (Fiore, l987).
An extraction process is a shamanic healing technique which removes what is called “spiritual intrusion” in the human body or energy field. From a shamanic point of view, an intrusion is the origins of disease and disharmony, mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. An intrusion can manifest as a result our own negative emotions which can enter into the body. Intrusions also can be sent, either intentionally or unintentionally, by other people or picked up while we are walking along the street or in a busy department store. The scene of an accident or other trauma often holds negative thoughts forms and we can unintentionally pick this up if we are unprotected. An intrusion, like a possession, is most likely to occur as a result of an individual having experienced soul loss or power animal loss or both. The saying “the universe abhors as vacuum” is quite applicable in the instances of intrusion and possession.
Interviews with Sandra Ingerman, Allie Knowlton, and Ann Drake
Interview with Sandra Ingerman
One of the most important aspect of this interview is Sandra’s statements regarding shamanic healing and Post Traumatic Stress.. According to Sandra, in ancient times shamans often treated trauma immediately after it had occurred. She believes that the immediate return of the soul to the body prevented Post Traumatic Syndrome. I feel this is highly relevant to our current era wherein trauma is increasing and occurring as a result of bizarre and uncommon violence (such as random gun shooting at schools and other public places), the Iraq war, and in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. I surmise that anyone who reads this interview would be tempted to believe that the application of shamanic healing such as soul retrieval into standard therapy could expand and improve the quality of care patients receive, particularly in regards to trauma and PTS,
From a shamanic perspective how do you define trauma?
Trauma, from shamanic point of view, is caused by anything that would create shock. From a shamanic point of view, if we have something emotionally that happens to us that is shocking, or physically that happens to us that is shocking, there is a possibility a piece of our soul might leave our body in order to survive the experience. Trauma, from a shamanic point of view comes about by something that causes shock to a person.
In shamanism, it’s seen that things like emotional abuse, physical abuse, surgery, being in a war, being in an accident, divorce, death of a loved one, are all forms of shock. All of those things put us in a place where our psyche sometimes cannot endure the pain. The example I use all the time is if I’m going to be in a head-on car collision the very last place I want to be at the point of impact is in my body. So the psyche has this brilliant self-protect mechanism where you send a part of your self away while the trauma is occurring so you don’t get the full impact of the pain.
Shamans would say that alarm clocks going off while you’re sleeping could cause soul loss. In any way you are shocked out of sleep, or out of a journey, or out of a deep meditation, could cause soul loss. Different traumas are relative and create different kinds of experiences. An alarm clock may shock me out of sleep but it doesn’t mean I have to run to a shaman for a soul retrieval.
But if I am in an accident and a part of myself flees during that time and I can’t seem to get back to my normal life again, that would mean that the lost soul part, with soul being defined as our essence, hasn’t come back on its own. It is then the role of the shaman to actually physically track down where the soul has gone to and bring it back to the body.
A lot of people have talked about how they never felt right after anesthesia and from a shamanic point of view that would mean some part of them got left out in the invisible world or in non-ordinary reality during that time and never came back.
- How does talk therapy and shamanism complement each other, especially in treating trauma, if they do?
I’ve always felt shamanism complements talk therapy in that in shamanism you bring back what got lost. When I first started writing on soul retrieval, one of the things I wrote was that talk therapy doesn’t necessarily work that well because you’re talking to a person who is really not at home. So bring the person home and then put them into talk therapy. Then at least there’s enough of the person back home again back so that some kind of verbalization on the about trauma can take a person a lot farther.
I did a workshop recently for CEU’s with Bessel van der Kolk and he talked about some of the research that went on where they actually took pictures of people’s brains who had experienced a trauma. What they learned from the photographs was that the part of the brain that can speak actually turns off during a trauma.
In his opinion, the only form of therapy that really works with people dealing with severe traumas, are the types of therapies that help people regulate their nervous system and their body. And I added five pages to an afterward to a new edition of Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, and you might want to look at that so that you can kind of see how I am associating shamanic healing with the work of Bessel van der Kolk vs. talk therapy.
- What can shamanism do that other standard therapies cannot in regards to trauma?
From a shamanic point of view when we suffer an emotional or physical trauma there is the possibility, it’s not a given, that a piece of our essence, which is also called the soul, will escape from the body into the invisible realms or non ordinary reality in order to survive the experience. So people who have suffered from what we call soul loss often have standard conditions of dissociation or they do not feel fully present in their bodies or they have Post Traumatic Stress or they may not be able to get on with their lives or they feel they cannot connect with themselves or others.
What a shaman can do, versus other forms of therapy, goes beyond talking. It goes beyond the conscious mind and it actually works on a spiritual level. Shamanism is a spiritual form of healing. In order to help to bring back that essence, the part of the soul that has left again. So typically when a person has a soul part blown back into them they report feeling more whole, feeling fuller, feeling more solid, feeling lighter, feeling happier, feeling more joy, feeling very present. Their senses are heightened. They see the world differently. They see colors in a way that they hadn’t seen in awhile. The world had become dull as they disassociated. Their sense of sound, smell, taste, and touch is heightened.
When people are more back in their bodies they are also less willing to be in abusive situations, whether it’s work or relationship. They notice the world conditions more. They notice how it feels in their house or their office because they are more in their body. They’re not so disassociative. So it actually does bring people back into their body in a real physical level where standard therapy can help a person understand their trauma and what happened to them. But being able to understand something on a mental level does not mean an actual healing has occurred. And what I’m always telling clients is that it’s not the story that heals, it’s whether or not you can actually absorb the life force; the essence; the soul; back into the body and that’s what creates healing.
The only form of therapy that I know of that does this on a similar level is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy). Through EMDR the trauma is moved out of the body, away from the present; the part of the brain that still sees that the trauma is happening in present time; and moves it into a past experience. A lot of people feel like they’ve come back to themselves, come back home to themselves after EMDR, as they might do after soul retrieval
- In your experience as both a therapist and shaman, have you seen people heal from trauma?
Absolutely. In Shamanism, as with all different forms of therapy, not every form of therapy works with everybody, so we don’t have hundred percent success rate curing people with trauma with shamanic healing method. There’s not a hundred percent cure rate with EMDR, and there’s not a hundred percent with cognitive therapy. But, after collecting thousands of case studies I can say that we have a very wonderful record of being able to help people feel like they’re back in their body again after a trauma.
They are not so disassociative They have lost their Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. They can get on with their life. Their body is healthier, because when you’ve been out of your body, it effects your whole immune system. People who have suffered a lot of trauma have immune deficiency illnesses and when they get their soul parts back again, and they’re in a place where they feel whole, their immune system can connect back in again.
- What is you vision of how shamanism will fit into the future, especially in regards to how people heal from trauma?
I once did a lecture for 350 priests and nuns. I was hired buy Catholic Health Care Services to talk about bridging shamanism into the Catholic Health care system by the year 2000. Obviously that did not happen, but it was interesting to talk to 350 nuns and priests about my vision about this. One of the things I was saying is that I could see where there will be shamanic practitioners, shamanic healers, in hospitals doing shamanic healing for people after they’ve had surgery, or after they’ve come into the hospital after an accident.
Trauma can also cause coma, so shamanic practitioners can work on people who have been in a coma. I don’t see a person coming into a hospital and, having been in a severe accident or car crash, having a soul retrieval at the moment of that trauma. Because again, soul loss is a way for the psyche to deal with the pain and also escape some of the pain at the moment. But within a few days or a week of surgery or of the trauma, I can see shamanic practitioners bringing back those soul parts that need to come back again.
I’m already seeing that most of the participants that sign up for my soul retrieval training’s are psychotherapists or work in the helping profession in some way. They’re already bridging it (shamanism) very successfully into their work. I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of case studies of psychotherapists also doing soul retrievals for their clients. The key point is that people need to realize that shamanism is a spiritual form of healing and it works in conjunction with psychotherapy and traditional medicine or even alternative forms of healing like acupuncture herbs, etc.
Shamanism deals with the spiritual aspect of what happened to a person during trauma. Part of what we are seeing today in medicine and in psychotherapy is that we’ve let go of the spiritual aspect of illness. As we start to combine all of these forms of therapy we know that one is not better than the other, but with a combination of all these forms of therapy we will see faster results. This is what psychotherapists are reporting back to me. Their psychotherapeutic treatment can move faster and go a lot deeper because people have dealt with the spiritual and the psychological elements. You are not just talking over and over again about past memories. The part of soul essence that got lost during those past memories actually comes back again and that ends a cycle. This is because what we find is that if you lost a part of your soul as a child, or at another point in your life, you’re always looking for that part, so you end up repeating the same kind of behavior in your life. You start to see a theme.
What I find in doing soul retrievals is that if a person lost a soul part at an early point in their life, they are always trying to connect with that lost essence. So, if you really talk to people in therapy, you start to notice that the names might change in certain circumstances in people’s lives, but there is a theme. The story is always the same. If you can bring back the core soul part that set off a certain kind of behavior or defense mechanism in a person’s life, they no longer have to keep that behavior going. It actually closes the door on the past. You might need to teach them how to move forward in their life and start to create a life that’s different from than repeated traumas that they’ve had in their life. But they no longer need to have to keep creating the same story over and over and again trying to work out the original trauma.
So, in doing a soul retrieval, there are two different ways you might be working. One, is in shamanism we might be dealing with someone who is in their 50’s or 60’s, but a trauma started when they were three-years-old. Then it got re-triggered when they were fifteen-years-old and so you are going back to look into the past to see what was the core lost essence that started this kind of behavior.
It’s like being a detective, going back and seeing what is creating a certain theme, like not being able to trust, or not being able to love, or not being able to find a good life partner, things like that. That’s one kind of trauma where a shamanic healer works and goes back into the past and they’re going into the past and trying to see what started a string of behavior in a person’s life.
The other kind of trauma is when a person goes into surgery, or a person has an accident or a person goes into a coma, where the shaman, within a few days, does a soul retrieval to bring those lost soul parts back to stop the PTSD that might occur or the disassociation which might occur. From a shamanic point of view, if you look at ancient cultures, they worked within a few days of trauma. In our culture, because we haven’t been looking at the spiritual aspects of illness, we’re going back twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty years looking for lost soul parts. You really didn’t see that happening in traditional cultures.
So my vision of how this work can be integrated now is to go back into the ways that traditional shamanic cultures worked, where you try to bring back soul parts shortly after the trauma has occurred. This way you are not dealing with long term effects of PTSD or repeated behavior or immune deficiency problems, because a person has gone on so long in life without their life force being connected to them.
Allie Knowlton and Ann Drake
The five questions I prepared for Ann and Allie were as follows. 1. What is your background as a healer/therapist and how do you currently define yourself in relationship to your healing work? 2. What attracted you to shamanism? 3. What can shamanism provide for your clients that more standard therapy cannot? 4. As a shamanic practitioner what are the tools or specialized skills you most often utilize in your practice? 5. Is it beneficial for a client to work with another therapist/healer simultaneous with participating in shamanic work?
What stood out in my mind after my interview with Allie is how the shamanic journey provided her client’s the opportunity to go “home” to a place in the universe that felt familiar and joyful. Ironically, she said that this process helped her clients (some of whom had expressed a desire to “leave the planet”) to become more grounded and less depressed about being here . I have personally experienced the same results from being able to journey “home,” Somehow the ability to “leave” and journey to other dimensions makes our incarnations more appreciated. You appreciate your body and your life more when you the opportunity to go away. In addition to highlighting the mental health benefits of shamanic journeying, my interview with Allie seems to focus on the importance of a client having a strong psychological foundation and a supportive and ongoing relationship with a mental health counselor while partaking in serious shamanic work.
Interview with Allie Knowlton
Allie said when she was a child she perceived in nature a very strong spiritual component. When she was a young adult she attended the Bangor Theological Seminary and later became a pastor at a series of small churches in rural Maine. The mental health system attracted her because she wanted to know more about how to help people who were experiencing extreme degrees of pain and suffering. She received a graduate degree from the University of Connecticut and then went on to become a clinical social worker in her own private practice in Portland, Maine. Allie said she seemed to be drawn to people in great pain and her work as social worker often involved people with multiple personalities and cult survivors. “I reached a point where I felt there was something I needed to know that I didn’t know. My patients worked so hard but they did not end up feeling joyful or with a strong sense of being alive” Allie said.
A personal crisis for Allie in 1991 evolved into an opportunity for her to begin to investigate alternative health care, including shamanic journeying and the concepts of soul retrieval. She said she felt that a tradition that was 60,000 plus years old must have some positive and long lasting merits. She said she felt that the shamanic journeying process helped to save her life and she began to read everything she could find about shamanism including Sandra Ingerman’s book, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self.
“Sandra Ingerman says in her book that you can’t heal a part of you that isn’t home. When I read that line, everything fired,” she said.
She began to theorize that most of her clients probably were suffering from various degrees of soul loss, and that they would never feel totally whole and alive until these lost pieces were returned to them. As she became more knowledgeable about shamanism, she slowly began to apply her shamanic knowledge into her private practice in Portland. As part of her extensive training in shamanism, Allie participated in Michael Harner’s three year Foundation for Shamanic Studies advanced shamanism workshop and eventually received training from indigenous shamans in North America, South America, Siberia and Asia.
Allie said she used the shamanic journey process and other shamanic healing practices for her clients whenever her own clinical training and her spiritual guidance indicated that it would be appropriate and helpful. She felt that there were some people who really needed to stay focused on their basic personal healing, but there were other clients, who were ready to incorporate shamanism into their healing processes.
I found that the journey process moved my clients forward very quickly, but in a gentle way. It also fit the clinical piece of empowering the client in their own healing process. The old skills were still there, the ways of assessing and evaluating, but this whole new way was whispering in my ears, so to speak. It took me a little while to feel comfortable being in two worlds.
As her experience with shamanism expanded it became easier to utilize both her traditional training and her shamanic training. She mentioned that sometimes in the middle of a shamanic session with a client, especially around issues of safety, she switches to her “clinical hat.” She said if someone indicates “ambivalence about being here” she switches to that clinical person and asks the client if they have a plan to escape being here on the planet. “I decide if they are suicidal or since they were three they haven’t felt fit in, which is very different than being actively suicidal,” she said.
She uses both modes of training to determine between such disturbances as a psychotic break and a “spiritual breakthrough.” She said that in certain instances people who are hearing voices, are not psychotic, but are having a spiritual emergency. In other cases, certain client’s may not be psychotic, but their ego structures are not strong enough to move in and out of the spiritual world without first strengthening their core or their psychological foundation. She consistently seeks to ascertain the grounding process for each potential client.
An exciting revelation she has had in regards to the journeying process, and in its innate healing capabilities, was when she began to realize that journeying actually helps ground clients who continually complain about not wanting to be “on the planet”.
They realize that when they journey they can leave here to go wherever their home place is, the place they long to be at, and then come back. The longing not to be here in the physical usually dissipates after they begin to journey. It was an exciting to discover happening over and over again.
Allie stated that the shamanic journey process, as well as several other shamanic techniques, including soul retrieval, power animal retrieval, and extraction and the depossession processes, are several examples of practices which are distinctly different from her traditional western training. She indicated that an extraction of negative energy, or energy which “does not belong” to an individual, in the sense it is not part of their individual energy field, can dramatically free up that person’s life. She said the classical possession can be remedied by the shamanic depossession process.
I like the shamanic approach (to depossession) because the spirit teachers are the ones that really do the work through us. And so to me, there are a lot of safety pieces in place. As a clinician I really like the guidance I’m being given. I trust the guidance. It’s clear. It’s a joyful process to remove entities that don’t belong and see them all the way to a better place.
Now after approximately fifteen years since her introduction to shamanic healing concepts, Allie with shamanic practitioner, Evelyn Rysdyk, conducts advanced shamanic training workshops and apprenticeships primarily through “Spirit Passages,” a shamanic healing organization founded by Allie and Evelyn Rysdyk. They also offer workshops on shamanism at other sites throughout the United States and Canada, including at the International Conference of Science and Consciousness in Albuquerque, N.M., and more recently for The Society of Shamanic Practitioners annual conference in California.
Allie and Evelyn are also founding members of a progressive health care center True North, A Center for Functional Medicine and The Healing Arts, which is located in Falmouth, Maine. A team of seven physicians and eight complementary care persons, including Allie and Evelyn, comprise the True North team. True North provides comprehensive health care services, which include shamanic healing, to a large number of Maine residents. Allie and Evelyn provide shamanic healing for patients, which are referred to them from other members of the True North health care team, as well as from medical doctors, psychiatrist, therapists, and other complementary health care workers from all around the United States.
What most impressed me about Ann Drake was the intellectual curiosity she demonstrated which pushed her beyond the limitations of her Western education and her very traditional mid-western small town upbringing and into the world of shamanism and an apprenticeship with the shaman she calls “the Bomoh” of Malaysia. I had always been a renegade myself, but this was often as a result of a need to seek out alternative means of healing myself. It was a necessity more than a choice. Whereas Ann, who had a happy childhood and a successful career, could have settled down into comfortable complacency as did many of her l960’s contemporaries. But it seemed there was a compelling need within her to follow the wisdom of her own heart, regardless of the consequences. It was these unique qualities which lead her to Malaysia and to question many forms of authority, including the “experts” within her own profession.
She expressed a particular concern about the treatment of such serious mental illnesses as Dissociative Identify Disorder (formally referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder). Her insights into mental illness such as DID, many of which were born into her consciousness during her apprenticeship with the shaman from Malaysia, have provided interesting new concepts for treating these illnesses. This includes the consideration that multiple personalities are actually possessing spirits which can be energetically removed by a shaman. I believe that Ann’s nonconformist nature has helped up a whole new way of looking at and treating the people within our culture who have been the most severely traumatized.
Interview with Ann Drake
Ann Drake is a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in psychology who has over thirty years of experience as a private therapist. Throughout her career her specialty has been working with women who have experienced trauma. She has indicated that in recent years this specialty has evolved into working with women who have suffered the most severe traumas, including church ritual abuse.
Currently Ann is only accepting clients who are interested in incorporating shamanic healing work into their therapy, primarily because her shamanic training has become an integral and inseparable aspect of her professional therapy services. Ann’s dissatisfaction with some of the limitations of western psychology, particularly in regards to her ability to help her clients feel “whole” and joyful again, seemed to be one of the primary motivating factors which initiated her earlier explorations of shamanism.
In an article she wrote for the Shamanic Application Review entitled “The Phenomena of Dissociation and Energy: Two Perspectives,” she describes the lack of fulfillment she had witnessed in many of her clients.
Throughout the years, clients would frequently say to me that they felt like there was a big hole inside of them; that they felt as if nothing was there. Some would present as anxious, fearing that if the anxiety was taken away that they would have to face the nothingness that they intuitively knew was there.
She also expressed frustration with the lack of information available to her within the traditional Western framework of psychology, concerning Multiple Personality Disorder or what is currently referred to as Disassociative Identity Disorder. In our interview she stated that “the Western paradigm of psychology” could not provide her with enough information to explain “the energetic movement in and out of the body” which typifies an experience of DID.
In her book, Healing of The Soul: Shamanism and Psyche, Ann describes her feelings in regards to the Western methods of diagnosis and treatment available to her for her DID clients. She also mentions two DID clients who had suffered severe traumas, including various forms of incest, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and church ritual abuse, which included torture, who had developed DID symptoms. These symptoms included multiple personalities that each had their own distinctive voice, mannerism, dress, and idiosyncrasies. She stated that “although psychological literature used descriptors to confirm what I had witnessed, the theory seemed inadequate to explain the complexity of different voices, consciousness, physiology’s, and even appearances residing in one body” (pg.19).
She felt the languages and ideas in her Western references were “flat and inadequate to match the depth and richness” of what she had witnessed with her DID clients. She states that “for years I sat with a sense of disquiet, not quite having language or theory to explain my unease.” Although many of her colleagues focused on new medications and new techniques, she did not feel they exhibited a “curiosity as to the root of what causes the psyche to rupture into separate or distinct parts or allow the voice and will of another to enter” (pg. 20).
In 1992 in the midst of what she described as a “professional and intellectual crisis” (pg. 21) Ann revisited Malaysia where she had been a Peace Corps teacher in 1967. During the visit, one of Ann’s former Peace Corps students introduced her to “the Bomoh,” a male shaman who lived in Matu. The Bomoh provided health care for most of Sarawak people, in the traditional manner, (in the village homes) as well as at the local hospital, where Western medicine had been integrated with traditional shamanic healing skills. The Bomoh was a descendant of a shamanic lineage associated with the centuries old Islamic Unani tradition, which utilized “the power of intentionality, meaning the energy is transformed through focusing the mind.” During their initial meeting the Bomoh invited Ann to attend a healing on a 31-year-old fisherman who had fallen into the shark infested waters of the South China Sea.
The next day Ann traveled by boat to a distant village where this man was reportedly near death. Ann indicated the man’s body was “simultaneously bloated and emaciated,” and “he appeared to be about ninety” (pg. 23). The Bomoh went into a trance state, allowing his spirit guides to take over his body. After the healing, the Bomoh told Ann that he believed that a major portion of the man’s soul had left him from the shock of his inevitable death as a result of being eaten by a shark. He said soul loss was the cause of his illness. In trance, or SSC (Shamanic State of Consciousness) and with the help of his spirit guides, the Bomoh said he was able to return the man’s soul essence. That evening the family of the sick man called the Bomoh and told him that his patient was feeling much better, that his color had returned, he was able to eat. Ann later was informed that the mad had made a full recovery from his illness.
As a result of this experience with the Bomoh, Ann received answers to many of her questions which could not be answered within the framework of her traditional Western training. She theorized that the reason her traumatized patients continued to feel a deep lingering emptiness, which traditional therapy could not seem to heal or address, was because many of her own patients had suffered soul loss. “The idea that part of one’s soul or essence could leave the physical body when faced with a terrifying or traumatic situation was my missing piece to the puzzle” (pg. 24).
She states that the concept of soul loss and the other shamanic philosophies she learned from him after she agreed to become his apprentice were the missing pieces of the puzzle she had been seeking. With additional shamanic training in the United States through Michael Harmer’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies, she also began to formulate theories about the seemingly unexplainable movement of different energy systems inside of her DID patients.
She theorized that this movement may be due to outside entities or energies which had possessed the body after a traumatic experience where there had been a soul loss. She said the Bomoh had explained to her that soul loss left a vacancy inside the energy field of a human which can be filled by other energy sources. This often includes negative energetic beings and/ or the energy of the perpetrator of a crime, such as a rapist transferring his energy to his victim. She also learned from her other teachers such as Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman that this negative energy can be removed through shamanic techniques such as extraction and/or depossession.
Ann believes that the major tool she utilizes during her shamanic healing sessions, which is markedly different from traditional therapy, is her 51 spirit guides, 21 of which were “received in transmission” from the Bomoh. Additionally, she had forty or fifty prayers given to her by the Bomoh, written in Arabic script, which are used for a variety of healing goals including, to help bring back soul parts and to cure cancer. Traditionally, according to Drake, these prayers are spoken over water and then are given to the client for them to drink.
Ann currently treats approximately 250 patients, which translates into approximately 34 clinical hours per week. She has two offices, one in Arlington, Massachusetts, and one at the Full Circle Holistic Health Center in Essex, Massachusetts. Ann is a co founder of the integrated health care center Full Circle Health Center. The Center offers a variety of healing disciplines including shamanism, psychotherapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. The Center also has a medical doctor.
Ann stated that almost all of her shamanic clients are engaged in another form of support therapy and that she feels this is often a necessity. The need for a secondary health care provider is important not only to help clients cultivate a strong psychological foundation, but to help them assimilate new information which they may have received during a shamanic healing session.
She has repeatedly witnessed the power of the human mind to hold onto old destructive patterns of thought and behavior, despite the new healing information which may have been received through shamanism. In other countries where there are shamanic communities, the support system for shamanic clients is a natural construct. Individuals who have had shamanic healing from a shaman continue to have the community and the shaman to support their recovery, often on a daily basis. In our culture this community support is absent, so the comprehensive and extended mental health system becomes vitally important in regards to facilitating a thorough healing process for her clients
Ann stated she has experienced a wide variety of positive effects utilizing shamanism for patients with trauma.
She describes an incident where she was able to use the shamanic journey process to connect with the inner personality of her DID patients who had suddenly gone into a disassociative state while in session. Ann decided to journey into non ordinary reality and eventually she found an inner child, whom she understood was a younger version of her adult client. She asked the child if she would talk with her after she had left non-ordinary reality and was in normal consciousness. The little girl agreed and when Ann returned to ordinary consciousness, the child began to speak through the adult. She was able to relay to Ann the feelings she had had, but had so far been unable to recount, about being repeatedly raped and beaten by her father when she was just a child.
Ann’s ability as a shaman to bypass the cognitive mind of her patient and the comprehensive defense mechanisms of the DID experience, enabled her patient to move forward in ways that were critical to her overall healing. Specifically, this was the first time the adult client had heard the voice of this inner personality that had split off from her main core many years prior and this energy form was also the first of 13 different personalities to emerge. A full co-consciousness with all thirteen personalities was eventually achieved. In addition to the weekly shamanic work, Ann believes that a major aspect of healing for this client was achieved as a result of a prayer and ritual which was given to Ann from the Bomoh, for the specific condition of DID.
In conclusion, Ann said she believes that in the future shamanism has the potential to become an integral aspect of mental health care in part because people are drawn to the integration of mind, body and spirit. Although it is true that at this particular time in her practice, people with life threatening illnesses often go to her for shamanic healing because they’ve exhausted all other forms of standard treatment and shamanism is “the last stop.” She believes that in addition to facilitating emotional and physical healings, shamanism has the potential to help an individual heal the soul and that, she believes, is of equal importance to the healing of the mind and body.
Interviews with Four Women
Maria, Mimi, Kathy and Judy
The six questions I presented to the women were as follows. 1. What was the trauma which motivated you to seek out shamanic therapy? 2. Have your tried other forms of therapy such as talk therapy? 3. What did you perceive as the differences in the two modalities? 4. How did shamanism help you with your presenting problems? 5. How did the two modalities effect each other? 6. Are you still involved with shamanic healing?
Early on in the process of interviewing these four highly intelligent women, I discovered that my questions were often answered without me formally presenting them. I found that after the first question, a door opened between us, and the words unfolded naturally. Afterwards I reflected that this naturalist manner of gathering information, was more respectful of the deeply intimate information. Consequently, I think much richer words and thoughts were expressed, then if the interviews had been more formalized.
Maria is a 59-year-old woman who was raised in the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, in what she described as a poor, working class, Irish Catholic family. Maria began shamanic therapy with Ann Drake in 1995 because she said she had been on a downward spiral and was “slipping” emotionally. She said she had begun “cutting” and had “suicidal ideation’s”. By the time Maria and I had talked, after she had had many years of therapy with Ann, Maria had achieved full co-consciousness with all thirteen personalities,( i.e. she is aware of them all) but she still acknowledges all her other selves as separate in name and personality.
If Maria didn’t immediately tell me she had DID and she did not repeatedly use the “we” and “us” terminology, I wouldn’t have been aware that she been diagnosed with DID. I learned that she had not always been so symptom free, but they had subsided over the past decade, in large part she believes, because of the results of shamanic healing work.
At the onset of the interview, Maria informed me she had had been sexually abused by her father throughout most of her childhood and by her grandfather on a few occasions. She also said that on several occasions she had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest and two members of the Knights of Columbus.
She also talked about a positive relationship with her first therapist, a “Christian” therapist who helped her begin the very long process of untangling the many painful threads of her life. She was also “able to break the silences about the sexual abuse done to me that I had been forbidden to break by my father, my grandfather, and others in the community, and to begin a healing journey that still continues.”
In 1987, after five years of therapy, Maria said she was encouraged to try to “fly on her own,” which she did, albeit reluctantly at first. She went on to get a BA in Human Services and to single parent her two children as well as to come out as a lesbian. She also created and conducted workshops on the connection between addiction, domestic violence, incest, and spiritual abuse . She also joined Alcoholics Anonymous. When we met she was celebrating 21 years of sobriety.
Maria said she met Ann in the mid 1990’s at a shamanic journeying workshop and she was immediately attracted to the spiritual component of shamanism. She said that Native American spirituality had “always been there for her” even when she was a child, and she felt shamanism connected her with something which felt familiar and safe. She also mentioned that she had a great grandmother who was Lakota Sioux Native American.
Maria described her early work with Ann as “energy work” wherein Ann would pull “lots and lots of black stuff, horrible stuff” out of her body. During which time Maria said sometimes she (Maria) would make noises. When I asked her if she thought this were extraction’s, she said yes, that they had done a lot of extraction work and most recently Ann had removed a “whole band” of negative energy for her midsection.
She said Ann also conducted several soul retrievals for her, including one when she brought back a soul part Maria referred to as “Nine.” Nine had been locked in time. She was nine years old. She was stuck in a room. She didn’t know anybody had died. She didn’t know anybody had grown up.” Maria said
Maria told me that after her soul retrieval she wrote “Nine” a letter to welcome her home and to tell her she understood the pain and suffering she had experienced in her young life. Maria also mentioned she was grateful to Ann because she had been a conduit for healing for Maria’s mother and father, who are both deceased, but who had both been collaborators in the abuse.
One of the things I love about shamanism is that when Ann does a healing, she does it for everybody involved. I have come to understand that the abuse wasn’t because of anything I did but because of whatever was going on in the person who was the perpetrator. I know not all people feel that way, but for me that was important, especially considering the generational patterns of abuse. It made sense.
Maria said Ann had given her a crystal for each soul retrieval. She showed me three crystals and said she carries them everywhere. The wide smile on Maria’s face as she showed me the crystals, gave me the impression that the crystals and the healing they represented to Maria, were a continual source of joy and comfort. In an essay Maria wrote she describes the first several years she was involved in therapy with Ann:
The first three years with Ann were spent gaining additional clarity and healing on the familial and community trauma that happened to me and how I had survived. As my method of survival (i.e. multiplicity) became more and more evident and we reached acceptable levels of safety, more and more of parts began to reveal themselves to Ann and to friends we felt safe enough to tell.
In 1997, Maria’s therapy with Ann seemed to shift into something deeper, but initially unexplainable for both of them. In retrospect, Maria believes that the foundation of trust which had been established between Ann and Maria’s 11 personalities had set the stage for deeper work. Maria states that “once a strong enough foundation developed with Ann and with the parts of who I am, some of the missing time in our life began to be found and named”.
She said that in early 1997 she also drew a picture of a ‘big, wooden, padlocked box with a spirit guide sitting on top of it.” Maria told Ann that the box could never be opened because there was “just too much for us to deal with.” In 1999, after two more years of shamanic journeying work “the lock on the box came off and the lid gradually opened.” For the next two years she said she was dealing with what she described as “seemingly endless” and “immobilizing body, taste and smell memories and flashbacks of white robed men, an alter, my father, my kitten, knives, blood and me”. The horrific sensory images originated from the now unlocked box, Maria indicated.
In Ann’s book Healing of the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche, she describes how she worked with Maria during this time frame to remove “energy bands” and other intrusive energy injected into Maria by her father. According to Ann, Maria’s father had physically and sexually abused Maria while simultaneously telling her that “he was beating and raping her because she was bad and that he was trying to force the devil out of her” (pg. 141). The interjection from her father had successfully implanted itself in Maria’s psyche primarily because a part of Maria’s soul had left her during the abuse, creating a void in her energy field. This void allowed the invading energy to enter and become rooted, according to Ann. She also said that “in psychological terminology this interloper is called a perpetrating alter, meaning the energy and voice of Maria’s father is within her psychic structure.”
It is because of the power of the mind to continually retrieve negative programming that it is important for shamanic clients to be working with a therapist who can help them with the psychological aspects of their healing. Ann indicated that although she can remove the negative entity, the entity or energy can readily be recalled within hours or days, by the mind.
Ann indicated that Maria’s father’s energy had joined forces with one of the personalities named Ryan who believed his job was to protect Maria and her different parts. Unfortunately, according to Ann, “he protected them by seeing that Maria adhered to the beliefs and statements of the father and if he did not, he abused her” (pg. 142).
Ann said she formed a relationship with Ryan and over a period of several years convinced him to withhold his punishment of Maria. When both Ryan and Maria were finally mentally convinced that the father’s message was wrong, Ann said she was able to pull the energetic counterpart to this belief out of Maria’s body. Without the belief system changing, she said she would not have been able to permanently remove the negative energy patterns.
Maria said that in addition to the extraction and soul retrieval work, that she also received several power animals during her work with Ann. She indicated that these spiritual beings held a very special place in her heart and that they were instrumental in helping her navigate through the depressions and suicidal thoughts which accompanied the sensory flashbacks she was experiencing. “My power animals make all the difference in the world to me. I ask them to be with me. I wear this (she shows me a necklace with a silver Wolf) like another person would wear a St. Christopher medal”. In addition to Wolf, she also named Swan, Eagle, Lion, and Monarch butterfly as power animals she calls upon in times of duress. She said that “the light and love and companionship” that they bring to her help her to “not go to the devil or despair. It helps me walk a little further that I thought I could go”
Maria said she often stopped at a restaurant on her way to Ann’s to try to win a stuffed animal from a machine which you play by dropping in two quarters and a claw hand allocates you about ten seconds to grab a stuffed animal from a mound of them. She said she eventually won all of her power animal counterparts. She realized she was winning all these stuffed animals for her 13 different personalities or what she calls her “kids.” When Ann’s office was so full of these power animal “stuffies” (as Maria calls them) that it could hold no more, one Christmas Eve she took them and put one on each pillow belonging to the women who were in residence at the rehabilitation center where Maria was the director.
After two more years of allowing the old memories to surface within the safe space created in Ann’s office, the box she had drawn several years earlier was “blown wide open.” In response to what was in the box, she spent an entire weekend drawing an 8 foot tall by 4 foot long painting which depicted horrific scenes of rape and blood “sacrifice” which had been perpetrated upon her several times when she was five, seven, and nine-year-old by a Catholic priest, her father, and two members of the Knights of Columbus. The painting revealed a bloody altar and parts of her kitten torn apart and in bowls and inside of Maria.
Maria feels all of the therapeutic work she had done in her life had been for the purpose of bringing her to this horrifying reality. She has since continued her work with Ann and she has also become a strong advocate for victims of church clergy and has come forward publicly with her own testimony of sexual and ritual abuse.
In 2002, the same year that the Boston Globe broke the story of the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, Maria met with a representative of the Archdiocese to report her own abuse. With support from Ann Drake and another friend and using the eight foot mural depicting some of the worst scenes of ritual abuse, she presented her story. She also began to attend SNAP (Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests) and she wrote an essay about her abuse which was published.
According to both Maria and Ann, a shamanic healing session utilizing prayers and herbs specifically prepared for Maria and her condition of Disassociative Identity Disorder (which Maria called “the integration remedy”) by Maria’s mentor The Bomoh, was instrumental in attaining a state of co-cohesiveness for Maria’s thirteen different personalities. Maria also believes that the co-cohesiveness (or total awareness by each personality of all the personalities) was critical to the comprehensive effort and cooperation it required both for Maria to be able to open the box which contained the memories of ritual abuse, and then to go forward with her healing and her public report of the abuse. Maria has reached a point of co-cohesiveness with all her personalities but she said she is not yet ready for full integration.
Maria said the spirituality innate in shamanism was “uncontaminated” for her and may be one of the reasons it has been so effective in her journey to heal from the sexual and ritual abuse perpetrated by her priest from the Catholic Church she attended as a child. She believes shamanism is a big gift in her life and she wants to continue to “walk a dance with my power animals and spirit guides.”
In conclusion, she said that suicide was finally “off the table” as an option and she is no longer cutting herself. She feels that shamanism, because for her it is “peaceful and calming” it has helped to tame the aggressive, sometimes violent nature of the personality named Ryan. Maria said Ryan is now quiet and she was recently able to refrain from becoming violent at a clergy abuse protest she had recently attended at a local cathedral, where she had witnessed members of the Knight of Columbus entering the cathedral in Boston. Maria has also stopped hitting herself, which she said was really the personality Ryan, who previously had punished her if she did not obey the philosophies and beliefs set by the abusive father.
Maria said that the week prior to my interview with her (September 2004) she and Ann had journeyed independently but with the same question. The question was “What direction does Maria need to go in now that she is feeling better and needs to start earning an income?” Maria said she was very excited with the results of her journey because in the past her mind had “ricochet all over the place” when she had tried to journey. But this time both she and Ann, in their own separate journeys, were walking down a road and a tree branch kept brushing into their faces. Maria said in her journey she kept trying to see around the corner, but she could not see what was around the bend. When they returned to ordinary reality both her and Ann shared their similar journeys and concluded the message from the spirits was to be patient, there is something good around the corner, but that right now neither one of them could even imagine it.
Mimi is a fifty-year-old married Caucasian woman, who was raised in what she described as a very loving and supportive middle class Protestant family wherein intellectually “anything was up for discussion and exploration.” She did feel though that her parents provided a weak model as to how to deal with depression. She said they taught her and her siblings to be quietly self-contained and to “keep a stiff upper lip and count your blessings” when challenged with depression or sadness.
In Mimi’s late twenties and early thirties she began to experience bouts of sadness, depression, anxiety, lack of energy, disruption of sleep patterns and periods of irritation which often “strengthened into anger.” This slow slide into depression occurred despite what she described as a happy marriage, financial security, a good relationship with her two children, a sense of contentment with her geographical location, and a “worthwhile” job as a teacher of young children.
“I kept looking at my life and saying I have a great life, there nothing wrong with it. Why do I feel like its freezing over and the color’s being sucked out of it?” She attributed her symptoms to being sick or working too hard or that she needed a vacation. She never looked deeper. After a decade of experiencing her life “like spring in reverse,” she felt her life was completely frozen over with depression.
Around this time period, friction erupted between Mimi and her husband, a physician, primarily because he wanted her to take the antidepressant drug Prozac. Within some medical and mental health arenas, Prozac had become the new miracle drug of the 1980’s and her husband had been swept up in the excitement. She adamantly refused to take Prozac because she felt that her anger and depression were the only clues she had to follow to find the source of her unhappiness. Being a dedicated student of mythology, Mimi paralleled her feelings to those of Theseus of the labyrinth who only had a ball of thread Ariadne had given him to find his way out of the labyrinth. She said that despite the fact that her depression was about as comfortable to hold to as “barbed wire” she felt that if she let go, she would be lost forever. “If I could not track the unhappiness to its source, if I medicated myself out of feeling unhappy, then I will just sit there and never know the difference and I will have lost myself.”
Despite her conviction, she said her depression worsened until, at around age 40, she had reached a point of feeling suicidal. “The life that stretched ahead of me seemed endless, like a prison sentence that I didn’t want to live out”. She said her thoughts of suicide scared her enough to abandon the stiff-upper-lip mentality she had learned from her parents and she sought the help of a licensed clinical social worker who had been recommended by one of her husband’s colleagues.
Mimi said the most important aspect of her seven month relationship with her therapist was she created a “sacred space” or what Mimi called a “temenos” which is a Greek word (as an undergraduate Mimi had a double major in Greek and Latin) for a sacred precinct. She said the space with her therapist was so energetically different from the rest of her life, that it evoked deeper self reflection. One of the most important realizations she acquired in this sacred space was that she had spent most of her life defining herself through her relationship with other people. Her therapist encouraged her to think about herself in relationship to her own desires and passions, not always in reactions to the needs of others, in particular in her roles as mother, wife, and teacher. She slowly began to orient her perspective of herself around her own inner feelings.
She realized she had always loved fairy tales and mythology and writing. She decided to write and illustrate books for young children. As she began to write, her depression lifted and eventually her therapist decided that she had become empowered enough to end therapy. Although Mimi felt her issues were “far from solved” she knew that she could return to her therapist for help. Based on her positive experiences with her therapist she realized there was probably help in all sorts of other avenues beyond herself. She had let go of her belief that she had to deal with her depression all alone and this was a major step forward in healing.
After two years of writing but being unsuccessful at publishing her books, she began to create fairy tale creatures out of natural objects such as feathers, rocks, wood, fur, and dried flowers. This connection with the natural world was another major step forward in alleviating depression. During the time she spent gathering natural objects from the woods and creating nature fairies she came across a book by Mercea Eliade, the well known scholar of comparative religion and shamanism.
She said she was struck by comments Eliade has made about Siberian Shamanism, in particular in regards to the fact that when a Siberian shaman dies, the shaman costume is so imbued with power that it cannot be thrown away or given away. Instead it is hung from a tree branch in the forest. “What struck my mind is how amazingly powerful it would be to be walking through a northern forest and come across this kind of scarecrow, gently moving in the breeze; this shaman’s great costume.” Further inspired after reading more about shamanism she began to create what she called “shaman dolls.”
I felt during the period I was making the dolls and selling them at craft fairs that I was increasingly feeling better. I was giving myself permission to reconnect the way I used to as a child. It connected me with my imagination, which I had somehow put into dry dock as an adult.
Reconnecting with her deepest feelings and desires and with nature and her imagination, had been the two keys that lifted her from the most incapacitating levels of depression. What remained for her to heal she felt was “episodic depression,” anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence.
In the fall of 2000 she was introduced to a shamanic publication called the Spirit Passages Newsletter (written by Allie Knowlton and Evelyn Rysdyk). She contacted Allie and soon thereafter began private instruction on shamanic journeying with Allie and Evie. “For me learning to journey was like Cinderella putting her foot in that glass slipper. It was a perfect fit.”
During one of her first shamanic journeys she learned that “a very old non-logical part of myself that I had repressed for a long time needed to be freed.” In response to the journey she wrote a poem and she created a shaman doll which she named “The Captive” which follows:
I tried, I really did, to chain that shambling giant who smears and stains the lines of sense, but his ancient uncouthness cannot be hobbled to such neat restraint. He raged and suffered in a voice that knows no words. I had to let him go to ramble again along primitive paths in the remote regions of my mind. My nights are not as safe, nor my days as simple, but imagination has returned and the wounds about my ankles are slowly healing.
Mimi indicated the journeying process was the single most effective tool for helping her heal from her depression and anxiety. She said the expanded perspective of her life experienced during a shamanic journey enriches and compliments information she obtains in ordinary reality from her family, friends, and her own common sense.
She also said journeying helped her develop a “whole new definition of myself. I realized that the definition I had was very tangible and very small, very limited, and that I am actually a multidimensional being, as is everyone.” As an example of how the journeying process helped her in her quest to continue to heal from depression she cites one journey where her intent was to simply journey to a pleasant, peaceful place and spend ten minutes at that spot. She wanted her power animal to join her and she just wanted to be in this beautiful place without asking a question. The following is what transpired in that journey.
We just sat there on a sun warmed rock in a nice meadow surrounded by trees
and I kept watching a butterfly flit from one wild flower to another. After
about fifteen minutes, when I turned to thank my power animal, she said to me
“Do you think that anything so fragile would ever survive if the entire world
did not love it?”
This journey made me realize that although each of us is an
individual with limitations; we are all part of a great living matrix which is very
supportive. There are all sorts of resources you can draw on. Otherwise, none of
us would ever survive.
This particular journey reduced her feeling of isolation which had accompanied much of her depression. She also learned her sense of aloneness was only a perception, but not a reality. Through her journeying work she realized her anxiety was due to the fact that her life, as she was living it, was too small for her soul. Utilizing a metaphor of a wild cat in cage she explains this concept.
The way I can explain it best to you is if you take a big cat and you take it out of the wild and you put in a small cage in a zoo, it will pace, sometimes obsessively. And it would be easy to say, if you’re the zoo veterinarian, that it should be medicated. It’s obsessively, constantly pacing. And I would be in perfect agreement that that behavior is not good for the cat, nor healthy, nor productive, but I would also say it’s an expression of its nature as a great cat. It needs to get out of the cage. It doesn’t need to be medicated or otherwise accommodated to life in a cage.
She believes that shamanism helped her realize that when she becomes obsessive or anxious, it is often her soul yearning to be free of something that is too small or contained for the magnitude of her soul. She feels if she had stayed in conventional therapy, that she would have been medicated and lost her true self primarily because the medication would have suppressed the symptoms of her spirit’s yearning for growth and change. She would have adapted to a much smaller version of herself and the medication would have made it bearable.
She also said that a spontaneous soul retrieval she experienced during a shamanic journey was another important step forward in reconnecting with her imagination and her true self. This occurred one day as she was starting to journey. “I saw myself as a very little girl touching my little toy horse that I slept with until it turned into nothing but fuzz and I was in tears.” She realized that the little girl was the playful, childlike imaginative part of herself that had wandered away from her life when she was at age four or five. Mimi said she jumped to the conclusion that the reason the child had left was because of something her mother had done. In a follow up journey she was told by the inner child that she had left because Kathy herself had decided “life was so serious and logical, and wasn’t any fun anymore.”
In an extension of the student/teacher relationship Mimi had developed with Allie Knowlton during the process of learning how to journey, in September of 2000 she began a two year shamanic apprenticeship with Spirit Passages. The training included comprehensive teachings in entity extractions, soul retrieval, psychopomp work, and other advanced shamanic healing techniques. Currently she is participating in another graduate level class in shamanism. Mimi feels her depression is completely gone, but her anxiety can still be “triggered”. But she now has an array of techniques she can use to defuse it and/or turn the energy to more positive actions.
I’ve learned to take the energy when it begins to get caught up in that compulsive, small cage pacing and recognize it for what it is. Instead of trying to shut it down I try to transform it into a larger, more positive pattern.
She feels that her seven month experience with traditional therapy was a very important first step on what she feels is a life time journey of healing and learning. In her experience, the two healing modalities were never in conflict and both were very positive and complementary.
The primary difference between the two modalities, she indicated, was that she felt conventional talk therapy was aiming to help her “accommodate to my life as it was” rather than trying to help her expand her awareness to encompass her total multidimensional being. She described her life as she was living it at the time she was in traditional therapy, as “a shoe that didn’t fit.” She said traditional therapy was trying to help her remain as comfortable as possible within the ill-fitting shoes. In contrast she said, “shamanism took me to the shoe store and said why don’t you try on each and ever pair of shoes until you find the perfect fit.”
Five years after her initial experience with shamanism Mimi has found what appears to be the perfect fit in regards to her professional life. She owns and operates a new shamanic art business. Her primary objective in her new business is to create shamanic healing dolls utilizing symbolism meaningful to her client (which she often receives during her shamanic journeys). These dolls “stimulate understanding or insight which can then facilitate change and provide comfort and support.”
Mimi said she also participates in psychopomp work. She journeys once a month during the dark of the moon to locate lost souls and to help them with a positive transition. She added that her power animal is her guide during these dark moon journeys. When she asked one of her spirit guides why she had been asked by her spirit teacher to do this kind of work he said, “For the same reason that everyone who does this work, does it. Because you understand that love leaves no one behind, not even the dead”.
In September of 2004 I had a two hour interview with Kathy at her home in southern Maine. In addition to the interview, she also shared a copy of a six page autobiographical letter she had written which was part of the admission process required to partake in a Spirit Passages Shamanism Apprenticeship program, sponsored by Allie Knowlton and Evelyn Rysdyk, which was scheduled to begin in October of 2004.
Kathy is a 42-year-old female who is a lesbian, who was raised in a wealthy New York suburb in what she described as a very large, loving, middle class Irish Catholic family. Her father is a practicing lawyer in New York and her mother was the homemaker for the family. Kathy exemplified what I would call a kind of driven male energy. In addition to being an athlete, a body builder, a conference presenter of educational strategies, she has a Master’s Degree in Education and a medical degree. At the time of our first interview, in September of 2004, she was the primary care internist and osteopath at a comprehensive medical center.
Kathy believes the major trauma in her life was the death of her brother in a swimming accident at a YMCA when she was two-years-old. She said at that moment she lost not only her brother, but her mother, and to a degree, her father, who she indicated dealt with his pain by immersing himself in his work. From that day forward her “mother made meals and kept house, but she lived in a world of grief and depression”. Kathy has a distinct memory when she was five of watching her mother from a kitchen doorway “crying in the darkness.”
Situational depression, anxiety, a long-term feeling of abandonment, and a sense of being split into two different people (one part being a traditional conformist, the other as one who sought alternative realities) were the major presenting problems for her when we talked in September 2004. She said that despite her array of “left brain accomplishments” she felt a deep, lingering sense of emptiness. She had also struggled with completely accepting her sexual orientation, citing again a split between parts of herself that believed it was O.K. for her to be true to her own orientation, and other part which clung to a need to be normal, according to societal dictates.
She stated that she looked at life “as almost two entities, the work/left brained world and my personal and spiritual beliefs.” She wanted to take the shamanic apprenticeship, in part, because she had wanted to merge the two parts of her self, hoping shamanism and spirituality would become as integral to her life as her many left brain accomplishments were already. She was tired of living two separate realities.
Unlike the other three women I interviewed, Kathy perceived traditional therapy as having had only minimal impact on her healing process, stating it provided her a temporary space for her to simply “get things off my chest.” Kathy did not indicate that she experienced any deep or long-lasting benefits from traditional therapy from the two short term therapeutic relationships she had had with mainstream therapists.
What she did say had helped her throughout her entire life was being out in nature. In her letter to Spirit Passages she writes “the trees, mountains, rivers, rocks and animals have spoken to me in a way that touches my soul, guides me and provides me with a feeling of peace.” The summer after her freshmen year in college, she read a book by Carlos Castanada and was transfixed with the shamanic concepts of non ordinary realities. When she was still in college she spent three summers chaperoning a high school canoing trip to Canada. The co-leader of the group introduced her to sweat lodge ceremonies, vision quests, the Native American belief in the cycle of life and the concept all life is interrelated. She said it was these moments when she was interacting with nature that she was the most at peace and the happiest.
As a direct result, shamanism, when it was introduced to her, felt very comfortable. She also said that the concepts innate in shamanism felt natural and they were easy for her to understand and practice. She began to get in touch with “the part of the universe that I’ve always know of, but never consciously explored.” She attended a drumming circle and bought a drumming tape and she began to journey on her own.
She eventually had a soul retrieval with Allie and said a very young soul part, around age five, and a soul part which was around age twenty, was returned during this ceremony. Allie had told her that she had seen Kathy (in non ordinary reality) when she was about twenty-years-old walking down a street and she had come to a corner and one part of her had gone one way and another part had simply stayed at the corner. Kathy believes this soul retrieval was the beginning of her desire to further heal her feeling of being split into two different people. It was at this point when she decided to apply to the apprenticeship program with Spirit Passages. (The prior information from Kathy was received during the first interview and before her participation in the apprenticeship program, which was scheduled to begin a month after we had talked.)
When we met again, and she had finalized her apprenticeship, I asked her what was the most significant aspect of the first week of the apprenticeship. She quickly recited a shamanic journey where she experienced a classic shamanic “dismemberment” wherein her body was completely torn apart by her spirit guides. The first step in the healing was for her guides to take out her brain and separate it into left and right hemispheres so that it could be cleaned out. A worm was also removed. She said that her guides told her that the worm represented her need to adhere to societal norms. What stepped forward to take the place of the worm was her higher self, whose name was Richard who told her he was to fill in the gap when the worm was removed.
She said a major guide in this dismemberment process was a male spirit named Olson who wore royal blue and carried a large sword. After the brain was cleaned, he cut open her heart cavity which was in a metal container. He said her heart was basically OK, but it was filled with a kind of slim substance. There seemed to be a problem cleaning it out until two of her power animals, who she called Poo Bear and Paint, were able to lick the cavity clean of the slim. Olson told her heart needed a new container, that the metal box was no longer appropriate and great white pine tree named Wilma came forward offering to hold her heart. The branches formed a container and they also spread throughout her body to replace her entire vascular and nervous systems. Kathy said her intestines, bones, and central nervous system were also cleansed by her power animals and spirit guides. When I asked he if this new information conflicted with her medical knowledge she said it did not and, in fact, it was “liberating” since she had known all of her life intuitively that spirits could communicate, but this experienced confirmed her intuitive knowledge.
After the dismemberment journey, which had been the highlight of the first week of the apprenticeship, she said her long-term feelings of discomfort about her job intensified. She knew that if she really was to become everything she was meant to be; if she wanted to unite her split selves; then she had to leave the medical center where she worked.
She began to journey to her spirit guides with questions related to this issue. She wanted to know what would be the next step in her life if she left her job. In her journeys she said she was shown a wellness center, where both traditional and nontraditional health care would be available to her clients. She said she was even shown the best location for this holistic center. She was also introduced to a hawk spirit guide who was to be the guide for the entire project.
At this time she was diagnosed with borderline hyper thyroid.. She said she went to a friend who was a kinesthetic healer for treatment and he put her inside a “Zen” energy field which was encircled with quartz crystals and copper rings. She said she began to journey and she was brought her back to when she was five-years-old and standing in the kitchen doorway, watching her mother cry. She asked this younger self to return to the adult Kathy and the child responded by saying, “No, I have to stay here and protect Mom.” After much dialogged the inner child finally agreed to go with the adult Kathy and they journeyed with the Hawk spirit guide to a field where Hawk told them both that they had a right to laugh and play and have fun and they all began to laugh and roll around in the field. Eventually, when Kathy lay down next to her spirit horse, Paint, to sleep, little Kathy sat on her lap and they blended into one being.
In February Kathy felt guided to partake in a cranial osteopathy workshop. “I felt I had found a way for me to work in my field, and to interact with both the matter and spirit side of human beings.” In March she attended another cranial osteopathy workshop which was sponsored by the American Academy of Osteopathy.
When a workshop presenter stated that Andrew Taylor, the founder of osteopath medicine, had been a shaman and had received his osteopathic information from his spirit guides, she said it was another profound moment in what has been a series of fortuitous experiences she had had since beginning her apprenticeship. Having already been informed by the medical center director that she would not be permitted to practice cranial osteopathy, she quit her job as soon as she returned to Maine.
The next significant assignment for the apprentices was to journey with the question “What needs to be strengthened in myself to achieve my goals and how do I do this?” What followed for Kathy was another dismemberment. The only difference was that this time her spirits would not put her back together. They told her she needed to do it herself to strengthen her resolve. Using a single hand, she said she put herself back together. The next journey assignment during this week was to journey to face her greatest fear which she said was of being eaten by sharks. She said she journeyed to sharks but was quickly rescued by a sea turtle and a dolphin who transmitted to her that she needed to strengthen her faith as well as her resolve. When she asked how she was to do this they told her to have faith in them and to journey to them for guidance.
A final journey she spoke to me about was to another lifetime where she said she had been a Native American Medicine Woman named Crow Woman. She said that in that journey she saw herself give birth. Kathy believes that this unification with Crow Woman and the baby was an important aspect of accepting the feminine aspect of her psyche (and from my perspective Kathy had become much more feminine than before her apprenticeship).
The last time I talked to Kathy, she had followed up on her guidance from her spirit guides and opened a wellness center in New Hampshire where she is the primary physician specializing in Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. A variety of alternative therapies such as massage, Reiki, and chiropractic care, will also be available. When I asked her if shamanism had addressed her sense of abandonment, in addition to having united her split selves into a common goal, she said she now feels she is never alone. She feels she is surrounded by loving guidance.
During our approximately one hour telephone interview Judy, 43, who is a medical student, included minimal information about her childhood or family of origin, except to say that as a child she had been emotionally and sexually abused and that she was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. In an attempt to heal the emotional trauma created by her childhood abuse, Judy said she had been involved in several different types of healing therapies including acupuncture, chiropractic care and traditional talk therapy for a total of about thirteen (nonconsecutive) years. She indicated that she felt she had dealt with aspects of her trauma and that talk therapy had been very helpful. The primary presenting problem for which Judy sought the help of a Shamanic Practitioner in 2003 was a neck injury which was the result of an automobile accident which occurred in September of 2001. She said the pain in her neck was severe and it was limiting everything in her life. After the accident she spent two years trying to find relief through a variety of healing modalities including acupuncture and chiropractic care. She said these had helped a little, but she was still in a great deal of pain. She also had a strong sense that the pain in her neck was a result of old trauma issues which had gotten stuck in her physical body, localizing in her neck. She wanted to address this neck trauma from a holistic perspective.
A friend who was familiar with shamanism suggested that she sign up for a basic shamanic journeying class, wherein she would learn methods to help her find her own answers to her questions and problems about her health. Judy did participate in a shamanic journeying workshop taught by Core Shamanism Practitioners Nan Moss and David Moss who live in Port Clyde, Maine. She said that shamanic journeying felt comfortable and familiar to her and that during her first journey she had even heard a voice say “Welcome Home.” She also received a reference for Ann Drake at this workshop and she soon called Ann and made an appointment.
At the appointment Judy said she and Ann sat on the floor facing each other in the middle of the room and her friend and life partner, Erin (who accompanied Judy to give her moral support) sat up against the wall, which she said were lined with pillows. Ann suggested to Judy that she just try to relax and not try to do anything in particular. Ann also asked if she had her permission to touch her shoulder. She then proceeded to light a candle and smudge both of them with sage and then sprinkle water on Judy. They both lied down on the floor side by side, with shoulders touching. Ann utilized a drumming tape during this particular healing session.
Judy said that the next thing that she remembers was she started to “physically shake like a fish.” She said she felt a “rocking kind of uncontrollable motion,” and although she was conscious of this shaking, she could not control it. She said it was not painful, but it was tiring. Eventually the shaking subsided into a sense of “trembling and coldness” and shortly thereafter she felt herself going into a kind of trance wherein she felt the presence of a very young girl who said “help me.” At the end of the two hour session, Ann gave Judy several quartz crystals and told her that she had brought back five or six soul parts, including a five-year-old girl and a two-year-old girl. She also had Judy drink from a bowl of water while Ann prayed.
After the ceremonial aspect of the shamanic healing had concluded, Ann explained to Judy that during the extraction process she had been “untangling and extracting negative energy,” which she believed belonged to her mother. She said Judy’s mother’s energy had become negatively entwined in her energy field and was draining her vital force. Ann also indicated that there had been some negative energy interjects which had lingered in Judy’s energy field as a result of the sexual abuse she had endured in her childhood and that she had removed these as well. Erin later told Judy that while she was shaking uncontrollably, Ann appeared to be pulling and tugging and utilizing a great deal of force in an effort to extract some energy form out of Judy.
Judy said that at the end of the session the pain in her neck was completely gone, but she had experienced an uncomfortable feeling of being “completely spaced out.” The evening after the day of the shamanic healing, she said the spaced out feeling was gone and she began to recite a prayer Ann had instructed her to recite for seven consecutive nights following the healing. After saying the prayer on the seventh night, she was to burn the piece of paper on which the prayer had been written, which she did. She recollected that the prayer was to help her newfound soul parts feel welcomed back and to encouraged them to remain.
Judy said the one shamanic session she had with Ann has made a huge difference in her life. The pain in her neck returned slightly the day after her shamanic healing, but in “the days and weeks and months since the healing session, it has been remarkably better.” She also indicated that for a period of about two weeks after the shamanic healing session she experienced periods of crying which felt like a release or “a shedding.” There was no sense of being emotionally stuck or wallowing in depression as she had feared might transpire if the shamanic work had resurrected deep childhood abuse issues. Since the shamanic healing, she explained she has felt more confident about herself and is experiencing a greater sense of oneness with all of life as well as a greater sense of feeling “whole.” A lifelong feeling of fragmentation has also been healed.
She said she was grateful she had participated in the talk therapy prior to the shamanic healing work because she believed that her psyche was so splintered from her childhood abuse she might not have been able to handle the information imparted to her in the healing session with Ann. She feels it was important for her to mentally understand her inner child and her childhood abuse before she could adequately process the shamanic information. “I would not have recognized her (her inner child) in the journey if I hadn’t already gotten to know her in regular therapy.”
She did say she wished she had known about shamanism earlier in her life indicating that while “talk therapy did the cognitive and the verbal, shamanism did the nonverbal and visceral.” She also indicated that for her shamanism was not just talking about spirituality and religion, “it was actually experiencing it viscerally.” She also believes that shamanism alone is not enough. She stated that for shamanism to be completely effective “there needs to be a cognitive awareness” of the issues addressed in shamanism. In conclusion, she stated that she believes that the two modalities of shamanism and talk therapy combine to “create an ideal healing scenario.”
Summary and Conclusion
I feel the research strongly indicates shamanism is an effective tool in assisting women who have experienced trauma. All four of the women I interviewed testified that shamanism had played a critical role in their healing process. The general sentiment amongst the women indicated that traditional therapy was important in creating a firm foundation for healing, but that shamanism provided a key to a more much comprehensive healing experience. This experience included an expanded definition of self; a broader understanding of self in relationship to the world, and of self in relationship to others.
I believe Kathy and Mimi would concur with me that the expanded and deeper understanding of their soul qualities catapulted them into new life paths. These new paths reflected their deeper values and passions. I believe the aspect of shamanism which encourages self reflection is one of the most distinctive benefits of the shamanism modality of healing. Mimi describes this quite succinctly when she states that shamanism supports her journey to “encompass her total multidimensional being”. She also stated that if she had stayed in traditional therapy, and the inclination to suppress symptoms, it would have made it bearable for her to accept what she now perceives as a painfully compromised version of her true multidimensional self. She felt that if she had been given Prozac, or another mood-altering drug, it would have enabled her to tolerate her state of frozen emotional and spiritual growth. The passion she found in expressing her true self, lifted her out of of depression and the related trauma.
With Maria the concept of finding one’s deepest nature took on a whole new meaning. For Maria the journey towards wellness included healing the thirteen different personalities which lived inside of her in addition n to healing her primary self. I believe the most remarkable aspect of the shamanic process for Maria was that her power animals, and the series of soul retrievals and extractions gave her the courage, strength, trust, and the skills she need to firstly, identify the thirteen personalities that lived within her psyche. The next step in shamanic healing was the co-cohesiveness and then a cooperative alignment between the personalities. The co-cohesiveness, from what I understand, was accomplished, in part, as a direct result of a healing remedy provided by “The Bomoh” exclusively for Maria. I have to wonder if there is anything comparable in Western medicine for treatment of DID?
The personality Ryan, who was negatively aligned with the abusive father, and who would force Maria to hit herself if she did no obey their commands, apparently responded to shamanic healing by becoming nonviolent and cooperative. Again, I find this testimony amazingly important information and unreported in any academic research that I am aware. Maria also told me that cutting herself was no finally “off the table” as an option.
I would hope traditional mental health experts someday find access to this information at least for the purpose of study and analysis. I wonder how many thousands of people suffering from severe symptoms of DID, who are living in frozen states of emotional growth, supported by powerful medications, might be freed by an understanding of ancient healing philosophies such as shamanism. I feel ancient healing techniques need to come forward and be interwoven with standard Western healing philosophies if we are to provide the most comprehensive care possible for mental health patients in the United States. I appreciate the iconoclastic life patterns of these four women who have challenged standard care, with the intimate portrayal of their pain and of their healing. I hope their testimonies effect the healing of many other women whose lives could be transformed with this information.
I am deeply grateful to Allie Knowlton and Ann Drake for the time they allocated for their personal interviews and for trusting me enough to arrange interviews with their clients. I made many phone calls and sent several emails to Ann and Allie, for which they always made time in their busy schedules. I also thank Nancy Waring, Ph.D., my team leader and core faculty advisor Lesley University, for her patience with me as I was slowly able to comprehend the difference between creative writing inspired from my own truth, and academic writing, which primarily draws on the knowledge of the people who are the experts in my field of interest. I am a much more grounded, humble, and knowledgeable person as a result of this exercise.
In retrospect, I am amazed that these three women stayed the course with me as I evolved my thinking and writing from being completely scattered and unfocused (and trying to incorporate all my many spiritual beliefs) into, finally, a line of thinking which created a cohesive manuscript that focused on core shamanic healing.
I am grateful to all my shamanic teachers including Sandra Ingerman, Ann Drucker, Geo Cameron, Susan Bakaley Marshall (also a former team member), Claude Poncelet, Nan Moss, and David Corbin. I am more integrated person as a result of their profound teachings and the many shamanic healings I received either directly from them or as a result of being a participant in their workshops.
I thank Sandra Ingerman for creating a tape for me which focused on trauma and shamanism. I also thank her for the courage she demonstrated in following her instincts when she first suspected soul loss in her clients. Mother Earth’s children (including myself) all around the world have begun to come home to their bodies, in part, as a result of these findings being published in her book, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Soul. I believe Sandra’s book was the first book I ever read on core shamanism. The significance and truth of her words stuck with me for a period of ten years, way before I even began a formal study of shamanism.
Finally, I thank the four women I interviewed for their trust and for what they taught me about my own strengths and weaknesses. I often think of Mimi’s metaphor of a wild cat in a cage when I have somehow allowed myself to become disconnected from my primal nature. I am reminded how necessary it is for us all to leave our enclosures and allow ourselves to run or walk freely through the woods or fields or deserts where we can align with our big selves, or are more instinctual energy.
The fact that shamanism enlightens us to our natural strengths as co-creators with Great Spirit, reveals to me, in part, why shamanism has survived for thousand and thousands of years and has reemerged to help us transition into what the Mayans and other ancient culture believe is a new era for humankind.
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