Soul Loss

A central shamanic illness is soul loss, which Achterberg (1985) characterizes as an injury to the core or essence of one's being. Soul loss reflects concerns with the essence of crucial aspects of the self (Ingerman, 1991), involving the loss of, or injury to, fundamental aspects of personal identity. This injury to one's essence is manifested as despair, disharmony, and loss of meaning in life and feelings of belonging and connection with others. "Soul" constitutes a vital essence of self-emotions. Soul loss occurs from trauma that causes an aspect of one's self to dissociate. This separated aspect of the self carries with it the impact of the traumatic experiences that are unavailable to the rest of the self, arresting ego and emotional development. Reintegration of these dissociated aspects of self is central to healing. Soul recovery involves the shaman's dramatic enactment of battles with terrifying and threatening spirit images that symbolize disowned and repressed aspects of the self (Walsh, 1990). Through their recovery one regains a sense of a social self alienated by trauma and feelings of disharmony and disconnectedness (Ingerman, 1991). Community is significant in soul retrieval, with social support vital to the healing processes and re-integration of self. Community participation facilitates social bonding and release of the body's opioids, producing a sense of well-being. The shaman's dramatic struggles with the spirit world to realize soul recovery and power animal recovery produce powerful experiences, transforming self and altering social relationships.

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