In the Four Branches of The Mabinogion, the third branch story is about Manawydan retrieving Rhiannon and Pryderi from the Under-world after they disappear. This is a reflection of the Shamanic practice of Soul Retrieval.
Historically, the Shaman travels to the Other-world to retrieve the souls or soul parts of those who are ill or affected in some way by negative energy. The Shaman finds out what the problem was that led to the illness and ‘loss of soul’ and may then challenge the negative energies in order to succeed in the healing.
Psychologically, the difficulties and traumas of life can lead to a disassociation of the person from a part of their self. The lost part is an energetic emotional expression of the self. By leaving the body, this loss can be a way to protect the self from the bad situation.
For example, imagine you are in a traumatic situation such as a car crash. You may be in a lot of pain in this situation, you may be witness to some terrible sights. Sometimes, a part of the self, such as a part of the soul or subconscious energy of the person may literally 'fly' off or ‘float’ up in an attempt to escape the situation, leaving the person’s body in the process. It is like losing a piece of our energy. The part that leaves is protecting the self from the trauma by not facing it and going somewhere safe.
Let us say this situation occurs when you are 13 years old, from then on a part of your 13 year old self is missing as you continue growing up. Perhaps, afterwards, you notice you have lost some of your old confidence or sense of humour. If the Shamanic practitioner travels to the place where that piece of your lost 13 year old self has gone and convinces it that you need it back where it belongs, because now you are safe and the bad experience has gone away, then having returned to you, you will begin to get your old confidence or sense of humour back.
Situations leading to such loss can vary from changing schools to severe abuse. The degree of the traumatic impact depends on the robustness of the individual and the strengths of their coping styles. Some people can cope with a lot of severe difficulties and seem to be able to handle them, whilst others may lack the skills to cope with a single loss or challenge. In this case, soul retrieval helps the person to find the ‘missing piece’ of the self, listen to it, heal it and re-incorporate it within their whole self.
Working with people who have been affected by trauma can be challenging and it is very important to know we are not going to make things worse. Losing the damaged or fearful part can be a protective factor, a way for a person to cope in a difficult situation. Because of this, interfering could make the person very much worse, even suicidal, so a practitioner must know exactly what they are doing and be trained to understand the risks and work with them.
For that reason, I strongly suggest that specialist training is paramount before working with others using soul retrieval. The Shaman who can ‘see’ what is happening energetically with psychic eyes is particularly able to work with the energies involved when doing soul retrieval, although this is by no means essential.
Before the soul retrieval journey takes place, a consultation is carried out between the practitioner and the person seeking help to ascertain elements of risk and safety and to ensure that a soul retrieval is appropriate. The practitioner needs training, knowledge and experience to facilitate this. During this time, the procedure can be explained and the person and practitioner will agree the statement of intent for the soul retrieval.
A general statement such as “I am looking for the lost soul parts of (name of person) that would be most helpful to have back in their life at this time” will ensure that the person only receives what they are able to cope with at that time, and this makes the process safer.
If you are looking to learn more, I would recommend Sandra Ingerman’s book ‘Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self’. If you think you would benefit from receiving a soul retrieval, look for an experienced and qualified Shamanic practitioner and make sure you find out about the depth of their skills, knowledge and experience before you engage them.
For the benefit of providing some understanding about what might happen, here is an idea of what a soul retrieval is like, although practitioners’ methods may vary. The information here does not represent a complete understanding of how to do this, and is not intended to be a background to practice without training.
Soul retrieval takes place in a room that has been cleansed with smoke and where sacred space has been invoked, and where sound has been used to raise the energy and connect to Spirit. Psychic protection is very important during all the stages. The person receiving the soul retrieval may be involved in preparing sacred space if they are comfortable and knowledgeable of this practice, or the room can be prepared before they arrive.
The practitioner may use a drum, rattle and a soul catcher crystal (a special clear quartz crystal point dedicated and prepared for this purpose) during the soul retrieval process.
The person receiving the soul retrieval lies down on the floor, usually on a blanket used specifically for the purpose. Kneeling next to them, the practitioner rattles over their body and invokes protection for them.
The Shamanic practitioner calls their spirit guides and animal helpers and sings and chants to Spirit. During this period, 10-15 minutes of trance drumming may also take place.
The practitioner lies down alongside the person, making sure they are touching their body at the shoulder, hip and foot.
The practitioner states the intention of the soul retrieval three times. The intention relates to the pre-retrieval consultation where the seeker and the practitioner discuss the reasons for the soul retrieval.
At this point the practitioner settles down to journey. The practitioner will follow their guides and instincts, asking for help and support as they proceed. They will travel from their usual Other-world entry point, going where they are directed or ‘pulled’. Eventually, they will find the place where the soul part is and be able to find out what happened and help the soul part to return home. This usually involves a conversation with the soul part and possibly the intervention of the practitioner’s guides and helpers. The practitioner can pull the soul parts into their own body or use the crystal in which to hold them whilst returning.
Upon waking from the journey, the practitioner kneels to blow the soul part into the person’s heart and crown. The practitioner maintains contact with the person through physical touch at all times.
Then, the practitioner will rattle over the person to seal the newly returned soul part into the person’s body where it belongs. The practitioner may, at this point, look deep into the person’s eyes, speaking to the soul part to say “Welcome home!”
At this point contact is broken, they both sit up and the practitioner shares the journey experience with the person. This can be a very important and affirming part of the whole procedure.
After they have talked, the practitioner may invite the person to lie back down and comfortably enjoy a period of assimilation and welcoming the soul part back home.
Then the practitioner may play/make music, sing/chant and generally use sound to welcome back the lost soul part or parts.
Before leaving, the practitioner may ask the person to leave a gift or offering in Nature somewhere in the next week, to say “thank you” to Spirit for helping. Nature’s help is present because the energy that the practitioner uses to complete a soul retrieval comes from Nature, and the spirit beings, helpers and the landscape itself in which the practitioner travels is also a construct of Nature.
It can take some days or weeks after the journey experience for the soul part to settle back within the person’s personality and for its unique qualities to re-surface through the personality. How long this takes will vary from person to person.