Content warning: A page on neoshamanic perspectives will contain content of a spiritual nature and discuss spiritual concepts. If spirituality is an issue for you, this is not a good page to be on. The word "soul" is used on this page but does NOT refer to the "Christian soul" — it refers to someone's life essence and is closer to the Asian concept of Jing. There's also the mention of "possession" in this case it's a consensual form of allowing one's Totemic guide or a known guardian spirit to briefly borrow one's body and return one's body by mutual consent — called "wearing the shamanic mask".
by The Crisses (with others' comments noted)
Neoshamanism is one version of spiritual philosophy that describes plural experiences differently from psychology.
There are a wide variety of styles and cultural practices of shamanism around the world and through time. No one culture has the sole claim to shamanism, and nearly every indigenous or native culture of the world has touched upon shamanic beliefs at one time or another. The bulk of our understandings come from neoshamanism, as taught by Core Shamanism (Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman, and the Foundation of Shamanic Studies), which take anthropological study of various indigenous cultures and their practices and look for commonalities across many continents to find core truths that are practiced widely throughout many tribes and thus are considered to be ubiquitous human shamanic concepts brought to a neoshamanic practice in the 20th & 21st century.
This section of the article includes theories noted in core shamanism that relate to multiplicity, such as the shamanic mask/totemic possession, the Shamanic Worlds as they might relate to internal landscapes, soul loss and soul retrieval, etc. The word "shaman" is only used to describe indigenous people, and non-indigenous practitioners are "neoshamans", "shamanic practitioners", or just "practitioners". We are not attempting to appropriate terminology or tradition from other cultures, but to heal and understand our own experiences better using a variety of lenses that are shamanism's gift to humanity.
The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner covers the concepts of what he calls Core Shamanism but does not replace initiation and training into the shamanic arts, whether by his Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS), or through other practitioners. We, The Crisses, have taken Harner's basic FSS course (with the late Michael Harner) twice and done a follow-up training over the next few months with a local practitioner. In addition to Harner's Core Shamanism, Crisses has been initiated into Taky Sami by an Ecuadorian practitioner, and worked with Nikki Scully's Golden Cauldron (Egyptian neoshamanic practice), as well as our own naturally evolved neoshamanic techniques (we started trancing, doing out of body work, etc. as a child without formal training). Discussions of Soul Retrieval are informed by Sandra Ingerman (Soul Retrieval & Welcome Home, and other works) who is a teacher, trainer, and author with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
A note on seeking out healing work in a neoshamanic or shamanic paradigm. Whenever possible, if you have the access, means, & connections, please go out of your way to seek out assistance (with cash in hand) from indigenous practitioners (whether they are tribally trained or neoshamanic practitioners). Help prevent the exploitation of ancient tribal arts & help correct theft from & oppression of indigenous people. Your absolute last resort should be to seek out white practitioners. When seeking trusted and trained white practitioners, note that the Foundation for Shamanic Studies does give back reparations to indigenous people in case that helps you find ethical practitioners.
Internal Landscapes vs. the Shamanic Worlds
What the internal landscape and shamanic worlds share is the use of imagery and metaphor, placement and place having significance, and there's some similarity to how they are accessed and traversed. We are not certain they're the same thing, however. Perhaps the internal world/landscape is a pocket dimension made of whatever the "stuff" is that the shamanic worlds are created from. We consider that 'stuff' that is used to be universal essence — and that's one of our major ties between shamanism and Reiki work.
The 3 "shamanic worlds" (as noted by Michael Harner to be a common "core shamanic" observation/belief across many indigenous cultures worldwide) have a variety of riches to offer a neoshamanic practitioner. These are the common features seen across many cultures (including some parallels found in mythology as shown in Joseph Campbell's work on the Hero's Journey):
Middle World: The shamanic middle world is an overlay of the consensual or waking world. In the middle world you can visit (via out of body projection, trance states, dreamwork, etc.) the spiritual version of physical places in non-ordinary reality. In non-ordinary reality, time and space are malleable and less restrictive than in ordinary/consensual reality. Thus, for example, you can visit a building in the Middle World that no longer exists in ordinary reality. A shamanic practitioner in a walking/waking trance can slip into non-ordinary reality while also still being in-body, and interact with other people's spirit body. This is how a practitioner does extractions (pulling unwanted energies out of a client's spirit form) and returning lost soul-stuff to a client's body in the here & now during soul retrievals.
The Middle World is also where one may interact with and be accompanied by one's spirit companions. Even non-practitioners should have spirit companions, whether or not they are aware of them. Companions protect your soul/spirit from intrusion and attack, for example. If one loses ones spirit companions, you may experience chronic illness, as you are more vulnerable to attack. Shamanic or neoshamanic practitioners can help negotiate with spirits if there's a problem with one's relationships with the spirit world.
The Upper World is more airy and etherial, and we have found it's the home of a variety of mythical creatures and deities from various pantheons. Shamanic practitioners usually have spirit guides from the Upper World. Most of Nikki Scully's Golden Cauldron work involves upper world journeys to specific entities she has pre-negotiated with on her practitioners' behalf for guided journeys. The upper world is a good place to go to ask questions and have discourse. You may not get a direct answer, but like coaches, sometimes they ask the right questions back so you find your answer. There are other ways to interact with the Upper World, but those are some highlights.
The Lower World is a denser landscape, earthy, and intense. It's more the realm of animals and wild things. One journeys there to recruit spirit animals, speak with plants for their healing wisdom, and to interact with subconscious imagery and emotional needs.
Soul-Loss & Soul Retrieval
One such contribution is found at Otherkin.net at this link by the Crisses, regarding how soul-loss may relate to trauma, recovery and otherkin-related experiences. Another article by Crisses on soul-loss/soul-retrieval is here: http://liberatedlifecoaching.com/Articles/SoulLoss
Some soul parts are mired in the Middle World — lost in time and space and unable or unwilling to find their way back to their body. Other lost soul parts are in the Lower World, frightened, overcome with emotions, running from nightmares, hiding in dark shadowy corners, or stuck in quicksand and unable to escape their fears. Soul retrievals are not done by oneself on oneself on purpose — they should be done by a capable practitioner and they generally require a guide or spirit companion to help track down lost soul parts, even to the point of knowing what world the parts are in.
There is, however, a potential parallel headwork art called "Rescue Missions New" that at least on the surface seem very similar to soul retrievals, and can take place entirely in a plural's internal landscape or inner world.
FAQ on Soul Retrieval
This is compiled from having experienced it as a plural, having done spontaneous soul retrievals during shamanic journey sessions (i.e. we went to non-ordinary reality and our guide brought us unasked to lost soul parts that were ready to "come home"), and having read Sandra Ingerman's book Soul Retrieval.
What is the "integration" in soul retrieval about? Part of the soul retrieval is bringing lost essence back from the other worlds to the body, and "blowing it in" or somehow returning it into the confines of the human system in the Here & Now. Then a process of "integration" will take place, as the healer mends the broken boundaries of the system to help the returned essence keep its place in the body, and the subject is requested to welcome the lost essence back home, and send it compassion and love so that it stays.
Please note that this type of "integration" does not mean entities within the multiple system will merge or disappear — quite the contrary — the entities in the system will become more whole in themselves. But note that during the period following a soul retrieval one or more entities in the system may make spontaneous integrations should persons in the multiple system deem it appropriate and be open to the idea. Being "more themself" in the first place may encourage them not to be afraid to merge after the soul retrieval.
Will I be cured in one session? With persons who have been continually traumatized long ago, it may take many soul retrieval sessions to achieve significant healing. However, one soul retrieval session may send a message to other lost parts that you are more ready for them to return home — and you may experience more lost essence finding its way back spontaneously in the weeks and months following a soul retrieval. So if all you can do is one, it's definitely still worthwhile.
What does this looks like to the plural subject of a soul retrieval? The people who are not co-conscious in your system may become more present and grounded, more able to be co-conscious. Fragments may be more whole. Emotional parts (EPs — if you like structural dissociation theory) may be less reactive, more aware of the here & now (that's kinda redundant but bears saying anyway).
How does it work? Does it matter as long as it actually works? Soul retrieval is a way to work with subjective reality and spirituality to help heal traumas and the impact of accidents and traumatic incidents. PTSD doesn't believe in science, so maybe it's easier to work with it outside of science. Considering how long traditional talk therapy takes to make significant progress with PTSD survivors, it's actually a very profound and effective technique to get past barriers that psychology struggles with. This is not to say it's a replacement for therapy!! But it's an excellent complementary technique alongside therapy and may speed progress when you're stuck.
Are there any risks? Yes. But the shamanic practitioner is knowingly and skillfully taking on the risks on your behalf. It is nice in addition to any monetary payments to give the shamanic practitioner a small but meaningful sincere gift to thank them and perhaps help them with their own self-care.
The Shamanic Mask/Totemic Possession
A shamanic practitioner may have a special relationship with the ideal of a creature or animal, which is called a "Totem". A Totem or ideal is the sum total essence of all of that thing or creature.
When a practitioner is "wearing their shamanic mask" they are embodying the essence of that thing or creature to which they're connected. It's a way of communing with that essence, channeling it to clear up understanding, to deepen a shamanic trance state, to do honor to it, and more.
Because this is now a possession state, although entirely culturally understandable, it does start to resemble "switching" and having more than one "identity" if you will. The shamanic practitioner is definitely entering a trance state and a different mental state overall, may behave, act, move, speak or make sounds, etc. more like the essence of what they embody during the trance state. So there are overlaps between donning one's Shamanic Mask and switching, but this is done as a ceremonial honor to one's Totem, or within the confines of ritual work.
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We're not experts either — but felt it was important to add any information we could to help mythbust on these topics and educate people on what to expect from such practices so they may choose (or decline) them with more knowledge than they previously had.
We absolutely agree that 1-soul-per-body is a singular-centric myth, and used in some cultures as a way to scrutinize people for possession and reinforce exorcism & similar "ousting societally shunned spirits/souls" practices (which is not what this article is about, but folk might mistake various spiritual practices for being related to exorcism in some way — mostly because they have no other frameworks with which to understand the practices).
I skimmed the headings and spot skimmed a little of the article you linked and it covers a great deal of territory. I don't usually approve links in comments (they're usually spam) — but it seems like a really good read and covers a lot of territory (but I can't endorse it yet — I would need to dedicate some time to thoroughly reading it). Thank you for taking the time to comment and for adding the link – hopefully others find it useful : ) I'll try to get to reading it as time allows.
So we're super in diaspora and definitely not experts yet, but we've found the concept of soul dualism present in many precolonial Philippine societies really helps us describe our experience with the tools our ancestors had, and our multiplicity is part of what we think is calling us to try and do some babaylan training! Mostly just tossing this out to say that in addition to being separable from the body, "souls" don't have to be a one-per-body affair.
Additionally, this article about religion in speculative fiction and gaming contains a really succinct argument for why it's important to recognize possession/channeling/etc. even if you don't subscribe to that belief system yourself, and it can be easily mapped to multiplicity as well: https://jamesmendezhodes.com/blog/2019/9/1/best-practices-for-religious-representation-part-i-check-for-traps (scroll down to the bit about Legba).