A Shamanic Healing Ceremony and Post-Traumatic Stress Response
By Steven D. Farmer, Ph.D.
Bill and Amy (not their real names), some friends who live in Laguna Beach, had just returned from a grueling journey to Brazil, exhausted from having traveled nearly 24 hours. They arrived at home late one evening, put their luggage down, cleaned up, and went straight to bed for what they hoped would be a long night’s rest and recuperation. Instead, at 5AM they heard a loud voice through a bullhorn outside on the street shouting, “RESIDENTS! EVACUATE NOW!” repeatedly and with a great deal of urgency. The police at the door reiterated the command that they were in danger and had to leave immediately, explaining that a mudslide had engulfed much of the surrounding neighborhood and had taken with it several nearby houses.
In their half-awake but now adrenalin driven state, when they looked outside they discovered that the hillside about 100 yards from the front door was slowly but steadily sliding, houses slowly crumbling along with it. The heavy rains from the winter season had thoroughly soaked the ground and the resultant mud had bided its time until now to start its steady and natural flow, obeying gravity’s unrelenting pull toward the canyon below.
Bill and Amy dressed quickly, grabbed a few things they needed, and headed to their vacant rental house 60 miles away in San Bernardino, where they were to stay for the next few days. Eventually Bill and Amy were allowed to move back in, but Amy continued to be distraught from the combined effects of the Brazil trip, the terror she felt upon awakening after little sleep, and the daily witnessing of the ravages in the neighborhood around her. She was restless, irritable, had trouble sleeping, and in her mind kept replaying the horror of that fateful day.
When I talked with her I realized she was experiencing the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Response (PTSR). Most physicians and psychologists consider this a disorder, terming it Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but as a former psychotherapist, trauma specialist, and shamanic practitioner, I refuse to call it a disorder. It’s actually a normal response to extraordinarily overwhelming events. The problems develop when these responses don’t dissipate and integrate, such that the individual remains stuck in recurring patterns, with symptoms like hypervigilance, repetitive flashbacks, intrusive memories of the event, anxiety, psychic numbing, and very often, sleep cycle disturbances. Two people can go through the same experience, yet for any number of reasons, one may not develop these symptoms. Bill, for instance, although greatly affected, felt relatively normal after the major portion of the crisis had passed.
Although there are some effective psychological techniques for PTSR, such as Somatic Experiencing (SE) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that have proven successful in many instances, when viewed through shamanic lenses, I always suspect soul loss. After a discussion with Amy we agreed that we would do a healing ceremony, one where my task would be to retrieve the lost soul part.
In the shamanic paradigm of the soul and soul loss, we view the soul much like a hologram. If you remove just a tiny bit of the plate through which the light is projected, you still get a fairly clear image. However, the more you remove, the less distinct the holographic image is. Due to various experiences, particularly traumatic experiences, we lose a bit of ourselves. That’s soul loss—you don’t lose your soul, but you lose a piece of it.
The task in healing is to get that piece or those pieces back and integrated with the person. There are a few ways to do soul retrieval, one of which I facilitated with Amy.
Bill, Amy, Doreen and I all gathered in a meditation room that was perfect for this type of work. I prepared the room, the sacred objects, and the people by first smudging with sage to clear away any negative energy. Then I used sweetgrass to invite the helping spirits, and called these helping spirits in by drumming and singing. Next I called forth my power animals and invoked a spirit guide that typically works through me whenever I do shamanic healing.
Then, already in a shamanic trance, I went to work. As I rattled I asked Raven to lead me to the soul piece that had left Amy. I was taken to a tree in the hills some distance from Bill and Amy’s house. Sitting under that tree was the soul piece, presented to me as a girl about six years old. After some conversation and assurance that Amy would take care of her, she agreed to return with me. I cupped this essence into my hand and returned from the journey to the room. Amy was lying down through this, so with my breathe I first blew the soul piece into her heart, gently lifted her to sitting, then breathed the soul piece into her crown.
I asked her to open her eyes, and still in the shamanic trance, looked deeply into her left eye, saw a flicker, and said to the little girl soul piece, “Welcome home!” Amy teared up, as did Bill and Doreen and I. Although it sometimes takes a few days or weeks for the soul piece to integrate, I’m happy to report that Amy healed rather quickly, and that night enjoyed her first night of straight through eight hours sleep.