Soul Retrieval
Soul Retrieval
This ceremony is conducted by most indigenous cultures whenever illness or trauma (physical, emotional, spiritual) occurs to retrieve lost or stolen pieces of the soul. Some signs of soul loss are: Feeling like part of you is missing, feeling lost, enduring sadness and /or anger, feeling disconnected, a feeling of inadequacy to meet the task at hand or the loss of skills (“know how”) that you once had.

I have so much gratitude for this beautiful ceremony, the elders who shared it with me, and the healing it brings. In cultures where this ceremony is readily available, people do not have to wait long periods of time missing parts of themselves. As a result they are spared having to develop complicated coping strategies and negative limiting thoughts about themselves, which have to be unlearned or reworked in some fashion later. Our current psychological correlation to this is called dissociation.

Developing a dissociative disorder or coping styles that are adaptive at the onset but become burdensome over time are possible results of extreme trauma. This western focuses on part of the picture, but it falls short because it largely views this fragmentation as a metaphor or symbol. The traditional cultures teach us that these ruptures are real, that actual pieces of soul depart and survive in other realms. But what is trauma? And what type of trauma can generate such results?

Our culture, for example, has very specific ideas of what constitutes trauma as we have evolved out of a variety of shame based religious and social structures that promote self-denial in the name of socialization or ‘domestication’ (shamanic terminology).  As parents we begin shaping our children’s behavior at a very early age to meet cultural norms. While this is necessary to a large degree to promote ‘success’ within the prescribed culture it can also have unintended ‘traumatic’ effects to our inquisitive young as they explore their environment. While this may not be traumatic in the same way as a car accident, death of a parent, or life threatening illness is, it often means that we give up very important parts of ourselves in an attempt to please a parent, teacher, clergy or other loved one and never know what happened. Some people who come for soul retrievals do not have any memories of extremely difficult life experiences but still express some of the above ‘symptoms’. They are often surprised to find that pieces left early in their life around the time when lots of personality shaping was taking place in their families of origin.

An example in my life is a comment that was made to me by a family member, “We are not singers, you cannot sing, no one in our family can sing, you should not waste your time taking chorus.” Through soul retrieval, I have retrieved the part of me that ran for shelter and did not feel safe to self-express vocally for many years. I am regaining the lost ground and confidence to sing publicly that this supposedly ‘harmless’ lie caused me to lose. There are countless examples like this one where well meaning people say or do things that result in someone giving away parts of themselves or those parts being, in essence, taken or stolen ‘to protect someone from themselves’.

I once returned a soul piece to a grown woman whose grandmother had stolen her joyfulness and spunk with a judgment that severed the child from herself. The child was too ‘spunky’ for the grandmother’s liking and she feared she would be taken advantage of by others so condemned her as unacceptable. An intention to ‘protect’ the child wound up having the sad consequence of dispiriting her. When this occurs a soul fragment may hide in the spirit world where it generally remains intact until such a time when it is favorable for it to return (i.e. it will not be subject to the same type of conditions under which it fled and it requests assurance of this in the form of agreements).

You can imagine then how easily it is to lose a part of oneself to the events in our lives that we more commonly refer to as traumatic. Most of us have some of these types of traumas as well. It is not necessary for the person conducting the soul retrieval to know one’s life history to go into the spirit world to check for any missing parts and we only go check once in the ceremony with the explicit permission of the person requesting the ceremony. I have performed soul retrievals on people who have been therapy clients and for whom I know more personal history and for people for whom I know none. I have not observed a noticeable difference in the outcome based on my prior familiarity with the person’s story.

So what does this ceremony entail? It requires for one person to make a request (parents of young children under about 7 or in coma states can request for them). There is one person who goes to look in the spirit world as trained by our elders and another person to drum. The drum is the vehicle, the canoe into the spirit world. The recipient of the ceremony does “as much nothing as possible” (Robin Lynne) while we go look. If pieces are found they are brought back and blown into the body and then the person has an opportunity to make the agreements necessary for them to stay.

As an integral part of this ceremony we always ask permission to remove any attachments or energy cords (see cutting ceremony) that may be between the recipient and other beings that are siphoning off his/her energy in negative ways. It is best to take care of this prior to bringing any soul fragments back into their body just as you would prepare the soil before planting a tender young seedling to increase its ability to take root.

When the ceremony is over the person is whole and complete again and needs to keep their word and reacquaint themselves with the pieces that returned. It is helpful to do some follow up work with the person who conducted the ceremony, a collaborating therapist, or to attend a support circle with others who are also remembering how to keep their word to themselves. This is how we maintain the internal landscape that the pieces returned to.

Most of my clients who have experienced a Soul Retrieval make huge strides in their ability to take control of their lives. They gain a better understanding of how to take positive action in their lives rather than feel subject to their lives. The return of the missing pieces helps to mobilize the energy they need to follow through. They learn the value of keeping one’s word, especially to one’s self, and that improves all of their other relationships as well. I have witnessed many people use this return to wholeness as an opportunity to begin or complete healing, relationship, education and career goals with a new determination and sense of empowerment because there is more of them available to do the work.

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Photography courtesy of David Gellatly
©Contents Copyright Miriam Lieberman 2007

Soul Retrieval Support Circle

This circle is a place to work with the pieces of soul that have returned, to continue to communicate with them, to listen to them, and to learn how to keep your word to them. It is about being impeccable with our word and honoring the relationships and agreements in our lives. You will be in the company of others who are welcoming back pieces of themselves and making room inside for this reunion to take hold.


May the long time sun
Shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
- Traditional






"The first patient that I saw before a Cherokee Indian Soul Retrieval Ceremony was very depressed and not functioning. When I talked with her a day after the ceremony there was a significant difference: She was much less depressed and could function better. She could tell me the parts of herself split off and what she needed to do to have them remain with her. In an hour she had discovered what can take years to determine in traditional talk therapy. Her therapy then focused on how she would do the things that she had agreed to do. It took about 6 months for her to complete therapy and be off medication.

I find that patients who participate in a ceremony early in treatment proceed to heal in about 6 -12 months. Those who have been in therapy for a long time and then participate in a ceremony find that they need very little therapy after that, perhaps a month. My patients found this Soul Retrieval ceremony created deep and lasting changes in
themselves that they did not get from other methods."
Natalie Sadler, MD