What is meant by a “soul retrieval”? I was curious to know more about this shamanistic practice. That curiosity drew me to a new book by Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D.: Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval. The author is a psychologist and medical anthropologist who has studied the healing practices of the Amazon and Inka (Villoldo’s spelling of Inca) shamans for more than 25 years.
Readers may be aware that most authors of books on the shaman wisdom techniques and practices are anthropologists and also, often, psychologists. One could name Michael Harner, Ph.D., author of The Way of the Shaman, and Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., author of Mastering Your Hidden Self, and Earth Energies. Villoldo also described his experiences in the Andes and Amazon basin in his earlier books, such as Shaman, Healer, Sage.
Villoldo explains that destiny-retrieval practices have long been practiced in aboriginal societies, but even there such practices have been largely lost. Some, however, are still practiced in Native American and Hispanic communities.
This book represents the author’s “contemporary reinterpretation of ancient healing practices.” He says, “I’ve adapted and translated those practices within a modern scientific context.” Most contemporary readers, however, largely lack knowledge of shamanism, sometimes linking it to witchcraft or some other such “magical” practices.
Clearly, this book helps to clarify shamanism for the average reader. Those who pay attention to the work are likely to discover parallels to other quite acceptable healing practices, ranging from general psychiatry and psychotherapy to past-lives therapy, meditation, visualization exercises, and positive affirmations.
Villoldo’s early study of the human mind and its connection to health led him to seek “experts who could provide (him) with insights into how we humans could train the mind to heal itself and to transform the body.”
Ultimately this led to “25 years of research and training with the shamans of the Americas.” Among his most significant work, he has studied for many years the ancient practices of the Inka (Inca) shamans who live in remote villages high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.
These “wisdom keepers, known as the Laika ... still practice healing techniques cultivated and handed down for thousands of years within their medical societies.
Shamanism uses a technique called journeying to connect with what might be termed archetypal or energetic domains. Whether these journeys are astral, out-of-body trips, or clairvoyant distant seeing as practiced by various governments during the Cold War, or imaginative visualizations---I can’t say.
What Villoldo has done in his book, however, is to adapt the shaman’s journey into guided visualization meditations that could be used by readers. Since the shaman’s journeys are usually to the Lower or Under World and the Upper World, the scripts for these meditations may seem strange, at first, for many readers. Those who may not choose to try an actual “journey” may still find excellent elements in these scripts that could prove useful in meditations.
Early in the book Villoldo explains the Lower, Middle, and Upper Worlds. He says, “these aren’t physical places, but rather archetypal and energetic domains.” All three places make up the collective unconscious of all humanity. The Middle World is the world we live in; “the Upper World is the invisible domain of our destiny and our spirit;” and the Lower World is “where the record of all human history is held, the realm of the soul.”
Villoldo guides readers through journeys to the Lower World “where your childhood and your former lifetimes reside, to recover lost parts of your soul.” While there you learn the story of your “buried” soul parts, heal their wounds, and “write new soul contracts to free them from their burdens.”
Then you’ll “retrieve these healed soul parts and bring them back to the present.” Admittedly, this all sounds quite fantastic at first. But psychological truths abound here. It is well known that human beings bury trauma (physical and emotional) deep in their psyches. That which is too traumatic at the time to process, or the individual is too young to understand, gets hidden away from our consciousness.
It manifests often in vague fears or anxieties, phobias, obsessions, physical illnesses, or even split personalities. Psychologists literally try to find all the hidden “pieces” in order to bring the person back into health. This is a close parallel to what the shaman does with “soul retrieval.” wherein he/she seeks out the missing, hidden, or buried pieces of the soul so that the person can be healed.
Villoldo describes four parts (chambers) of the Lower World and provides meditations to guide readers to each one. The first is the Chamber of Wounds where you find the “original wounding that caused a part of your soul (or self) to flee and thereby to “derail the course of your destiny.”
It could be an injury or trauma from early in your life, but it often is “a traumatic experience from a former lifetime.” Here again it is easy to see parallels with some current psychological therapies that include past-life recall.
The second chamber is the Chamber of Contracts. Here you “discover soul promises that you’ve made.” They may be “obligations you agreed to before you were born” but of which you have no conscious knowledge. Or they may involve your reaction to the “fear and stress of your original wounding.”
For example, you might have responded to treachery with the vow, “I will never trust a friend ever again!” That vow, buried in your unconscious, could be playing out in this life causing you great loneliness or lack of trust in others, thereby giving you great, unreasonable distress. In this chamber you can renegotiate the terms or agreement that “has sentenced you to a life of repeated suffering.”
The third room is the Chamber of Grace. Here you find your healed soul part and bring it back into conscious life along with all the unique gifts of your soul. The fourth chamber is the Chamber of Treasures wherein lie a soul’s great unexpressed creative and artistic gifts. Here one may also find one’s “power animal.
Later we will continue describing the journey as it moves to the Upper World. First, let’s examine some of the author’s discussion about journeying itself. He explains it as a kind of time travel: “a unique state of consciousness that you enter through guided meditations and breathing exercises.”
He notes that “Quantum physics has shown that the past and the future are connected in a . . . meaningful way.” He explains that such journeying allows deep healing to “occur in the space of days and weeks rather than months or years.”
For example, at one point Villoldo says, “Although I’m trained both in psychology and the traditions of the Laika, I’ve found that one soul-retrieval session can accomplish what may take many years to heal employing psychotherapy.
Villoldo is specific in his point that “healing” is different from “curing.” He says, “Curing is the business of medicine and it involves eliminating symptoms, while healing is the crafting of a healthy life style (and it) attends to the soul and spirit.”
Villoldo notes that the process he provides in this book “may be very unsettling at the beginning” as the person brings up forgotten or repressed wounds. But he offers the technique as a proven method to integrate all aspects of the soul.
In order to most effectively use the meditation scripts, Villoldo recommends reading each exercise into a tape recorder and then playing them back when one is ready to journey.”
Villoldo’s soul-retrieval technique clearly goes beyond past-life therapy. He consistently points out the need in the process to “renegotiate obsolete soul contracts” and to discard “limiting beliefs;” hence, the importance of the later stages of the journey--those to the Upper World.
The author refers to noted Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who “grew to understand that humans’ deepest longing is to discover the meaning and purpose of life.” Villoldo says that “healing our past simply means that we’re no longer reliving old hurts.” For deeper healing we need to know and to live our destiny.
He defines “fate” as that which is “predetermined by our family, history, genes, and emotional wounds.” “Destiny,” however, is our purpose and calling in life. Knowing your destiny, “you can participate consciously in your own growth.”
In one later chapter Villoldo explains how we can influence our future, supporting his discussion with various principles of quantum physics, such as “the observer influences the outcome of events.”
Villoldo identifies the Upper World as “where you attain your divine nature (and) where you discover the beautiful agreements you made with Spirit before you were born.”
You can “only reach the peaks of the Upper World in a healed state,” which explains why the journeys to the Lower World have to come first. “The Upper World,” says Villoldo, “is what psychiatry refers to as the superconscious.”
In the meditative journeys to the Upper World, the author guides readers through various planes to ultimately meet and hold a dialogue with their “celestial parents” who know the answers to their destiny and life’s purpose.
His book is a fascinating work, different in many ways from the usual Western approach to spiritual growth. It provides a unique perspective. For example, he says, “In the West, we believe that all life is predetermined by genetic inheritance from past generations.
For the Laika (the Inca wisdom teachers), evolution is journeying into the future to see who we’re becoming so that we may bring that knowledge back to the present.” That idea clearly gives readers something new to ponder!
Villoldo, the anthropologist, provides some other similar thoughts to consider. “As we heal, the world will heal; as we change, the world will change.” Native shamans meditate, “envisioning the world they want their grandchildren to inherit...
The sages of old called this ‘dreaming the world into being.’” The author says, “When we track our destinies, we can be who we’re becoming, not who we’ve been.”
Not all readers may be ready to actually do the journeying described in this book all by themselves. Even so, this book is highly useful in so many ways. Many of the meditation scripts could be adapted for general daily use. The text itself is filled with a broad range of interesting information.