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Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to go into an altered state that allows the free soul of the shaman to journey into the invisible worlds. Some traditions use sticks or bells. When one looks at shamanic traditions around the world there are three common levels that are spoken about and also depicted through different paintings and other forms of artwork. There are numerous levels in both the Lower World and also in the Upper World and they are outside of time.

The Concept Of Shamanic Journeying

We live in an unlimited universe. Although descriptions of non-ordinary reality are subject to mental limitations I will describe some of the more common shamanic experiences of these worlds. Shamanism is a system of direct revelation.

All shamans might describe experiences differently. And how the different experiences are interpreted and seen by others is how beautiful they all are. The Lower World is reached by journeying through a tunnel that leads into the earth. This world seems very earthy and tangible to the shaman and is characterized by caves, seas, dense jungles, forests, and deserts. The beings inhabiting the Lower World are the spirits of animals, trees, plants, and rocks as well as human spirits that are connected with the mysteries of the earth.

T he Upper World is experienced as more ethereal than the Lower World. The lighting is bright and can go from pastels, to gray, to complete darkness. In the Upper World I might know I am standing on something but what is holding me might seem vague. The landscape here is also very varied.

There are crystal cities and cities of clouds. This level also inhabits a variety of spirits. The Middle World is the hidden reality of the world we live in. In the Middle World the shaman can travel back and forth in time. It is also a place where the shaman can journey in looking for lost and stolen objects.

As I already mentioned to the shaman everything is alive. The Middle World is one place where the shaman can speak to the spirit of the rocks, trees, plants, wind, water, fire, earth, etc. The shaman can speak to the spirit that lives in all things here. The hidden folk are the fairies, elves, dwarves, trolls, and forest guardians that are present in so many myths and stories.

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The hidden folk remind us of a magical time in our lives before, through cultural conditioning, we closed the veils between the worlds. In the Lower World and Upper Worlds there are a variety of helping spirits that can help the shaman with healing individuals, the community, and the planet. The two most common types of spirits who work in partnership with the shaman are power animals also called guardian spirits as well as there are teachers in human form. Shamanic cultures believe that when we are born the spirit of at least two power animals volunteer to remain with us to keep us healthy emotionally and physically and also protect us from harm.

These animals are akin to the Christian belief in guardian angels. The other form of helping spirit that shamans work with is a teacher in human form. These typically were the gods and goddesses of the culture, religious figures, and ancestors who wished to help. These helping spirits work with the shaman to bring healing to individuals, the community, and the environment.

Fr Matthew Jarvis O.P.

The helping spirits are also consulted with when information is needed. When I was doing the research for my book Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, I found that most shamanic cultures around the world believe that illness is due to the loss of the soul. It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma a piece of our soul flees the body in order to survive the experience. The definition of soul that I am using is soul is our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.

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  7. The types of trauma that could cause soul loss in our culture would be any kind of abuse: sexual, physical, or emotional. Other causes could be an accident, being in a war, being a victim of a terrorist act, acting against our morals, being in a natural disaster a fire, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc.

    Any event that causes shock could cause soul loss.

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    And what might cause soul loss in one person might not cause soul loss in another. Shamans believe that alarm clocks can cause soul loss. I think we all know what they mean. It is important to understand that soul loss is a good thing that happens to us. It is how we survive pain. If I were going to be in a head-on car collision the last place I would want to be at the point of impact is in my body. My psyche could not endure that kind of pain.

    So our psyches have this brilliant self protect mechanism where a part of our essence or soul leaves the body so that we do not feel the full impact of the pain. In psychology we talk about this as dissociation. In shamanism we know that a piece of the soul leaves the body and goes to a territory in what shamans call non ordinary reality where it waits until someone intervenes in the spiritual realms and facilitates its return.

    Although soul loss is a survival mechanism the problem from a shamanic point of view is that the soul part that left usually does not come back on its own. It has always been the role of the shaman to go into an altered state of consciousness and track down where the soul fled to in the alternate realities and return it to the body of the client. There are many common symptoms of soul loss. Some of the more common ones would be dissociation where a person does not feel fully in his or her body, alive and fully engaged in life. Other symptoms include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress syndrome, immune deficiency problems, and grief that just does not heal.

    Addictions are also a sign of soul loss as we seek external sources to fill up the empty spaces inside of us whether through substances, food, relationships, work, or buying material objects. You can really see how much soul loss there is today as we put money over life. Anytime someone says that we have to kill other life forms for material gain that person must be suffering from soul loss.

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    Anytime someone feels that buying one more car or that gathering material objects will bring happiness that person is suffering from the loss of soul. As you can see we are looking at a great deal of planetary soul loss today as you watch how we behave towards each other and the rest of life.

    Coma is also soul loss. But in coma there is more of the soul out of body than in the body. Coma is very complicated to work with today for many reasons. It takes skill on behalf of the shaman to find out which way the soul is trying to go. Does the soul want to re-enter the body? Or does it need help moving on which would lead to the death of the patient?

    There is a lot to say about this topic and it beyond the scope of this article. Today there has been a resurgence in the interest of the practice of shamanism. We now have many hundreds of wonderful shamanic practitioners reintroducing the practice of soul retrievals into our culture.

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    Shamanic Musings. In the News. What is shamanic healing? What is soul retrieval? How do I know if I should study shamanism? Can I be healed in one session? When you are done journeying in the lower world, go back to the opening that you entered through and climb back up the roots to the middle world. Sometimes elevator doors will appear in the trunk of the tree and will take me up seven floors to the upper world. However, most of the time, I will simply climb up the branches of the tree, going higher and higher.