I had the most interesting discussion earlier about a friend who went through a Soul Retrieval via a professional who offers this as a service. The friend shared a little about this ancient tradition. I do not doubt such things can be of great value. After all, such a ritual appears to have similarities to modern therapeutic techniques. Still, something bothered myself and my companion as we explored the topic. How valid is this method of healing within the context of Western culture? What aspect brings about transformation? Is it a new gimmick for people to make money? What are the merits of doing something like a Soul Retrieval and why does it feel like there's something missing?
In the discussion, my partner noted that the symbols and rituals mean something in context of the original culture. In the West, what is known of shamanic practices such as a Soul Retrieval? He pointed out that a person here will be coming from a Western, individualistic point of view, yet will want to take a day out of the Western lifestyle and find Healing from some mysterious ancient tradition that has been lost.
This sounds to me like a search for a magic pill.
Perhaps some people who try this will have read the basics of the ritual and enjoy the idea of it. Or perhaps they are searching for a miracle cure. But for most of us in the West, we have a limited understanding of cultures that do not value the self over the community. Chances are, a lot of the references in the ritual will be misunderstood as a tribal society has a completely different world view. Also, the way of relating to others differs drastically for a person living in and relying on a tribe for survival.
Okay, full disclosure: I don't believe in vicarious salvation. Perhaps the magic pill effect is why this was bothering me. I don't think someone can swoop down and fix our pain with minimal effort on our part. Even the most powerful tools I use in therapy are part of a larger process. I do believe there may be a great deal of value to some of these old methods of healing however I don't believe we show up for a day and our life is transformed or our pain is lifted. I believe a powerful experience can move us in the right direction. We might even move several steps forward, gain exciting insight, let go of some pain. But then we keep walking.
As the discussion deepened, something clicked. Not only do symbols and the rituals change within the context of their culture but they also change within the context of relationship. In Western Society we take our individualistic selves to a professional and pay a fee for a service. Think about this process. The relationship with the professional is based on business. The interaction is tied to a monetary exchange and there is separation between the professional and the individual’s daily life. There may be little power difference as the client pays and chooses terms. The relationship is also often temporary, perhaps as brief as one meeting.
In context of a Village, the relationship is not equal. Spiritual rituals are performed by a person that the community has sanctioned as a wise or healing person. This could be a shaman, a medicine woman, a wise elder. The healer is seen with reverence by people in the village and they often choose who will go through a ritual. Some rituals mark milestones such as reaching manhood / womanhood. In a tribe, the ritual occurs with the knowledge of everyone in that person's life. The closest family members will be intimately involved. After the ritual, the people in the village will interact with the person knowing that they went through something important and perhaps had a life change that shifts their status.
Let this sink in: the healing does not happen alone. Change does not happen alone. It happens within context of everyone in the person's life, good and bad. Rituals are facilitated by a revered Elder with whom the person has a lifelong relationship. Afterwards, mentors, family members, friends as well as adversaries continue their relationship as the person continues to evolve.
Ancient traditions and rituals were not created as stand-alone events for a single person in isolation. One local practitioner of Soul Retrievals understood this as she asked her client to bring people to witness the event, however her client shied away from sharing the importance of this event with her family.
It may be that therapists are the closest thing to a modern shaman. Therapists can facilitate healing while accommodating aspects of Western culture. Over time, the client can gain some respect for a good therapist and therefore the relationship deepens as well as the healing potential in therapy. Although the therapeutic relationship is isolated from the rest of a person's life, there is a relationship that continues over some time. While healing is a process of looking within to shift one's self, healing is not meant to be done alone. Healing happens in relationship. This can start with a therapeutic relationship but will ideally extend to all relationships in the person's life over time. It is a hinderance to hide your humanity from your loved ones. Therapy may provide powerful individual moments of healing, but those moments occur within context of the relationship and the ongoing process of healing.