04 September 2009

Book Review: Soul Retrieval, Mending the Fragmented Self

Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self by Sandra Ingerman (✭✭✭✭✬, 4.5/5)

I decided to read this book after reading Lupa's book review where she gave it "Five pawprints out of five" and concluded:

While there are occasional things I personally disagree with, overall I think this is a great text. Once I’m ready to do soul retrieval in practice, this will be an invaluable guide.

This piqued my interest enormously. I had seen this book on Amazon before, but given that it is from a Core Shaman perspective and I don't currently do soul retrievals I didn't pay much attention to it one way or the other. After some recent events have lead me to think that I have some soul fragments I will need to retrieve and after reading Lupa's review, however, I decided to go ahead and read the book.

I am extremely glad that I did. The content is well laid out and excellent. Safety and ethics are both discussed, and at no point does the author treat this as safer than dreaming, conflate it with guided meditation, or treat it as something that can be learned in a weekend workshop. She also addresses topics such as soul theft, rape, and incest and how soul retrieval works/can help with these.

She goes on to say that:

Learning to do shamanic healing takes time, lots of practice, and experience. I will share the details of my work to demystify it for you as you read on. I do not intend to teach you how to do soul retrieval in this chapter--that, I believe, is unethical. And I feel it is just as unethical for one to try soul retrieval after just reading this book.

If we truly want to honor the spirits and use the ancient ways in a powerful way, we must maintain integrity in the work at all times. Please do not dishonor yourselves, the people who are important to you, or the spirits by trying soul retrieval without the appropriate training.

Suffice it to say, after growing a little fed up with one of the most difficult techniques in shamanism getting relegated to being trained in weekend seminars, it was extremely refreshing to see this in front of the chapter on technique.

The book is spread into 11 chapters split into three parts:

  • Part I: The Soul and Soul Loss

    • Chapter 1: Soul Loss
    • Chapter 2: Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 3: Tracking Lost Souls

  • Part II: The Search

    • Chapter 4: A Question of Technique
    • Chapter 5: Classic Examples of Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 6: Community
    • Chapter 7: When Souls Have Been Stolen

  • Part III: Welcome Home, Healing Through Wholeness

    • Chapter 8: Effects of Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 9: Relationships and Sexual Issues
    • Chapter 10: Life After Soul Retrieval
    • Chapter 11: Preparing for Your Own Soul's Return

The first part deals with the nature of soul loss, what soul retrieval can look like, the nature of the worlds, and the tools that a spirit worker might use in their practice. It provides an effective demonstration of the concept of soul retrieval, without requiring a detailed knowledge of existent jargon. I believe this book can be effectively read by someone who has just heard of it and is considering it as an option, as well as someone who is considering performing it in the future. There is something of value in this book for both groups, despite that soul retrieval is one of the more difficult areas of shamanism.

The second part goes into more details about the process of looking for souls, and goes into more depth with the mechanics of Ingerman's practice in this field. She also gets into examples of things that cause people to lose parts of their soul, including soul theft and the loss of community.

Part three talks about the repercussions, positive and negative, of soul retrieval and gives advice on what to expect from soul retrieval. She emphasizes the need for people to do this in their own time when they are truly ready for change in their own life.

Spread throughout the book are exercises designed to help with your own healing and understanding of shamanic practice, along with copious case studies derived from her own practice. In a sense, I feel like this was the book I was looking for when I read Gagan's Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet. Something filled with case studies that focuses on how this helps along with some psychological theory, rather than focusing on where the issues come from that shamanic practices might be able to help with.

On the issue of reality in this practice, Ingerman states that:

As you read this book and wonder whether or not what I am talking about is real, I ask you not to enter into a battle between the right brain and left brain. Simply read the material and experience it. After eleven years of working with the shamanic journey I know nonordinary reality is real. But I don't intend to convince you of that. For me, the big questions are these: Does the information that comes from a shamanic journey work? Does this information make positive changes in a person's life? If so, who cares if we are making it up?

Suffice it to say, given my own perspectives on the subject, this does it work attitude is something I am thrilled to see in well-regarded books on the subject, especially those published in 1991.


In aggregate, I felt that this book is excellent. I have some disagreements with the author, but they don't really detract from the usefulness or power of the book. She doesn't flinch for describing things as real, including interactions with power animals and the goddess Isis. My only real issues with the book are a lack of an effective index and that, while it discusses illness from a shamanic perspective, shows a lack of analysis on when soul retrieval might be counter-indicated despite a client's insistence of wanting to continue (admittedly, this latter is a difficult and somewhat fuzzy category, and likely beyond the scope of the book).

These, however, are functionally minor points. Highly recommended.

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