Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Soul Loss and Retrieval

Someone on a board I occasionally post on recently posed the question of whether Amazonian curanderos, particularly ayahuasqueros--healers who work with ayahuasca, the visionary and healing vine of the Amazon--can help someone who thinks they've lost their soul to retrieve it.
This was my response:
Soul retrieval is pretty standard stuff in Amazonia because there is a belief that when someone gets terribly frightened or surprised their soul leaves them. But in my experience, the person having their soul reunited with them never drinks ayahuasca, and the curanderos rarely drink ayahasca during a soul retrieval. It's something done with intent, and the ayahuasquero or curandero doing it goes into an altered state without the use of medicine.
On the other hand, someone who has lost their soul in Amazonia, again, just in my experience, is essentially in a lifeless condition: their breathing is shallow and they cannot physically move. If they don't get help--and the retrieval generally takes three sessions of a couple of hours each over the course of three days--pretty quickly, they simply die.
The most recent soul retrieval I saw was perhaps three years ago: a Matses woman washing clothes saw at the bottom of the river her husband's grave. He stood next to it, waving to her. And next to him was her own grave. She shrieked, fell out of the canoe she was in, lunged to shore, ran and fell over a tree stump, hitting her head.
She was brought to Julio--my great friend and teacher who passed in January, 2007-- in an essentially lifeless state. He sang for hours, then sent her home with the men who brought her. They returned the next day and he did the same: Smoking her, singing, utilizing his shacapa. (Smoking her means blowing smoke on her; a shacapa is a leaf rattle.)
On the third day, after about two hours, the woman opened her eyes and angrily demanded to know what was going on and what the heck Julio thought he was doing. The men all laughed.
It was only a few minutes later that the woman remembered and recounted seeing her husband and the graves in the bottom of the river.
Now, did the woman really lose her soul? I have no idea. She might just have been in deep shock or maybe even a coma from hitting her head when she fell. But in Amazonia it was called soul loss and Julio retrieved it for her. Whatever it was, she got better on that third day. And she's still fine and has laughed many times about waking up to see old Julio standing over her, blowing copious amounts of hot cigarette smoke into her face.

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