Soul Stealing: Facing the Masks From Our Past
When I was accepted into Sandra Ingerman’s Soul Retrieval training at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center I did not fully comprehend the depth of healing and reconciliation that would transpire. Her work had, thus far, enabled me to find my voice as a healer and broaden my commitment to helping others.
The prospect of learning Soul Retrieval in-person from Sandra was a deep seated calling from 30 years ago when my quest for a child turned into a bumpy roller coaster ride through the terrain of infertility, miscarriage and international adoption. Growing up in a large Italian-American family, motherhood felt like a god-given right. The inability to sustain a pregnancy was earth-shattering. I discovered that the Creator had other plans for me.
I was perhaps the first generation of women in my family to grow up believing that I could choose when to have a child. I was also raised to think that I could achieve whatever I wanted as long as I followed certain steps. My career was moving along successfully. Confident in my husband, I was ready for parenting. But then the pitfalls and disappointments of infertility undermined my confidence, eroded hope and left me feeling undesirable. I hated my body. My hormonal system was in turmoil. Fertility drugs enlarged my ovaries to the size of grapefruits. I was crippled with physical and emotional pain. There were days when I could barely drag myself from the bedroom to the bathroom. This denial of my womanhood, the inability to conceive a child born from such deep love, to raise and cherish, was wreaking havoc. My inner child was becoming a tantruming toddler.
Dreams were washed away by grief and loss. The embryos whose fragile existence I could not sustain took my spirit with them.
I told my therapist that demonic forces were pulling me down. They had taken over my mind and body, causing me to have criminal thoughts especially when I saw pregnant drug addicts begging on my street corner. I felt abandoned and misjudged by family members who made insensitive or uninformed comments. Friends were having babies, and my colleagues knew nothing. These losses were private and could not be discussed during lunch or at parties. Isolation ensued. Although I had rejected Catholicism long ago, I began to wonder if God was punishing me for rebellious teenage behavior.
Thus began the lengthy process of psycho-analysis. One day I was en route to my therapist with 20 minutes to spare. I was passing a bookstore and popped in to browse the self-help section, desperate to understand the cause of my deep depression. I was overcome by my inability to function, sense of deep abandonment, and a despair that I could not get a grip on. A certain book caught my eye: Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman. I quickly read her descriptions and knew I was suffering from what she called Soul Loss - a process by which a person’s life force or vital essence is diminished as a result of trauma.
I read the description of how a shamanic practitioner would beat a drum or shake rattles, enter an altered state, meet helping spirits and travel to the invisible realms of the lower world to find missing soul parts that had broken off from the individual as a result of a traumatic experience. The helping spirits would also identify the gifts that had been lost, integrate these pieces of self, and restore wholeness. I wanted to do this right away.
I hurried off to my therapist where I excitedly shared about this promising technique. Her response was matter of fact: “So you are looking for a quick fix? Like a magic wand, you think the beat of a drum can heal your pain?” In my dis-empowered state, our subsequent conversation detracted me from such an unheard of practice. That was in the early 1990s and Shamanism was not well known. The Internet had not yet been born. How would I even find a practitioner? I put Soul Retrieval out of my mind and began exploring International Adoption.
I remember telling the agency social worker that I specifically wanted to adopt from China because infants were available and I did not have the resources to raise a special needs child. Off we went to China. Although our contract was for a “healthy infant” we later discovered that our long-awaited-for precious daughter was in need of extensive medical intervention. She was diagnosed with a string of disabling diagnoses. Proper care required my career change to the world of homeschooling, special ed interventions, and attachment parenting.
Despite the joy and love I found in motherhood, challenges prevailed. The mounting stress of not having family support nearby combined with endless evaluations to determine what therapies my daughter needed took a toll on my own health. I found myself blind in one eye, debilitated by pain, walking with a cane, going from doctor to doctor who could not find a definitive cause. I was ultimately told I had MS, CFS, and Fibromyalgia. My ophthalmologist said there were “some things I would just have to live with” and the rheumatologist referred me to a psychiatrist. Once again my body was failing me. Since the allopathic medical system was unable to offer an optimistic solution I set out to explore alternatives.
Between diet, lifestyle changes and the study of herbalism I was led down a path of spiritual evolution and shamanic healing. During a workshop at the Omega Institute I discovered that Sandra Ingerman was on an upcoming program. The idea of Soul Retrieval entered my consciousness once again but my family needs took precedence.
About 10 years later Sandra started her first online class through the Shift Network and I eagerly enrolled. By then, I had been attending Native American sweat lodges and various classes for personal healing but did not believe that I had the authority or knowledge to heal myself or permission to heal others. (In reality I had been doing both for years but I was unable to acknowledge or own my gifts. I didn’t realize how these challenges were really opportunities for deep transformation.)
Through Sandra’s live calls and recorded journeys I spent the next 3 years developing deep relationships with my power animals and spirit guides. Thus, I became empowered. When Sandra announced her in-person Soul Retrieval training I knew the time was right.
So there I was at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center on Day 3; the topic was Soul Stealing. I vaguely remembered this concept from Sandra’s book Welcome Home. She explained that we learn unhealthy patterns of response from our upbringing simply by witnessing the way family members, friends and community respond to truths and injustices that occur daily. Whenever we feel hurt or betrayed and we cannot forgive the perpetrator then our anger/resentment causes us to steal that person’s soul through the act of holding onto those negative emotions. If we are jealous of someone’s success or happiness we might grab onto that bright energy because we want it for ourselves. In truth, stolen energy becomes a burden because we cannot use it to benefit ourselves. If we cling onto a loved one’s soul for fear of losing them that too can hold us back.
After hearing this explanation I dreaded the idea of revisiting the spiteful acts that I committed against others, even if they were just thought forms. The combination of a patriarchal father, acquiescent mother, 5 siblings, financial strain, and no emotional support system, meant that growing up we experienced various forms of shame and humiliation regularly. Love, patience, and healthy responses to emotional needs were in short supply. Sibling rivalry, competitiveness and power struggles permeated my upbringing. This led to feeling hurt and betrayed. In retaliation and self defense, I hurt others, sometimes without even knowing it.
And so sitting there in Sandras classroom circle I was faced with the realization that vengeful childhood actions were not just one-time incidences of the long-forgotten past. They were unconscious acts of soul stealing, a learned pattern of response that was passed down from my ancestors for generations. Back in Italy this was known as casting the Evil Eye on someone and could be likened to a curse. Sandra explained that even after all these years I might still be holding on to the fragmented souls of childhood playmates.
A few uncomfortable memories floated up from my subconscious mind. I became acutely aware of how much I wanted to avoid this session. Maybe I could sit there and mentally resist facing my demons or just pretend I was doing it. I couldn’t think of any other way to get out of it.
When the drumming began I thought “Okay I will somehow get through this.” I was filled with dread as Sandra instructed us to merge with a Power Animal. As the drumming intensified I felt, instead of fear, only the safe loving presence of my warm furry ally. Relieved, I began to relax. Unexpectedly, feelings of love embraced me. My Catholic upbringing had conditioned me to believe that this session on Soul Stealing would be like Church confession complete with thunderbolts condemning me to hell for childhood behavior that I had no control over. But so far I felt okay just laying there listening to the drum, sensing the presence of my power animal, and trusting my helping spirits.
I thought to myself “This isn't so bad.” Very soon out of the quiet spaces between drum beats arose an image of a carved wooden mask. The face was sad. The vacant eyes were downcast horizontal slits. The mouth was a big frown. This large nebulous mask was floating in space, moving towards me with benign deliberation. It carried deep forlorn sadness that touched my heart, growing larger as it came closer. Suddenly it dissolved through me and was gone. Off on the horizon came another one. Similar and deeply sad.
One after another, like broomsticks in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, an army of sad faced wooden masks advanced. Their agony and pain was carved deeply into wooden expressions. Soon the entire misty landscape before me was filled with floating masks of unspeakable sorrow.
They were non accusatory. I didn’t associate them with real life people or memories yet I recognized each one. They were real. A recognition of truth came into my consciousness.
As the drumming reached its climax I continued to feel safe, loved and protected. My heart opened up with self-forgiveness. When the drums signaled their return beat and the journey ended I felt enormous relief. A weight had been lifted although I could not find words to describe what happened. It was like magic. I realized that in shamanic healing Spirit shows us exactly what we need to know in a form that is most appropriate. Instead of being blamed or shamed I was able to witness all of that pain and betrayal with a compassionate heart.
Photo & Story © 2019 Nancy D’Antonio, all rights reserved