Depossession is related to extraction but it’s not the same thing. From a shamanic point of view, it’s very important to get out of the Middle World when journeying for spiritual purposes. In the old days, shamans journeyed in the Middle World to see how relatives were doing at a distant place or to locate the herds of migratory animals. But most of our work today is in the Upper and Lower Worlds where shamans have voyaged since ancient times. Shamans often prefer not to draw on the spirits of the Middle World because many of them are confused and lacking in power. Going to the Upper or Lower Worlds, one reaches spiritual beings of compassion, power, and wisdom.
Shamans who do another type of healing help the dead as well as the living. These shamans are called “psychopomps,” or conductors of souls. Remember, from a shamanic point of view, when you’re comatose, you’re dead. So the shaman, in the case of comatose persons, would seek them out and see if they wanted to come back. Shamanism is not a system that intends to keep people in this ordinary reality whether they like it or not, because the shaman knows that this is not necessarily the best reality. You make the journey for the person who is comatose to find out what they want. If they want to come back, then the job of the shaman is to bring them back. But if they want to go onâ€”or, more commonly, if they’re dying or already deadâ€”then the job of the shaman is to get them to a place where they will be content and not have them stay here, adrift in the Middle World.
So now we come back to this business of depossession. Most cases of depossession of humans are by other humans who are dead, who are here in the Middle World and don’t know they’re dead. If people are disempowered, or have soul loss or power loss, they are like a vacuum into which these confused entities can come. This is involuntary possession.
Shamans will conduct the entityâ€”with its permission once it realizes it’s deadâ€”to a place beyond the Middle World where it will be reunited with people who it loves. Once this is done, so that the clients are no longer possessed, shamans restore their full soul and lost power connections so they are again whole and not vulnerable to further possessions.
Depossession work has slightly different forms in different cultures, but the basic principles are the same. I hope that one day our culture will recognize the need to permit shamanic practitioners to work with the spiritual aspects of illness in cooperation with nonspiritual health professionals.
In your opinion, why don’t we do that now?
Unfortunately, when science started, partially as a reaction to the church in Europe, it ordained that souls and spirits have no reality and therefore could not be considered in scientific theory. Now that’s an a priori position; in other words, ironically, a statement of faith enunciated in the 18th century. In fact, science has never disproved the existence of spirits. I would submit that now, on the edge of the 21st century, it’s time to stop having a science that’s based on faith (the faith that there are no spirits) and make it real science, which means that it doesn’t ordain a priori that certain types of causes cannot exist.
In regard to extraction healing, in the shamanic view, where does the illness to be extracted come from?
From a shamanic point of view, all people have a spiritual side, whether they recognize it or not. When people get angry, jealous, or have a hostile emotional attitude, they can vent not only verbal and physical abuse, but spiritual abuse without even knowing it. In other words, if somebody is ignorant of shamanic principles, they can do damage to other people on a spiritual level.
Among the Untsuri Shuar and JÃ*varo people of eastern Ecuador, with whom I lived for quite a while, they call these intrusions “magical darts.” There were many feuds and wars, and sometimes healers would get angry and lose their discipline and use their powers to get even. But it is important to know that this is a big mistake, not just ethically, but in terms of self-preservation. No matter how justified a person feels emotionally at the time, those spiritual beings who are representative of the great, loving, hidden universe will disconnect. It’s like we’re rechargeable batteries. We still have some power, and we can do damage, but the power source is no longer charging us. I’ve seen this many times in the Amazon. The shamans, in their anger, do harm for awhile, but eventually everything they send out comes back in on them, and it often results not only in their own death or pain, but their immediate family gets affected disastrously by it.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get angry at people. It just means that you should have discipline and know there are parameters. You can get angry with somebody and verbally let out steam and, at the same time, control your spiritual side. But for your own self-preservation, if you don’t work to relieve pain and sufferingâ€”and especially if you work in a contrary wayâ€”you’re soon out of business, and probably dead.