My first personal encounter with shamanic practices came in 2007, in an appropriate-to-our-times trio of CDs recorded by therapist and shamanic practitioner Sandra Ingerman. It was entitled, The Soul Retrieval Journey: Seeing in the Dark.
As Ingerman defined it, “Shamanism is the first spiritual practice of human kind,” dating back at least 30,000 years. Shamanic practices are cross-cultural, with variants used in Siberia, Australia, Africa, North and South America, and parts of Europe and Asia.
The word “shaman” comes from Tungus, a Siberian tribe (today called the Evenki), and it translate as “one who sees in the dark.” That phrase resonates as shamanic work often involves going into the depths of what we don’t see in our everyday, conscious lives and bringing ideas, revelations, and more nuanced views of old experiences into our consciousness so that we can grow our awareness of ourselves.
Fast-forward to 2011. I’d heard about “Beth” from the friend of a friend, but for whatever reason, it did not work out for us to meet. The friend did not say anything about Beth’s work, just that it sounded like Beth and I would have a lot in common.
When I finally met Beth early in 2012, I was glad I had. Beth Terrence, Annapolis-based shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner, has become a good friend and has been an integral part of my spiritual growth in the last year. She runs Beth Terrence Holistic Health Resources & Wellness Programs.
By the time I met Beth, I’d done some shamanic work on my own and had taken a basic shamanic journeying class through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, started by anthropologist Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman’s teacher.
But I had never had a soul retrieval undertaken on my behalf. Terrence journeyed for me and recovered two parts, both of which have begun to play key roles in the spiritual work I do now.
Long-Standing Interest in Holistic Healing
Holistic practices are not new to Terrence. She was 11 when she came across a book on reflexology. She used the book to teach herself. As a teenager, she developed a meditation practice that continues to this day. Her own health issues with fibromyalgia led to yoga, chiropractic work, herbs, massage and acupuncture. When she got as far as she could on the physical level, she began to work with emotions and the spirit. Eventually, this led her to shamanic work.
“Most traditional and indigenous cultures have had someone who holds the spiritual foundation in the community,” she says. “People go to this person for healing. This person works with the individual and the collective.”
Shamanic practices are a natural fit for Terrence. In cultures where a shaman saw to the well being of the people, the shaman often had an initiatory experience as a child—they were somehow set apart from the tribe, whether because of illness or something else that distinguished them.
Terrence believes that her childhood and teenage years were her gateway to shamanic work. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia, and the experience of growing up was one of near-constant fear. (Terrence writes about this experience in “Lost and Found: The Birth of a Shaman,” in Inspired Voices: True Stories by Visionary Women, compiled by Andrea Hylen.)
Traditionally and even in many indigenous cultures today, shamans often work on the physical plane, using plants to help heal the physical body. But the work doesn’t rest only on the physical. Indeed, greater support for healing may come through helping the mind, emotions and spirit.
Helping Others to Access the Shaman Within
It is a gift when we can see ourselves as we truly are, but not many people are so well developed or disciplined that they can easily size up their internal conflicts and pinpoint the roots of their illnesses. And in a culture where distractions are woven into the fabric of daily life, it’s all the more difficult to take the time to focus on oneself and discover what lies in the unconscious and to bring it to consciousness and begin to work with it.
But that said, with a little help, we can learn how to work with ourselves.
“I believe we all have a shaman within,” says Terrence, who’s been working with shamanic practices for more than 10 years.
Shamans can help others access that “inner shaman,” which allows the person to regain his or her own spiritual integrity and wholeness.
A primary tool that shamans use is the shamanic journey, a way of connecting with unseen worlds in non-ordinary reality, that is, reality not bounded by time and space, where the journeyer can access information that can help herself or others.
All in an Afternoon’s Journey
The hallmark of a journey is a visit to lower, middle or upper worlds—or a combination of those. A person initiates a journey to the lower world usually by visualizing an opening in the earth. The opening may be a pool or lake, a tree or a waterfall, even the stairs that lead down to a subway tunnel. The lower world is the realm of power animals or totem animals, which are helping spirits, usually an aspect of ourselves that we need to activate—to bring from the unconscious to the conscious realm—depending on what the animal represents in general as well as to the journeyer specifically.
Middle world journeys take place on this plane and often are initiated by visualizing a walk out the front door.
An upper-world journey is initiated by visualizing an upward track, such as a tree or mountain or even an elevator going up. The upper world is where the spirits of the ancestors reside along with teachers in human form. Angels or animals may also appear. All can be helping spirits.
Among the reasons for undertaking a journey are to get in touch with these helping spirits and guides. They can provide insights into your past, present or future. They may help inspire your creativity. Overall, they provide a safe connection to yourself to allow for wide-ranging exploration.
Physical and Spiritual Healing
One of the doorways Terrence passed through on her way to becoming a shaman was her own struggle with fibromyalgia at about age 19. “I didn’t find much support in conventional medicine, so I looked to other modes of healing,” she says. “In that process—diet/nutrition, yoga, meditation, body work, network chiropractic—at some point I came to a place where it was 70 percent resolved. I realized the primary aspect I needed to address was the emotions.”
That realization led to other areas, including Bach Flower Remedies, pioneered by Dr. Edward Bach, and PEER (Primary Energy Emotional Recovery).
Working with those methods helped to resolve the symptoms of the fibromyalgia. But there was still more to do. “I still felt like something was missing, some piece—that I still carried a lot of pain and so I continued on my personal work as part of my journey.”
When she left New York City for Maryland in 2001, Terrence experienced a period of grief and intense loss, including the deaths of people close to her as well as divorce. But her mentor for energy healing, Bill Henegan, who helped her understand her calling, also worked with her through that time.
“I wouldn’t have made it through without him,” she says.
A year later, Terrence began to attend a sweat lodge/shamanic journey/ceremony group. Then a friend who felt severely depressed and had serious health issues felt drawn to have a soul retrieval and asked Terrence to come as a witness. That was Terrence’s first experience with individual shamanic work as a healing tool.
Soul retrieval is one of the main shamanic practices. It can be helpful for people who have suffered soul loss, a common occurrence for anyone living. Soul loss can result from basic experiences and extraordinary experiences, such as trauma, accidents, or even those times as a child when we felt no one was there for us or, for whatever reason, our needs were not met. Soul loss may also occur when we don’t have the ability to deal with what’s coming up, when we feel cut off or disconnected from ourselves—even if the disconnection is caused by something that happened in a different lifetime—and parts of ourselves have dissociated.
“Soul retrieval helps people to reconnect with parts of ourselves that are ready to come back,” says Terrence.
Shamanic practitioners and people themselves can use the journey process to recover these parts and reconnect with them. To do a soul retrieval, the shaman first creates a sacred space in which the client is supported in a “container” of love, one that protects him or her from interferences of the outside world.
Dark Night of the Soul
Through that period of grieving and further journey work, Terrence began to feel more connection with the spirit realm. She went to a workshop that combined shamanic journeying and work with stones and crystals as spirit medicine. The workshop leader told Terrence that her pull toward the spirits was so strong that she needed to choose between leaving this realm or staying here and moving through the pain and turmoil. It was then she decided to have a soul retrieval herself.
When Bill Henegan passed away in 2005, Terrence encountered some “divine timing” in her connection with shaman Ross Bishop through the Energy Therapy Network, an online list of providers and events that relate to alternative healing—the same way she had met Henegan.
Terrence apprenticed with Bishop, who had studied shamanic practices with indigenous people, but also incorporated inner-child work with journeying.
Inner children may be described as those parts of ourselves that have gotten—to borrow poet Robert Bly’s phrase—stuffed “into the bag.” The children are, well, children. They are spontaneous and joyful. But to some adult for whom a child’s actions may cause embarrassment, those parts of the children get shoved away, out of sight. But they do not disappear. They become what Carl Jung dubbed the shadow. The question is, of course, how best to reintegrate those pieces of ourselves?
Using Bishop’s techniques, which are found in his book Healing the Shadow, “there’s an opportunity for [people] to, in a sense, self-facilitate their own soul return.”
A practitioner can help initiate the process of returning lost soul parts as well as to help someone move more easily through areas of resistance—areas that may be difficult and uncomfortable for someone to work with on her own.
Terrence has seen how much journeying can help people who are burdened especially by old patterns and habits. One instance of this was in her work with people who have addictions. She was able to introduce the journey process to people who didn’t know about it and didn’t have “too much faith or belief they would have some sort of experience.” They were able to have a visual or auditory experience that helped them to learn about their own intuition and how they themselves experience that intuition energetically, says Terrence.
They learned to solve problems creatively, using imagery that came to them through their inner guidance. Most importantly, they achieved a “natural state change” rather than using a substance. Creating a natural altered state of consciousness is one of the many benefits of shamanic journeywork and opens possibilities for those dealing with addictions. Through journeys, they can experience the sense of connection they had been longing for—a sense of connection for which they had used substances as substitutes. Journeys gave them a way to cultivate connection with—and within—themselves as well as with others and the world.
More Connection, More Joy
That’s how shamanic work goes—whether someone is reconnecting with lost soul parts or simply seeking guidance. The more people connect and reconnect, the more they are able to live fully, with more joy, and the more they are able to be in the present; they become integrated. That can help people to live better with fellow humans and with Earth itself.
It’s always been important for two-leggeds to connect with Earth by actually walking on the land or swimming Earth’s waters. But unless you make the time to do so, it’s difficult today. Yet, as Terrence says, “In any moment, we can go into that space in nature (through the shamanic journey). In our day and age and in our culture, fostering a sense of connection with Earth and the natural world is a major part of shamanic work.”
Even if shamans do not work directly with plants, today’s shamanic practices still derive from Spirit, Earth and humankind, likely making them the oldest co-created practices.
In shamanic work, “there’s a strong respect and honoring of Mother Earth as a caretaker and the feeling that all beings are equal and one,” says Terrence. “The interconnectedness of all things is accepted as a foundational belief or philosophy.”
“Becoming integrated is part of becoming whole and balanced,” says Terrence. “Lack of integration adds to chaos. Integration can provide a sense of peace, balance and wholeness…as more people become integrated, that can create more balance in the world.”
Meeting People Where They Are
In an indigenous culture with an active shaman, people would not be without their soul parts for very long. The return of the parts would often be accompanied by celebration or a joyous welcome from family, Terrence adds.
Given all the chaos present in modern, Western culture, it’s often difficult for lost soul parts to become integrated. “If we lived in a natural place and we lived more slowly, it might be easier for the parts to integrate,” says Terrence.
How Terrence works and at what pace depends on where the client is. Through a process of dialogue, exploration and inner guidance, she feels into what method would best benefit a client at that time.
“Ideally, my goal is to initiate a process of transformation for my clients so that they can then continue to work on their own process of growth and change,” says Terrence. “The work is customized. It may take several visits or ongoing work to address various issues or layers. This ultimately creates a foundation so that the client becomes their own agent of change,”—their own shaman.
Learn more about Beth Terrence by visiting www.bethterrence.com.
On Saturday, July 27, from 1 to 4 PM, in Annapolis, I’ll have the privilege and honor of co-leading a workshop with . Beth and I will offer a variety of tools for heart-centered living as well as heart-supportive plant medicines. Cost of the workshop is $50. Space is limited, so if you’re interested, register by going to https://www.eventbrite.com/event/7246250731?ref=ebtnebregn.