Embracing the Fragmented Self:
Shamanic Explorations of the Sacred in Schizophrenia & Soul Loss

by Maureen B. Roberts, PhD

The fragmented psyche does not automatically require or seek mending; or at least there may be a kairos space of time during which it may need, indeed can thrive uponfragmentation. In certain crisis situations the psyche, instead of putting all its eggs in one basket, to play safe and ultimately protect its integrity, may choose to invest fragments of libido into splinter personalities for safe-keeping until the crisis has abated. In therapy situations I have seen this anticipated in dreams, then worked out in situations where a person was facing imminent, possibly life-threatening danger and in an attempt to cushion the impending blow, split into several ego stances. I have called this phenomenon "pre-traumatic dissociation" as an anticipatory move which, unlike the more severe and overridingly pathological Multiple Personality Disorder, does not interfere significantly with the individual's ability to function normally in day-to-day reality.

As a second parameter in the assessment of the overriding effect of pathology, placing woundedness in its mythic context, it's worth bearing in mind, for instance, that Osiris and Dionysus were dismembered, that Psyche had to journey to the Underworld, that Prometheus had his liver repeatedly torn out by Zeus's eagle, and that Medusa was beheaded. As well, in terms of the psyche's ultimate goal of attaining wholeness, centredness and integration, fragmentation is a blow to the hubris of the stable ego, which must relinquish its sense of a fixed identity and must eventually step aside in order to allow the paradoxical Self to displace it as the centre of consciousness.


Re-Visioning Soul Retrieval

As James Hillman (the founder of archetypal psychology) notes, there is a soul-world of difference between 'spiritual discipline' and therapy. As he puts it: 'Anyone who tends to dismiss pathology for growth, or anima confusions for ego strength and illumination, or who neglects the differentiation of multiplicity and variety for the sake of unity [as psychic monotheism] is engaged in spiritual discipline.'(1) Therapy, on the other hand, concerns itself with 'soul' which, as Hillman reminds us, is inherently pathological, multiple, prone to wandering, death, depth and depression; it is tangental, labyrinthine and polytheistic.

We must not, therefore, fall into the trap of assuming that reintegration, or retrieval of lost soul parts is equivalent to elevating psychological unity over plurality, or that retrieval is in all instances desirable, necessary, or appropriate to the mythic context of the therapeutic situation. To denigrate 'dis-integration' as in all instances undesirable is to privilege the still centre over the tension of opposites at the circumference, to promote monotheism above the soul's need for a plurality of gods, to elevate the pristine heights of spirit, as an archetype of unity, over the soul's need for immersion and dispersion in the human sufferings of the vale. It is to set god against god, Apollonian simplicity against Dionysian multiplicity, reason over divine madness, order over chaos, focus over dispersion, coagulation over dissolution. Individually, the gods, after all, are just as likely to be found in one camp as in the other.

The retrieval of soul, then, is not equivalent to the re-enthroning of the monotheistic, Apollonian myth, but is rather on one level the reinstatement of soul in all its imaginal complexity and fragmentation, its meanings and meanderings; for if the psyche protects against splintering, it is also prone to splintering its protection. Perhaps, then, we need to 're-vision' soul retrieval by viewing it not only as a reintegration of the personality, but also as the reinstatement of polytheistic soul that is at the heart of the 'I-Thou' of human and Cosmic life.

In this context, the therapist as the servant of soul, is not primarily a saviour from suffering, but rather a soul-guide through it. The 'patient' is reconciled with life and participates in the mythic drama of the gods. This realization that one is not alone and that one's struggles, darkness and suffering, when appreciated and embraced in a mythic context have an innate purpose and direction - to open one up to the full spectrum of life and its pantheon of gods - in itself constitutes a healing restoration of the individual to his/her place in the overall mythic scheme and boundless mysterium of the Cosmos.

It is precisely here that the shaman's power to retrieve soul must meld with the therapist's ability to discern whether reunification is helping or stifling the death-in-life of the elusive butterfly of soul. Through becoming familiar with the wounded phases of many key myths, for example, the therapist ideally provides a metaphor and universal context for wounding and healing, while the patient, through identifying with a particular mythic protagonist, finds a way out of the debilitating fear, aloneness, anguish, or sense or meaninglessness that can be triggered by pain. It is when these avenues of what we could call 'mythic contextualization' are blocked by pathological dissociation and its accompanying chronic fragmentation of the ego, that shamanic intervention can be helpful.


Shamanism & Schizophrenia

What we call schizophrenic is, as Joseph Campbell has discussed, called (positively) visionary or mystical in shamanic cultures, hence is valued, not feared or sedated with chemicals. As he clarifies in the well-known [1988] TV series, "The Power of Myth", 'The shaman is the person, male or female, who . . . has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It's a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. This shaman experience has been described many, many times. It occurs all the way from Siberia right through the Americas down to Tierra del Fuego.'

Hence working with sufferers of schizophrenia from a shamanic angle can be helpful, since the shaman has in all likelihood experienced similar experiences to those of the schizophrenic. Mainstream reductionist psychiatrists, on the other hand, by and large presume that if an experience (such as chronic depression) is unpleasant, it must be stopped or band-aided, but because an experience is painful or difficult, it doesn't necessarily follow that's it's not valuable, or therapeutically worthwhile as a 'wound which heals'.

As Mircea Eliade has recounted in detail, shamanic initiation is often unpleasant, even at times horrific, and can involve being mythically stripped to the skeleton, dismemberment, or being taken to pieces. If the schizophrenic can work through these kinds of processes with an empathetic therapist, s/he may be able to find healing and some ego stability at the other end of the ordeal. I know of other schizophrenics who have courageously gone off of medication and helped each other through such processes, or (more rarely) who have worked through them alone.

When dealing with soul loss in cases less extreme than the patient's death or otherwise totally helpless condition, we are more often that not dealing with a fragmentation of the personality through which an amount of psychic energy is split off in a particular way. Firstly, all of us in certain normal phases of intensified conflict, depression, infatuation, or complex activation lose soul-energy by diffusing, or radiating, or contagiously transmitting shadow or archetypal contents of the unconscious (note that I prefer not to use the term 'projection', which implies that soul is exclusively an inner quality, rather than an all-pervasive matrix). Secondly, in pathological cases in which the personality is disempowered, or poorly adapted to outer reality, the absent energy can be trapped or frozen in splinter personalities that may have formed through the development of a complex, through traumatic dissociation, acquired neurosis, or through the onset of schizophrenia or psychosis.

As a basic guideline, I use shamanic soul retrieval only when I judge the occasion to warrant it. When I use the term 'soul retrieval' I take it quite literally, namely as a retrieval of the lost soul (or a fragment thereof). In this sense, working with chronic depression, or schizophrenia, as two examples, involves the seeking, finding and retrieval - through chanting and drumming induced 'ek-stasis' and with the help of my guides - of a split-off aspect of the psyche which can be trapped in the Underworld, beneath the sea, between realities or realms, or even on another world or moon. The degree of intervention varies on my part according to the nature of the situation, which includes a consideration of to what degree the patient can actively co-operate in his/her own reintegration. Most folk, in my experience, bring a great deal of their own insights, instincts and energies to the healing situation and my own view in a nutshell is that it is desirable for the shaman to interfere as little as possible with the spontaneity of the Soul-making process, which inevitably has its own mythic agenda.

Similarly, In my own work with chronic sufferers of schizophrenia, I have at times watched the unfolding of dream and hallucination dramas which are sometimes desperately struggling toward a reintegration of the personality. The decision I am then faced with is whether to nurture and allow the process to unfold psychotherapeutically, whether to intervene shamanically, or whether to combine both.


A Case Study

In one instance, John, a sufferer of schizophrenia had reached a phase in his dreaming and hallucinating that hinted at significant progress toward integration. His dreams had repeatedly featured a diffuse chaos of vague beings milling about in trapped fashion in a kind of Underworld cave from which there seemed to be no exit. Simultaneously, his conscious hallucinations were dominated in a compensatory way by a solitary, warrior-like primitive figure who stood atop a giant phallus, angrily shaking his fist and screaming in defiance at the sky in a kind of impotent rage. None of this primitive figure's potentially creative energy and strength had succeeded in breaking through into conscious expression, though, for John was continually bombarded and overwhelmed by voices and visions, fortunately none of them accusing or dangerous, and he was habitually shy, quiet, withdrawn and reluctant to venture out socially. Instead, the warrior energy was imprisoned, bound in a tight knot that John felt as a painful stricture in his stomach region, the solar plexus level of unleashed emotional energy.

The unconscious, meanwhile, had an agenda of its own, for the milling dream figures later set about a cooperative task of building a giant, Buddha-like golden statue that, as John said, was an image of himself. Here a kind of divine Self image was in the making, but it was inert, passive, in one sense lifeless and helpless, since the unconscious energy was still diffused into its many splinter psyches. Still, the statue-building was a creative enterprise and one that as a gesture toward integration required a level of coordination and cooperation among the dissociated forms.

In its most severe form in schizophrenia, the splitting of the anima, animus, or of other archetypes of the unconscious into a multitude of figures is equivalent, as Jung notes, to a dissociation into an indefinite state, a kind of historical regression to which the dissolution of consciousness tends to run parallel. It's a kind of lowering of the mental plateau which echoes a more primitive state of mind.

My decision at this point was to offer limited and purposive shamanic aid and for the most wait and see where the overall process would next lead, particularly as it was unfolding in the dreams. My intervention, after discussing the matter with John and with his consent, was directed solely at a relieving of the physical stress caused by the angry, lone figure, and involved a channelling of a great deal of its energy in the form of heat into an Underworld well of iced water. In a drum-induced 'ek-stasis' and journey, the energy, concretized as yellow-red fire, was drawn off from the solar plexus chakra via a bridge constructed by one of my shamanic deities, Aaivan. My totem serpent and foremost diagnostician Nathair helped me draw forth the heat in the form of a winding spiral that circled around the bridge like a kind of serpentine Caduceus, while my Wolf guide, Daynar, stood guard, and another powerful Underworld deity, Morddain, conversed with the warrior figure, whose anger seemed to eventually subside.

A second Underworld guide, Ainjanneth, drew forth from the well a grail full of water, now warmed by the channelled and redirected heat, and brought it to the warrior figure, to whom it was offered as a healing draught. The figure, after some initial resistance, accepted the drink and as he drank it, became transparent such that I saw and felt the water diffuse throughout his body as a warm flow of gold. John noted after this session that the painful stricture in his stomach had eased and that the warrior figure was now sitting in a more contemplative manner on the phallic structure.

In one of his closely following dreams, a solitary female figure appeared on the Underworld cave scene and from a separated line of four male figures chose one whom she proceeded to escort out of the cave through an adjoining glass door and wall, to a kind of cafe. Again, I saw this as a positive development, for the anima as the personification of John's unconscious had now taken on one distinct form as his own helpful soul-guide, and as well the multitude of splinter psyches had on one level resolved themselves into a fourfold and ordered wholeness, while the other splinter figures, oblivious to the fate of the four, continued on in the background with their work of building the giant golden statue. My judgment was that this process, though still dissociated, required no shamanic intervention at this stage, but was proceeding at its own pace and with its own integrative purpose as a spontaneous move toward Self-retrieval [my synonym for individuation].

The appearance of the glass door, wall, and adjoining friendly cafeteria seemed hopeful, for now the imprisoning cave, whose walls had until then acted as isolating dissociative defences, were being eroded such that communication between dissociated states, often symbolized in dreams as adjoining but sealed-off rooms - and perhaps communication with the social world symbolized on one level by the cafe - was becoming possible, or had taken its first tentative steps. I was of course eager to see how all his would further develop, but at this point, John moved interstate. But I often still think of him and wonder whether the female soul-guide led other trapped personalities through other glass doors, and whether the golden statue eventually came to life.

As always, the question becomes: when is the wounded condition or dissociated state, or loss of soul overridingly, or ultimately debilitating? Given the close correlation between schizophrenic breakdown and shamanic initiation, the shaman in dealing with schizophrenia is faced with a possible dilemma. As she knows from her own experience, it is the schizophrenic who can self-heal and reintegrate who has the makings of a shaman. If she intervenes prematurely, or unnecessarily, she may be robbing the schizophrenic of an authentic initiation experience. Here her ability as psychotherapist comes into play when she is called upon to to discern the significance of key developments in the schizophrenic's dreams, visions, voices, and degrees of adaptation to outer reality. One is reminded here also of the mandala drawings of some schizophrenics, which sometimes feature a fragmented centre, the chaos of which is spontaneously compensated by a symmetrically ordered circumference.

As Stanislav Grof has discussed, shamanism involves fantastic inner journeys into the collective unconscious. 'Those individuals who successfully integrate their inner journeys,' Grof adds, 'become familiar with the territories of the psyche. Such individuals are also capable of transmitting this knowledge to others and of guiding them along their path . . . The dramatic initiation experiences of shamans that involve powerful death-rebirth sequences are interpreted by Western psychiatrists and anthropologists as indicative of mental disease. Usually referred to as "shamanic disease", they are discussed in relation to schizophrenia, hysteria, or epilepsy.

'This reflects the typical bias of Western mechanistic science and is clearly a culture-bound value judgment, rather than an objective scientific opinion. Cultures that acknowledge and venerate shamans do not apply the title shaman to just any individual with bizarre behavior, as Western scholars would like to believe. They distinguish very clearly between shamans and individuals who are sick and insane. Genuine shamans have had powerful, unusual experiences and have managed to integrate them in a creative and productive way. They have to be able to handle everyday reality as well as, or even better than, their fellow tribesmen. In addition, they have experiential access to other levels and realms of reality and can facilitate nonordinary states of consciousness in others for healing and transformative purposes. They this show superior functioning and "higher sanity", rather than maladjustment and insanity. It is simply not true that every bizarre and incomprehensible behavior would pass for sacred among uneducated aboriginal people.'(2)

The psychotic by definition differs from the 'normal' person in that the psychotic's ego, or conscious personality, is overwhelmed by the archetypal forces of the unconscious to the extent that s/he can no longer distinguish between inner and outer, and so can't function as a responsible citizen. Not all sufferers of schizophrenia are psychotic, but many experience similar difficulty in forming an effective barrier between their sense of personal identity (moderated by the ego) and the invasive or disruptive forces of the archetypal unconscious; hence, as Jung makes clear, the importance of having a stable ego if one is to contend with visions and voices and still be able to function in the outer world.


Schizophrenia: The Shaman Sickness

The path is always lonely and demanding for those called to shamanism, and doubly so for those who must contend with Western culture's refusal to accept the overwhelming reality of the disturbing realms of vision and torment in which these potential shamans dwell. Along with having to endure the loss of ego stability, hence the frightening blurring of outer and inner realites, sufferers of schizophrenia are often forced to contend with psychiatric notions, ruled by the Apollonian myth of reason, monotheism and normality, which demand that such "deviant" Dionysian states be subdued with medication, or punished with incarceration in mental institutions.

The schizophrenic's reason and senses, like those of the shaman during initiation, are assaulted by concrete revelations of the heights and depths of the vast Otherworlds of the collective unconscious. Simultaneously, the schizophrenic is forced to slot into the sometimes petty humdrum and routine of daily existence. The invasion of the ego by archetypal forces transforms the individual profoundly and irreversibly; no-one who has endured such a crisis can confine the expanded horizons of their consciousness to the tame boundaries of cultural norms. Yet instead of encouraging and bolstering the development of such transcendental levels of awareness, mainstream psychiatry seeks - out of fear of the unknown, the unconscious, the numinous, the irrational and the abnormal - to stifle it under the euphemistic and patronising guise of 'treatment'.

The schizophrenic, being intensely introverted is automatically poorly adapted in a society which narrowly defines personal identity in terms of appearance, behaviour and social status. S/he lives in a discontinuous reality which can become a terrifying bombardment of overlapping realities, voices and chaotic perceptions. Everything takes on mythical overtones. The players in the archetypal dramas are often gods who are potentially both benevolent and destructive. Mainstream psychiatry deals with this overload by numbing the mind and trying to force the individual to readjust to cultural norms. At the same time, the "patient" is robbed of a unique mode of learning that many schizophrenics sense to be immensely valuable and worth pursuing. And unfortunately the law is in the psychiatrists' hands to take away what others treasure as an experience of the awesome power of the sacred.


Soul Loss & the Land of the Dead

If the schizophrenic is overwhelmed and debilitated by experiences on which the mystic thrives, the shaman treads, or rather hops along a multidirectional path between centred focus and woundedness, fragmentation and soul pathology. In shamanic ecstatic trance, the ego is not submerged but rather deliberately and temporarily displaced, destabilised or disempowered for the purpose of trance-journeying. The schizophrenic's loss of ego, however, does not parallel the mature and responsible shaman's subsequent healing vocation; it is rather akin to shamanic initiation, which can be quite traumatic or devastating, as the following personal accounts illustrate(3):

David, a sufferer of schizophrenia, recalls:

"I then felt some part of myself slip down through the crack in the pavement, down to the underworld, while another part of myself remained upon the pavement. I am currently trying to make further sense of this experience in relation to Ancient Egyptian belief, as, certainly during the early dynasties, they had a working knowledge of the Land of the Dead, much of which has been fortunately rediscovered, and is known to us as The Egyptian Book of the Dead."

From the perspective of Egyptian myth, it is the double or "ka" which goes on walkabout when a schism appears in the world of the schizophrenic. It can be extremely confusing when information is received from two entirely different places simultaneously. This is, though, in certain phases of development or pathology, a natural state of affairs. In shamanic practice, there are entities who take care of visitors to other realms, so it sometimes helps if the schizophrenic is assured that s/he is not alone. Often, just simply being aware that one is in two different places at once is sufficient to engender a little understanding of the process, thereby making it much easier to deal with. At times, I have made suggestions along the lines of, 'Well, your double is yours and yours only - see if you can call it back to you if you feel things are getting out of control.'

As Jung notes, activation of the Land of the Dead is often associated with soul loss. In 1916, shortly before his uncanny experience of a band of spirits from ancient Jerusalem visiting his home and ringing the doorbell, Jung wrote down a fantasy of his soul having flown away from him. Since the soul as anima is mediatrix to the unconscious, in a sense she relates as well to the realm of the dead, since the unconscious corresponds to the ancestral, mythic land of the dead. Hence if one fantasises about the soul vanishing, it means that it has withdrawn into the unconscious as the land of the dead. Here, as Jung notes, it produces an animation which gives visible forms to the ancestral traces, this giving the dead a chance to manifest themselves. Soon after the disappearance of Jung's soul, the dead appeared to him and the result was his Seven Sermons to the Dead, written in the person of his (then) spirit guide, the Gnostic scholar Basilides. Jung considered this to be an instance of loss of soul, which, as he notes, is a phenomenon often found among primitives. (4)

Interestingly, one eulogy for Jung contained the remark that he was a schizophrenic who healed himself, precisely the definition of an initiated shaman. Indeed, a discussion of the blatant shamanic elements of Jung's life forms a fascinating study in itself. Briefly and broadly, I'll mention here his converse with his spirit guides, which included a Wise Old Man figure, Philemon, and later his attendant, the blind girl Salome; his detailed and vivid familiarity with the landscapes of the collective unconscious, his shamanic ability to help others navigate this potentially dangerous terrain, his prophetic and sometimes disturbingly powerful dreams and visions, his early fear of madness and his double personality, his shamanic dream of becoming a woman, and his initiatiory midlife crisis that began with his taking a courageous plunge alone into the Abyss.

After breaking with Freud, Jung confronted the unconscious alone, primarily through exploring his dreams and visions, and as an intrepid voyager ventured into largely unchartered and potentially dangerous waters. Early in his psychiatric career Jung was understandably alarmed that his visions were strikingly similar to those of many of his patients at the Burgholzli Mental Hospital. Fearing madness, Jung was repeatedly assailed by a vision of sections of Europe becoming bathed in a sea of blood. It was during the 1914 outbreak of war that he realized that his visions of the previous year had been an ominous prophecy rather than a reference to himself.

Jung, although he does not denigrate shamanism, nonetheless views it early in his career as an expression of a primitive consciousness which views soul as external, or projected, while contemporary therapists tend to focus on psyche as an inner structure and dynamic. But these either-or perspectives are, I suggest, both inadequate spatial metaphors, or verbal conventions that say little about how we and the World actually experience soul. Jung's later experiences, for instance, betray his own externalization of soul, as is revealed when he recounts in his autobiography that he feels at times 'spread out over the landscape and inside things and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons . . .' Further on, Jung ends his autobiography with the confession that 'plants, animals, clouds, day and night' fill him such that he feels a 'kinship with all things.'(5)

If, then, individuation does not shut one out from the world but rather gathers the world to itself, so soul-making gathers the individual to all-pervasive soul, anima mundi expanding into the even more inclusive sphere of unus mundus. Here, through the explosion of the isolated ego, soul's diffusive movement outward meets soul's infusive movement from outer to inner as the two merge in an imaginal Cosmos, whose Centre, as all shamans know (through 'gnosis'), is everywhere.


Schizophrenia as Initiation

Many diagnosed schizophrenics will deny that their condition is primarily an illness:

"It certainly feels more like an initiation of some kind," expands Chris. "For all the pain it has brought me, I wouldn't be without it, as it has made me so much more aware of a lot of things."

Another example: Sadie had graduated from university not long before succumbing to schizophrenia at the age of 24.

"I could say that it happened overnight, that I suddenly found myself in an intensely strange, terrifying yet beautiful place; but it would also be true that it had been coming to a head for some time. I'd had a strange sense that it was going to happen for many years, and had read fairly widely on the subject, but as it turned out, nothing really could have prepared me for it when it did finally come. I was more lost than I ever would have thought it possible to be."

Friends and family were disturbed by the change that came over her, and within two months she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

"The last thing I wanted was to go there. The way I felt at the time, I felt it would destroy me to go in there, but I was powerless to resist. I'd lost the ability to express myself - words held too much meaning. I would listen to something as banal as a football match commentary, and to me it would be the story of the last battle of the gods. Everything was so vast, so deeply mythological. I'd see the arcane history of the world in everything, every little detail would hold another clue, and I was trying to hold all this information together, launched upon a mythic quest that terrified and excited me in ways far more real, far more vivid, than my life ever had up to that point."

Sadie later added:

"Yet as a direct result of my experiences, I've been able to pull my friends out of psychoses which otherwise would have held them fast. Shamans are able to make it through the confusion because there are older shamans who have been there themselves, and can help them. I have a few friends who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, and we all feel this way."

But if there are medications that will help the schizophrenic to function again, why don't they want to take them? Why are they so distrustful of the medical profession?

"To be honest, I don't think your average psychiatrist really has a clue," said Chris, a little guardedly. "My psychiatrist has never even read any Jung. It's impossible for me to respect that, and dangerous for me to allow him to administer drugs that affect my mind. It is, after all, my mind. My medication makes me very lethargic, but I'm bullied into taking it, and my appeals to reduce it, gradually, aren't considered. People are horrified at the thought of Medieval tooth-pullers, and I think as we learn more about the mind, in years to come people will feel much the same way about our psychiatrists. My doctor kept trying to make me believe that the things I was seeing and hearing and feeling were delusions, whatever he thought he meant by that. But what I was experiencing was real, in the truest sense of the word. The experiences of schizophrenics are incredibly similar to each other."

Sadie's thoughts ran along similar lines.

"The doctors are just on the look-out for symptoms that match what it says in their medication manuals . . . My medication made me sluggish. I wasn't myself. I was existing, but not living . . . . If I complained, or questioned the way I was being treated, my behaviour became, in the eyes of the doctors and nurses, symptomatic of the schizophrenia. There was no way I could win. I made a decision to gradually phase myself off the medication that had been forced on me, although I was very afraid to do so."

The only benefit that Sadie felt she had received from her medication was that it slowed her mind down and enabled her to block out the fear and paranoia that haunted her twenty-four hours a day. So what happened when she stopped taking it?

"Well, I started to feel so much more alive. I found new enthusiasm and creative ability. But then one night it happened again. I was back in the nightmare world. To try and describe it, it was as if I'd been alive hundreds of years ago, and the world felt very familiar in some ways, but there was a lot that had changed, that I had to learn to adapt to. It was very animistic - I felt as if a spirit pervaded everything, that I was sensitive to, to the degree that I would identify totally with whatever was in my mind, what I was looking at or thinking about, at the time. I was determined to evade incarceration this time, and moved up to Scotland to work in the forests. It was very difficult. I couldn't relate well to people - they seemed so chaotic, so cut off. I had been used to defining myself by the way I interacted with other people, so it was very hard for me to be a loner. But a change of scene, where no-one expected anything of me, was so refreshing, so strengthening. It's very difficult, living in these over-crowded islands, to truly be alone, but I do think that it is vital to be able to do this, in a positive way, to understand the changes that are happening, and to find a degree of perspective.

"I began to look very closely, as objectively as I was able to, at the way my mind worked, almost as if it were a machine I was working on, and managed to kind of re-wire it to perform the tasks I needed it to do. I had stopped feeling like a victim, and regained a little control."

The method seems to have worked for Sadie, who hasn't been readmitted to hospital and who went on to study full-time. She only wishes that the medical profession were brave enough to try different kinds of help for schizophrenics. She adds:

"I still see and hear things though. In fact, it is largely through characters I have met in my dreams that I have been able to work out how to help myself. In other words, by immersion in what I have been experiencing, rather than trying to block it out."

Drum healing is also helpful:

"I think it's the beat, the rhythm", adds Chris. It does wonderful things to your mind. Since I started dancing in this way, I haven't felt the need to take any kind of drug. I'd love to get a group of people together to visit schizophrenics and all sit round in a circle somewhere playing hand drums, bongos and whatever. Methods like this have been used for thousands of years to pull people out of psychoses. I think we need to try more ways of helping these people to get their lives back. I know it can work - I have my life back, better than ever. And it's all the more precious for having gone away."


Self Retrieval vs Soul Retrieval

Jung once remarked that his work would be continued "by those who suffer", and he was undoubtedly including in that phrase all who have the courage to confront - with the peculiar aloneness and risk that's unavoidable in such work - their inner depths, soul pathology, and shadows. From the perspective of effective therapy (bearing in mind that 'therapy' means 'serving the gods'), the bottom line is that sufferers of schizophrenia as individuals have the right to choose what sort of treatment they wish to accept, but at present they're not being presented by mainstream psychiatry with the option of working through their experiences as an alternative to fearfully band-aiding the symptoms. Coming to terms with the illness takes a lot of guts - on the part of both patient and therapist - but the option exists and sufferers of schizophrenia are surely entitled to be informed that it does.

Paraphrasing Hamlet, then, to intervene, or not to intervene, that is the quesion. During solitary Self retrieval, for instance, when a person may be recovering from grief, or from an ended relationship, or from plain old unrequited love, the energy is gradually reclaimed, in the same way as a snail's stalks, or the leaves of some touch-sensitive plants tentatively re-emerge or unfold after they've been touched. Similarly, the soul's energy doesn't need to be yanked back, or forcefully torn away from its attachment. It needs gentleness and slow movement, not sudden jolting or other forms of hasty retrieval.

Through my own experiences of grief, loss and wounding, and though being privileged to share the painful experiences of others, I have learned that the soul lets go when in the kairos of its own time-frame it is ready to. It undergoes a gradual transition from acknowledging the soul-bond, to relinquishing dependency and belongingness, to acknowledging the reality of separation. The soul like a child must in such times be weaned off, because its vulnerability and woundedness so often belong to the Puer, the eternal child archetype of trust and openness that has more often than not drawn it into the situation in the first place. The hopeful and idealistic Puer, earthed and sometimes shocked through the harsh facts of human relatedness into the realm of Soul, thereby becomes, if it accepts its lot with growth in understanding and no bitterness, the willing victim of sometimes painful reality. In some circumstances, then, interventional soul retrieval, perhaps out of a desire for a quicker remedy, or even out of a well-meaning shamanic longing to help the suffering soul escape its pain, could become a hasty substitute for a more gradual, natural process of Self retrieval. For it is through bathing in the gentle alchemical fire in which the agony of passion is gradually transmuted to the gold of 'com-passion', that the Wounded Healer is most thoroughly forged.

c.1998 Darknight Publications from: Soul-making & Soul Retrieval: Creative Bridges Between Shamanism and Depth Psychology, by Maureen B. Roberts. Not to be reproduced whole or in part without the author's permission.

(1) James Hillman, "Peaks and Vales", in Puer Papers, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1979, p. 70.
(2) Stanislav Grof, Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy Albany: State U of New York Press, 1985, pp. 29-30.
(3) The stories of schizophrenia sufferers and interspersed comments on them recounted here are from the Schizophrenia & Shamanism website: http://www.tightrope.demon.co.uk/skzindex.htm#list

(4) C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections London; Fontana, 1983, p. 216.
(5) Jung, MDR p.392.


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Last Updated: 22 aug 98