Mircea Eliade - On Soul Retrieval
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy
Illness is interpreted either as the presence of an evil spirit in the body or as the absence of the soul. Shamans … have ecstatic power to see the human soul, even if these have fled to great distances. They then pursue the fugitive soul, capture them (in the form of hair) and restore them to their place in the body. When the illness is caused by an evil spirit, the séance is reduced to an expulsion ceremony….
The manang has a box containing a quantity of magical objects; the most important of which are quartz crystals, bata ilau – the stones of light – by help of which the shaman discovers the patient’s soul. …Illness is a flight of the soul and the purpose of the séance is to discover it and restore it to its place in the body. The séance takes place at night. The patient’s body is rubbed with stones, then the audience begins to intone monotonous songs while the chief manang dances to the point of exhaustion; it is thus that he seeks and summons the patient’s soul. If the illness is serious, the soul escapes from the manang’s hands several times….
As soon as he is in ecstasy, the manang goes down to the underworld in search of the patient’s soul. Finally he captures it, and suddenly rises, holding it in his hand, then replaces it through the skull........................
The magician of the Oraon in Bengal also seeks the patient’s strayed soul through mountains and rivers and on into the land of the dead, exactly like the Altaic and Siberian shamans....
The Bon shaman’s cure includes seeking the patient’s soul, a characteristically shamanic technique. A similar ceremony takes place when the Tibetan exorcist is summoned to cure a patient; he undertakes a search for the patient’s soul. Calling back the patient’s soul sometimes requires an extremely complex ritual involving objects – threads of five different colours, arrows etc – and effigies. Nebesky-Wojkowitz has recently demonstrated other shamanic elements in Tibetan Lamaism. In the State-oracle the prophetic trance, indispensable in ceremonial divination, is markedly para shamanic...............
Since sickness is interpreted as a flight of the soul, cure involves calling it back. The shaman reads a long litany in which the patient’s soul is implored to return from the distant mountains, valleys, rivers, forests and fields, or wherever it may be wandering.
The same summoning back the soul is found among the Karen of Burma, who in addition, employ a similar treatment for the sicknesses of the rice, imploring its ‘soul’ to return to the crop. As we shall presently see, the same ceremony is used by the Chinese.
Sources A Henry – The Lolos and other tribes of Western China; and Rev H I Marshall – The Karen People of Burma