Three Causes of Spiritual Illness: A Shamanic Perspective


From Shared Wisdom: “In looking through the shamanic healer’s eyes, the ultimate causes of virtually all illness are to be found within the imaginal realms — in those same regions from which illness derives its initial power to affect us adversely. Because of this, it is not enough to simply suppress the effects of illness with medication on the physical plane and hope for the best. For true healing to occur, the causes of the illness must be addressed.

From the shaman’s perspective, there are three classic causes of illness, and interestingly, they are not microbes or bacteria or viruses. Rather, they are negative internal states that appear within us in response to negative or traumatic life experiences. The first among these is disharmony.


Disharmony is what we experience when life suddenly loses its meaning or when we have lost an important connection to life.

. . . The state of disharmony that we experience in response to such life situations causes a diminishment of our personal power. This can happen in a subtle manner on the one hand, or in a catastrophic, life-shaking way on the other like losing your job, and in the process losing your livelihood. When we experience disempowerment, or ‘power loss,’ it affects our energetic matrix, rendering us vulnerable to illness.


The second classic cause of illness is fear. A person who is walking around with a chronic sense of fear gnawing away at them is doubly vulnerable to illness because their anxiety aggressively and progressively diminishes their sense of well-being, and this, in turn, affects their feeling of being safe in the world.

This sense of well-being is the base upon which our personal health system stands . . . It is no surprise to Western medical practitioners that disharmony and fear can manifest themselves in diseases that are recognizable to science. Almost 500 years ago, the Renaissance physician Paracelsus observed that ‘the fear of disease is more dangerous than the disease itself’ . . .

Soul Loss

Among the traditionals, soul loss is regarded as the most serious diagnosis and the major cause of premature death and serious illness, yet curiously, it’s not even mentioned in our Western medical textbooks. The closest acknowledged context is ‘He/she has lost the will to live.’

In Western society, soul loss is most easily understood as damage to a person’s life essence, a phenomenon that usually occurs in response to trauma. When the trauma are severe, this may result in a fragmentation of that person’s soul cluster, with the shattered soul parts dissociating, fleeing an intolerable situation. In overwhelming circumstances, these soul parts may not return.

The causes of soul loss can be many and varied. There may be traumatic perinatal issues that happen around the child’s birth experience such as arriving into life only to discover that they are not wanted, or that they are the wrong gender—they’ve come in as a girl when everyone was hoping for a boy.

Soul loss can also occur when a child is mercilessly bullied or teased at home or at school, day after day, or when a young person is molested by the one who is supposed to be caring for them. When someone has been raped or assaulted, has suffered a shocking betrayal, a bitter divorce, a traumatic abortion, a terrible car accident, or even a serious surgery, soul loss is assured.

Many of the young men and women who were sent to war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Viet Nam, Korea and beyond, came home personally damaged because they had suffered terrible soul loss. Our medical specialists labeled their disorders as post-traumatic stress syndrome, but they had little to offer these ‘walking wounded’ in terms of true healing, and many who survived are still deeply traumatized at the soul level by what happened to them in war.

Symptoms of Soul Loss

Soul loss is easily recognizable if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s a checklist of some of the classic symptoms:

  • feelings of being fragmented, of not being all here.
  • blocked memory — an inability to remember parts of one’s life.
  • an inability to feel love or receive love from another.
  • emotional remoteness.
  • a sudden onset of apathy or listlessness.
  • a lack of initiative or enthusiasm.
  • a lack of joy.
  • a failure to thrive.
  • an inability to make decisions.
  • an inability to discriminate.
  • chronic negativity.
  • addictions.
  • suicidal tendencies.
  • melancholy or despair.
  • chronic depression.

Perhaps the most common symptom of soul loss is depression. In the early 1990s, Time magazine did a cover story on depression in America that revealed 60 million Americans were taking anti-depressant drugs on a daily basis, representing about 30% of our population.

Today that number is closer to 80 million, representing about 40% of society at large. . .

Although the term ‘soul loss’ is not familiar to most Westerners, examples of it are expressed daily in our language and descriptions of personal hardships. Media interviews and news reports include individuals’ comments such as ‘I lost a part of myself when that (trauma) happened’ and ‘I have not been the same since.’ When discussing soul loss with inquiring individuals, most everyone has a sense of having lost a ‘part’ of themselves at some time in life, yet virtually no one has the awareness that the missing part(s) could be recovered.

They can.”

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  1. Thanks for posting this. One of the more depressing parts of growing up “mad coded” in the Midwest has been realizing that my spiritual beliefs are considered psychological liabilities. I often fear the consequences of contributing to my spiritual community publicly — will I be able to have a career if I am labeled as “delusional” or “lacking insight”? Will I face more coercive medical care, or once again be denied care for my physical health conditions that went untreated for over a decade due to their effects being labeled psychosomatic?

    While this article isn’t particularly relevant to me, it reminded me the hypocrisy often asked of my generatoon: to extoll US cultural cosmopolitanism while only accepting those perspectives which align with the mainstream psychological model of the mind. We’re told to respect the beliefs and cultures of others in order to protect and promote free society — but only until a mental health professional gets involved. Then we are expected to engage in spurious pearl-clutching about the dangers of denying power to paternalistic and coercive care — because how will the medicine/therapy work if you don’t believe in it?! — and viciously correct deviant beliefs via threats of social exclusion.

    I think it’s important, then, to have other “cultures-of-mind” represented — whether those cultures are scientific, religious, or otherwise — in a resource like this one. I also think we need to teach an etiquette of respect for these differences in the wider world. To do otherwise promotes the sort of myopic thinking that gets people trapped in an authoritarian health system, knowing that even if they survive and escape, their culture still thinks it’s “polite” to suggest they go right back, and “appropriate” to force someone into a situation where their choice will be taken away. It’s a viscous cycle of distress, abandonment, exploitation, and dependency that needs to stop — because if we can’t even choose how to think about our minds and emotions, how are any of us supposed to be truly free?

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  2. This is so true I could feel it healing my soul as I read it. Suddenly I understand where my myriad major dreams over decades have come from – my soul, psyche, highest wildly truly loving “self” – dreams which I have drawn and painted and made sculpture from – depicting the symbolic fragments of my splattered traumatised child psyche which was repeatedly hospitalised and drugged, subjected to ECT – decades of dealing in psychotherapy with repressed forgotten trauma of sadistic and terrifying child abuse – physical, psychological, sexual – betrayal and deceit and coverup all around me.

    I have come off all psychiatric and every other medication told I would have to be on for life with an “incurable, hereditary, chemical imbalance in the brain, no known cause” etc etc – also quit smoking and alcohol – and have also worked in many shamanic art workshops where I have drawn the depths of extreme trauma situated in the buried forgotten terrorised child – bringing her out and up into the light where slowly and surely, through many long “dark nights” and many times of feeling suicidal – but emerging again and again out of those states to renewed life force, energy, clarity and hope – always in search of the thing that mattered most to me – my lost beloved creativity…for decades I could only draw the terrifying flashbacks of assaults – torture to my mind and heart and body but I held on in the belief, faith and understanding that these images were coming from my lost dissociated self – as if the lost parts of my soul were floating around me trying to tell me what happened in order that I could come to accept it and her and allow her to come back into me, to join up with my physical body and mind and literally come back to life. Many many times I lost heart and faith and hope – but found repeatedly that the turning points were always at the deepest places of loss and darkness and loss of hope. At those moments when the light suddenly reappeared it was a moment of amazement that I was actually alive- and ready to go forward again. I also know that those moments were a return to one of the many times of sou loss during extreme trauma.

    This has also meant I have sat still “Be still and know that I am God” for hours and hours on end especially for the last five years – in and out of states of peace and bliss between the darkness and grief – but always, whether in the darkness or the light being beckoned and driven forwards by the ever-increasing moments of MEANING, well-being, love and sense of purpose, sometimes vague, sometimes definite and inspiring – as I saw through more and more the lies of psychiatry that is particularly of the biological versions of the so-called genetic origins of “mental illness”. My understanding is that there is no evidence of “Genetically inherited mental illness”. In my case alone, if there were any truth in that notion, I would long ago be dead and buried. Thank you for writing this article, My greatest hope is that the truths you have written about may come to grow and flourish in our western world and help more people to challenge the lies they have been told about inherited illness of the mind and to find new and creative ways to become well, happy and integrated as they come to understand.

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