EXTRACTIONExtraction is the practice of removing a spiritual intrusion from a person and neutralizingit. The basic idea behind this practice is that the intrusion causes psychological or physicalillness, and removing the intrusion effects acure in the patient.
Extraction is the practice of removing a spiritual intrusion from a person and neutralizing
it. The basic idea behind this practice is that the intrusion causes psychological or physical
illness, and removing the intrusion effects acure in the patient.
Extraction is a very old practice and, though not limited to cultures in which shamanism
plays a strong role, is frequently found in shamanic practices worldwide. The idea that
evil spirits are the source of personal or communal disease predates the germ theory by several
millennia. Given primitive cultures’ animistic worldview, which sees every object, animal, and
person as possessing an animating spirit, removing intruding powers is a logical means of effecting
healing. The theory of possession by evil spirits or demons, and the possibility of exorcising
them, is a direct descendant of these earlier concepts of disease-causing, intruding spirits.
The presence of malevolent spirits in itself is not enough to account for illness; conditions
must be conducive to the evil gaining enough strength to cause harm. Many folk practices
and rituals attempt to preserve the strength of individuals and communities. Rites of propitiation
have the dual purpose of appeasing a deity and maintaining the ritual benefactors’ vigorous
immunity to disease and disaster. Charms and rituals are deemed a success as long as the
warder remains well. Lack of success is attributed to not performing the ritual properly, the
presence of exceptionally strong evil spirits or demons, or just plain bad luck. Vulnerability to
illness may also result from failure to observe taboos, being targeted by a practitioner of black
magic, or physical changes such as childbirth, menses, battle wounds, or overexposure to the
elements. Anything that contributes to physical or spiritual weakness makes holes in a person’s
spirit, and harmful intruding powers take residence in these holes.
Regardless of the cause, when a normally healthy person takes ill, the shaman or local wise one steps
forward to effect a cure. The cure involves removing the spirit causing the
disease, neutralizing or destroying it so that it cannot infect anyone else, and perhaps carrying
out a practice to restore the affected individual to health.
The form of the extraction itself varies. All or part of the community might be involved, or
only the shaman and his or her apprentice. The extraction might be removed by sucking it out,
pulling it out with the hand or with a sacred object, or scaring it away with noise, threats,
and smoke. Other means of removing an extraction have been practiced, but these are the
Before attempting removal of the evil spirit, the shaman prepares by calling on guardian and
helping spirits to assist in diagnosing the cause of the affected person’s disease. The shaman’s
spirit helpers allow the shaman to locate the intrusion and remove it. Extracting intrusive powers
is considered to be very dangerous, as the intrusion can enter the shaman’s body and cause
sickness. Extractions are usually not attempted unless the shaman is feeling very powerful.
Once the intrusion is identified and localized to a part of the body, the ritual of extraction
begins. Using drums, rattles, or other percussive instruments to enter the shamanic trance
state, the shaman focuses on the intrusion and grabs it. Once removed, the invading evil spirit
may be burned, hurled into water, put into a piece of raw meat, or otherwise transferred to a
neutralizing medium. The medium containing the intrusion is typically destroyed. If the intrusion
is thrown into a fire or body of water, however, it is considered to be neutralized.
Again, specifics of the practice vary; those listed are the most common.
After removal of the intrusion, the affected person may need to undergo some rite or complete
Complete an activity to restore his or her strength.
The shaman then gives the patient a prescription for recovery, perhaps eating special foods,
drinking herbal beverages, ritual cleansings, or some other practice specified by the shaman’s
helping spirits. Frequently a power animal or soul retrieval will be performed to fill the spiritual
gap created when the intrusion has been removed.
Note that extraction is practiced today by contemporary urban shamans as well as by traditional
folk healers around the world. Modern shamans understand that there is both a physical
reason for the malady as well as a spiritual one and recommend treating the illness conventionally
as well as shamanically.
Because Western scientists proved a link between psychological imbalances and susceptibility to
disease, the concept that a ritual aimed at restoring health will strengthen the body’s ability to
heal is gaining wider acceptance in the medical community.
Healing and Shamanism
References and further reading:
Achterberg, Jeanne. 1985. Imagery in Healing:
Shamanism and Modern Medicine. Boston:
Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism:
Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from
the French by Willard R. Trask. London:
Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York:
Bollingen Foundation, 1964.
Frazer, James G. 1981. The Golden Bough: The
Roots of Religion and Folklore. New York:
Harner, Michael. 1990. The Way of the Shaman.
New York: Harper Collins.