“Through ceremony, we learn how to give back. When we sing, we give energy through our voice; when we drum, we allow the earth’s heartbeat to join with our own; when we dance, we bring the energy of the earth and sky together in our bodies and give it out; when we pray, we give energy through our hearts; when we look upon our relations, we give blessings through our eyes. When we put all these activities together, we have a ceremony, one of the most powerful forms of gift-giving we humans possess. When humans participate in ceremony they enter a sacred space. Everything outside of that space shrivels in importance. Time takes on a different dimension. Emotions flow freely. The bodies of the participants become filled with the energy of life, and this energy reaches out and blesses the creation around them. All is made new; everything becomes sacred.”
-Dancing with the Wheel, The Medicine Wheel Workbook by Sun Bear, Wabun Wind and Crysallis Mulligan
What Makes Ceremony and Ritual Relevant in Our Modern World?
Most of us have had some kind of encounter with group ceremony or ritual by the time we’re adults. At some point in our lives, we’ll experience or witness time honored traditions that bring people together for a collective purpose. These experiences may have been positive or negative for each of us, depending on the situations and people involved. Rites of passage such as weddings, baby christenings, graduations and bar mitzvahs can bring deep feelings of positive change and heartfelt connection or they can be uncomfortably rushed through while tolerating family members with a “let’s get this over with” kind of attitude.
A Story of Two Very Different Kinds of Gatherings
I’ll never forget attending a typical modern baby shower for a colleague and a very a-typical Native American Blessingway ceremony for another pregnant friend in the same week. Even though the purpose of both events was to celebrate the expectant mother and her baby, the contrast of the two gatherings was remarkable. Paying attention to gatherings and ceremonies has taught me a lot about myself and life in general. Here’s what I learned from these two back to back celebrations.
The baby shower for my colleague was a gathering of women who were disconnected and distracted. Each woman seemed insecure and competitive as they eyed each other up and down, checking out what the other attendees were wearing, looking at their watches and feigning interest as the expectant mother opened gifts with a forced smile.
What really struck me was that I felt very lonely in a crowded room of beautiful women who didn’t know how beautiful they were and didn’t know how to utilize the power and energy of the other women in the room. The mother-to-be opened her presents in a very distracted and hurried way, the entire event seeming uncomfortable and difficult for her. It felt like we were all just trying to get through this baby shower and get on with our day. This feeling of hurried impatience was ironic since we were honoring this woman bringing life into this world. I wanted to feel good about what we were celebrating but feel good vibes were in short supply and I left feeling sad and empty.
Later that same week, I attended a Blessingway ceremony for one of my best friends. This amazing woman is very intentional about everything she does and she lives her life on purpose, not conforming to the norms of society. She and her sister had researched celebrations and traditions for honoring expectant mothers from indigenous cultures throughout time. She wanted to do something meaningful with the women in her life before bringing her first child into the world. She and her sister put so much love, thought and intention into how to honor not only the beautiful new life that was coming forth but also to create an opportunity for her to feel fortified by her closest girlfriends and female family members. Her research showed how time honored traditions held by our indigenous sisters would lift up expectant mothers with strength and support. Her friends and family would adorn her and make her feel beautiful, honored and capable of the daunting journey of childbirth. This is when I realized why I had felt so blah when I left that monotonous boring baby shower-there was no sacred ceremony or ritual for the occasion!
Tapping into the ancient wisdom of sacred ceremony helped these women connect and build community in a way that the other group of equally amazing women had not known how to do. Utilizing rituals that harness our intention helps open our hearts to each other, connecting us with inclusive power. The power of inclusivity makes us feel empowered and alive.
Each woman that gathered to celebrate my friend was asked to bring a simple flower. One at a time, we added our special flower to a vase as we said all the things we appreciate and love about her, creating a gorgeous bouquet infused with love. One by one, as we wrapped string around our wrists, we introduced ourselves and said our mother’s name and grandmothers’ names as far back as we could remember. It went like this, “I am Angela, daughter of Linda, daughter of Christine, daughter of Mary, and on and on. As we named the women in our lineage, the long string around our wrist physically tied us to the entire group. After I brought the women of my lineage into the circle, the woman beside me cut the string for me so I could tie the bracelet around my wrist to remember this day. Each time I would look at the bracelet for the days to come, I would send my friend strength. We then gave the new mama a foot bath with flower petals, painted her nails, adorned her belly with henna tattoos and braided her hair with flowers. We sang songs to the baby, giving her all our wishes and prayers through the sound of our joined voices. As we sang, “May you be joyful, centered and free” to the child in her belly, I felt so connected to all the women in the room, even though I had never met a lot of them before. In that moment, our hearts were joined and we were a powerful force. The celebration went on for hours. We danced, we sang, we laughed, we ate wonderful food. All of us left better for having been there, stronger and enriched right alongside a happy young mama.
At the time of her delivery, my friend said she felt empowered each time she glanced at her wrist and felt the connection to all the women who took part in that ritual. In an act of solidarity, we would keep our strings tied on our wrists until the baby arrived. This simple act created a connection between us all.
Days after this experience, I felt euphoric, floating on happiness. I realized this is what intentional, sacred ceremony is all about-the power we have as human beings when we come together for a collective purpose and lift each other up. It wasn’t until much later when I fell in love with shamanism and found my heart’s true path of service that I begin to understand the deeper meaning of ceremony.
Ceremony Brings Us Together and Puts Our Intention to Work
Why Ceremony is Powerful and Useful in Modern Life:
- 1- Ceremony gives you time to be undistracted from anything other than yourself or each other.
You can claim sacred space to process important events and issues in your life. Only the people and energy you invite in to your circle are allowed to your ceremony. By doing this, you can create a safe space for deep healing.
- 2- Ceremony is a way to maximize your intention, putting your goals and awareness to work for you.
- 3- Ceremomy is also a powerful way to connect to yourself and/or others thereby cultivating clarity and conscious communication in our relationships. Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves clearly, much less each other. This lack of clarity makes self care and personal growth difficult. Ceremony gives you a tool to get to know yourself better.
- 4- Instant Empowement. No middle man needed for your ceremony. Want to shift your current situation? Want to get clear on a particular issue? There’s nothing stopping you from turning the tides in a positive direction through the power of ceremomy.
The power that human beings possess when they come together for a collective purpose is not always a beneficial one, but we can see the measurable effects of collective anger and fear playing out before our eyes, giving us proof of the creative potential we all possess when we put our feelings and intentions together and let them build in power. How powerful humans have been with creating a world full of chaos and separation. Those who are interested in positive change and want to create a world of unity, cooperation and equality do not need to fight against these forces, they need only to flex their collective intention muscles just as much as the groups who practice fear and anger collectively do on a regular basis.
Intention, authenticity, community and communication are key components to positive change and this is where ceremony comes in to play.
INTENTION and AUTHENTICITY are the two elements that make any ceremony or ritual relevant and useful. For example, we all know that a churchgoer could be sitting in church while thinking about their grocery list as communion is passed. They could chomp down on a communion wafer and drink from the juice cup or wine glass just as mindlessly as if they were gulping down a TV dinner while watching a reality show. Any ritual can be done mindlessly if you aren’t in the present moment and clear on why you are taking a certain action. But for someone who was present and intentional at church communion, they take that piece of bread and wine and make it something meaningful and life changing. They have the ability to stop everything else in their mind and only focus on this one thing that is sacred to them. They use the objects in the ritual as vehicles to take them somewhere they want to go. In the case of the communion wafer and juice or wine, it could be a profound act of cleansing and atonement, a turn around point of dramatic change, a moment for self reflection, healing and redemption, if they CHOOSE to make it sacred.
Ceremony provides a container for your intention. That “intention container” generates even more power when your intention is shared by others who join you, adding the power of community. This is how ceremony becomes a vehicle for positive change.
In traditional sacred ceremony, there is always a trusted officiant, a gate keeper, who brings sturcture, safety and organization to the event. Indigenous cultures would have a Shaman, Elder or Medicine Person to proceed over the rituals and events of a ceremony. The role of the ceremony facilitator is to confidently hold the space so that attendees can focus on their own internal experience, processing the inner work in a comfortable, safe environment. A capable shaman or facilitator is a trusted mentor who is, in essence, saying, “I’ve got you. Just do what you need to do. Everything else is taken care of.” The capable shaman provides the space for deep work and awareness to happen for the participants. Since he or she is leading the group and holding the space, this is not their time for processing and reflection. Their job is to be there for the attendees of the ceremony and it is not easy work.
Who gets to be a shaman?
This is where my work and message differ from many. I have something special to offer you. You have the ability to be a modern shaman, a true medicine man or woman of your own life. Not like the indigenous cultural traditions where you must be born, chosen or accepted into a special lineage of healers, but one who has taken control of his or her own life and embraces the tremendous responsbility of walking this earth with consciousness. This is the invitation I am extending to you. If it makes your heart light up, lean in a little closer and listen to what I have to say. Although it’s very beneficial to have the wisdom and guidance of someone who is experienced at holding ceremony, it’s not necessary. You can be the leader in bringing your family and friends together in a positive way and you need no experience. You only need an open heart and a sincere intention to bring positive change. Some of the sweetest, most powerful ceremonies I have experienced have been straight from the heart, no experience necessary. My friend facilitated another dear friend’s funeral with the most loving authenticity. Even though she had never been in the role of leading a funeral, the ceremony was perfect because she stayed in her heart and creatively made the occasion a true celebration that reflected her friend’s life. I’m currently working on a course for Shamanic practices for an empowered life that will give you many ideas for how you can hold space for others and bring forth community, connection and collective power. You can do this. The world needs you to lead, be strong and bring people together. And I’m right here to support you every step of the way. You can be the Shaman of your own life.
So, How Do You Do it?
Where do you start? The first thing I recommend is that you create an altar that represents your intentions. An altar is like a battery for prayers and manifestations. An altar is not sacred until you make it special. The objects you carefully place and set aside for a purpose generate power for you because every time you look at them, you’re reminded of what you are bringing into your life. It could be any small table that you adorn in a way that makes you feel good. The key is reminding yourself how you want to feel. We need to be reminded often of what we want versus what we do not want. Clean your table well and anoint it with special essential oils, especially if the table is made of wood. Find a place in your home where you will see it often but set it aside so others realize that this is a special place designated for you or for your family to place sacred objects. Try not to put your altar in an area where people will mistake it for a table and lay car keys or drinks on it. The purpose is to set aside some space as special, just for you or for your family members who also wish to participate. Carefully select the objects for your altar. Make sure they represent something meaningful to you.
That’s the thing about any object that is used in ceremony. It’s all about the intention that we give it because the intention is where the power is, every time. Wedding rings are meaningless if they mean nothing to the two people putting them on. For two people who assign the sacredness of a lifetime commitment to those objects, nothing could be important than those two pieces of jewelry.
This is what makes Shamanism so important and effective even in our modern world. Shamanism works under the principle that the world is what you think it is, therefore what you assign power is where your personal power will be. Power objects used in Shamanic ritual hold no power if they are not used with intention and given meaning. Basically, it doesn’t matter whether you use a candle, a crystal, a picture, a feather, etc. The key is that it means something important to you. Creating one’s own power tools is a great way to infuse an object with your own energy. This is why we make prayer sticks, life arrows, death arrows and medicine bundles in sacred ceremony. They are made by you and they are sacred to you and only you. They are a physical container for your intention, just like a ceremony. As humans, we need something physical to hold onto to manifest our prayers and desires. This is the purpose of power tools and sacred objects for ritual.
The medicine wheel in Native American traditions is simply a metaphor for each aspect of our self: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Each direction represents a part of us that needs to be recognized and worked with, in order to be healthy and whole. You can research indigenous styles of ceremony from all over the world and find a ceremony style that suits you best OR you can make up your own, just like our ancestors did. Those who came before us created ceremony around events, situations and seasons that were important in their lives and you can do the same. I encourage you to research various styles of ceremonies from different cultures and see what resonates with you. Ask yourself what types of rituals would enforce the things that are important to you? What acts of power will strengthen you to create the kind of changes in your life you desire?
An Easy Ceremony To Get You Started
Light a candle to remind you of your intentions. As you light this candle, get clear on all the things inside yourself and in the world you with to transform. Place each of those undesired thoughts, feelings and situations into the flame of the candle as you offer these things you wish to transform to Heavenly Father. Ask your heavenly father to transform and protect you and your world from these things that no longer serve you.
When you feel that you are clear, write down your highest vision for the earth, for yourself, for your entire world. Be clear and specific. Honor your Earth Mother by placing an offering of flowers to her on your altar. Create a life arrow by wrapping your piece of paper with all of your intentions around a stick and plant this stick in the ground. Literally plant your vision into Mother Earth. Spend time outside in nature thinking about how you can take better care of yourself, your body, your planet. Use the power of nature to help you clear negative thoughts. Think and speak what you want to create and see in your world. Pray and meditate outside if possible.
One of my favorite ceremonies is the Native American giveaway ceremony. This beautiful gift- giving celebration could be done any time you want to bring change to your life or create a shift. Many times it is practiced during one of the two Solstice times of the year (Summer or Winter) because of the great power of these seasonal shifts. Other beneficial times for a Give-away ceremony could be the New Moon or Full Moon time of every month. You can gather a few friends or family together and have a Giveaway ceremony anytime you like.
Here’s how to observe this very simple ceremony:
Pick an object that represents something that you want to grow or attract more of into your life. This might be an object that represents health, love, financial abundance, career success, fertility, you name it. Give this object to the earth by burying it in the ground or in a bowl of dirt you have in your house, if you’re doing the ceremony inside. By participating in this act of power, you are literally planting your dreams. The object you plant might be a business card for growing career success, a wedding photo for growing the strength of your marriage or a dollar bill for growing financial abundance. Whatever holds power for you in the act is the right object to “plant”. It’s always recommended to take something from nature that represents what you want to create like a leaf or a flower and assign your intention to this object as you plant it. This is what I recommend doing because in this way, we leave no trace and tread lightly on this earth with respect.
Pick another object that symbolizes what you would like to release or purify in your life. Make sure this object can be burned in fire or cleansed in water and release it to one of these elements. This works great indoors if you have a fireplace or outiside with a fire pit. If you don’t have a safe way to burn your object, you can always use a bowl of water for the offering.
There’s no wrong way to do ceremony. I’m only giving you a few ideas to get you started. The more creative you are, the more meaningful the rituals will be for you.
Any Act Can Be Sacred
I watch my mother while she attends her religious conventions and I appreciate her devoted attention, reverence and presence at those times. I also see her fellow church members doing a lot of daydreaming, talking, getting up and down a million times and just waiting for it to be over. The choice is always there for us to savor the sacredness of each moment or let life pass us by, staying in the mundane.
Building Community Through Ceremony
Community is vital to the health and happiness of human beings. With the technological advancements of our modern world where we can survive while isolated from others, we have to make a conscious choice and expend effort to have community. Ceremony gives each of us an opportunity to be seen and heard while we truly see and hear others in an authentic way. Setting up a sacred circle provides a judgement free zone where you can truly be free to express, create, heal and worship in the way you feel is right for you, without criticism. Sacred ceremony allows the participants to “make a joyful noise” to their Creator, to drum, sing, dance, chant or write their prayers. This gives a sense of freedom and connection at the same time. Coming together in such a vulnerable, exposed way may be scary for some who hide behind machines to communicate, but taking off the masks and personas that we utilize in our day to day life and coming to a ritual in a real and true way to connect with others and nature has immeasurable healing potential for our lives.
Ceremony Provides Clarity and Communication
In order to bring your true authentic self to a ceremonial circle, you must know what it means to be real and self aware. Sacred ceremony helps you attain clarity on who you are so that you can be your true self. No one can be clear on what they wish to create in this world if they have not found out who they are, what they’re afraid of, what their life means and why they’re here. Through this profound work, many remember their sacred dreams they once had as a child that have been locked deep inside them due to the abuse we’ve all experienced in different ways. Sacred ceremony gives us way to communicate in a clear, honest and respectful way. In a ceremonial circle, everyone is equal and each individual has a contribution and voice.
The clarity that comes from ceremony allows us to communicate with:
A) first and foremost, ourselves. We cannot be effective in life until we know ourselves. This is scary for many of us, the scariest part of self realization work, meditation, shamanism, etc. is spending time with ourselves.
B) God/Source/Creator. Connecting to a higher power and understanding that we are not alone in the universe and that we are interconnected to the web of life. When we quiet our minds and pay attention during sacred ceremony, time is different and we can feel our place in the universe, a sense of belonging.
C) other human beings. We need each other far more than we realize. The problem with how isolated our lives have become is that we’re lonely in a crowd. Ceremony can solve this problem because it’s heart opening and true honesty that brings a ritual alive and makes it effective and relevant.
D) Lastly, ceremony connects us with elements of nature. Nature is what we are made of and we can find our way back to ourselves through this powerful connection.
Conscious Ceremony Is Inclusive
This work is all about freedom, not rules and restrictions. Sacred ceremony encourages freedom of thought and belief, honoring what is important to you personally, not based on religious beliefs or ideas that have come previously from someone else. Sacred ritual or ceremony at it’s best allows you to look closely at what you believe and why, seeing clearly where you have put fences and limitations around your mind. Ceremony welcomes you to create love and beauty where those two things are absent and enhance love and beauty where you can find them. It’s all about finding the meaning and growth in the difficult and scary parts of being human, transforming ugliness into beauty and fear into effective power.
Our work will have a much higher focus of healing and empowerment than our current events-we are taking our hearts and minds to the next level to be more effective for ourselves, our families, our communities and our planet. Please join me in ritual any way you like-as long as it’s all about getting clear of what you want to release, creating what you want and connecting to each other with respect, authenticity and love.
What’s the difference between ceremony and ritual?
You can absolutely make a ceremony for yourself, but a ritual is probably the more appropriate term for not celebrating a shared collective purpose with like minded individuals. But don’t hold back from creating something sacred if no one else around you is interested. You are more powerful than you might think! Rituals for one are powerful, too.
I hope this information sparks you to create positive change in your life with ceremony. Be creative and have fun with this information. Do something different and meaningful with your friends and family. I am excited to hear how it goes for you so please leave a comment and let me know!