The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life - Sandra Ingerman MA 2018
What Ceremony Is
The Power of Ceremony
Ceremony brings the sacred into ordinary life. For tens of thousands of years, ceremonies have been universally used to help communities navigate change and welcome in new cycles. Performing ceremonies creates a bridge between the material world we live in and the world of the unseen, the divine, the power of the universe. In modern terms, ceremony opens a phone line between you and the power of the universe, God, the goddess, the Creator. Through this line of connection, you can have direct communication between yourself and spiritual forces, creating a partnership to manifest your desired outcome.
In shamanic cultures, a variety of creation stories teach how life and the Earth was formed. Stories range from a variety of gods and goddesses, as well as the creative forces of the universe, manifesting life-forms and the planet Earth out of unconditional love. Some creation myths share how Grandmother Spider weaved the world into being, and some speak to the metaphor of the Creator sculpting life and the Earth into form as one would mold clay. There are a wealth of stories about how the vibration of the energy of words created the world of form. Creation stories were reenacted and honored through ceremony.
Many ancient cultures share the insight that this world is a dream and an illusion. We are given a role to play in life, and part of that role is to learn how to mold spirit into form just like the Creator or creative forces of the universe did billions of years ago.
In the shamanic understanding, the world of form we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste starts as vibrations in the invisible and transcendent realms. Through words and thought forms, these vibrations transition from the transcendent realm and manifest on the Earth and in the world of physical form. For shamans, the world is seen as a dream, and we are active participants in creating the dream through our words and thoughts. This dream ends up creating the reality we live in for ourselves and for all life on Earth.
Think of the vibration of our thoughts and words spinning together just like a spinner spins fiber, and then the fibers weave together to create the fabric of reality we now live in. The vibrations of our thoughts and words create strong, resonant waves throughout the universe that change the course of our lives and that of the planet. Your view of yourself, others, and the world is made of thoughts that weave together to create the fabric of your life. Everything in the universe is seen as energy that can manifest into form over time through our intention. And using ceremony is a powerful tool to create and transform the world of form.
In shamanic cultures, the shaman and the community members actively engage in the role of creating a good life for all in the community. Much of the work they do to ensure harmonious connections with life, nature, and others is through the power of ceremony.
Working together with the compassionate spirits and the divine, the shaman and the community state their intention, which spins threads through the invisible collective energy fields to call in blessings and healing for the community. By opening to the power of love, stating a strong intention, and staying focused and fully engaged during the ceremony, they generate a powerful collective field of energy where the threads of creation can manifest into form.
THE PRACTICE OF SHAMANISM AND CEREMONIAL WORK
The practice of shamanism is a universal practice that is tens of thousands of years old. The compassionate helping spirits gave our ancestors the practice of shamanism to help them survive. The helping spirits gifted the human race with this practice for divining information, healing emotional and physical illness, and connecting with our environment. This work has always been honored, and experienced shamanic teachers around the planet are helping to carry this precious gift into the world, so all people can receive the blessing of the work.
In the ethnographic literature, a shaman is defined as a man or woman who journeys into the invisible realms, also called nonordinary reality, the unseen realms, the Dreamtime, and the Other World as well as other terms to describe another dimension of reality. In the unseen transcendent realms, there is a wealth of helping and compassionate spirits who volunteer themselves to shamans and the rest of humanity to share guidance about practical details, such as how to live a healthy and empowered life and when and how to perform healing, blessing, and initiation ceremonies. We all have access to these helping and compassionate spirits to guide us.
Shamans have been and are still seen as “ones who know.” They bridge the physical realm and realms of spirit to bring balance to the community and heal the sick. Shamans are healers, mystics, prophets, and seers. They have always traveled into the invisible realms to bring back the gift of healing.
We live in a time when many people are waking up to the shamanic understanding that everything that exists is alive. There is more to the reality we live in then just how our senses engage with the tangible world—what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in this ordinary realm. Once we wake up and recognize that other spectacular dimensions of reality exist, we experience a new sense of awareness about how to connect with nature, the flow of life, and the web of life. We come to realize that we have the power to connect to life in a whole new way that creates positive changes in our own life and for all of life. We then take on the gift of the shaman as one who can see into dimensions beyond the ordinary world we live in.
Shamans help the community stay connected to the web of life by speaking to “the spirit that lives in all things.” Shamans have always spoken to the wind, the rain, the sun, the earth, the mountains, the sea, the clouds, the planets, the stars, the moon, and all the energies that affect us daily. By doing this, shamans watch for the signs of change. They can know when to perform ceremonies to honor rites of passage and initiation, when to plant crops, when to hunt, and when to honor the elements so that the community can live in harmony with the change of seasons, the lunar cycles, and nature’s flow.
Shamans might receive a sign that it is time to perform a ceremony by watching how the constellations appear in the night sky, tracking the phase of the moon, observing the movement of the clouds, or by opening their invisible ears to listen to messages brought by the wind.
Shamans may sit gazing around the fire at night for hours to receive visions. A shaman can notice a change coming by observing shifting behavior of the wind, animals, and birds. Or a shaman might speak to a tree or plant to receive a message that appears as a symbol, a sensed feeling, or a telepathic message informing the shaman when and how to perform a ceremony.
Shamans and people living in traditional cultures are taught from birth how to open their invisible senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste so that communicating with all of nature is as natural an act as turning to a friend and having a conversation. When people in shamanic cultures walk through nature, they walk listening and seeing with their entire body. They do not depend on their ordinary eyes and ears. Their entire body provides guidance. We all have the ability to speak to the spirit of all the nature beings as well as to the elements (earth, air, water, and fire) that give us life. We just need to wake up and acknowledge our invisible senses and connections. When we deaden our senses, we miss so much ever-present beauty and guidance that nature provides.
The shaman or someone else in the community might have a prophetic dream about a challenge coming that could be avoided by performing the appropriate ceremony. Good omens can appear in dreams to signal when it’s time to welcome a new stage of life or take action to bring the goodness of life to a community. Community members in many traditional cultures often meet first thing in the morning to share their dreams so that the information they’ve gathered on challenges and good times can be worked with through ceremony.
The shaman, with other members of the community, might ingest a psychoactive plant that grows on their land and receive visions about blessing or healing ceremonies needed to serve the community.
Each cycle and season of life we go through can be honored to help create a smooth transition from one phase to another. Blessing ceremonies allow us to greet the sun each day; to greet and give thanks to the elements earth, air, water, and fire; to welcome in all changes and transitions we go through in life; and to grieve the variety of losses we experience as humans. We can welcome children into the world through blessing ceremonies. And when we need help to reestablish harmony, we can perform a healing ceremony to remove negative energy, to restate an intention, and finally to ask for blessings for the dreams and desires of the community.
Healing ceremonies are performed to retrieve lost power and a lost soul, extract an illness, or remove a possessing spirit. Shamans perform ceremonies to heal ancestral issues. A good, harmonious relationship with our ancestors is important in maintaining physical and emotional health. Ceremonies can help us break old karmic patterns that we might be reenacting from another lifetime.
Ceremonies are also used to honor and give thanks to the helping and compassionate spirits who provide a wealth of assistance and healing. When we perform a ceremony, we create a strong link with the helping spirits and the power of the universe that work in partnership with us to assist in manifesting desired outcomes. Once you develop a strong relationship with the helping spirits, the Creator, and your own divine Self, you can be the sculptor of your life.
By performing ceremonies, change happens. As we call in our desires and release our blocks, we are free to step into a new dimension of life where we can feel the unlimited potential of what we can create during our lifetime.
We cannot through science, technology, or even with our rational mind disconnect from the cycles and initiations of life. For we are living beings who are ruled by nature, not by our mind. As we have lost sight of the spiritual power of ceremony, we have created a life and a world where we live as if we are separate from nature. We hold the false belief that we can control the changes in our life. Many of us resist change. In turning away from our connection to a larger force and a bigger picture, we disconnect from the flow of life.
By bringing ceremony into our life, we reconnect with the sacred as we move from a state of disconnection to a state of reconnection to life and nature. We begin to intentionally work with the threads we spin in the invisible realms that weave into forms that impact all in the web of life.
Ceremony creates change and is transformative in itself, while supporting a sense of greater ease as we experience the transitions of life. Through ceremony, we reestablish a healthy and powerful relationship to nature. One of the guiding teachings in shamanism is the principle of reciprocity. If you honor and respect life and reestablish your connection with nature, the helping spirits and nature will honor you in return.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CEREMONY AND RITUAL
A common question that emerges for people is “What is the difference between ritual and ceremony?” I will give you my definition, and over time, you might find your own way of perceiving the difference.
When I get up every day and immediately stand and give thanks to the sun for bringing the energy to thrive, I consider this a ritual. If I organize my ritual where I start to sing and drum and do the preparation as described later in this book, that would be a ceremony. Ritual work is work that will be repeated daily, once a week, or once a month.
A ceremony is performed to ask for a specific outcome, and although it might need to be repeated, it tends to be performed at a specific time for a specific intention. Many people perform the same ritual on a regular basis, whereas a ceremony changes over time.
For example, research shows that walking through a forest and doing what is called “forest bathing” brings about wellness due to the healing organic compounds the forest emits. If I perform forest bathing daily, that is a ritual. If I design a shamanic event to honor the trees that bring healing to me, that is a ceremony.
There is a huge resurgence occurring in the practice of shamanism in the Western world as people search for ways to improve the quality of their lives and to be in service to the Earth. If you’re just beginning to step into the magical world of performing ceremonies, you may feel fearful about performing a ceremony incorrectly and bringing harm into your life. We did not grow up in a family system or society where the power of working in the invisible realms was recognized. Working with ceremony is often left to religious services, where there can be a lot of dogma involved that obscures the joyful dance we can do with the universe to help heal ourselves and the planet.
Don’t worry about what is “correct” or “incorrect” with designing your sacred work. Once you perform ceremonies and see the joy and freedom from linking with the creative forces of the universe, you’ll learn to relax into the dance between humans and compassionate spirits that creates true transformation. With each ceremony, you’ll move a little deeper into the Great Mystery, and you’ll open your heart and imagination to design ceremonies that will support your path.
The Book of Ceremony is written for a variety of readers—for those trained in shamanic work as well as for a nonshamanic audience. If you do not engage in the practice of shamanic journeying, simply interpret references to “helping and compassionate spirits” to mean any divine force you believe in.
After reading The Book of Ceremony, if you find you would like to learn the practice of shamanic journeying and connecting with helping and compassionate spirits, I provide a list of books, audio programs, and online courses that will teach you the practice in the resources section at the end of this book.
Children are true masters at creating ceremony. The veils between the visible and invisible have yet to close for children as they have in adults. If you ask your child or the children in your community to create a ceremony, you will be amazed by how their ceremonies are filled with love and joy. They will help you decorate the ceremonial space, advise everyone on what to wear, and assist in creating a perfectly orchestrated ceremony. Even if you do not ask a child to help you design a ceremony, invite any child who would like to attend. The impact on them will be great. They will be inspired and feel more hopeful about their own life and the future.
THE EXPONENTIAL POWER OF WORKING IN A GROUP
Many of us, including myself, like to engage in private ceremonial work. These ceremonies let us sit in nature, meditate, and reflect. They let us walk, drum, rattle, dance, chant our prayers and sing our songs of gratitude, and receive guidance while communing with the elements and helping spirits.
However, the power generated is exponentially greater when we perform ceremonies in a group. For more than thirty-five years, I have been teaching practitioners how to perform healing ceremonies. I have witnessed time and again how much more powerful a ceremony is when a group participates instead of a lone practitioner performing the ceremony for a client. I’ve also seen this amplification when performing ceremonies on behalf of the planet.
There is a rise in destruction occurring from climate change, violence, and challenging planetary issues impacting all of life. When we gather as a community to perform ceremonies, positive change does happen. We begin building a world of invisible substance. In all healing—whether it is personal healing or global healing—something first happens on an invisible level before you actually see the results of it in the physical world. When everyone in a group or community works together at the invisible level first, the result can lead to powerful transformational change to create a healthier world.
WORKING IN COLLECTIVE FIELDS OF ENERGY
When people work together in a physical or virtual ceremony, the group generates a field of energy. It is especially important that everyone do their preparation work, as I will describe in chapter 3, to spiritually cleanse and leave their ordinary day and concerns behind. You want the field you are stepping into to be clear, pristine, and filled with love and light. When people perform ceremonies and truly open their hearts and minds to the unseen worlds, they become psychically sensitive and vulnerable to negative energies from others in the group.
I was with a group in Denali National Park in Alaska once, far out in the wilderness. There were no phone lines, TVs, electrical lines. There was just pure, clean air to breathe and no distracting energies to prevent anyone’s energy field from expanding as fully as possible, allowing us to dive deeply into our spiritual work. There were no negative energies to clear, as the land was untouched. This is just an example of the energy and sacred space we want to create in our ceremonial work. Many of us live in cities with distractions that don’t exist in the wilderness. But we want to create that same kind of clear, holy, sacred space so that everyone who enters leaves the ceremonial work feeling regenerated.
It is the role of the leader of the group as well as the participants to make sure the field is clear so that true, pristine sacred space is created. It is also the role of the leader to hold space and be an energetic anchor for the group by staying centered. Some people are gifted at holding space and keeping the energy of the ceremony centered, grounded, and filled with peace, love, and grace.
WORKING FROM YOUR SPIRITUAL HEART
While I was writing The Book of Ceremony, there were a lot of catastrophic events occurring on the planet. Hopefully, those in future generations will benefit from the deep ceremonial work people around the world have been performing to help heal the destructive energies on the planet. But due to watching so many beings suffer, many people have moved into a place of hopelessness.
One of my spiritual teachers in the unseen realms is the Egyptian goddess Isis. She shared a powerful message to help people experience a deeper place from which to perform ceremonial work. Her message really spoke to me and helped me deepen my own work. I hope it is inspiring to you too.
Here is what Isis shared:
Here on Earth, you were born to experience love, light, and joy. But the lesson is to first experience suffering, and then to reach beyond suffering to the place inside of you (not outside of you) of love and spiritual bliss.
So many are experiencing and seeing suffering. On an evolutionary level, this is expanding your sense of compassion. It takes you deep into your humanness. But if you are still trapped in the energy, vibration, frequency of suffering, you will carry that energy in your body and project it to the world. By carrying the energy of suffering, many people are becoming ill.
You are now literally and metaphorically being cracked open to the deepest place of your humanness within, where all the knowledge and wisdom is waiting for you to learn.
In your world, you are encouraged to open your heart to the spirit of love. This teaching is not meant to focus on your physical heart, which is simply part of your ego.
Behind your physical heart is a spiritual heart. Your spiritual heart is always close and available when you tune in to it. It is talked about by many gurus, mystics, and spiritual teachers.
And this spiritual heart—one with Source and the joy, bliss, and unconditional love for all of life and creation—knows no suffering. It knows bliss, it knows unconditional love, but it has no experience of suffering on this Earth.
Perform your ceremonial work by radiating light from your spiritual heart. Be a presence of love as your heart emanates pure, nonpersonal, unconditional love.
All ceremonies have a beginning, middle, and end. In the next chapter you will learn about the beginning pieces you can use to start your work so that your ceremony becomes a sacred event.