The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life - Sandra Ingerman MA 2018
Preparing for Your Ceremony
The Power of Ceremony
To begin your ceremonial work, it is important to make sure you step into the unseen realms not burdened by mind chatter. Shamans drum or rattle, dance, and sing for hours to step away from their ordinary life. In our modern world, we don’t usually take the time to dance and sing for hours. If you play a shamanic instrument, sing, and dance, you will feel your energy move from your rational mind into your heartspace. It is through the heartspace that we fully partner with helping spirits to make our desired intentions manifest.
This preparation is how shamanic practitioners “power up” for ceremonial work. The word “power” brings up many issues in our culture. We interpret power as being used to dominate and manipulate. In shamanism, powering up is not about control—it is about letting go of control and allowing spiritual energies to work through us. You should feel vital, alive, and filled with spiritual energy during this phase of the work.
I have spoken to many shamanic teachers who have had indigenous people attend their workshops. And they always ask the same question: “Where is the power in your group?” They come to participate in the ceremony and marvel at the stress, trauma, and exhaustion they see in participants’ eyes and body language. Many participants look into space, hardly holding their drum or rattle, and simply go through the motions of preparation.
Some people take the opportunity to read their emails during the preparation. Electronic devices should not be allowed in your ceremonies because people will use them. Some people even film ceremonies without permission and post them on YouTube. The solution to this issue is no devices at ceremonies, except ceremonies that people want documented, such as a wedding.
Be a leader and get people moving. Ask them to drum and rattle in a way that brings vitality to the circle, letting their psyche and the spirits know they are ready for the work.
Getting people to sing from the deepest place of their soul gets tricky. Many of us carry a lot of anxiety about singing in public. Yet everything in nature sings. Every living being that is alive sings. If you open your invisible ears, you can hear trees singing.
As a leader, encourage people to sing from their soul—from their inner being and true essence. They might not do it, but if they do, they will be rewarded with feeling power, energy, and joy flowing through their bodies. One of my personal beliefs is that singing and dancing from the soul could be the cure of all depression and anxiety.
I could never hold a tune. But I’ve taught shamanic songs in every workshop, starting in 1982. At first, we thought the windows would crack when I taught songs. But it was amazing how, over the years, engaging in the joy of singing allowed my voice to open up. Now when I sing invocations, participants remark that it sounds like my voice is coming from some amazing, unearthly realm. It’s all about practice.
The same issue applies to some people in our culture about dancing during the preparation phase of a ceremony, but once you get people up and dancing, they typically don’t want to stop. It might sound counterintuitive, but leading ceremonies in your community with a smaller group of people makes it easier to get people up drumming, rattling, dancing, and singing. If the intention is strong enough, they can feel the power they must generate. In a large group, a small percentage of people feel that they can hide out, space out, and only engage on a superficial level. But the collective energy is affected when not everyone is fully engaged and participating.
Once people start singing and dancing, they might feel the spiritual energy of a helping and compassionate spirit guiding and empowering their songs and movements.
To prepare for your work, find an activity that moves you away from your job and other daily activities, so you can fully immerse yourself in the invisible realms. Even a symbolic act can be helpful, like washing your face or hands as you imagine releasing negative thoughts.
When performing ceremonies with a group of friends, family members, or members from your community, you can provide simple rattles by putting stones, seeds, or corn in containers that each person can shake. Rattles have been used in shamanic cultures to greet and welcome helping spirits and to help the shaman move into a nonordinary state of consciousness. When your group gathers, you can shake your rattles and either sing uplifting songs or just let the power of spirit move through you as each person chants whatever sounds emerge from their heart and soul.
For a community that does not embrace the practice of shamanism, have the group sing an uplifting song. This assists people to unburden themselves from their ordinary thoughts and creates an open heart. The power of working with ceremony will be exponential if everyone opens their heart to each other and to the power of spirit. We create an opening in the unseen worlds where our intention is heard, and the power of the universe helps us manifest our desired outcome. Ceremony can help people create a bond that feels like family in the most positive sense of the term.
If you are working alone, take a walk in a park or meditate or perform yoga, tai chi, or qigong to put your daily thoughts aside. Then the doors open into the unseen realms, where manifesting all things is possible.
STEPPING AWAY FROM YOUR ORDINARY LIFE
Shamans in indigenous cultures are known to wear full regalia. This might include wearing a costume or mask of the shaman’s helping spirit. Wearing full regalia symbolizes stepping away from ego and personality into connection with the divine.
You do not have to impress or wow the helping spirits or the power of the universe by wearing special clothes when you perform a ceremony. The power of the universe and the helping spirits are not looking at what you are wearing. Wearing special clothes is to help you move into sacred space when you perform ceremonial work. It is a way to plant a seed in your psyche that sacred, holy, and transformational work is taking place.
Ceremony is a magical moment when you can step away from your ordinary life. Make it special. Wear your favorite clothes, a scarf that has important meaning to you, a belt that reminds you that it is time to step into a sacred event, or a piece of jewelry you like to wear for special occasions. Notice what happens when you take time to prepare yourself through washing and dressing for the ceremony. Your mindset will naturally change as you will feel that something special and sacred is about to happen. Ceremonies are a celebration as we honor our life and those of others present. Think about what you wear to a sacred celebration.
Although alcohol has been used in religious traditions as a sacrament, avoid drinking alcohol before performing a ceremony as it does take away from the ability to stay focused and connected to benevolent spiritual forces during the work. For the same reasons, do not use recreational drugs. While traditional shamans do use plant spirit medicine in performing ceremonies, the use of psychoactive plants is beyond the scope of The Book of Ceremony.
Exercise for Letting Go of Your Day
Over time, you will find ways that help you unburden yourself from the thoughts that block you from participating fully in your ceremony. Here is a sample exercise you can try, which gives you an idea of a way of working.
Start by washing your hands and face or brushing your hair. As you do so, focus on what hectic thoughts and beliefs prevent you from being fully present at your ceremony. With the water or using a brush or comb, imagine your interfering state of consciousness is being washed or brushed away. You want your subconscious to be attuned to the power of the work about to take place.
Find an item of clothing that you put on for special events. Look in your mirror and gaze into your eyes. At first when you stare, you see your face just in the surface of your awareness. As you continue to look into your eyes, you will notice your spiritual light shining through. We all have an inner light that shines eternally.
State a decree of your choosing, such as, “I leave my day behind me, and I let go of all thoughts that anchor me into the ordinary realms. I shine my light as I step into sacred space with divine forces that will help me to manifest my intention. I am ready to fully engage in my ceremony now.”
CLEANSING OURSELVES SPIRITUALLY BEFORE WE BEGIN
Make sure the land you are working on and all present at a ceremony are spiritually cleansed. You do not want to bring negativity or burdens from your daily life into a transformative ceremony. You do not know who has been on the land before and what they did there, so you want to create a clear and sacred space to begin your work.
Cleansing can be done in many ways. Sacred herbs known for cleansing have been used by traditional cultures, such as sage, cedar, juniper, and sweetgrass in North America; palo santo and copal in South America; and eucalyptus in Australia. What herbs are local to your area that you can burn for cleansing?
You can buy smudge sticks, which are leaves of sage, cedar, or juniper tied in bundles. Sometimes smudge sticks are made by tying a combination of herbs together, such as sage, cedar, juniper, and even lavender. You can also make your own smudge sticks with herbs you have gathered.
Make sure the smudge stick is completely out when ending your ceremony. If you are working with a fire, place what is left of the herbs into the fire. I am known to bring smudge sticks back to my room. Even though they look like they are out, some smudge sticks are still burning inside, and you do not want to leave them anywhere they could start a fire.
Many people burn their cleansing herbs in seashells to honor all the elements—the shell represents water, the herbs are for earth, the smoke represents air, and fire is used to light the herbs.
When working alone, allow the smoke of the herbs to wash over your body and mind. If you are working with a group, one or more of your group members can use a feather to focus the smoke on each participant’s body, brushing away any spiritual debris, so all can be fully present at the ceremony.
If people are allergic to burning herbs, then I instruct them to let the volunteers performing the cleansing know and to move quickly through the smoke into the ceremonial space.
Do any cleansing with burning herbs outdoors, so the smoke does not fill the room if people are allergic to fragrances.
There are times when it does not feel correct to burn sacred herbs. It might be too hot and stuffy, or you might be working with people who have a religious objection to being smudged. In these situations, I have people cleanse each other by rattling over them or using the sound of Tibetan bowls, chimes, or bells with the same intention of cleansing each individual present before the ceremony begins. You can use a feather to brush over participants as they release their burdens.
If you are working with a group whose religious beliefs are strong and not shamanically oriented, I have found that singing and welcoming people in with soft bells is a great way to work. Then I make a statement such as this: “We gather together in love and support for each other. I invite each of you to place your hands on your heart and breathe deeply while you step away from your ordinary life, the activities of your day, and the events or thoughts that might keep you anchored to any mind chatter, so you can be fully present to perform this healing or blessing ceremony.”
As I encouraged you earlier, you can sing uplifting songs to bring everyone together and create a beautiful, heart-opened sacred space.
Most importantly, you want to make sure that you and others present are stepping into a clean and pristine collective. In this way, the helping spirits can engage with you in a more powerful way, and people present at the ceremony are not being impacted by energetic wounds being carried into the ceremonial space. Keep it pristine!
GREETING AND WELCOMING YOUR HELPING ALLIES
The invocation marks the beginning of the ceremony.
In shamanic practice, we use an invocation to welcome and greet the helping allies who are providing invisible help from the unseen worlds during a ceremony. They stand strong with us, sharing their love, light, and protection to make sure our ceremony proceeds in a graceful way. They support the healing, blessing, and celebratory parts of a ceremony.
There is no single correct way to greet these important helping beings who want to assist you in obtaining your desired outcome. However, it’s important to make sure that you use the intention to call in “helping and compassionate spirits” or “divine forces,” not just “any” spirits.
There are times when a person dies that they do not transcend back to Source. There are a variety of reasons for this that are beyond the scope of this book. There is a wonderful chapter in my book Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation (cowritten with Hank Wesselman) on how shamans work with the dying and death. Some deceased spirits are seen as stuck, and shamans perform healing ceremonies to help them transcend back to Source. These wandering “stuck” spirits are not divine compassionate spirits who can help us with our ceremonial work.
There are many beings from the invisible realms you can honor and invite to support your ceremony. Who you call in depends on your beliefs.
You can add to any invocation greeting the sacred spirits of the mountain, forest, meadow, desert, ocean, river, lake, waterfall, wind, and so on in the location where you are performing your ceremony.
If you are not a shamanic practitioner, call in the presence and support of God, the goddess, guardian angels, or any religious or mystical beings you believe in. Know that they will stand with you as you step forth into performing the ceremony that will transform your life. You can invoke these beings by stating who you are greeting or calling, either out loud or silently.
I use whistling, rattling, and drumming in the greeting process. The beings from the invisible worlds I call in are the spirit of the land I am performing the ceremony on, the helping ancestors of the land, and the power of earth, air, water, and fire. I continue by welcoming and honoring all the nature beings that live on the earth, swim in the water, or fly in the air. I welcome and greet the Hidden Folk, those beings we call the “little people.” These races of beings live here in the Middle World with us and caretake the Earth along with us. They are impressed when we show care for ourselves, all of life, and the planet.
I call in the helping spirits—the power animals, guardian spirits, the unseen spiritual teachers, and other allies that I and the group work with in our spiritual practice. I always honor my own ancestors who gave me life and ask participants to honor their ancestors too.
OUR ANCESTORS ARE HELPING SPIRITS
It is important when performing ceremonies to call and greet your personal ancestors from both your mother’s and father’s line. Your ancestors love you and want to see you succeed in life. They want to see you healthy and living a meaningful life.
In my book Walking in Light, I share how to journey to your ancestors to learn about the gifts, strengths, and talents they have passed on to you. This is especially important for people who do not know who their ancestors are. So many of our close ancestors immigrated from other countries and integrated into their new culture and left the stories of their lineage behind. Some people were adopted and do not have access to who their ancestors were.
If you have a way to look at old photos of your ancestors or learn more about their personal stories and how they lived, this will help you connect with them. You can place such photos on your altar or even create a separate altar that honors all your ancestors.
In the practice of shamanism, death is perceived as a transition, not an ending. Many cultures believe that when we die, we can evolve to become a helping spirit to support loved ones or other humans.
For many, working with their ancestors can be challenging. We may know about ancestors whose behavior was abusive, or they might have been part of destructive events that do not reflect favorably on them.
But once our ancestors crossed through the veils between the worlds, they became formless beings. They no longer have a personality or ego, for they are now compassionate spirits. Great healing can come from choosing to meet them in a journey or spiritual meditation. This is something for you to decide. We all have the final choice of what ancestors—if any—we wish to meet and honor.
When shamans perform their healing ceremonies on a client or for a community, one of the issues they are looking for is whether there are disharmonious personal connections to close ancestors or throughout the entire ancestral line. If so, they consult with their helping spirits on a ceremony to restore peace.
Shamans today often diagnose our disconnection from our ancestors as a major cause of emotional and physical illness. Many people heal their ancestral disconnection by performing a ceremony to ask for harmony and healing with personal ancestors and throughout a family line. Our ancestors help us navigate through the challenges of life and celebrate our successes.
GREETING OUR SPIRITUAL ANCESTORS
In addition to our familial ancestral line, many of us feel connected to a particular spiritual ancestral lineage. I have known many people who feel strongly drawn to the shamanic traditions of Africa, Australia, Ireland, Egypt, Korea, Central America, Peru, Siberia, and many other places, even though they don’t know of any genetic ancestors from those places. They truly feel in their heart, soul, and cells that they are connected to these ancient civilizations.
It is so powerful when we can identify a tradition that feels like “home.” This spiritual lineage is as much a part of our ancestry as our biological roots.
If you practice shamanic journeying, you might wish to journey to discover your spiritual roots. These ancient ancestral traditions hold answers, mysteries, tools, and ways for us to work that will help us move to a place of balance and harmony. They can also teach us by sharing their mistakes or the reasons they might have died out, so we can learn not to repeat their errors. If the spirits of another tradition accept and greet you with love and treat you like a family member, they will share fascinating ways of performing ceremonies for healing, for having your wishes and intentions blessed, and for restoring balance in your inner and outer worlds.
Before performing your ceremony, make sure you take the time to prepare through rattling, drumming, singing, dancing, and leaving offerings to welcome your spiritual ancestors. Over time, you will find that they teach you some of the ceremonies they performed, and then as you continue your journeying, you will discover ways to integrate some of the important elements of their work into your own work. Regardless of what they share, having them stand behind you while you perform your shamanic ceremonies is an experience not to be missed!
If you are not drawn to the practice of shamanic journeying, you can do this same discovery work through spending time in nature or meditating on this intention.
Exercise to Greet Your Helping Spirits
Close your eyes and place your hands on your heart. Feel your heart beating and how grateful you are for your life. Or you might feel a wound, a pain, or an issue that brings grief to your heart when you think about the intention of the healing ceremony you are preparing to perform.
As you breathe and focus on the intention of the ceremony, who would you like to call in from the unseen worlds? What helping spirits, ancestors, religious angelic forces, or mystical figures bring comfort to your soul when you think of asking invisible allies to support the work ahead?
Take your time and simply reflect on this question. You might sit and drum or rattle during your time of reflection. Or take a walk in nature. Listen to spiritual music and reflect on the invisible beings you wish to invite to your ceremony as ones who will support you.
When you begin your ceremony, greet these beings out loud. Again, you can drum, rattle, or use another instrument such as a flute, a guitar, Tibetan bowls, bells, chimes, or any instrument that brings you into sacred space. Remember the invocation is all about creating sacred and holy space.
In some shamanic cultures, petition is used to call in the helping spirits. An example of a petition is “Please help me manifest the intention of my healing ceremony.”
Some shamans and community members use the power of decree. Instead of asking for help, state an invocation that strongly acknowledges that the help of the spirits is already here. Here’s an example of a decree: “Thank you for joining this ceremony and adding your power and strength to manifest my intention in a graceful way.”
GREETING THE CARDINAL DIRECTIONS
Greeting the cardinal directions is a common practice in shamanic cultures. There is no one right way shamans greet the directions. Honoring the directions was often based on weather patterns in the local area, specifically which direction the wind entered the land.
You must find your own way to greet the directions. We all know East is the direction of the rising sun, and West is the direction of the setting sun. The direction away from the equator reminds us of winter and cold, while the opposite direction invokes a feeling of warmth.
As I shared in “Gathering Your Materials” in chapter 2, some people make medicine wheels that they stand within when doing ceremonial work. You might find objects in nature, such as a feather, rock, or crystal. Or you might light a candle or put out a bowl of water to honor qualities you feel represent a given direction.
Exercise to Call in the Directions
As you did when calling in helping spirits, take some time to reflect on the directions.
Stand and face East. Close your eyes and place your hands on your heart. As you focus your imagination on the East and the rising sun, what feelings emerge for you?
Turn South and let your imagination soak in the qualities that come to you associated with the South.
Face West and take a deep breath and exhale. In your mind’s eye, see and feel the sun setting. What associations does this bring to you?
Next, face North and observe how you feel in your heart. What meaning does the North hold for you?
In some cultures, the direction of Below is greeted to honor Earth. And the direction of Above is welcomed to honor Sky. Lastly, the direction of Within is acknowledged to honor the power of spirit and divine light that resides in each us.
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
In shamanism, there is no right way or consensus on how to perform your invocations. Every culture works in their own way, which has been passed down by their ancestors.
Many of us in the Western world were not taught about the power of the unseen worlds. We must “invent” new and fresh ways to work that speak to our heart and soul. Then we make our work relevant to our needs and avoid copying ceremonies performed by cultures who have not given us permission to work in their way. Their ceremonies were created for their community’s specific needs.
How do you wish to work? Take time to reflect on this in silence. This is not a rational process, for the helping spirits of the unseen worlds care about our heart’s desires. As long as you follow what your heart calls you to do, your invocation will be successful.
Work with your helping spirits in cooperation and collaboration. Never try to manipulate them. Be honorable and respectful toward the compassionate ancestors of the land. When you do, miracles do occur in your ceremonial work.
Prepare the instruments you wish to use to greet the helping spirits. I begin by whistling, which is how many shamans call in their helping spirits.
I call in the power of love and light. In this way, I am surrounded by only the highest beings as I work, and I do so for any group I am working with. In working with a group, I state out loud: “This is a circle of strength. This is a circle of power. We have gathered together in love and light to support each other as we do our important work to heal ourselves, all in the web of life, and for the Earth. We join our hearts together in love. And only that which is of the light is welcomed into our circle.”
Once you have completed saying your invocation, you want to add these words: “The work begins now.” In this way, you mark to the community present and to the helping spirits that the preparation has been completed, and the structure and next phase of the ceremony will now be performed.
CREATING A SUCCESSFUL CEREMONY
There are key elements that will help you create a successful ceremony. It is so important to keep your concentration and focus while performing your sacred work. Imagine trying to create a positive outcome while your mind is wandering to what you have to do when you are finished. There is no focused energy to fuel your work.
Using your imagination is also important for positive results. You need to imagine that your wish is fulfilled. Opening your heart creates a powerful channel for the spiritual forces to join you in partnership during your ceremony.
Whether you perform your ceremony alone or with a group, keep the ceremony simple and reflect on the timing. In shamanic cultures, ceremonies often begin at sunset and end at sunrise. With the fast pace of modern life, if you make the ceremony too complex, your mind will wander. People today are not accustomed to holding their focus for a long time. If your ceremony goes on for too long, people will become distracted and bored, taking away from the power of the ceremony. This is something to reflect on as you design your ceremonies.
It is a wonderful experience to perform a ceremony with a group of friends. It will bring you so much closer. In doing this, it is important that everyone has a task, such as helping to spiritually cleanse the group, preparing the space you are working in by cleansing it and calling in the helping spirits, bringing offerings to create sacred space, and gathering materials. You might include a ceremonial fire, in which case you can all build the fire together.
You can greet and thank the helping spirits for their assistance in creating your desired outcome. Or if you do not work with helping spirits, you can all state your prayers and wishes together to the creative forces of the universe, God, the goddess—whoever you work with in your spiritual life.
One brilliant shamanic teacher had volunteer fire keepers pray during her two-week summit where she had other authors presenting lectures and experiential practices to navigate challenging times. What a beautiful way to keep the ceremony held in love, whether your ceremony is a one-time event or continues over weeks or months.