The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life - Sandra Ingerman MA 2018
Performing Your Ceremony
The Power of Ceremony
You will discover that there are a variety of ways to design a ceremony. You might begin by designing your own personal ceremonies. In time, you might feel comfortable sharing and inviting friends and loved ones to perform ceremonies with you using the exponential power of a group. One day, your passion may arise to bring your ceremonial work into your community to provide healing and to ask for blessings of harmony to enrich the lives of everyone—in your community and in the world.
SETTING YOUR INTENTION
Intention creates action. It is important for you to get clear on what you are asking for when you perform a ceremony. In life, we set intentions in conscious and unconscious ways. If you take time to reflect on major changes in your life, you might notice that you were thinking about making a change.
In truth, life is a ceremony. As you work with performing ceremonies, you will notice how your everyday wishes and intentions begin to manifest on some level—in ways that might surprise you. You might be daydreaming about healing an issue in your life. Then the right people show up in your life to help light your path and show you the steps you need for healing. You might be considering a trip you wish to take, and you find all the pieces falling into place in an unexpected way to make the trip happen. We can often track how our life has unfolded by reflecting on our past intentions.
The more conscious you are of the intentions you set, the more you will notice how intention does create action and helps to manifest your goals in the present and future. Developing a disciplined practice around setting intentions allows you to work in partnership with helping spirits, God, the goddess, and the creative forces of the universe to manifest your dreams.
Take some time before you perform a ceremony to reflect on what you are truly asking for. If you have a practice of shamanic journeying, discuss your intention with your helping spirits. They will guide you in creating the correct wording so that you ask for something you want to see manifest. I personally journey and discuss the intention I wish to state with my main power animal. He helps me shape the language of my intentions. He will show me the vibration that will be created with my words. He asks me to stop and reflect on each word. I imagine if each word will be a blessing for my desired outcome.
Whether through journeying, meditation, prayer, or contemplation, take some time for reflection in silence. A good practice is to walk or sit in nature. Drop into a quiet place and perform the practice of deep listening. Gaze into a body of water or out over the landscape, sit and watch the flames of a fire, or listen to messages from the wind. This will move you into a shamanic and meditative state of consciousness where you will receive a message or feel an intuitive knowing of the right intention to set.
If you have another divination practice besides shamanic journeying, you can turn to your divination tools to set an intention. I often pick a tarot card that represents something I need to release during a ceremony or a positive quality I need to call into my life. Some people work with a pendulum to set their intention.
Shamans learn to use multiple divination tools in their own practice. You will find your own divination tools over time. One of my favorite tools is simply drinking a cup of tea in the morning when my mind is quiet and my inner spiritual knowing emerges effortlessly.
I advise against stating open-ended intentions. For example, you could get surprising results when setting an intention such as “Bring me the lessons I need to learn.” You might end up experiencing tragedy or learning the invaluable lessons that come from pain or illness.
Give a little bit more information about what you are asking of the helping spirits and the universe. In the example above, instead of asking for any situation that provides a growth experience, you might ask for gentle and supportive people entering your life to teach you about the power of love, for a joyful relationship to manifest, or for a wonderful job that fills your life with meaning. As you continue your ceremonial work, you will find yourself becoming courageous and stating your intention in stronger ways with your authentic desires.
As always, your heart will lead you to the right intention for any ceremony you perform.
Some people use a journal to write down their ceremonial intentions and track results of each ceremony they perform. This can serve as a road map for following where your spiritual path is taking you. On the negative side, it can get you too focused on watching and waiting for results.
Part of our evolution with working with shamanic ceremonies is to stay present, do the work, and let go of the outcome—not easy for us humans who want to witness immediate results in just the way we want to see them. It is important to recognize that shamanism works on a spiritual level that is a timeless dimension. The helping spirits can see a bigger picture than we can see through the eyes of ego. The true challenge, and also the gift, is for us to learn how to express what we desire and then let go of when and how our desire manifests.
Our ego does not always know how to judge if a ceremony was a success or failure, for the ego creates a mental expectation of what should happen. In truth, the helping spirits and the power of the universe hold a different picture then we can see with our ordinary eyes. Ceremonies performed from a place of love, honor, and respect are successful—perhaps not always in the way our ego imagined, but manifesting what our soul, our essence, our inner wisdom is asking for. In our modern-day culture, we tend to try to control the natural changes that life brings. As we “loosen our grip,” we effortlessly bring more grace to us as we enter into the organic flow of life.
The helping spirits and the divine forces of the universe are part of our team. They often create outcomes that will bring us gifts we had not imagined when we need them most, which might not be the timing our ego hoped for. In our culture, we often focus too much on wanting to witness an immediate “win.” Consider a delicious meal being cooked slowly or planting seeds and taking the time to nurture them and watch them grow. The result of our ceremony is an organic process.
On the other hand, I have seen ceremonies that immediately resulted in exactly what a person asked for. This is not because they were somehow “worthy” of a miraculous result—it is simply a sign that the ceremony was performed at the right time.
It is all part of the great mystery. We all need to learn how to surrender and find peace with it.
When you use shamanic journeying or other divination tools, or practice deep listening in nature, you flow into a sacred space where you have access to what your heart and soul are calling for instead of only relying on what your ego wants. Often our ego is asking for something that is not in our best interest. To manifest the desire and passion of our soul is always going to bring in the goodness of life or help us release a pain or wound that prevents us from living a healthy life filled with joy and peace. Of course, life brings us challenges to grow, stretch, and evolve. As we live here on Earth, everything that is alive is given continual challenges to help it grow.
You can always perform a ceremony to ask that the circumstances given for growth are modified so that you can ride the waves a bit easier. For example, if life has brought you to a place where everything is dissolving before your eyes—you are having problems at work, you have to move, your relationship is falling apart—you can ask for resolution in a ceremony. You still honor the messages that are calling you to change and create a healthier life, but you might ask that the messages come in less dramatic ways.
It is important to recognize that the outcome of your ceremony is not in your control. As humans, we often have to walk through the fire to evolve into a more balanced and healthier state of life. Practicing ceremony does not exempt you from life’s storms, but it does give you a powerful tool for riding them out.
COMMON QUESTIONS THAT ARISE WHEN SETTING AN INTENTION
When we first begin designing our ceremony, our intention and excitement build within. Sometimes, our rational mind gets in the way of that initial excitement. We begin to doubt whether our intention is correct or worry whether the ceremony will be successful.
How can you know if your ordinary thinking mind is setting your intention or if your intention is arising from your expansive heartspace to serve your highest good? People often ask me how I know if it is my “small self” or “higher Self” setting the intention.
I truly believe that we have to start somewhere. If we start with an intention, we open the door into the invisible realms, where change happens. Even if the intention does not reflect what your soul is calling for, the universe recognizes your desire for healing, blessing, and change. This leads to successful ceremonies. Over time, you will learn how to access deeper places within your inner world where your intentions will reflect the depth of your soul. Do not be afraid to begin your ceremonial work. Allow the work to evolve over time.
For example, I lead a lot of fire ceremonies to release beliefs that prevent people from using their full creativity. Many students are concerned that their real blockages are in the subconscious—if they don’t know what the belief is, how can they ask to release it? My advice is that it is okay to start by releasing a belief you are consciously aware of. The ceremony will at least open the door for healing to begin.
I believe the helping spirits, God, the goddess, the creative force of the universe, and the elements (earth, air, water, fire) we work with while performing our ceremonies know what we are asking for on a spiritual level, even if our conscious mind does not.
Part of the work is to keep asking, “What is my personal desire and what is coming from my soul’s desire?” Your soul, or your higher Self, holds the knowledge and wisdom of what needs to be manifested for your highest good. It takes time and commitment to explore the passion of your soul.
The exploration has to start somewhere. Over time, as we get experience in performing ceremonies, we gain a greater ability to tell the difference between what our ego wants and what the bigger picture is. There is a bigger picture going on in the collective right now too. We need to have an intention, hold to our vision, keep our concentration and focus while performing any ceremony, and simultaneously let go of the outcome.
As you can imagine, this gets tricky. No one wants to be disappointed by the results of their ceremonial work. There is a paradox we all dance. From a human perspective, we don’t know the bigger picture. But it is also your destiny to participate in the game of life fully and to add your creative and heart energy to ask for a positive change in your own life and in the world.
It is challenging to surrender our preconceptions about the outcome and timing of a ceremony. The universe helps to create change with the right timing, and that might not be the timing you expected. This is where trust comes in. And trust comes from experience. You will gain more trust in the intelligence of the universe as you perform ceremonies over time.
ARE YOU AN OBSERVER OR ENGAGED IN YOUR CEREMONY?
One day I was sitting with my husband in our living room. We have big windows where we can look out onto the hills, trees, and the wealth of birds that come to drink water and eat. As I was sitting and watching the beauty of nature, I realized that I was observing the scene as if I were watching TV, as if everything I was watching outside was two-dimensional.
When I go outside and fully interact with the land and engage all my senses, I am stepping into a full three-dimensional experience. When I watch the birds, I am part of the landscape that they are in. Stepping in fully with all my senses open and alive gives me an entirely different experience than sitting on the couch watching nature as an observer.
In the same way, when we perform ceremonies as a virtual journey or meditation, we often find ourselves watching the ceremony instead of engaging.
There are times when we cannot go out and physically perform a ceremony. And there are times when we work with a group of practitioners who are joining together from all over the world. In these times, working with virtual ceremonies is a great choice for ceremonial work. Even with performing a virtual ceremony, you can engage all your senses to fully see, hear, feel, smell, and taste your experience in the unseen worlds.
Instead of observing your virtual ceremony like a movie, use your imagination to create the scenes you gaze upon, the fragrances you smell, textures that you touch with your fingers, foods you eat, and sounds that you hear. You want to experience yourself fully engaging in your ceremony as if you were actually performing it in the ordinary realm.
For example, when performing a virtual fire ceremony, see and smell the smoke and hear the fire crackling. Fully open your senses to feel the texture of the earth you are standing on and smell the fragrances in the air. Gaze at the beauty of the sky and feel the rays of the sun filling you with energy or feel the awe of looking up into the night sky.
When performing a virtual ceremony at the sea, smell the salt in the air, listen to the waves, touch the water, feel the wind on your face and the coolness on your skin.
The key to participating in a powerful virtual ceremony is making sure you have stepped fully into the unseen worlds and the landscape where the ceremony is taking place.
CLOSING YOUR CEREMONY
Once your ceremony is complete, consider leaving an offering of thanks. I give cedar to the fire in thanks and give offerings to the land and the helping spirits. As I shared earlier, you can leave a variety of drinks, food, and herbal offerings that are safe for the environment. Be certain to clean up everything that is not an offering to honor the area where your ceremony took place.
You might not realize it at the time of your ceremony, but your state of mind changes. You might feel a state of bliss and joy in doing such sacred work. It is so important to ground after performing a ceremony. You don’t want to end feeling spaced out and losing your balance as you walk away or being inattentive when you drive. You want to feel completely rooted into yourself and to the earth after your ceremony.
I imagine myself connected to a tree and experience my deep roots going down into the earth. If I am in a place in nature, I might sit with a tree for a while, or even sit and feel my connection to my body and the earth.
Some people crash land after a ceremony. They do not engage in an appropriate closing to ground themselves. Then the next day, they might feel ill or spaced out. The key is to always ground to end your ceremony in a graceful fashion.
Exercise for Grounding
Your ceremony is over—congratulate yourself and your group on a job well done. This is a good beginning way to ground, for you are saying to yourself and your unconscious that your work is done for now.
Stand and raise your arms up to the sky. Feel your feet planted on the earth. Next, shake your hands and arms to discharge any spiritual energy that might need to be released. Let the loving spiritual energies flow through you, down your body, through your feet, and into the earth. Place your hands on the earth and let light-filled spiritual energies flow.
Next, imagine deep roots growing from your feet into the earth, like the roots of a tree. Feel the solidity of your body. Bring into your heart energies those who you care about and bring you joy. Even if your ceremony leaves you in tears, remember what and whom you love.
Place your hands on your heart, feeling your heartbeat. Recognize how much you love yourself even if you have to fake it. We are not that good at loving ourselves in our culture. If your eyes are closed, open them, and you should feel grounded.
Another tip for grounding is to eat a healthy meal. Or lean against a tree that helps you root back into your body like it roots into the earth. You can do this either as a meditation experiencing yourself sitting with a tree or by going out into nature. Holding a rock while focusing on your connection to your body is also very grounding. Some people have their favorite grounding crystals or stones that they hold.
Whether you do your grounding exercise outside or through a journey or meditation does not matter. You just want to make sure you feel completely in your body. You will still have a spiritual glow—I hope you do. But let that glow shine through you as you bridge Heaven and Earth, with your heart and grounded presence on this Earth.
These techniques are just suggestions—experiment and learn what works best for you!
WHEN THINGS SEEM TO GO WRONG
You might be at a ceremony where a person’s cell phone goes off, a stranger shows up during your work, or somebody in your circle gets ill. Everything that happens in a ceremony is part of the divine play of the ceremony. Sometimes things happen that make us laugh or cry. The key is to hold your center and to get a person comfortable if they need help. You can gently remove any disrupting factor from the ceremonial space—but continue the ceremony. Everything that happens is part of that magic moment. The group will follow your lead if you remain calm, keep your cool, and continue to stay centered.
Sometimes during or after a ceremony, a participant might experience nausea. From a shamanic point of view, nausea is stuck power that is not flowing. This stuck energy is easy to release by dancing, singing, or putting your hands on the earth to get the energy moving.
In the early 1990s, I taught a Soul Retrieval Training in Tennessee. The training took place during Hurricane Opal. The last night of the workshop, the group performed a fire ceremony to release old wounds that no longer served them as they moved forward in their healing practice. Each person made an effigy to release into the fire.
The rain and wind were so strong from the hurricane that we could not work outside. There was a tiny fireplace in a small room that we could use, but we would all have to stand like sardines to fit in the room. I knew I could make it work as we created sacred space. You can create sacred space anywhere. The room does not have to be perfect.
We started to build our fire when someone ran into the room and exclaimed that it had stopped raining. I yelled to the group, “Everyone take a piece of wood, and let’s run to the meadow to the large fire pit.”
We ran with our wood and talismans. I called in the helping spirits, thanked the weather spirits for their cooperation, and we built a sacred fire. We drummed, rattled, sang, and danced as each person did their work to release their wound, their burden, into the fire.
When the last person released their burden into the fire, I quickly closed the ceremony by thanking the helping spirits, the ancestral spirits of the land, the weather spirits, and the support from our circle, cheering on each person as they did their personal healing work. And I declared, “Our work is done for now.”
During my closing words, the hurricane returned in full force, and we ran back to our lodge, drenched but laughing, and so grateful for the cooperation of helping spirits.
We were not so lucky at another Five-Day Soul Retrieval Training I taught in New Mexico. The day of our fire ceremony, we got such heavy monsoon rains that we did not believe we could build a fire that night. But we had dedicated volunteer fire keepers who said they would try. To our amazement, they were successful.
We put on our rain ponchos and ceremoniously walked to our sacred fire. We used our rattles so that our drums would not get destroyed by the rain, and we danced and sang and called in the helping spirits. We thanked the rain for blessing our work. We completed our ceremony and went to bed.
The next morning, we talked about what a magical experience it had been to have everyone in ponchos, for we could not see anyone’s face. We did not know who was working in turn with the fire. We all felt that we were in a sea of oneness and that the anonymity of each person added to the magic of the ceremony. We were not individuals working on our own wounds but were part of a collective working on different aspects of the wounds we all carry as humans. The work each of us did impacted our own personal healing.
I could write volumes on the amazing experiences I have witnessed over years of leading ceremonies. We once had to use a sewer grate on a road to build our fire, and once, due to fire danger, we could only place an inch of our effigies into a fire—we buried the rest on the land. These two ceremonies were among the most powerful I have attended, as we had to use our creativity to be flexible with what arose.
What I learned over time is that there are no mistakes. If you go with the flow and make adaptations to your ceremonies, you will see that all that occurred was simply perfect and meant to be. It is important to be flexible and change the structure of your ceremony if you need to.
Once you call in the helping spirits or state your intention, trust that your ceremony will unfold in a perfect way. Sometimes what occurs will make you laugh. In shamanic cultures, the community does not talk about a ceremony in a judgmental way or compare it to other ceremonies. The only response at the end of a ceremony is how beautiful it was.
HOW MANY TIMES DOES A CEREMONY NEED TO BE REPEATED?
There are some ceremonies that only have to be done once. If you are honoring a phase of the moon or season, you only need to perform your ceremony until the next time you feel called to honor a shift in cycles. If you are blessing a newborn baby or a new house, performing one ceremony is perfect. These are just some examples.
If you are releasing a burden or wound you have been carrying for years, you might need to repeat your ceremony over time until you feel the healing has taken place. You will find that as you continue to perform releasing ceremonies, layers of old hurts might emerge to be healed. In this way, you keep working to release the core issues that prevent you from living the life you desire and using your full creative potential.
For example, you might perform a blessing ceremony of bringing to you the goodness of life. After the ceremony, you feel like you do not deserve the goodness of life. This feeling is a signal to help you explore what needs to be released so that you can accept love and blessings from others and the universe.
In shamanic cultures some ceremonies are completed in minutes, weeks, or months as they need to be built upon or repeated.
You will know when a ceremony is done and when you need to work with another layer. Let your intuition guide you.
DESIGNING A SUCCESSFUL CEREMONY
Here is a summary of elements to incorporate in designing a ceremony. This summary includes bringing friends and loved ones and your community into the work.
1.Keep It Short The most powerful ceremonies are those where you open the door to the invisible realms and state your intention and keep the ceremony to the point. A key to a successful ceremony is concentration and focus. If you create a long and complex ceremony, participants tend to lose interest, lose focus, and start to drift away. The ceremony then loses power.
2.Prepare Do your preparation work. Make sure you call in your helping and compassionate spirits as well as the helping ancestral compassionate spirits of the land. Give thanks to the helping spirits to guide you in your words as you speak and lead a powerful and healing ceremony.
3.Set a Clear Intention Be clear on the intention of the ceremony. In performing a ceremony, your intention is heard by the helping spirits and the power of the universe. These helping spiritual forces work in partnership with you to manifest your desire. Consult with your helping spirits to make sure your wording reflects the intention that is for the highest good.
4.Create an Altar As mentioned, you can create an altar at home or in nature. You can even just bring flowers. You can invite people to bring or leave objects on the altar. Remind them to take their precious objects home at the end unless they are consciously left as a gift for the land. You can choose to work with elaborate decorations to create sacred space or simply just speak from your heart.
5.Greet Participants When working in a group, welcome each participant personally into the circle. This will help you to relax and make people feel welcomed as they step into doing something that might feel unknown or a little scary to them. The simple act of greeting each person with a smile dissolves suspicions.
6.Be Confident in Your Opening Words When leading a group ceremony, prepare your opening sentence. Once you state your opening sentence, you will find your inner spirit speaking through you. Put on an air of confidence even if you are nervous. If you do not seem confident, a group you are leading will not feel safe and will not fully participate in the ceremony. They will observe without fully participating.
7.The Opening Invocation Lead an opening invocation to get people to move their energy from their thinking mind into their heart and to welcome each person into the circle. Ask people to take some deep breaths while placing their hands on their heart and welcoming each person into the circle while wishing for the best outcome for everyone who has joined the ceremony. Your opening invocation needs to end with letting everyone know that the work is beginning now.
8.Release Your Burdening Thoughts Invite people to leave their ordinary thoughts and concerns behind and to fully join in and not just observe. You can get people into the right place by leading inspirational songs or playing musical instruments to open their heart. In some ceremonies, I set out a big bowl or drum and invite people to place something that represents an anchor to their ordinary world that needs to be released before stepping into ceremonial space. This might be a piece of jewelry, a watch, a cell phone, or a paper with a burden written on it. Participants take back their possessions once the ceremony has been closed.
9.Give Clear Instructions Explain the steps of the ceremony you will be leading. In this way, people know what to expect, and this helps them maintain a focus.
10.Invite People to Pray Before closing the ceremony, open a space for people to share prayers, asking that the goodness of the ceremony may radiate to others and the world. This is also a time to thank everyone who participated and helped create the ceremony.
11.Inspire Your Community Close by thanking the helping spirits and saying inspiring words to your community. Your helping spirits will give you healing words to end with, just listen to their guidance as you speak. Make sure everyone in the community is grounded.
12.Sharing Messages Leave some space for participants to share messages that came through the helping spirits during the ceremony or to share omens that might have been seen during a ceremony. A compassionate spirit might share a message with a participant such as “learn to love yourself,” “trust,” “we love you,” “you are protected,” “remember to shine your light,” “don’t lose hope,” “miracles are possible,” “trust your intuition,” “focus on the beauty of life,” “honor and respect all of life,” “let your tears flow,” and so on. People might also wish to share feelings that came up during the ceremony.
13.Celebrate If you are working with a group, you can serve refreshments after the ceremony, so people can meet each other and talk about the work. This is a perfect time for adding a grounding practice.
The magic of ceremony is being able to leave your ordinary life behind and step into a sacred space. In this space, you can truly participate with others who are opening their hearts along with you to create positive change and help the stated intention manifest.
Make sure that your intention for your ceremonies carries the energy of love, honor, and respect. Please do not perform any ceremonies out of wanting vengeance or to curse someone. This is not what the evolution of shamanism is about. Performing ceremonies should only be used for healing and to share love, light, support, honor, and respect.
In the chapters ahead, you will read about different ceremonies. As you read the upcoming chapters, you will get ideas of how to structure the middle of your ceremony. Over time, you will start to see that the most powerful ceremonies that you perform are the ones you have improvised and made your own.