Turning Points and Rites of Passage - Sacred Transitions

The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life - Sandra Ingerman MA 2018

Turning Points and Rites of Passage
Sacred Transitions

Ceremonies have always been used to mark a change in a person’s life. In shamanic cultures, each member of a community plays an important role in maintaining the health of the community at large. Each person is honored for the gifts and strengths they bring to the community, and when an individual experiences a change in life, they can then contribute new strengths, gifts, and talents. The community honors and welcomes back anyone who transitions into a new time of life.

In our culture, we forget that we all are connected to something bigger than ourselves—the Earth and nature, the web of life, and our communities. We can see how the health of our communities is failing as we have forgotten the power of embracing the contribution of individual gifts shared. It puts too much stress on the immune system of the community, the web of life, and the Earth when we do not share the energy that is needed to maintain a state of health.

A loving helping spirit once showed me how in today’s world we act like disconnected body parts. A hand does not have a life of its own. We act as if we are all separate body parts living in isolation, which simply does not work.

You can certainly perform a ceremony to honor a transition, initiation, or rite of passage on your own. But there is a power of bringing in other people to perform a ceremony that marks a change in life, such as honoring a birth and the parents who will be changed by bringing a new life into the world. In rite of passage ceremonies, it is powerful to have other people witness and support a child moving into their teenage years or into adulthood.

Inviting others to honor these changes creates a powerful witnessing and provides support to the individual, couple, or family experiencing transition. If we learn to stop isolating ourselves, we rediscover the power of creating, living, and working in healthy communities.

Sometimes working in community can bring up concerns. There are some communities in which people are looking for a leader to control their lives, projecting the role of “the protective parent” onto them. As changes continue in the world, people move into states of anxiety and rally around beliefs of division, hate, and fear. These types of communities pull the collective apart instead of adding strength.

The Book of Ceremony is written for communities to come together in the spirit of love and unity to help each other and all of life. Yes, group dynamics come up. In doing your ceremonial work together, it is important to either deal with any disharmonious relationships in the circle or ask people to put aside their differences for now and step fully into a divine and sacred space of consciousness where love, light, and peace are the energies infusing your circle.

Shamans have always performed ceremonies for people to heal relationship issues so that the community can return to a state of harmony. Once you have finished reading The Book of Ceremony, you can journey or meditate on a ceremony to resolve challenging group dynamics in the circle of people who have gathered to work together.

When I teach online courses, the comments and feedback I receive reveal how much renewal and healing comes from gathering with others online to perform virtual ceremonies. The support and love of the circle makes it such a precious event. Many people come to realize this kind of support is a missing piece in living a joyful life. Being part of a supportive community of people who are praying for you during ceremony and holding space creates healing on its own, no matter what the nature of the ceremony is.

I find that many of the people who participate with me in these global nonordinary ceremonies go on to find local groups where they can continue their work. As wonderful as it is to have hundreds of people supporting you remotely, nothing can take the place of the bonding that occurs when joining together with friends and local communities in the physical. Both ways of working bring beauty and grace into your life and into the world.

In performing ceremonies where you invite friends, loved ones, and other members of the community, it is still important to perform preparation work to distinguish between a social gathering and a powerful ceremony to honor a transition. In most cases, not everyone present will embrace the practice of shamanism. Bring in elements that create sacred space so that the power of the universe participates in the ceremony. In this way, all who are present, no matter what religious or spiritual practice they follow, can focus on the spiritual intention of the event they are joining in. Intention is key in having the power of the universe participate in any healing or blessing that will take place.

We often bring gifts to celebrate a time of change—a birth, a wedding, a birthday, and so on. Gifts are wonderful and can help provide people with clothing, furnishings, or cooking utensils, and other needs, easing the financial burden that comes with moving into a new phase of life.

It is important to honor the fact that ceremonies go far beyond gift giving. In our modern world, our ceremonies can become too focused on the material and leave out the unseen power of what the transition or transformation is really about. As we bring in new ways to honor times of change, it helps individuals and families step into a new role in life.

In 2004 I had the remarkable opportunity to be part of a pilot research study with the University of Michigan’s Integrative Medicine program. We were researching how some of the shamanic work I teach could help people who had suffered a heart attack. I led powerful healing ceremonies for the group, even though the majority of the group involved in my workshop were fundamentalist Christians. I could not talk about shamanism or helping spirits. Many in the group sat in class holding their Bibles.

I shared how the power of drumming produces hormones that alleviate stress. And I shared how singing and dancing assist in releasing burdening thoughts. No matter what our religious or spiritual beliefs are, we all have a sense that our ongoing mental chatter prevents us from fully participating in spiritual ceremonies. And we also know that finding ways to quiet our mind and relieve stress is good for our health.

We performed fire ceremonies to release old hurts and blessing ceremonies to pray for everyone’s good health. And we performed the transfiguration ceremony that I will end The Book of Ceremony with. Two miraculous healings occurred from performing this one ceremony. The most amazing thing was to witness everyone’s participation in the ceremonies as if they were in a shamanic circle. I wrote about performing transfiguration ceremonies on behalf of others in my book Walking in Light.

It is important if you are leading a ceremony to do your own preparation before working with your group. Find simple ways, such as opening with a prayer or a song, to bring people into sacred space. The time for “partying” is when the ceremony is over, and you can celebrate the powerful work that has been done.

When I lead ceremonies, sometimes I consult with my helping spirits to get the timing and the structure. If you practice shamanic journeying, I would suggest you use journeying as a tool to create your ceremony. I often just let my heart and intuition guide me. As long as you use the elements of ceremony and state an intention, your own intuition will provide you with ideas for the perfect ceremony.


Welcoming a child into the world and blessing the parents is a powerful rite of passage. There are many ceremonies that you can perform as you honor this time in a family’s life, as well as for the community at large. These include ceremonies for the pregnant mother, for the child’s birth, and for loved ones who gather to welcome the baby into the world.

Here are some guidelines for ceremonies to support a pregnant mother. Invite other women who help prepare the mother for the transition in her life. Invite elders and women of all ages to share stories of life changes and support the mother in her new role. Elders can share stories of being parents and how meaningful and challenging this new role can be. Women can massage the hands or feet of the pregnant woman to put her at ease and allow her to feel the love and support surrounding her.

Following is an example of a ceremony for an expecting mother.



When Maria was pregnant, she was a bit frightened by the responsibility of bringing a child into the world at such a turbulent time on the planet. She hadn’t really processed all the ways a baby would impact her life. Maria found true comfort when her friends and family performed an honoring ceremony on her behalf.

Helena, a long-time student of shamanism, helped gather women from Maria’s intimate community to come and stand strong with her as she prepared for welcoming her baby into the world. Everyone came ready to share funny and heartwarming experiences of giving birth and raising their children. They came with gifts that took on a deep meaning. The gifts were all imbued with love to bless a good birth and to honor a new child entering our exquisite Earth.

Some of Maria’s friends brought incense to burn and massage oils. A couple of the women were wonderful crafters who wove willow branches into small nests. They put some soft moss inside, along with colorful candy eggs to represent the natural process of birth.

Once Helena performed an invocation to set the focus of the ceremony, it took on a life of its own. Helena greeted the family’s helping ancestors and prayed for their assistance for a graceful and healthy birth. Maria felt embraced and surrounded by a wealth of care, love, and support—she cried tears of joy. She processed with others the joys and fears about this next phase of her life. The women present said loving words to the baby as they gently placed their hands on Maria’s growing belly.

Music was played that held the focus of this being a sacred event instead of a party. The group celebrated with Maria’s favorite foods and drinks, but again in a sacred and honoring way. The gifts given held prayers for good health and joy to support the newborn.

Once the baby was born, Helena gathered both male and female family members and friends for another ceremony to honor the baby and the parents. She shared how in past times it was understood that each child that was born brought creative gifts into the community that would help maintain harmony in community life. She shared the loss we feel in our modern life as we isolate ourselves from community and the importance of gathering to fully engage and support each other in times of joy, change, and challenges.

Helena spoke about how societies in the past recognized the blessings a new child would bring into the family and community and the importance of letting babies know that they are truly welcomed into the world.

Although babies and other life-forms in nature do not speak, they are still psychically sensitive to what is happening in their environment. Helena shared the idea that many people who feel a sense of being out of place in the world might have first experienced this disconnection because of a sterile birth experience in which they were not welcomed and honored in a sacred way. This lack of feeling welcomed can create feelings of unworthiness, a sense that we do not deserve the best that life has to offer, and an inability to bond with others.

Maria’s welcoming ceremony was created to let her baby feel truly honored and embraced. It was created with the intention to give her baby a strong foundation for relating with others and feeling worthy on her journey through life.

Helena then led a simple ceremony where each person present had a turn in sharing the strengths and gifts they perceived that this baby would share with others. Each had a turn in saying blessings supporting this new life and the parents.

Maria and her husband, Roy, were so touched by these beautiful blessings for good health, joy, love, and strength that they seemed to glow. They felt the full support of their loved ones in raising this precious child, who will help the community evolve through her unique gifts.

The next step of the ceremony was a rite of passage to welcome Maria and Roy into their new role in the community. In bringing a new child into the world, they would be changed forever. An essential part of a rite of passage ceremony for anyone experiencing a transition is to welcome the initiates back into the community, as they are now changed and embody a new wisdom and presence.

Helena ended the ceremony by thanking everyone who attended, and she thanked the spiritual forces who were present to witness this sacred event. Then it was time to celebrate with gift giving, food and drinks, and more celebratory conversation.



In shamanic cultures, words are seen as magic and carry the vibration of our intent into the world. Our self-talk has the same power to affect our inner life.

The shamanic understanding about the power of words is true with our own names and the names we give children. In my own case, elders have taught me to use my given name, Sandra, instead of the nickname Sandy. The vibrations behind these two names hold a different frequency.

In a naming ceremony, one of the key parts of the preparation should be greeting and welcoming your helping ancestral spirits. They will be watching out for the child from when they are born until the time of death. During the ceremony, the name of a child is honored. The ceremonial leader strongly speaks the name out loud in front of a community, so everyone can hear the power of the new energy entering the field of the collective.

A naming ceremony for a child can easily be a part of the welcoming ceremony I described above, or it can be its own distinct ceremony.

Another type of naming in shamanic cultures is to give a spiritual name. For a child, this name represents the gifts and talents they would bring to the community, such as “She Who Shines,” “He Who Crafts,” “He Who Dreams,” and “She Who Knows.”

Spiritual names can take on many forms and can be adopted at any point in life to honor a transition or a new direction. I have students who take a spiritual name for themselves after embracing a spiritual practice, such as “River Flow,” “Tree Woman,” or “Sunshine.” The ceremony of taking a spiritual name is a way to honor a new energy that will become a guiding part of your identity.

In the early 1980s, I attended a vision quest and sweat lodge ceremony led by a Native American elder. During our time together, I had shared how much I love trees. At sunrise, the sunlight beamed through the door of the sweat lodge onto my heart center. The elder saw that I was blessed by the sun, and he stood up and gave me the name “Little Sister” to reflect my deep relationship with the trees and to honor my deeply felt connection with them as part of my family.

The easiest way to perform such a ceremony is to have others honor the name you have chosen. You can also perform a naming ceremony for yourself by spending time in nature. Prepare and invoke the helping spirits. You might drum or rattle to begin. State your intention out loud, so all beings in nature and in the unseen worlds can hear you say, “I now go by the name ’She Who Brings Peace.’” After stating your name out loud, reflect in silence on the new energy you are sharing with the world, your community, and all of life. Be confident in standing strong in your new name and the gifts you will now share with the web of life.

Leave some offerings on the land. When you feel done, state out loud, “The work is done for now.” You have now entered a new phase of your life where you commit to being a person who reflects back vital qualities that are needed for the health of all in the web of life. Improvise on the ceremony that I have described to make it your own.


In shamanic cultures, it is part of community life to create a rite of passage ceremony for a child transitioning from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. These are also known as “coming of age” ceremonies.

Some of the familiar modern ways we acknowledge such rites of passage are coming of age parties, debutante balls, and the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah of Jewish tradition to mark a boy’s becoming a man or a girl becoming a woman. Sweet 16 parties are celebrations welcoming a girl into her womanhood. There are numerous names used in different religious and spiritual cultures for rites of passage.

It is important to use sacred ceremony to honor a child entering into adulthood. It helps them navigate childhood to adolescence and then to adulthood as they wrestle with the role of who they are and want to be.

Typically, in a shamanic culture, it is up to the elders to oversee the rite of passage ceremony. There is usually a period of time when the child or group of children is separated from the community while they are educated by elders about the importance of stepping into the role of a responsible adult who will help the community thrive. The elders prepare them for their rite of passage ceremony.

Children are often given a physical test. They might go on a vision quest, fast, and pray for a vision that will prepare them for their rite of passage. In some cultures, the tests were or are still quite intense or even perilous. Initiates might walk through fire, be buried in the earth, or sit in a darkened cave for days or weeks. Such rites caused initiates to have to rely on the strength of their spirit instead of willpower to survive the life-changing event. Once the child learned about the strength of their own spiritual nature, they were deemed ready to take on the role of an adult.

If we do not lead powerful rite of passage ceremonies today, young adults often join gangs where they can participate in acts that endanger their lives. They do this hoping to feel like an adult and to feel like they belong to a community that understands what they are going through.

The immense modern issue of bullying in schools is a reflection of the need to have rites of passage where each child is honored and knows their role in the community.

Without a rite of passage ceremony into adolescence, some children feel lost, awkward, and that they do not belong. They may turn to drugs or alcohol. In the worst cases, they become suicidal or start to act out violently against others, having lost sight of the preciousness of life. This impacts the child, their family, and the community at large. The statistics of teens committing suicide are quite alarming. It is time to give our young adults the gift of learning about how the strength of their spirit can support them through life’s challenges instead of only teaching them how to power through. It is time to help our children learn about their authentic identity.

Today, there are many reputable organizations that lead vision quests for young adults. In a vision quest, participants sit in nature, often fasting and praying for a vision. There are also organizations that responsibly create a survival experience. Once the teens get into nature and learn how to survive on their own, where they have to build their own shelter and find food and water, something changes within them. They develop an adult’s confidence in their inner strength. This process has been very successful with troubled teens.

We must adapt ancient ceremonies to fit the times and culture we live in. Children and teens must always be kept safe during any rite of passage. To honor a child’s transformation into an adult is the most empowering part of a rite of passage. The key to any initiation ceremony is helping a child find their spiritual strength, which is the true force that carries them through the challenging and turbulent times that are part of life.

Leading vision quests and survival quests in nature is beyond the scope of this book, but you can improvise on creating rite of passage ceremonies. Arranging a long backpacking trip that your child might be interested in is a perfect way to help your child mature. Another kind of nature adventure, such as a long river-rafting trip or mountain climbing, can also bring in a new understanding of life as an adult and the desire to take on new responsibilities. You might consider a pilgrimage, such as traveling abroad alone, that the teen takes to mark the new transition in their life.

Sharing stories of your ancestry with your children will also give them a feeling of connecting to an ancestral lineage beyond themselves and their immediate family.



Jacqueline wanted to create a rite of passage ceremony for her daughter Rose. On Rose’s thirteenth birthday, Jacqueline invited friends, family members, and elders in her community to participate and witness Rose being honored into the next phase of her life.

Jacqueline decorated her backyard with a huge arbor created by long branches filled with stunning, fragrant roses honoring her daughter’s name. Other community members helped Jacqueline gather materials for the arbor. They also contributed food and drinks for the celebration afterward.

When the day came for the rite of passage ceremony, Jacqueline was quite nervous. She did her preparation work and set her intention. Jacqueline greeted her ancestral lineage to witness and support Rose’s coming of age ceremony. She had written down an invocation, as she feared no words would emerge when it was time for her to speak. Yet she found that once everyone gathered, and Rose appeared wearing an exquisite dress, the words just gracefully flowed.

After the invocation was stated, the gathered women began telling Rose stories about their lives, including what their childhoods were like and what they experienced as they passed through puberty. They shared stories about how awkward they felt with the changes in their bodies, and they shared funny stories about meeting boys. They talked about what they wished they had known when they were thirteen.

Rose sat in the center of the group soaking in all the love and stories with a smile on her face. There was a lot of joy and giggling going on in the room.

Once the storytelling was done, Jacqueline went up and kissed Rose on the cheek. She tenderly shared with Rose that she loved raising her. She now looked forward to welcoming Rose into her womanhood, witnessing and supporting her as she dated, fell in love, chose a career, celebrated her own marriage, and birthed a child. This, of course, was if Rose chose to marry and/or have children.

Rose was led to the sacred arbor Jacqueline had created with great love and attention. All the gathered women stood on the other side of the arbor.

Jacqueline again kissed her daughter on her cheek and stated out loud, “You now walk from being a child into becoming a beautiful woman.” Rose walked through the arbor that symbolized a transition of one time of life to another. As she walked through, the women shared words of empowerment, strength, and encouragement. As Rose exited the arbor, she was welcomed by all the women as a peer and woman who was now in a new phase of life. Rose looked radiant.

Jacqueline thanked the helping spirits for witnessing this powerful rite of passage honoring her daughter. Jacqueline said that the spiritual ceremony had ended, and it was now time to celebrate.

Rose was obviously touched by all that occurred. She felt different. She knew she had entered a new phase of life. She also recognized that it would take her time to process what all of this meant. She appreciated the ceremony and felt it helped her to navigate from feeling like a child to feeling like a woman.




Jason was struggling in school. He was having a lot of problems when he moved into puberty. He lost his ability to concentrate on his schoolwork and felt awkward socially. His parents worried that he was not bonding with his schoolmates and was becoming withdrawn.

Jason’s father, Steve, understood the importance of a rite of passage ceremony. He knew this would help to bring Jason out. Jason agreed to go on a five-day backpacking trip with his dad. Jason was responsible for setting up camp and cooking the food. Steve would sit with Jason as he performed his duties.

Both father and son pushed their bodies beyond what they felt they were capable of and discovered the reservoir of their inner strength while traveling through nature with no electronic devices or other distractions to keep them anchored to their ordinary life.

They had long talks as they sat around the fire at night. This was a time when Steve spoke about his awkwardness when he was a boy, and how his grandfather and father had imparted wisdom to help him understand what he was going through. He shared with candor and vulnerability what it was like for him to eventually move from his challenging boyhood into becoming a successful businessman, a loving father and husband, and an engaged member of his community.

Jason opened up about the challenges he was facing during his teenage years, creating a new relationship in being able to talk to his father as one man to another. To add another element of sweetness in this coming of age ceremony, Steve taught Jason how to shave.

Steve ended the ceremony by anointing Jason with the ash from the coals of the fire that burned all night. It was a symbolic act, representing that Jason had now moved into a new phase of life.

Although there was no drumming or rattling as part of their time together, this is a classic rite of passage ceremony for a boy. In adapting this ceremony, you could easily introduce drumming in nature as a component of this rite to welcome a boy into becoming a man.

For Jason, this ceremony did transform his life and the challenges he faced. He learned he had more survival skills than he had imagined, which gave him confidence. Jason felt that he could take on more responsibility, that he was worthy to have friends and be accepted by his schoolmates, and he felt a change in his own presence and stature as he walked back down the long trail.

Remember that a very important phase of any rite of passage ceremony is the reintegration process back into the community. Once home, Jason was greeted by friends and family members standing together in a circle in the garden. Each person welcomed Jason back home and shared inspiring words. The ceremony ended with Jason’s father playing the guitar and singing a song he chose to welcome Jason into adulthood. Then they celebrated with a delicious meal.



Ceremonies can be created not just to honor the change that comes with puberty. Use your imagination to create ceremonies to honor someone who gets a driver’s license, graduates from high school, graduates from college, gets their first job, and so on. There are the rites of passage marking transitions from maiden to mother to crone. We go through a rite of passage at middle age.

Another time of deep inner change is when we lose both of our parents. In some cases, people feel that they have truly moved into adulthood after feeling they are now “orphans.” When we move into our elder years, we go through a rite of passage as we begin to let go of the material world and withdraw to create a deep inner life. Improvising and using the structure described in part 1 will assist you in creating ceremonies that honor these transitions.


Our culture puts a lot of pressure on couples to plan a “perfect” wedding to honor their love. Creating a big wedding can put a couple or family under financial stress. Issues come up about whom to invite, what to serve, what to wear, and the list goes on. Many people are choosing simpler wedding ceremonies today that focus on the true meaning of marriage instead of lavish celebrations that can lead to financial debt and rifts in families.

My husband, Woods, and I lived together for years before getting married. We wanted to perform our own shamanic wedding and leave out the legalities. We felt that the commitment of getting married with spirit as our witness was more binding than a legal document.

We live in the country, and we went out onto our land. It was a snowy, cold winter’s day. Wearing snow boots, we hiked down to an artesian spring covered with snow. The white snow next to the green pine, juniper, and ponderosa trees created a magical atmosphere along with complete silence on the land.

I rattled to call in, greet, and welcome the spirit of the land, the helping ancestors, the spirit of Santa Fe, our helping spirits, and our own ancestors. I stated my invocation out loud, thanking the elements of earth, air, water, and fire (as the sun), and all the beings in nature for witnessing our commitment ceremony. Woods and I took turns expressing our love for each other and then exchanged wedding rings. We left two red roses on the snow covering the spring. We thanked the spirits and closed our ceremony. It was a precious experience for both of us, and we felt truly committed to each other.

We took some photos of each other and of the trees witnessing this sacred event. The photos showed luminous blue orbs in the juniper trees. This was a sign that we were truly blessed and supported.

Years later, we wanted to make our marriage legal. I asked a friend who embraced the practice of shamanism to be our minister. We invited a small group of dear friends to come and be part of the rite of passage of getting legally married.

Once again, we chose winter as the time to perform our ceremony. And it was again snowing, so we asked our guests to dress for the snow and the cold.

Katherine, our minister, did a lovely job invoking the spirits. We stood in a circle on our snow-covered deck, appreciating the beauty of the bright sunlight making the snow shimmer. Katherine asked each person to recount a funny or touching experience about me and Woods. There was a lot of laughter. Our friends reached into their hearts and shared stories that expressed their love and support.

After everyone shared a memorable story, Woods and I spoke to each other from our heart about our love and what our relationship meant to us. We then exchanged the same rings again, and Katherine pronounced us husband and wife.

After Katherine closed the ceremony, we all shared food and drink together.

It was such a sweet and intimate ceremony. Everyone left feeling that they had participated in a spiritual experience that had deep meaning for all.

I am sharing my experience with you to give you some ideas of how you can improvise a wedding ceremony if you don’t go the traditional route of creating a huge event where you have a hundred or more guests.

There are couples and families who do want to have a large celebration of people witnessing their love and commitment to each other. You can certainly create a sacred ceremony at a large wedding by greeting the compassionate spirits and bringing everyone together with the correct focus. Be clear that the wedding is more than a party—it is a sacred event that has deep meaning. Whether a ceremony is used to honor the sacred marriage of a heterosexual relationship or a same-sex relationship would not change a shamanic marriage ceremony.

Weddings honor love and commitment. It is beautiful when a couple stands in the presence of loved ones, the helping spirits, and the divine, all witnessing and supporting the intention of the ceremony.

Inviting a minister with a shamanic background can provide a powerful way to weave through spiritual words that are an invocation inviting the divine to bear witness. Ask guests to step into a place of honor and respect for the couple during the invocation and ceremony. Ask them to feed wishes for good health and continued love through both good and challenging times. These steps bring a spiritual aspect to any wedding ceremony you wish to design.

Invite close friends and relatives to share short, funny stories in an honoring way. The entire wealth of guests can join in with blessings, love, and laughter.

Place a bowl of crystal hearts on a table and ask all the guests to blow wishes for the couple into the crystals. In this way, the bowl of crystals can sit in the new couple’s home radiating beneficial wishes for the goodness of life. Instead of crystals, you can collect stones or place rose petals in a bowl. Ask everyone to state out loud a one-word blessing that surrounds and “rains down” on a couple while they drink their favorite drink together toasting their love. These are simple, sacred ways of adding to the usual toasts given at a wedding.

When performing a wedding outside, such as in a park or at a beach, consider including an arbor in the ceremony. These can be simply built and lined with candles, decorations, vines, and flowers. Perform an invocation, and then invite the couple to walk through the arbor from a place of separation to togetherness. This is a powerful ceremonial element that can fit into any marriage, large or small.

The key is to weave in spiritual phrases, invocations, and acts to honor and bless the couple. You can easily transform any wedding ceremony from a party into a true spiritual celebration.

It is never too late to perform a “recommitment” ceremony with your spouse if you felt that your initial wedding celebration did not carry a strong sacred energy. You can even perform such a recommitment ceremony on an anniversary. This can revitalize a marriage and refuel the depth of your commitment and love for each other.