The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life - Sandra Ingerman MA 2018
We all go through transitions that involve leaving a relationship, changing jobs, moving, or saying goodbye to a loved one who has passed away.
In the early 1980s, I studied tarot with Angeles Arrien, who was a brilliant cross-cultural anthropologist. I was having an issue with leaving a relationship that no longer felt healthy for me. The ending of the relationship was not mutually desired, and it was difficult to break my connection with my partner.
I spoke to Angeles, and she taught me about the importance of performing a ceremony of honorable closure. In this ceremony, both people say what they need to say to each other, and then the door is closed to future conversations so that each person can move on. If it is not possible to meet or talk with the other person in the relationship, then this can be a one-sided conversation. The ceremony releases the restrictive energetic bonds in a relationship, allowing both people to move on.
I’ve learned a lot over the years about honorable closure. Sometimes a ceremony needs to be performed to close the door to future conversations. But people who break up can become good friends by dissolving the unhealthy energetic ties that bind them together. A ceremony can help people move their relationship gracefully from being lovers to being friends.
Most of us carry childhood wounds. These wounds are like seeds planted in our inner garden, which grow as we age. If we are unaware of these wounds, we might attract people in our lives who reflect back to us a quality or wound we still have to heal. As we choose to work on ourselves through spiritual practice and ceremony, we can evolve and heal. We can begin to dissolve links to people who reflect our wounds and attract people into our lives who reflect a state of emotional health. This process might involve ending your energetic connection with a person you have grown away from. Or you both might work on creating a new, strong, and healthy relationship, where you mirror and reinforce your strengths and self-love.
Staying in an unhealthy relationship is like throwing an anchor down to your past. Such relationships can prevent you from moving forward to new life situations and attracting relationships that reflect the person you have become. In shamanic cultures, this is seen as the need to break energetic cords, strings, or threads that keep you from moving forward to a new phase in life.
We do not want to be burdened by our past. The energy of the past can create so much weight on our body and emotions that we cannot truly move on to create a healthy present and future. As much as we desire healthier and more meaningful relationships, we often end up trapped, creating the same situations over and over. The faces might change, but the story remains the same.
There comes a time in our own growth and evolution when we must let go of the ties that bind us to our past, whether it means leaving a job, a place, or a relationship. We must leave the old behind while carrying the good memories and life lessons. We all want the freedom to create beneficial relationships and life circumstances that bring us new opportunities for growth. We cannot do this while we hang on to the past. That’s why ceremonies that provide us with honorable closure are such a powerful tool for healing.
RELEASING AND TRANSFORMING UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
Here is guidance for an unwinding ceremony you can perform before, during, or after ending a relationship with a partner, a friend, or even a coworker.
Visit a place in nature and spend time processing the feelings that your relationship brings up for you. Prepare and greet the helping spirits or spiritual forces you wish to engage in the unwinding act. State out loud or in silence that you are grateful for all the lessons you received in your relationship but that it is now time to move on.
Allow any emotions that emerge to flow so that you do not blindly move into a place of anger or hurt when you are ready to do your unwinding ceremony. When you consciously process your anger, feelings of hurt, or any trauma associated with the ending of the relationship, you step into a place of empowerment, and you will have more success with performing your ceremony.
Invite one or two friends who support you and can hold the space for you, or you can experience the power of working alone. Decide what you personally need. Some people might feel awkward processing emotions with others, while other people feel supported by it. We all have unique needs, and it is important to honor what feels right to you.
Once you have received clarity that you are ready to release the ties that bind you, gather your materials and design your ceremony. Feel free to adapt this guidance to make the ceremony your own.
Walk the land and find a stick to use in your ceremony. Keep your ceremony simple and drum, rattle, dance, and/or sing as you focus on your intention to release all ties to your unhealthy relationship. When you feel that you are in full connection with your soul through your preparation work and that you have the helping spirits or the divine forces you work with witnessing you, it is time to break the stick. This signifies honorable closure with the person you wish to be released from. End by leaving an offering on the land and thanking the helping spirits who witnessed your work.
This can also be done as a spontaneous ceremony when you are taking a walk in nature and feel intuitively guided to break an unhealthy energetic connection.
If you have friends with you, thank them for their support. Take some time to reflect on how you are feeling. You might still need to do some processing over time, but you should feel some relief and that a weight has been lifted from you.
JEREMIAH’S CEREMONY TO BURY HIS WEDDING RING
Jeremiah wanted a divorce from a woman he felt did not support his spiritual path and had no confidence in him. Their marriage had moved into an unhealthy place where there was no love. The connection between them became an obligation for both, and they were simply in a habit of being together. His wife was willing to stay in the relationship even though she wasn’t happy. She felt safe and did not want to live alone.
Jeremiah came to see me as a client, processed all his feelings, and was ready to move into honorable closure. I spoke to Jeremiah about the power of ceremony in ending an unhealthy relationship and gave him some simple examples of how we could perform the ceremony.
Jeremiah decided what felt right for him to do. He asked me to be present and to drum for him.
Jeremiah buried his wedding ring in the earth, stating in a strong voice that this relationship was complete and over. He asked to be freed from the energy of his connection with his wife, now and for lifetimes to come.
I stood behind Jeremiah with my drum, giving him enough space to feel supported but also free to move and feel his own power.
When Jeremiah was done, he felt a sense of relief. He’d desired freedom from his wife for so long. He brushed the soil from his hands and reached into his pocket where he had some sacred herbs to leave for the earth.
After leaving his offerings, he turned away from the burial place under a magnificent old cottonwood tree, which was also witnessing this healing ceremony. He started to walk away. I thanked the helping spirits we had called in and had to hurry to catch up with Jeremiah, who was walking at a fast pace. He felt that part of his honorable closure was to finish the ceremony and never look back.
JUDY’S CEREMONY FOR AN AMICABLE DIVORCE
In Judy’s case, she knew there was going to be a lot of conflict with her divorce. She understood that spiritually she could break a stick, bury a ring, or blow the energy of her relationship into a stone and place the stone in a river or in the ocean near where she lived. But she knew that she was going to face a complicated court battle involving the custody of her children.
Judy needed a ceremony to ask for the help of the universe to create an amenable court experience. She wished everyone involved could set aside their bitterness and make decisions to support the best interest of both partners and the children.
I consulted with Judy to help her design a ceremony. Judy loved the idea of working with fire to transform her emotions and carry her prayers up to the creative forces of the universe. She invited friends to help build a small fire on the beach in an isolated cove. They consulted together and decided to work on a night when the moon was full. The group loved the idea of drumming, rattling, dancing, and singing in the moonlight.
Judy prepared for the ceremony by creating two effigies. The first effigy was imbued with the emotions she wanted to release into the fire. The second represented a good result from the divorce hearing that would be for the highest good for all concerned, especially the children. Judy dreaded a bitter and ugly court scene. There was once love in the marriage, and she wanted an ending that honored and respected all she and her husband had built together.
Judy put special care into this second effigy. She walked in a park with offerings to find exquisite burnable objects in nature. As she found a flower, twig, or branch to use, she asked permission before taking each object. She used yarn to tie her effigy together. When completed, it looked like a little home that represented her old life, ready to be dissolved and transmuted by the fire. While making the effigy, she focused on the intention for the divorce hearing, praying that the bitter feelings would not override a healthy decision. She trusted that the universe would support her decision.
As the group gathered for the ceremony, everyone felt empowered by the fire, the ocean, and the moon. Each participant began calling in loving and compassionate spiritual forces to witness the work. They danced, sang, and drummed.
When the time was right, Judy called for a pause in the dancing to place her first effigy into the fire while her friends cheered her on. After more dancing and singing, Judy placed her second effigy in the fire, stating in a loud, clear voice what she was asking for during the divorce proceedings.
After ending the ceremony, Judy and her friends stayed up all night watching the fire burn, gazing at the beauty of the night sky, and listening to the beautiful and comforting sound of ocean waves. They shared great love stories, cried and laughed together, and spoke about their hopes and dreams.
The story ended well. Judy’s husband had come to terms with the divorce by the time the hearing was set. The divorce was amicable, and joint custody of the children was established, which both parents felt was best for the children.
CONSTANCE’S CEREMONY TO HEAL AN ISSUE WITH A COWORKER
Constance worked at a job where her boss never supported her suggestions and basically made her life miserable at work. When we talked, I asked her to consider how people in our lives can reflect our own unresolved shadow material. Constance took time to meditate on how her boss mirrored back her own inability to love herself and be supportive of her decisions. She decided to perform a ceremony to release the energies she was projecting onto her boss.
Constance wrote these shadow qualities on paper to be burned. She watched the ashes float away into the air, representing a release of these projections. She thanked the air for transforming the energy she released into love and light, and she thanked the wind for sharing love with all of life and the Earth.
Before returning to her job, Constance performed a ceremony at home, stating to the universe a better vision of her experience at work. She gathered supplies, crafted images of loving and smiling people, and placed them on her altar. She wrote stories about being honored and respected for the good decisions she made in helping the business thrive. She performed hours of meditation, traveling within her inner landscape to her core to tap into self-love and self-respect while imagining how she wanted to be treated at work.
Once she returned to work, she was met by her boss’s usual scowl. Constance placed her hands on her heart and breathed deeply. Suddenly her boss’s expression softened, and the conversation shifted from the usual judgments to a casual discussion about how their weekends went. Although surprised by this sudden shift in behavior, Constance was thrilled and learned to trust herself, her spiritual work, and the universe to provide needed support.
Constance achieved closure and was able to stay at her job by transforming her relationship.
These are multiple ceremonies that can be performed for honorable closure. Journey, meditate, or spend time in nature to design your own.
Such ceremonies can bring surprising results. An unhealthy energetic connection with another person might cause them to need space and to break off all communication. This is usually an unconscious act, where people are not aware of the root cause of their not wanting to communicate. Once a ceremony for honorable closure is performed, someone who felt smothered by an unhealthy energetic connection, like a child who is estranged from their family, might pick up a phone after years of silence and simply say, “I was thinking about you and wanted to call.” I have seen these shifts happen multiple times.
DEATH IS NOT AN END—IT IS A TRANSITION
In shamanic cultures, it is understood that death is a rite of passage as we move on to a new phase in our soul’s journey. For this reason, death is not feared as it is for so many living in our world today.
Ceremonies to honor the deceased come in many forms, including celebrating the life of the deceased while recognizing the grief of the loved ones left.
I lead many memorials. It’s a practice I’ve come to love. So much healing and closure can happen at a memorial led in a ceremonial way. This does not mean there is not more grieving to do, but having a sense of closure brings healing to loved ones, friends, and the community.
From a shamanic point of view, we are born into this life on Earth to live in a human body and experience life with our full senses; to learn about love; to create beauty, health, and peace; and to learn many other lessons. This is a place where we can evolve.
When a person dies, Earth is no longer their home. Their home is back to Source.
This does not mean when we perform a ceremony honoring a loved one’s journey back to Source that we are trying to erase their memory. On the contrary, we continue to stay connected spiritually. A deceased loved one might become a helping spirit for a descendant. But Earth is for the living, and journeying home to Source is for the deceased. This journey is what we acknowledge during an honorable closure ceremony.
GUIDELINES FOR A MEMORIAL CEREMONY
Before the ceremony begins, I find out if a loved one has special needs. Sometimes a grieving loved one wants to tell the first funny story or memory, or to speak from their heart. Or they might just want to absorb all the love without needing to speak. I work with ceremonies that cater to individual needs.
If the community embraces shamanism, I call in the helping spirits and honor the directions. For a group with varied religious and spiritual beliefs, I use wording that fits with everyone’s beliefs.
Everyone present stands in a circle. Each person in turn tells a funny or touching story, or recounts a memory about their deceased loved one. With a large group, I have to get “compassionately pushy” and be strict with my timing on how long people speak. If the stories go on too long, participants will get tired and distracted, and the power of the ceremony will diminish. I give people just a minute or two to speak.
Once the sharing is complete, I start drumming. I instruct everyone to close their eyes and focus on the deceased loved one. When ready, I ask everyone to raise their hands high into the air as they break their energetic connection, and let the deceased loved one go while wishing them a graceful and beautiful journey home. I drum until everyone has brought their hands back down.
I have performed this ceremony so many times, with shamanic groups and also with diverse religious groups. I always receive wonderful feedback on how touched everyone was by the ceremony and how it was exactly what they needed. The ceremony always creates lots of laughing and crying, but also a sense of closure. Everyone keeps their loving memories of the deceased while letting go of energetic bonds. This creates healing on many levels.
ROCHELLE’S SUICIDE MEMORIAL
I led one ceremony for a group of five friends. Rochelle, a dear friend of ours, had committed suicide. She was one of the kindest and most generous women we had met. We were in grief and shock. We knew she was struggling and in a lot of pain, but she’d never talked about ending her own life.
I brought balls of yarn, and we created an effigy of our friend. We tied yarn from the effigy to each of us. After each of us shared a wonderful story or memory of our friend, we cut each strand of yarn with scissors, representing that we were all letting her go to the light. This is an example of cutting energetic cords that might bind people together in an unhealthy fashion.
BLOWING BUBBLES OF LOVE
I sometimes use bubbles that I buy at a toy store for group ceremonial work to wish a loved one a good journey home that is filled with grace, love, and light. There is great healing that comes from bringing an element of joy into a ceremony where people are grieving a loss.
I led a memorial ceremony for my mother, but I also performed a ceremony at her funeral. I kept it very simple. I talked about my mom and how much I loved her. I spoke about her life and what she contributed to me, her family, and the world by her presence. And then I asked all who were present to stand up and lift their arms to wish her a good journey home. We then blew bubbles toward the sky as we continued our prayers for her and remembered the joy she had brought into our lives.
ADAPTATIONS FOR HONORING DEATH
You can use adaptations and improvise on the ceremonies I’ve shared to honor the death of a pet, an animal from the wild, a species that has died en masse, a tree, a plant, and so on. Every living being on the planet should be honored while it is alive and once it transitions.
Burying a Pet
If you perform a burial ceremony for a beloved pet, you can place food and maybe a bit of water or milk in the grave. Share words of love for this precious animal who was a family member. Then raise your arms while wishing your pet a loving journey home that is filled with light, love, grace, and ease.
I don’t have a green thumb, but I love plants and grow many.
I actually created a plant graveyard on an isolated part of my land. I take a deceased plant to the graveyard. I thank it for sharing its beauty in my home and on the Earth and wish it a good journey home. I apologize for anything that I did that did not support its life by overwatering or not being able to provide optimal growing conditions. I leave offerings of blue corn meal.
I visit my plant graveyard frequently to pay my respects. Yes, I am a bit of an eccentric.
When a tree dies on my property, I visit with it. I thank it for the beauty and grace that it shared with all of life on this great Earth, while wishing it a good journey home. I leave an offering of blue corn meal in honor of its life.
I have received quite a bit of correspondence from people who were once loggers. They feel so much guilt about killing stately and oftentimes ancient trees. I share the ceremony I perform for my trees. You can perform the same ceremony for a mountainside where logging has occurred. You might not be able to talk to each tree individually, but you can stand in the affected area.
After preparing, say what is in your heart to the deceased trees, even if they have been removed. Drum, rattle, sing, and/or dance while praying in your own way that the trees have a good journey home. Thank them for their beautiful and powerful presence on the Earth. Leave heartfelt offerings. This same ceremony can be performed for trees lost in a blight or during a forest fire.
Honoring Environmental Losses
There are sad events that we are witnessing in which many die due to pollution in the land, air, and water where they live or during an environmental disaster. Climate change and war have created tragic situations for humans and all living beings. Floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other disasters can force living beings to flee their homes or lose their lives. Even more heartbreaking is the mass extinction of so many precious species that could no longer survive in their natural environment.
There is such a power in performing ceremonies for living beings who have suffered devastation, whether these are human communities, animal and plant populations, or species lost to extinction.
You can perform a ceremony inside or outside to honor those who died. Thank them for the energetic signature they shared with the web of life and the beauty and preciousness they brought to the Earth. Say what is in your heart. Drum, rattle, sing, or perform your ceremony in silence as you honor the beings that have transitioned.
Since these are issues that affect us as a global community, you may find many people who want to join you. Performing local ceremonies or global virtual ceremonies helps us honor the lives lost and create a graceful journey home back to Source.
VIRTUAL CEREMONIES FOR HONORABLE CLOSURE
A powerful way to work with closure ceremonies is to use the virtual altar that I suggested you create in chapter 5. Travel to the altar room alone or with a group. You can bring your group together remotely by phone or online. The leader should do most of the speaking in the ceremony, since cross talk is even more disruptive over electronic connections.
Lead the group to the altar room using a path as I suggested in the guided meditation. Be cleansed by the guardian spirits while leaving your ordinary thoughts and burdens behind. Gather at the altar cloth and greet each other. You might use a shamanic instrument and sing and dance to begin and end your ceremony.
Take turns sharing words and feelings. Once the sharing is complete, reach your arms up to the sky and wish the remarkable beings who have transitioned a good journey home. Thank the helping spirits.
Travel home. Take time to share your experience of doing this potent and heartwarming work. Some members of the group might have received spiritual messages of love to share from the beings you honored.
You might witness an accident or another traumatic event or come across the body of a deceased animal. Many shamanic practitioners carry offerings in their car or on their person for such an event. At the scene of an accident, say a prayer for those impacted and leave an offering on the land. With a creature found dead on the road or while walking in nature, you might say prayers of honor and respect for its life and for gracing this Earth with its presence, leave an offering, and even bury it in a ceremonial way if the situation allows.
While grieving any death, we often feel heartbroken. Though this is painful, it gives our hearts the opportunity to open, expand, and embrace more compassion.
In shamanic cultures, ceremonies are performed to honor the transition of a community member. But ceremonies can also serve to honor the grief of loved ones. Grief has its own process. We go through different phases of grief. Ceremonies might not heal grief immediately, but they can begin a process that is an important passage in life.
All of life grieves. Even animals, trees, plants, birds, and other beings grieve the death of a partner. Each individual’s grief has its own time frame. Whether it takes days, months, or years to heal from grief, honoring the process through ceremony can help us through each step of the journey.
DEBORAH’S DANCE OF GRIEF
Deborah decided to perform a ceremony to honor the loss of a dear friend. She invited friends to work at night around a fire. They gathered their materials, prepared, and called in the goddess energies to support their dance of grief. They took turns drumming and singing to hold the space while small groups of women traveled within themselves to feel their heartbreak of losing a friend. They danced whatever emotion emerged for them.
They took turns dancing for hours until their tears ended. They all felt held in love while expressing their emotions. Though each knew they had more grieving to do, they felt stronger and more prepared to cope with the days ahead.
ON THE NEED FOR STRONG COMMUNITIES
In shamanic cultures, community members know each other well. They understand the need to listen to those in the community who suffer during a war, a tragedy, or a mental or emotional breakdown.
The community knows how to listen, hold the hurt community member in love, and welcome them home after suffering trauma.
In Walking in Light, I address in depth the tragedies we are facing due to the lack of strong and supportive communities. We need to create strength in our communities so that we can embrace the homecoming of our initiates instead of leaving them to feel estranged and isolated. We can accomplish this through the power of ceremony.