How to create your own ceremonies
The power and beauty of ceremony and ritual
Awakening The Shamanic Force Within
There are many ways of creating small ceremonies for yourself, although big ceremonies work best in groups, because the energy created by the group will enhance them. However you choose to do it, constructing a ceremony is a creative, enjoyable act.
You can use ceremonial work to celebrate something, to resolve an issue, to embody or let go of something, or to call something that you would like to manifest. You can give thanks via a ceremony, mark transitions, send out wishes and prayers, release fear, anger or grief and tune into and connect with the various aspects of yourself. Ceremonies can also be used to tune into, connect with and celebrate nature and various aspects of her, such as the seasons or cycles. No matter what the purpose, ceremonial work will support you in your quest for wholeness, connection and manifestation in the many ways I have outlined above.
How to structure a basic ceremony
· Find the intent and decide how you want to do the ritual (there are examples below).
· Define the space: I generally use stones to create a circle, marking the east, south, west and north. Anything that is available can be used as long as it marks a sacred ceremonial space. The ceremony takes place inside the space.
· Call spirit and any additional spirits/powers you want to be with you during the ceremony. Ask aloud for blessings for the ceremony.
· Create an altar. A simple cloth on the floor will do, with a centrepiece that represents the intent of the ceremony. This can be a candle, flowers, a stone, a crafted object or whatever feels appropriate. When you put the object on the altar, state your intent aloud. Add something to represent the spirits you want to be present. I use fire, water, earth and air as well as something that represents spirit in general. What you use must relate to your intent and to the spirits you want present. The ceremonial shrine is the seating place of spirit during a ceremony.
· Cleanse and protect the space by walking around it with smudge or using sound in form of a Tibetan bell, singing bowl, drum or rattle.
· The ritual. Now perform the ritual. There are many forms, some of which will be described below. Use your imagination!
· End the ceremonial work when you feel it is done. Do something to mark the end (for example, drum, rattle, chant or meditate for a few minutes). Give thanks to the spirits. Next, clear the space — remove everything you used for the ceremony. Walk away! It’s done. Go back to normal reality.
Create ceremonies for releasing, healing, manifesting and retuning
I will lead you through two basic ceremonies, the fire ceremony and the tree ceremony, which you can adjust and use for all the purposes described above, and then outline seasonal ceremonies and moon ceremonies for you so that you can retune to your natural rhythms.
It is important to understand that a ceremony begins the moment the preparations start. All preparations, such as crafting the offering and creating the shrine, are a vital part of the ceremony. They create the sacred space, intensify the intent, bring you into an altered state and connect you with spirit.
Exercise: The fire ceremony
This can be found with slight variations in most indigenous cultures around the world as well as in all contemporary shamanic groups and circles. I have participated in fire ceremonies in South America, North America, the Far East and various places in Europe. Although each was slightly different, all had the major ingredients in common. Here is a short version:5
· Specify your intent. The first step is to specify the intent of the ceremony, such as healing, letting something go, giving thanks, blessing, praying, calling something in, connecting with spirit.
· Create the offering. The burnable offering holds the energy of the intent (for example, what you want to let go of or call in). Use your imagination. What matters is that the object is constructed with complete focus, intent and spirit present (as described in Chapter 5).
· Define the space, call spirit, create an altar and cleanse and protect the space as described above. For a fire ceremony, you can build a fire outside or in an inside fireplace, use a candle in a bowl or buy a fire bowl for repeated use.
· The ritual. Whilst lighting the fire, you can again call in the spirits of the directions, ancestor spirits and guides and ask them to help you with your intent. Traditionally, either chants, rattles or drums or all of these are used to further connect with spirit. So, if you have any of them, use them. Put the offering on the fire whilst stating your intent aloud, with heart and focus. Watch it burn whilst holding your intent and sending it up to spirit. When the object has burned, put your hands through the fire, bringing the smoke first to your belly, then to your heart and then to your third eye.
· Finish the ceremony as suggested above.
Traditionally, fire ceremonies can take a long time, depending on the size of the community or group and how intense the ceremony becomes. In the Andes, for example, where three fires were included in the ceremonies I attended, they usually took three to four hours. An African fire ceremony I attended took most of the night, partly because the participants also moved around the fire, dancing themselves into a prolonged trance. As long as you don’t rush ceremonial work, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
Exercise: The tree ceremony
This ceremony is a prayer ceremony. You may have come across it in various forms, as it is used on different continents. The best known may be the Buddhist prayer flags of Tibet and Nepal, which are based on shamanic traditions. I have also seen variations in Mongolia, North and South America and Africa.
This ceremony works beautifully inside or outside, alone or in a group. I have used it both ways many times. You can utilize it for almost any purpose, such as bestowing blessings, calling something in, remembering something with love, honouring ancestors, telling your story, sending out prayers and wishes or giving thanks. The nicest way to use it is around a theme, such as gratitude, honouring, blessing or prayer, because you can construct a prayer tree, keep it somewhere and add to it over time.
You need wool, cloths or ribbons in various colours and a tree outside or a tree-like plant or branches in a vase inside.
Let’s say your intent is:
’To give thanks for all the blessings in my life.’
· Start: Define the space, call spirit, create an altar and cleanse and protect the space as described above.
· The ritual: Put the tree, or whatever you are using, in the centre of your sacred space. Sit for a moment, meditate and contemplate your life. Find things you are grateful for, such as your friends, your job, your parents, your lover, husband, wife, child(ren), health, creativity or spirituality. Then, when you are ready, cut a piece of wool or cloth, walk around the tree and give thanks for one of these things by saying, for example, ’I give thanks for my health,’ and binding the cloth to a branch. Take another piece of ribbon. Walk around the tree. Say, for example, ’I give thanks for having a secure place of shelter in the world.’ Bind the ribbon to the tree. Take another piece of ribbon. Walk around the tree… Well, you get the idea. Do this until you run out of things to be grateful for. You will be astonished how many things there are.
· Finish: Sit in front of the branches/tree for a while. Meditate and send the gratitude out to the universe. You can drum or rattle a bit, or dance if you want to embody your gratitude through dancing. Thank spirit. Clear the space and put the branches or plant somewhere to remind you of all the things you are grateful for. You can add ribbons or cloths with the same or other themes/intents at any time.
Seasonal ceremonies and moon ceremonies
Ceremonies that are based on the seasonal cycles as well as the cycles of the moon are very important in all strands of shamanism because they attune us to the rhythms and forces of nature as well as our own.
All basic aspects of ceremonies marking the beginnings and endings of nature’s seasons use the sun as the marker of time. The sun rises and sets yearly along the horizon, reaching due east and due west at the equinoxes, and it rises and sets as far south and north as possible at the solstices. Ancient cultures saw these as the four primary solar gates and aligned with them through the places where they constructed their sacred sites (such as Stonehenge) as well as through their ceremonial intents. Reconnecting with the seasonal rhythms of nature through ceremonies at the equinoxes and solstices will not only reconnect you with your own natural rhythms but also attune you to the life-force and light-energy information carried by the sun into the body via those four solar gates.
· Spring equinox: At this time the length of day and night is equal all around the world. It is therefore about balance and also about ’sowing the seeds’, i.e. releasing the old which might block us from moving forwards and bringing in the new by planting our intentions.
· Summer solstice: This is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. It is the first day of summer, when the great power of the sun can be experienced. Themes of the summer solstice are joy of living, the wonder and beauty of the Earth, the riches of everything in bloom, abundance, fertility, communication with spirits, rites, divination, sharing and enlightenment.
· Autumn equinox: Now the light shortens and the darkness grows. We move from the sun energy into the time of Earth energy, the time of darkness. Autumn equinox ceremonies are twofold. This is the time of harvest, when we give thanks for the fruits of past efforts. It is also the time of beginning to connect with and embrace the dark, the deep, the unconscious levels of ourselves and of manifest reality, to explore the riches therein and to practise introspection and being quiet.
· Winter solstice: This is the longest night of the year and the dawn of the returning light. Now begins the journey out of darkness into light. Traditionally, this is a time of releasing burdens and carrying them up to spirit to exchange them for blessings. It is a time to let go of old grudges and negative feelings, to forgive, to give thanks for the blessings of the year left behind and to call in the new, opening to the light of spring.
I often facilitate shamanic ceremonial groups at the solstices and equinoxes and the energy levels that are reached are usually very strong indeed and seem to produce some astonishing results. As the summer solstice in 2015 fell on a weekend, another shamanic teacher and I ran a long weekend of drumming, dancing and ceremony. One of the participants, Mary, had been invited (pushed really) by her daughter. She hadn’t socialized for six months, in fact had hardly left the house, as she was grieving for her husband and deeply depressed. During the weekend she went through a deep healing process, released much of her sadness and also found her ’life-joy’ again. She emailed me afterwards, thanking me profoundly and telling me that she had started to ’live again’.
One of the participants had never done anything like this before. After the night ceremony, she declared that for the first time in her life she had felt a connection to something mystical and magical, inside and outside. The difference in her was visible: she came alive.
How to create seasonal ceremonies
· Intent: Define your intent from the meaning of the season (see above).
· Ceremonial space: Set up the ceremonial space — preferably outside — and tune into the season. Add nature spirits and the spirits of the season to your calling. Let your body absorb the season. Moving, dancing, drumming, singing or chanting all intensify the connection. If you want to be even more elaborate, make a mask representing the season and wear it.
· The rituals:
o Releasing: You can make a ’release bundle’, which consists of binding together different items that you want to release, or release everything you want to release separately. Then use the fire ceremony described above, or bury the items, or find a stream and let them float away.
o Sowing the seeds: You can either literally sow some seeds outside or in a pot, holding the intent of what you want to bring into your life. You can also plant your intentions by creating something, or construct a board, or make a collage, or use the tree ceremony described above. Keep whatever you have created.
o Celebration: Do something that really celebrates the summer. Make something very colourful that expresses your joy and gratefulness. Dance a lot — the crazier, the better. Thank spirit profoundly. Tune into the strong light of the sun, feel it and try to get the messages it is sending. Remember, you are doing this on a solar gate day.
However you create your ceremonies, tune into the season fully. Absorb it in your body as well as your heart and mind. The intent is to get in tune with it, then let whatever you have done gestate and manifest.
How to create moon ceremonies
Monthly cycles use the moon as the marker of time. Reconnecting with the cycles of the moon will tune you into the feminine, the flow of the wild, nurturing, intuitive, heart-centred, life-giving and sustaining force, and the monthly cycle of releasing and beginning.
Working with the moon is of course best done outside at night. The moon asks us to listen, to absorb, to intuit and to express creatively. When carrying out the ceremonies, use your imagination. Be creative.
· Full moon is a time of releasing all that which no longer serves us, such as addictions, hurtful relationships, anger, fear and emotional pain or obstacles in our paths. Release them with your blessings. You can craft objects or draw or write and then create a fire ceremony for releasing. You can go outside and express what you want to release: dance it away, howl it away, bury it.
· New moon is for new beginnings, for manifestation, birth and rebirth — all cycles that will be completed by the full moon. Set intentions. Write them down, make a board, sow seeds in a pot. Things need time to gestate. Go outside if you can and ask the moon to help you gestate whatever you want to give birth to.