Stepping into Ceremony
When we are well prepared and present to intention,
we set the stage to safely step back and allow healing to move through us
without trying to control or struggle toward a perceived goal;
opportunities unfold to perceive medicines and divine wisdom
greater than we can imagine.
An Initiatory Experience
An initiation marks a distinct time of "before" and "after". The kind of experience that, at its extreme, will feel like a complete life over-haul, almost like we have been reborn or achieved a new level of depth/height in awareness. Everything is somehow different or has shifted in a fundamental or cellular way.
Often it is a rite of passage, deep ceremony, intense personal medicine work, vision quest, or healing event that creates a significant shift in the way we relate to and experience the world. It steps us into a new phase of life or welcomes us into a community previously unavailable to us. It applies also to unplanned events like serious illness, accident, or tragedy, as well as natural life stages such as birth, puberty, menarche, labour/birth/parenthood, coupling/uncoupling, menopause, eldership, and death.
As I have learned it, there are 3 distinct phases to an Initiation.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
Others may have different names or words to describe them, but the essence seems consistent in my experiences and observances so far.
The preparation phase. This is the lead up to the experience, and is when the healing work actualy begins. Sometimes as early as the moment when we commit to the opportunity. We go through a phase, consciously or not, of acts of letting go of our life as we know it, saying Goodbye to all that is familiar, releasing our grip on the anchors that make us feel stable - patterns, beliefs, relationships, perceived goals and desires, daily constructs, ways of relating, ways of being, ways of thinking - and cutting all ties to the way things are.
If you recognize you are in the Severance stage, you can support and deepen this process by:
This is where we cross over from the "before" to the "after". It is the Experience that changes us or the culmination of experiences that leads us to a pivotal threshold or doorway to step through. It may be marked by ceremony, ritual, vision quest, dark night(s) of the soul, a period of deep healing, or it may not even be fully recognized while in the thick of it - particularly when without the witnessing of community or when the experience(s) are viewed as trauma without resulting gifts.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
Often considered the hardest part, and sadly too often overlooked - integration occurs when we are able to Return to our usual life and keep the gifts we have acquired intact. We are challenged with bringing our internal shifts outward to affect change in our day-to-day living and resist falling back into old ways of thinking, reacting, and being. Many times this transition isn't easy, might be messy, and perhaps feels a bit chaotic as things shake up in order to fall into more harmonious places. Touching in with any community, elders, or teachers that held us through the Threshold phase can be a wellspring of anchoring resources.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
A few years ago I wrote some practical, hands-on, tips and suggestions for integrating the medicines from the Threshold, and bringing all of the unseen, personal, inner work Out into our mundane living experience. If you would like more on the Integration phase, find yourself post-ceremony or have recently undergone a personal healing session, please read "Integration ~ the often overlooked time after soul-work".
If you would like personal and direct support as you move through any of these stages, you are welcome to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a consultation.
There are many ways to “be of service” to our communities that don’t involve extensive training, one-to-one healing sessions, or even a full-time dedicated practice, that are incredibly powerful and very supportive. One of these methods is by tending to a Community Altar. This way of holding space for others on their healing journey is easily integrated into even the busiest lifestyles and from what I have experienced, can become a highly requested form of support.
7 Steps to building a Community Altar practice:
1.) Consider where your Altar will be and the length of time it will remain active. Helpful questions might be; Will your Altar be indoors or outside? Are you ready for a permanent feature in your home or will it be created only for a short gathering? An Altar is created with careful energetic intention on a designated surface - so choose a location that is easy to access and encouraging for you to tend to. Perhaps more than one person will actively tend to the Altar on behalf of the community - you get to cultivate this practice to suit your needs as well as those seeking to be included!
2.) Ponder the essential quality the Altar will be designed to represent and radiate. One might choose to support people’s hearts, invoke the sense of being held in the hands of divinity, promote their safety, clear ancestral wounds, encourage physical health, or tend to a need the community that you identify and relate to from your lived experience.
3.) Every item that makes up the Altar will be carefully selected and geared to contribute to the chosen energy and purpose. Consider them as energetic or spiritual ‘power houses’ such as specific crystals, images of deities or photos of deceased relatives, stones from significant and relevant places, plant medicines or dried herbs, all of which carry or support the chosen intention. An Altar brings together the individual energies of the objects with your aim to create a unified energy source that “works for you” once set.
4.) Decide how you will represent people who want to be included. You might light a candle on their behalf and speak their name for long distance support or if they will be physically present you might ask them to bring a stone, photo, or personal item that resonates with their personal energy.
5.) When you have spent some time becoming familiar with the energy of the Altar, are clear on its intention and comfortable with tending to it; extend the invitation to your community to be included. One might offer to individuals already asking for support, post a general invitation on social media, or verbally encourage participants at a gathering you are offering.
6.) Be sure to hold the work your Altar is doing with utmost respect. Do not allow others to put random objects on it, keep it clean and organized, spend time in quiet reverence there, and perhaps move things around or change up the items to keep the energy fresh. You might sing devotional songs, make offerings, or speak invocations and prayers while tending.
7.) It is important to remember that as a working energy source, there are also times of rest needed. We can provide this rest by periodically laying a cloth over it and by dismantling it when no longer active. Blessing and cleansing the items with sacred smoke is also something to be mindful to do when the energy begins to feel “stale”. If out-of-doors in a public area, be sure to thank and close the Altar by removing personal items after each time of tending.
Tips to remember:
An example of a simple yet powerful Altar as an inspiration for your own might be to dedicate to the Fairies, and include a central rose quartz sphere representing your love for them. Perhaps with a few “fairy quartz” points radiating outward and interlaced with small images of Fairies that are particularly attractive to you. You might decide to work with this creative energy space by reciting a daily invocation stating your desire to connect with the Fae on a deeper level. Visitors to your home who would like the same could be welcome to leave shiny coins or chocolate as gifts.
Another example is an altar for our Grandmothers created on a piece of lace at a Samhain gathering. Adorning with an inherited favourite tea cup, some black and white photos, and a broach your Great Great Grandmother wore establishes the connection to matriarchal lines and brings in their energy. If the intention is to heal a history of abuse for our Ancestors, including crystals that transmute dense energy, repair heartache, and impart strength safely surrounding the Grandmothers creates a powerful healing purpose. Guests could then bring their own photos, heirlooms, and written prayers for healing their lineages.
You might be surprised how many people ask to be included and share with you a real, felt sense of being supported. The simple act of someone caring is a profound sentiment let alone the supportive medicines included with, and invoked by, your Altar practice. Its free, takes little time, creates a strong feeling of community, and isn’t impeded by distance. I invite you to begin and have fun!
If you would like more in-depth wisdom to explore about Altars & Shrines, the differences between the two, their purpose, nuances, and best practices, it is a topic we cover during the first month of the year-long Shamanic Living Immersion program.
Registration opens each June and we begin each October.
Do you have Altars ALL over the house? Here is something to consider that is often overlooked.
This video is a beautiful example of how the medicine gifts we bring to our Healers, Teachers, Facilitators, and Practitioners supports their work continuing for the community.
The dollars we pay is the energy exchange to keep them and their families alive, housed, recognizing their years of training, skills, and continued education, while compensating for their time - much of which is unseen by their clients, students, or members.
Medicine gifts, such as the sacred Peruvian tobacco used in this clearing, may be the only way to ensure certain ceremony or healing work is done. In many lineages, the facilitator is never to purchase such medicines, it must be grown, harvested, or gifted. Such gifts also honours their lineage, their teachers - both spirit and human, and the medicine ways themselves.
Without this gift of tobacco, this particular clearing and the ceremony to the Airts (directions) before it would not have occurred. It is a blessing to the community to receive such, and a sweetness to me to be entrusted and supported in this work. Many of the flowers I use in my offerings, and the herbs used for our smoke cleansing ceremonies have also been gifted during gatherings or even sent in the mail! <3
Don't think this way is only for the spiritual helpers in your community, gift your chiropractors, doctors, massage therapists, professors, mechanics, even your baristas! What would support them in supporting others? What would honour their time and skill?
Working intimately with my lia mala (medicine bundle) is a significant part of my personal spiritual practice and energetic well-being. Over the years of offering the Shamanic Living Immersion, I began carrying a lia mala for the community as well. In this way, each member is able to receive energetic clearing and spiritual healing support via my tending to this bundle.
It is treated similarly to my own, albeit holding different contents. It is brought to sacred places, opened to the healing elements, offerings are made, medicines added, and receives the energy stream of traditional shamanic techniques. It comes with us to each circle and session the SLI members might benefit from. They are welcome work with this energy source long distance or held in their laps as needed.
Working in this way also supports Myself. Before I had received the dream telling me to create one for them, I had been navigating the effects of a large number of people very often "reaching out" to me in unseen, but very real, ways. Healing work and support was being asked of me throughout each day and each night, even into my dream time as members moved through their deep healing processes. Community outside of the immersion program also call on me in this way and I knew I needed to find more effective means to move this work a little more "outside" of myself. Upon creation, the remedy was felt immediately. If you are a Teacher or Practitioner, perhaps this share inspires you should requests for your energetic attention require a different way of holding.
Much of my spiritual teaching practice is based on reclaiming our own forgotten or misplaced cultural practices. The majority of us have been severed from rich ancestral traditions - for all sorts of reasons. Part of this process includes diving deeply into Why a practice/ritual/ceremony is done, cultivating intimate & reciprocal relationships with the plants, animals, elements, and guides involved, plus researching myths, stories, and lore from the lands our families came from, sitting with elders and spirit teachers, reading & listening intently - and importantly - discovering and remedying appropriated methods and terms.
This fills our cup of longing for deeper purpose to this living experience. It brings us fertile ground for ceremony, spiritual holding, and of course our own well-being and that of our communities and the natural world around us. When we are intact in this way, we can appreciate the differences and similarities found around the world in a beautiful way, but when this cup of ours is empty - we are much more likely to grab and fill from cultures we witness or who are undergoing their own revitalization process, even when we don't intend harm.
I have recently learned the term "smudge" is an incorrect usage unless our ancestry is indigenous to Turtle Island. While many first nation people do not mind common use of this term for clearing and blessing with sacred smoke - many Do. I have begun re-writing my language to reflect my intention of decolonizing my personal practice, my words, and my teachings. It will take time to come across each instance - but I am dedicated to it.
Like many of us - my own ancestral traditions have also been decimated. Google and Duolingo is often my "elder" when hunting down appropriate Gaelic languaging to use, along with my human colleagues who are also piecing things together.
These things are highly entrenched and often go unnoticed - until they suddenly stand out in blazing illumination. My apprenticeship was focused on women who's ancestry was that of Irish and Scottish descent - and still I learned this integral practice as "smudging" and have used the term for at least a decade.
The closest Gaelic word I can find so far is "Slain" or "Slainning". Lots and lots of reference to clearing and blessing with smoke in Ireland and Scotland abound - and yet a word for it is seldom mentioned. I am still on the hunt as slainning seems also interchangeable with fumigating a house, person, or animal for purpose of bugs and germs by burning local herbs and plants.
I invite you to join me in this awareness and practice changing our language to reflect this knowledge. Smoke Bath, Sacred Smoke Ceremony, Smoke Cleansing, Smoke Ritual are all acceptable - albeit perhaps focuses on the common modern intention of use purely to clear energy rather than also as carrying our prayers to Spirit or as a blessing by the plants/feathers/shell used. (here's another invitation to take this wisdom-way deeper than is often spoken of)
I've also been working on reducing my use of the word "shamanism" and "shamanic" as this too is a term taken from a specific cultural region that my DNA does not originate from. A complication is it is currently recognized for specifically distinguishing from other spiritual ways of being - an important component when offering community services. It most clearly conveys to those seeking to attend or join me what is likely to happen and often is the word searched for when in need. It too has undergone appropriation and a great loss of depth - a westernization of original practice & meaning, now a buzzword added on to all sorts of other practices that may or may not have those distinctive aspects. I'm still working on this one too.
I'm incredibly grateful for patience being shown to each other as we all find our way and I hope my share sparks some inspiration to use our words carefully. If you like, it would be neat to hear what sacred smoke rituals are called in your ancestral language! If you don't know - now is a fine time to start the quest!
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Many have been called to support and respond to the wildfires in BC these past weeks. We have options open to us ranging from donating money to feet-on-the-ground, hands-on help. There are also many of us who have been working with prayers, healing work, and energetic support. Here I share a guided healing response that all of us can experience and contribute with. This technique is mindful of free will, respects the natural elements, keeps our "ego" in check and makes a measurable difference. You can bring his way of working into your day-to-day living, respond to other events, and include it in your practice, daily commute, or community offerings easily and powerfully. Bless!
I felt it as a student, I see it with colleagues, and I hold it as a teacher - there is a new aspect to the modern teacher/student dynamic that was unheard of in times of yesteryear.
The traditional way of a medicine person, shaman, bean feasa, etc etc was to study with one teacher for a number of years, become an apprentice, endure their and Spirit's sometimes harsh teachings, wait your turn, and integrate the medicines learned over time. Always showing utmost respect, learning as ready to, and mastering one's craft after much diligence.
Today those who seek to dive deeper into their spiritual practice have wave upon wave of seductive workshops, a plethora of fantastic books, online focus groups and videos abound. We live in an excellent time of sharing and availability. It's accessible. Great event coordination can happen. One can pick and choose who we like best, and who to give our precious time to. If we don't like what we hear, well, there is a book at the local occult shop we might like better.
The trouble is this, this sense of urgency. With so much in our western modern world being instant gratification and with great selection, we can easily lose respect for a Teacher and hurry our learning along - because frankly, most of us are starving for something deep, soulful, purposeful and personal. And then we want to share it and "become" useful.
This is how it seems to look...
In traditional settings, an apprentice would never think to go to the next village over and ask a different medicine person if they didn't like their teacher's answer. To do so would end the student/teacher relationship and potentially kibosh any future relationships with other teachers. There was a trust in right timing, that things weren't withheld as a power play but for safety.
As a teacher, there may be many reasons why a question is not directly answered, or skipping ahead would be discouraged.
Yep, I could have asked another teacher what they thought about it and searched for confirmations. I could have trusted the book instead. I could have trusted what my guides were showing me at the time - and likely would have had a rockier road to getting where I am today. This path is not known for its "smooth sailing" after all.
As a teacher, these situations call for delicacy as well as trust. Trust in our work, in the student, trust in right-timing and the ability of both participants. Trust that our ego isn't driving the boat in deciding what should or should not be for another. Trust in the student as a creative, resourceful and whole person. Trust in the balance between holding and guiding a being of free will, or being too controlling or nonchalant about it. And the delicacy to be able to sometimes say No without tearing away at that trust.
A most important cue for both sides - is a sense of urgency. When either participant is acting on feelings of urgency, that is a big cue to step back.
Whether a student or teacher, I wish you blessings on your slow cooked processes.
How to keep ourselves protected spiritually and energetically was one of the questions that came in to me and is a very important area to focus on. Here I share a few tips to help all of us with a good energetic hygiene practice to help keep us protected.
For practitioners, here are a couple additional suggestions:
- Spend a good amount of time to set sacred space before work
- Be sure to "arrive" mentally and energetically before each client
- Resist temptation to work when tired, sick, or emotionally charged
- Focus on closing sacred space, thanking guides, and stepping out of work just as much as stepping into it
- Ritual bathing/washing before and/or after sessions, gatherings, or ceremony
- Be clear with boundaries, what is yours/theirs, and be discerning with client/practitioner incompatibilities. Know who you should not work with
- Keep within your skill level. Reach out to or refer to mentors or colleagues if dealing with something out of your league
Bringing our gifts out into our communities in healthy ethical ways is part of the Medicine Ways program that follows the Shamanic Living Immersion. If you are keen to work together in this way, you are welcome to find more details on the www.ShamanicLiving.ca website
Many of us are grief-stricken and over-burdened by the atrocities of the world, especially these days. Here is 1 change I made that was essential for me to do the work I came here to do, perhaps it is a key to protect your heart too. It's simple. Some say it's radical. You might find resistance. But once it's done, you may find the freedom you've been seeking and the ability to do what you came to do.
Last week a package arrived from a dear friend and medicine woman, Nikiah Seeds of Red Moon Pathways containing beautifully crafted bundles of raw cacao paste, cacao butter, raw beans, and rose quartz crystals. Since early last Spring, Cacao Ceremonies had been coming into my awareness and inspiring a sweetness that I knew meant one day, events would unfold where I would experience this ancient and highly regarded medicine way.
Cacao is a plant ally like many other plants where relationships with the plant spirit can be cultivated and connected with during ceremony, for energetic support, and within your shamanic practice. The energy of cacao has the ability to both be gentle with it's heart-opening experience (as it is an entheogen but not a psychedelic) while also bringing more ecstatic opportunities through its natural mood enhancing and energizing compounds.
On the night of my first ceremony, my partner and I placed a piece of cacao paste, a cacao bean and a small rose quarts crystal into a large clam shell, made an offering of rose petals to this new plant friend, and set it in a place of honour on the altar. We began mindfully preparing the elixir together, warming complementing spices and herbs, whisking in ghee and setting our intentions. For hours beforehand I had been experiencing a familiar, very uncomfortable, physical sensation that occurs when I have picked up an energetic intrusion. Therefore my main task at hand was to tend to this immediately with a shamanic extraction and I hoped this could happen during the ceremony.
When the elixir was ready, we ladled it into our mugs and took our spaces facing each other and listened to a medium's channeled message that my partner had received earlier. Each sip was a bit like a warm hug on a cold winter's day - which actually it was with the largest snowfall in years! A peaceful, calm, and sleepy cozy feeling soon came over me and all I could think of was curling up into a big feather duvet to soak in the good feeling and tend to the intrusion which still caused me a fair amount of discomfort on both physical and spiritual levels. Into a journey I went seeking my extraction guide to remove the projected energy that didn't belong to me and restore myself to a "full cup" state to prevent taking on anything further. The journey was simple - my power animal performed the removal which was different than usual, and while it was in its clutches I saw a vulture circling overhead then come to a river bank to pull apart a decomposing salmon. A scavenger feeding. The intrusion was then passed to my extraction guide to complete the removal process. There were flashes of 3 different likely sources, but truly, the source wasn't my concern - just the healing. After the extraction was fully complete I noticed all of my senses were heightened. The ambient music, energetic awareness, and tactile experience were all very sensitive, alert and far reaching. I was still extremely cozy and super sleepy but with a euphoric and inward feeling. I began slipping in and out of the journey and was guided to channel the energy of cacao, of love, and reiki into the area on my body where the intrusion had been. I could feel immediate relief as I did so, but with a tenderness to it, like after a migraine one's head still feels tender, as if it could return if not carefully tended to. For the rest of the evening I stayed curled in my cocoon, cultivating the heart-filling gift of self-care, the good feelings of the elixir, and the sleepy coziness of a winter's night.
The next morning I marveled at how completely recovered I felt from the extraction and healing. I had not expected to feel so sleepy and cozy, thinking instead I would become energized and invigorated - though I can still feel the inspiration to dance, journey to the heart, and to create art that did visit me through the cushion my very quiet and inward focus had developed. Later, I read an article by Ruby Warrington where she says, "in ceremonial doses, raw cacao is a powerful heart opener that paves the way to transformation through self-love" This sentiment definitely resonates with my experience and was exactly what I most needed.
I will continue to cultivate my relationship with cacao in all the ways that one gets to know a new spiritual ally. I have added a cacao bean to my mala (medicine bundle), I will journey to the spirit of cacao, I will ingest micro-doses, honour it on my altar, embark on more ceremonies, dream with it under my pillow, read about it and listen to people's experiences, learn how to ensure environmental and humanitarian harvest practices, dance with it, meditate with it, and discover more ways that cacao can facilitate healing, how I may be able to support this plant spirit and its work, and listen for if cacao will become a regular part of my shamanic practice.
Please feel invited to share your experiences with this ancient and prized medicine plant either in the comments below or privately to email@example.com I would love to hear them!
Ahhh yes! Working with an altar can become a juicy, tangible way of working in our personal spiritual practice. They bring us a physical place to tend to. It works with the powerful subtlety of symbols directly speaking to our subconscious. On a left-brained, scientific side of things, an altar brings together electromagnetic frequencies of items and the energetics of thought, intention and emotion - to generate a specific vibration - which in turn affects the world around us and our physical, emotional and etheric bodies.
Let's look at a couple things before we consider how many altars we might want:
It is a beautiful way of working, one that our human tribe has been inspired by for longer than anyone can truly tell. Often I hear people mention having many altars around their homes, or the jubilant desire to create many. To me, this signals a caution to look at - it can end up feeling like a bit like a home with every single light on, with a whole lot of energy beaming out from many points around the house. If we go further and imagine each light bulb has a different intense colour; like each altar might have a different intention, the effect could be rather overwhelming, confusing, or even conflicting. It can become a lot to mindfully tend to on a practical level. A lot to feel. A lot of energy coursing through the night while you sleep.
In many traditions an altar or shrine to one's ancestors is tended to for our beloved deceased. Some ancestral altars or shrines are actually kept in a cupboard, special box, or are only created during certain times of the year, due to the added feel of "company" or a sense of more personalities within one's home that may stem from such altar work. For myself, I have an altar for my personal work, or work on behalf of a friend, client, or family member, and we have a shrine for our Ancestors. To me, this is plenty to work with. My altar changes and refreshes as I do, as my practice does, and is definitely something I feel sensitive about when I have company over, especially because it is in our main living space. With energetic work like this the fields of those present may be affected and can contribute or interfere too (lets face it, lovely energy and beautiful objects are attractive to touch!) My preference is to lay it to rest and keep it covered when guests are over. It is a place of personal work, not a conversation piece.
Just these two power centers within our house create plenty for me to tend to, work with, and live in the energy of. Other people may have a different threshold - but it is interesting to me to consider the call to have many altars all over one's home as instead a call to work more deeply with just one. Consider too if you are one called to have many altars, what is your nervous system is experiencing - would more energy sources around a hyper-vigilant, excitable person create a harmonious feel or overwhelm? If you struggle with learning to rest, pause, think things through, would more power sources help or hinder? Do you tend to have lots of fantastic ideas but burn out before seeing them to completion? Does the dedicated time spent with each fit practically into your day-to-day? Would many shrines, places to honour, to experience gratitude at, and leave offerings with, fit the bill instead of more altar work? Having altars ALL over the house is really something to consider!
A bean feasa of Celtic lineage shares stories & insights from her shamanic practice on the West Coast of Canada.