I am not one who feels compelled to know the Why or How behind every mystery. I am not quick to label, designate, or categorize. But I do recognize patterns and I make associations through experiences. I pick up on similarities, threads of potential, and unseen streams of feeling. Sometimes I'll follow them through to articulation and hope it lands somewhere helpful.
These past weeks I have been observing the various ways people have been moving through our current global experience. Some are stepping into high gear productivity and creativity. Some diving into ceremony and prayer. Some crumbling under overwhelm or simply maintaining and existing. There is calm. There is tension. There is violence and acts of incredible beauty. The parallel that I can sense, no matter how our situations are affecting us, is with that of an Initiatory Experience. More precisely, the sort of initiation that was unexpected and goes largely unrecognized. This is not the community supported, planned and prepared for sort. Rites of Passage, Vision Quests, profound Healing Ceremonies, Warrior Homecomings, or the culmination of an intense period of Spiritual Apprenticeship, ideally, are supported by wise medicine keepers, elders, or the already initiated, and tend to be witnessed by close community. Necessarily unaware of what challenges it entails, the initiate often feels it coming and prepares, strengthens and readies, but they certainly may not always. If fortunate, those surrounding them are aware and have watched their slow unfolding, and quietly are preparing in their roles for what lies ahead. They know the protocols, hold the space, and set the pace. We see it naturally when experienced parents pass wisdom to expectant mothers and the midwife and doula arrive. It is there when an Uncle brings a boy on his first hunting trip. When a young girl enters the tent for the first time after menarche or as the family gathers to the bedside of a passing elder. Significant times of change that leave a very clear sense of life Before as being distinct from life After.
Unfortunately, unrecognized initiations occur in individuals and groups quite often. These are times when we move through life altering events that shake us to our core, without guidance of a medicine person or wise elder facilitating a conscious process, without knowledge of what is afoot, and without even a sense of preparation. It might be a near death experience through illness or accident, coming of age without stories of foretelling, becoming lost alone overnight in the woods, or even the untangling from a toxic relative or abusive spouse. If we are lucky, we at least have a quiet witness to the magnitude of a profound shift within us.
Previously I wrote an article on the 3 Stages of an Initiatory Experience describing the phases as I know them to be. It paints a picture of a full and complete process from the initial stages of severance or removal from all that we know, into the discombobulating challenge of an intensity that brings us to the brink - be it facing fear, maxing out our physical strength and endurance, testing our faith, or near breaking of determination and will power - and into the final integration of the knowledge we gained from such challenge, where life is reassembled in a new, course corrected, improved, and harmonious way. Which is far from how light and easy that might sound.
The trouble comes when one begins this process, intentionally or not, and stalls or stops partway through. Usually when the going gets roughest, and most often when without recognition either from the initiate themselves or from a network or facilitator to help push through to completion. It feels like the bottom has dropped out from under our feet, circumstances become intolerable, but we don't make it to the other side with newfound resilience and instead stay in a painful place where the emotional wounds don't seem to heal, dysfunctional patterns continue, and the shit just keeps getting kicked up without true resolution. We end up not knowing how to fully return from our challenge. We don't know how to process what we experienced or what to do with the thoughts that we walked away with. For some, it might even result in a chronic trauma response.
The sneakiest pitfall that I have seen many times over, is when the challenge itself runs its course, the initiate(s) complete their hardship in whatever form it took, the sigh of relief is breathed - and everything goes right back to the way it was when it all started. There is a false sense of completion. A lull into complacency just before the actual finish line. The wisdoms gained during the ultimate "moment of truth" is not applied to life After after all.
All becomes for nought.
There was no integration and we might not even know it.
The big game is talked, didactic pontification ensues, wounds are declared healed, and blindspots are cultivated and sidestepped.
Until the next initiatory experience brings another chance.
What I have had brewing on the back burner of my awareness, is no matter how easily or painfully we might be moving through these pandemic days, regardless of "enlightened" or conspiracy concepts as to the Whys of it all, despite any desire for or knowledge of potentially being in the midst of an initiatory experience - both individually and collectively - there is possibility of inadvertently missing those 3 key steps.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
We have clearly said goodbye to life as we knew it. We appear to be at the threshold. How it looks and what we learn here is deeply personal and widely varied. If it is right, that these times are following this ancient structure, integration will look differently for everyone. Some will actively work at it. Some will not even realize it. Let there be no sidestepping. Let us be guided by innate wisdom and latent medicines if not by Initiated knowledge keepers. Sometimes they seem far and few between. But at least if we get lost, we know these 3 steps.
There are many times we might feel called to pick up a stone, feather, shell, or stick while walking in nature. These little friends might catch our eye or even seem to "call out" to us. We might feel a pull or even seem to audibly hear them. This is especially the case during meditation walks when seeking items for certain ceremonial working such as creating a spirit arrow or staff, when in need of a particular energetic or elemental medicine, gathering for a devotional offering practice, re-stocking Burlá Ghuí/Despacho kits, when creating medicine pouches, or simply wildcrafting herbal medicines, but we may also feel this urge spontaneously. Some of us may even develop a habit of collecting a particular item, heart shaped rocks or feathers are a common favourite.
There are a few important aspects to consider when gathering from Nature to ensure that we are doing so in a good way.
How to cultivate a relationship with plant, stone, or crystal medicine - article full of easy methods
Stone Spirit Medicine - online course for those drawn to stones in personal healing and spiritual practice
Today's podcast guest, Juliette Woods, is an incredible mix of mystic, mother, spiritual guide, creative, and earth spiritualist.
In our conversation we talk about...
We cover a lot of ground in this long-form conversation that feels like a lengthy stroll down the beach on a drizzly day...picking up wise little stones...giving the selkies a wave hello and wink or two...remembering the seal skin tucked away in our own closets.
To support this podcast :
You can engage in reciprocity with this show by supporting me - Amber Samaya - on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ambersamaya
I'll Have What She's Having! is a visionary interview-based podcast highlighting the real-life experiences, embodied wisdom, life path stories, and inspirational creative offerings of WONDROUS women. This podcast invites women from all walks of life (and men too!) to meet at the beautiful intersections of our unique lived experiences. Joining together in a quantum circle for laid back, fireside, magic-at-the-kitchen-table, no-holds-barred JUICY conversations about everything from creative projects, community innovations, business, sex, intimacy, relationships, motherhood, grand adventures, dark nights of the soul, self care, intentional life ways, sacred practice, necessary rebellion, and those hilarious *this-legit-happened* stories that will have you laughing. We hope you'll feel at home. That you'll laugh enough that it'll count as an ab workout. That you'll heal and soften a little bit. That you'll feel deeply connected. And certainly, that you'll celebrate each other. Welcome to a podcast where conversation becomes medicine.
For more episodes:
You can connect with Juliette in the following ways:
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.
April's Powell River Living edition of Return to Reverence encourages us to dive into the realm of sound. For those who know I like to time such things with the seasonal wheel of the year might pick up on the correlation between the element of Air, Spring, sound waves ;)
When I wrote this article the air was full of Robin song and the increasing outdoor joyful activities of uncharacteristically warm and dry days, at this moment of posting however, I definitely am comforted by constant soft rain. There is a quality to it that brings me to many times and places all at once that have the same strong vibration of feeling cozy, small in the world, and somehow more connected to mother earth.
I am inside digging deep for the gumption to tackle much needed projects - and the sounds outside and that of my tea kettle boiling suggest I tackle slowly and mindfully. My outer world reflecting my inner.
Regarding climate change and the despair many of us feel, Pieta Woolley asked if I would share a quote of Hope for us this Spring. Here is a lovely collection of inspiration during these challenging times of renewal and new beginnings...
"Return to Reverence ~ working with the elements of the natural world" is a monthly column that I write for the Powell River Living magazine. The articles shared aim to help guide us in cultivating, enriching, and deepening our living experience through wisdom sharing and engaging practices available to us all.
February's article touches on stone spirit medicine and how we might support ourselves by entering into relationship with these ancient teachers. You might find this a most welcome practice at this time of year if the wildness of life feels a bit much ;) I have converted my Stone Spirit Medicine workshop into a full online available offering should anyone wish to take this old, near global practice deeper. Find it here http://www.3foldbalance.com/online-courses.html
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!
Click here to follow the discussion on Facebook
A bean feasa of Celtic lineage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.