by David Dormon
Ceremony is a very real need we have. It seems to be cooked into the very fabric of our beings. You could say we are wired for it, and we need it to stay healthy. The indigenous people of the world know about the power of ceremony, and through this ancient art, remind us that all of life is sacred, and that all is interwoven in the infinite tapestry of existence.
Shamanic ceremony goes well-beyond our modern practices of clinking glasses, blowing out candles, or exchanging gifts. While it could be held for any number of the same or similar events – commemorating transitions such as birth, coming-of-age, death, supporting others through illness, or marking other initiations and rites of passage – it also includes many elements that are designed to bring its participants into communion with the sacred. Participants often experience altered states of expanded awareness and enter into timeless realms where we remember the truth of our essence: the interconnectedness of Being and the divine nature of Life itself. These are powerful elements, that, you might agree, are absent from most birthday parties.
Shamanic ceremonies are very deliberate, and include many key ingredients, such as: creating a clear intention for the purpose of the ceremony, designating and preparing a sacred space or container, building an altar, invoking helping spirits, cleansing the participants (with smoke, perfumes, oils, etc.), sometimes ingesting medicinal plants, active participation in the ceremony (praying/singing/dancing/playing instruments), some level of grandeur, display, or showiness, giving offerings to spirit, showing deep gratitude, and ultimately receiving inspiration, hope, healing, or realization. There is also a clear ending to the ceremony, a releasing of the helping spirits and the container of sacred space. Beyond that, there is a period of integration in which the lessons, insights, and healing work from the ceremony are fully incorporated into one’s being. This can take days, weeks, months, and in some cases, years. In total, it tends to be a deeply transformative process.
For anyone who has been through a true shamanic ceremony, the power of this practice is undeniable. I never knew I was “missing” ceremony until the first time I experienced it for myself. Through ceremony my heart opened as I witnessed the sacred songs and prayers of others. I had revelatory insights that led me to forgive and release old emotional wounds. I felt the joy and the deep satisfaction of coming together with other like-minded beings for a unified purpose. We in the modern world can benefit a great deal from reestablishing our connection to this practice as a sacred art, and to the power, wisdom, and overall wellbeing that springs forth from it.
But even for those who don’t have access to a traditional shamanic ceremony, these practices and principles can be modified and brought into one’s own daily life. The deeper truth this is pointing to is that Life already is a shamanic ceremony – we are merely in different stages of remembering and practicing this truth. Like a ceremony, the conscious life has intention, your body is a sacred space, your heart an altar. We all have helping spirits that we can call on anytime. As I have expanded my own practice to perceive Life as a grand ceremony, I see showers as purification rituals, meal-time as an opportunity to give thanks, and every spoken word I utter becomes a sacred sound. Of course, every ceremony will also have its ending, as we all one day will die, so it would be wise to engage in our life-ceremonies consciously while we can, for as we enrich our own lives through this connection to the sacred, we do our part to bring it back to the whole world.