One of the important aspects of ritual is that it brings us back to who we are or what we believe, adding to our perception of reality. Today in our society our perception of reality is created by things of the exterior as opposed to things of the interior. Rituals and symbols are an aspect of our culture, a residue of our culture investing our life with meaning.
Rituals and symbols can provide a structure which yield new meaning, as well as provide the context for milestone events such as the onset of menses or womanhood, a vision quest for the onset of manhood or marking solstice or equinox. Ritual and symbols are important as an identification of ourselves and how we are going to transform ourselves. Ritual allows us to separate our ordinary selves from our sacred selves. It provides a possibility to create the sacred time necessary to address important questions with the attention they deserve. Removing your shoes before entering sacred space is an act which allows you to see the space from another perspective; you step out of the ordinary (your shoes) and look again (barefoot… or with socks if you have to wear those silly things).
Rituals in groups can have the most meaning and the most power because they reinforce the unity of the community we need to sustain ourselves. Individuals develop personal rituals to signify their truth or what becomes their truth, but we restore our community by celebrating, honouring and ritualizing together. Rituals for extraction healing in a community circle benefit the patient because each person gathered is there specifically to witness and aid in their healing. The shaman in the role of doctor intercedes between the spirits and the participants asking that each person receive benefit from their gathering. The group focuses on the individual healing, however each participant also receives a benefit.
Healing rituals ask that you take the journey towards your own transformation. We recognize our need for healing by our symptoms. Symptoms are a way of expressing something we are unable to say any other way. The soul speaks through the body in a language that most people can understand, pain… whether physical, spiritual or emotional. Instead of looking for the truth that it represents we almost always focus on the symptom itself.
Pain is the result of something not right. Pain generally has a location, the location is a memory or a sense… our emotions, our experiences are energy stored in our body. The body responds in pain as an acknowledgment that you are either pushing away from the experience, burdened by the experience or holding onto the experience, or lastly it could be another experience coming in. The Elders of the Daagara peoples of West Africa believe that pain is two memories fighting, when the pain leaves it is because one of the body memories has lost and must leave. My training with a Sangoma from West Africa encouraged me to allow the thought that perhaps pain is the Universe telling me that I have to go inside and speak to my body to find out what is going on. To tell you that I have had 100% success with pain, would be untrue. I have however had very good success with myself and with my patients when I attempt to understand the energetic cause.
In my role as a healer if someone comes to me for assistance due to some type of symptomatic condition, correcting the symptom will not solve the problem. I am sure we all know this. However, if I doctor the person for the condition which is causing the symptoms, then I will have truly assisted the person.
As an example a man came to me a few months ago for doctoring for depression, soul pain. In determining what needed to be done to be of most assistance to the man, I doctored him in such a way as to make his spirit able to be heard more powerfully. You see, he was working in an office type job, yet his spirit intended that he work in a job that was outdoors–or that he at least spent much more time in the wilderness. He has a choice: either follow his spirit or feel even worse. He won’t be able to hide from his spirit’s intent nearly as easily as it continually yells at him to get out of the office into the outdoors.
It is not enough to talk about our issues, it is not enough to confront our truths in private to rid ourselves of old dysfunctional learning you have to slay your dragons publicly. You cannot fulfill your dreams until you actually acknowledge them for others to see. Otherwise it is only your head doing your talking and your body doing the walking. Nothing is so absolute that it cannot be seen again from another perspective.
During ritual we create relationships between the ritualizers and the spirits with whom we are attempting to ally ourselves with. So the use of ritual not only gratifies and allows the inner spirit and the inner person to grow, the use of ritual also moves us to a point of recognizing where we came from and what our future is. In other words, we attempt to recapture the initial event causing the wounding allowing us to move forward into our transformative healing experience. Ritual has the ability to slow us down physically, mentally and emotionally creating an opportunity to see and feel the anger, sadness, desolation and abandonment that created our initial wounding.
Sounds simple doesn’t it. Well it is and it is not. Ritual is a huge component of shamanism and shamanic work. Shamanism is a slow and steady path of healing supporting and moving with ritual allowing a person to connect to Spirit, an essential component to our health and peace. In order to make that connection the doctor and the patient have to slow down and look deep within his or herself to see what lies beneath the mask and the façade. It is a slow and at times arduous process to tear oneself down and open eyes fresh to see the truth behind the masks. I think that our modern attitude of ‘do what feels right’, although inviting and seductive in its simplicity and its immediacy, is a lack of respect to the process and the pact that was before us. And what was before us is again inevitably ahead of us. We must have a path that grounds us, that keeps us solid, keeps us moving. That is not to say that spontaneous ritual does not provide that for the ritualizer however I question the ability of a spontaneous ritual to have the same effect, i.e. the depth that a learned ritual would have.
In order to remember things we have to slow down, in order to learn we need to slow down and remove the barriers, we have to face what is inside. It is the facing of ourselves that can be the most frightening. Healing rituals are an important part of our social culture. It is my belief that it takes a community to wound us therefore it takes a community to heal us.