Historically, Shamanic ritual lives inside the heart of Indigenous cultures. Rituals, ranging from simple to complex, are a way to step out of the mundane of everyday life, to connect to spiritual life, and to lift the veil between the visible and the invisible realms. Ancient shamanic rituals have been practiced since the beginning of time. At their core, they aim to restore wholeness to individuals and communities, where a genuine reciprocity is formed between humanity, spirit and nature. According to Sandra Ingerman, “Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind. We know from the archaeological evidence the practice dates back at least 40, 000 years. Some anthropologists believe that the practice dates back over 100,000 years.”
The diverse and unique shamanic rituals speak a language of prayer, connection to the realms of spirit, harmony and guidance from the heart.
According to Dean Edwards, “Shamanism is a “technique of ecstasy” in which the spirit of the shaman leaves the body and travels to communicate with spirit helpers and other beings for the purpose of obtaining knowledge, power or healing.”
Skilled Shamans are able to cut through the veils unique to the individual to receive information to restore vitality, balance and wholeness to the individual, the community or cause. Shamanic rituals are created and performed to connect individuals with plant, animal and spirit guide allies. They carry the potential to reweave and bring home parts of us that are disconnected or lost, remembering a calling of our destiny. Shamanic practices such as calling in the directions, smudging, going on a journey to retrieve a power animal or a soul part, and a fire ceremony to name a few, are examples of how the shaman can encourage the individual or the cause back to its natural state of wholeness.
Shamanic wisdom is gaining momentum in the 21st century as we are now being called to come together for peace, equality, and a new understanding of unity on a global scale.
At the heart of the Shamanism are the following core beliefs:
- Everything is alive and has a life force (the term for this is animism)
- Our “concrete” or “material” world is only the beginning, and this “conceptual shift” opens up the possibility to connect with the realms of spirit
- Everything and everyone is our teacher
- Compassion and a deep union with nature allows us to see and live from the eyes of our heart, the practice of living in this way brings illumination to all aspects of life
- Each individual has the birth right and responsibility to communicate with the spirit world directly
From ancient to modern times, Shamanic ritual is diverse and unique within each culture. What remains consistent is the intention to weave the sacred into the ordinary ways of life to bring forth wholeness. There is an understanding that Shamanic ritual is a way to strengthen your inner body so that you have more tools to work with your personal challenges- not a way to be healed completely. The key is strengthening the connection to your inner spirit. This is a practice of working with spirit, working to shift patterns in your psyche and potentially release old wounds or traumas within.
As the practices of Shamanic Ritual are vast and diverse, for the sake of this article, here are some examples from both Native American and Q’ero Shamanic cultures.
The Shamanic Journey
Practiced in both Native American and Q’ero Shamanic traditions, the participant is guided into an altered state of consciousness through the sound of a drum or led by voice cues, where one may enter a non-ordinary reality. This is done to release anxieties and blockages in the body and to strengthen one’s inner body to support the healing or transformation process. The shaman may lead the individual to find their power animal for vitality.
A retrieval of life essence may be needed if there are energy leaks, deep fatigue, or a feeling of being “lost” is detected. This is called Soul Retrieval.
An extraction may be necessary if there is physical or emotional imbalance due to “psychic infections” where they have taken on another’s person’s imbalanced or sick energy, or had to protect themselves from this energy. The shaman will then extract this energy from the spirit of the person through tapping, blowing, rattling, drumming or willing the unwanted energy out.
Many Native American and First Nations people have practiced Vision Quests as the rite of passage where older children go into nature without food for several days to find their inner strength and to connect with a power animal, or guardian spirit to receive advice or protection.
This is known as a coming of age right of passage and varies in length and intensity from tribe to tribe.
Once the message or sign was received in the vision quest the individual would return to their community to pursue their life’s journey.
In a small darkened and heated structure, warmed by hot stones, individuals and groups gather with the intention to purify and cleanse their bodies, minds and spirits.
Known as a healing process for both medical and emotional conditions, the endurance to withstand the heat brings forth the warrior/ess spirit.
Ultimately, the process serves to extract imbalances, receive messages from the spirit world and to invite in healing powers. The sweat lodge is a tradition of the Native American and First Nations people.
The Sun Dance Ceremony
Historically the Sun Dance was the predominant ceremony of the Great Plains Indians, however today it is practiced by many tribes as a prayer for mother earth, world renewal and gratitude. There is a belief that unless the Sun Dance is performed each year mother earth will become disconnected to the universe and the ability to regenerate will be lost. The Sun Dance takes place on summer solstice and lasts four to eight days and involves fasting, singing, drumming, the experience of visions, and in some cases, self-torture.
The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced differently by several North American Indian Nations, but many of the ceremonies have features in common, including dancing, singing and drumming, the experience of visions, fasting and, in some cases, self-torture.
People would dance for the healing of others, for their people and their connection to spiritual realms.
Ancient widsom, through the Sun Dance, “shows that there is no true end to life, but a cycle of symbolic and true deaths and rebirths. All of nature is intertwined and dependent on one another. This gives an equal ground to everything on the Earth.” Once the dancers complete their ritual, they are put down on beds of sage to rest where they share their visions of songs, prayers, dance steps, and even future prophecies. The outcome of the Sun Dance is unique to each individual brave enough to endure the journey, the end result being a reciprocity and rebirth between the people and the earth.
The fire ceremony is at the core of many shamanic traditions. This ritual is most often performed at full moon or at new moon when the veils between the realms of ordinary and spirit are the thinnest. Fire is known as the most rapid form of healing and transformation.
The symbolic essence of the fire ceremony is to release old ways of being, to let go of old stories and drama, and through this comes the rebirth, the transformation and the renewal.
According to Dr. Alberto Villoldo, “through fire ceremony, you honor your lessons and old belief structures by placing them in the fire and turning them over to Spirit. By releasing these old patterns and beliefs into the fire, you heal deeply at the level of the soul without having to experience them at the literal and physical levels. In the past, when fire ceremony was taught, it was only done with a teacher for years and years before doing it alone. Now, shaman’s say that the earth and our civilization are in such great peril that fire ceremony should be held by anyone who is willing to step in.”
For centuries, the “paqos” – the high shamans also known as the “wisdom keepers” from the Q’ero lineage of Peru have practiced the Ayni Despacho Ceremony. The word Ayni means balance and the Q’ero people believe that when humans are imbalanced, the world reacts to this and becomes imbalanced as well. The creation of an “Ayni Despacho” is like a large Mandala where participants gather sacred objects placed upon a white piece of paper that acts as a wrapping for the gift to mother earth.
The intention of this ritual is to bring the individual, the community into a place of harmony, union and balance with the natural world. Each ingredient is given breath, prayers and the ritual becomes a living prayer.
Celia Blackwood, who worked with skilled Shamans in Peru describes some of the medicinal herbs used in ceremony. “Coca leaves or bay leaves are used to hold prayers. Sugar and various sweets bring sweetness and love to the prayers. Corn and other grains are used to nourish participants and the Pachamama- the Earth.” Once the Despacho is prepared, the Shaman ties it together in a bundle and cleanses the energy bodies of the participants. It is then offered to a ceremonial fire, to sacred waters or buried in the earth.
Try this simple ritual for setting new intentions and shedding old ways of being. This is effective when you feel imbalanced in your emotional, physical, and emotional body. (stress, anxious, exhausted, unclear, or healing from illness to name a few) Listen for the call to shift your inner being and to step into a new way of living.
A Ritual for Setting New Intentions and Shedding Old Ways
To be created and practiced on the new moon or full moon.
Candle/matches 6 items from nature (flowers, stones, crystals, etc) 2 separate pieces of paper/pen Sage stick/Palo Santo/dried herbs of your choice Any personal altar items that align with your intention Access to fireplace or outdoor fire- optional
Find a Quiet Place
Find a quiet place inside or in nature where you can be comfortable. Begin to calm your body with deep breaths and bring awareness to your intention for your ritual. (Eg. Peace, love, balance, letting go.)
Build an Altar
Begin to build your altar, place your candle in the centre and place your nature items in the 4 cardinal directions, one below for mother earth and above for sun/stars/moon, place anything else of significance your altar
Smudge yourself with sage or palo santo for purifying your whole self by fanning the smoke over the front and back body and over your altar.
Call in the Directions
Call in sacred space and honor the directions South, for letting go and being in the flow of your life West, for facing fear with love(/video/west-yoga-courageous-yogi)
North, for living in joy and in connection to our ancestors East, for leading and living from our hearts Mother Earth, for grounding, creation and abundance Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and the Stars, for our reverence to the spirit world
Sit in meditation for some time again to connect with your breath and your soft receptive nature. Notice parts within you that may need to be released. This could be in your physical body, in your emotions or in your mind. What no longer serves you in your life?
Write on a single piece of paper all the things that no longer serve you in your life and what you are ready and willing to let go of. Then roll up the paper and wrap it with string. Blow your pure intentions of letting these things go 3 times into your rolled up paper and place on your altar.
Sit again in meditation honoring your whole, connected and vibrant self. Repeat out loud 3 times “ I am whole, I am open, I am love.” Bring awareness to what you are ready to invite into your life. Take time to imagine or see yourself living this invitation.
Write an Invitation
Write on the other paper what you are now inviting into your life. Using I am and I statements are powerful. Blow 3 long slow breaths into your invitations and place on your altar.
Sit once again in silence and observe how you feel, any sensation or images that come to you know. Stay soft, open and receptive. With great attention take your rolled up papers or your “spirit arrows” and honor the work you have done today to let go of old ways and welcome in the new. If you have access to a fire you can burn your spirit arrows, if not, feel free to release them in any way that feels right.
Close the Sacred Space
Close up your sacred space by honoring the 4 directions, Mother Earth and the stars, sun and moon. It may feel right to honor your ancestors, spirit guides, family and teachers; consider speaking your thanks aloud. Thank yourself for being the open luminous vessel of light and love that you are. Journal about your ritual if you are inspired or share your experience with a friend or loved one.
The Importance of Ritual
In closing, I truly believe ritual and ceremony allow us to source from our inner beings, to create from pure intention, to see more clearly what doesn’t serve us any longer and to dream our life into reality. A ritual has a beginning, a middle and an end. It gives us creative power to follow our intuition and to open our vision to be in alignment with our communities, the earth and ourselves. Inside the heart of shamanic ritual lives pure presence, creativity, connection and harmony. When created and practiced in wholeness and goodness towards all beings, we can lead the way for transformation on many levels. Any time you feel “blocked”, or are working on what you want to dream into your life, shamanic rituals or your own ritual creation can support you to shift perspective and activate your visions.
You are more powerful than you can imagine.
Aho, with Love and Radiance, Mara Branscombe