The resonance of symbolic rituals

June 13, 2014

the squareThe first shaman I ever met was a Native American woman who took me on a drumming journey that was both magical and mystical. Shamans have a long, rich history of helping commemorate important life events,  so I wasn’t surprised when several shamans were on our agenda at the Afterlife Awareness Conference, and in fact, a shamanic ceremony closed our conference.

Waiting for us in the great room on our final day were more than half a dozen squares like the one above, each containing various natural offerings.  We formed a large circle around the room.

Sacred space–that’s what the conference was for most of us. Sacred space. So when it came time for us to close, it seemed almost superfluous for the shaman  – Linda Fitch– to formally set the sacred space. She did it by calling in the directions in a prayer that went something like THIS.


To the winds of the South
Great serpent, Wrap your coils of light around us,
Teach us to shed the past the way you shed your skin,
To walk softly on the Earth. Teach us the Beauty Way.

To the winds of the West
Mother jaguar,
Protect our medicine space.
Teach us the way of peace, to live impeccably
Show us the way beyond death.

To the winds of the North.
Hummingbird, Grandmothers and Grandfathers,
Ancient Ones
Come and warm your hands by our fires
Whisper to us in the wind
We honor you who have come before us,
And you who will come after us, our children’s children.

To the winds of the East.
Great eagle, condor
Come to us from the place of the rising Sun.
Keep us under your wing.
Show us the mountains we only dare to dream of.
Teach us to fly wing to wing with the Great Spirit.

Mother Earth.
We’ve gathered for the healing of all your children.
The Stone People, the Plant People.
The four–legged, the two–legged, the creepy crawlers.
The finned, the furred, and the winged ones.
All our relations.

Father Sun, Grandmother Moon, to the Star nations.
Great Spirit, you who are known by a thousand names
And you who are the unnamable One.
Thank you for bringing us together.

After that beautiful prayer, we each chose the square we felt drawn to and formed in a circle around it, until most of the squares had a circle.

CU offeringsThen, as we were called to, we each took whatever offerings we felt appropriate–tobacco, sage, pine cones, feathers, petals–whatever–and with our breath, blew our intentions for the departed or the living into them and tossed them into the bowl of water. One after another in solemn silence we sent out our blessings and intentions to our dear ones.

the lineAnd then, several of us picked up our groups’ bowls and all 400 of us walked in a quiet line out the door and down the dock to the Columbia River.

carrying bowlThis was our bowl.

we wait respectfullyWe waited in respectful silence for the shaman to signal and when she did…

our bowl goes in…the contents of our bowl went into the river….

they float awayand we watched in silence as our offerings floated gracefully down the river, craning our necks for a last glimpse of the feathers and petals and sage before the river carried them out into the Universe and finally, to our loved ones.

The shaman then closed the sacred space with a similar prayer, and we filed back into the hotel and then back into our lives.

This ancient and moving ceremony spoke to me, as did the Aya Despacho Peruvian funeral ritual we did a few days earlier. Even in our modern world ceremony and ritual are  important to mark life occasions. I find the age-old, indigenous shamanic ceremonies particularly moving, and this was a beautiful way to end our conference. In our fast-paced modern world, it’s good to take time for ancient practices like these which remind us of the past and strengthen our connection to the Divine Source.

21 comments on “The resonance of symbolic rituals
  1. Sounds like a beautiful ritual. Thanks for sharing.

  2. penpen says:

    The Shaman’s prayer/poem was lovely. Thanks for sharing. Every September my husband and I walk or bike to the river near our home to say a prayer for our departed loved ones and to watch our thoughts flow into the river and become part of the cycle of life. I was touched to hear how the ritual you were part of also used the river–it made me feel that in my own small way my personal ritual I was part of a greater understanding.

  3. Donna says:

    What a beautiful, sacred ceremony. I am certain it was very healing and comforting to everyone. I once had 6 amazing Native American friends….one was very close and trusted me with his feelings of the earth, and nature. They do believe (as I do) that the earth has a spirit also. And if we listen very closely we can hear her (they think the earth is a woman) cry at the sadness on the earth. From the evil of war to the terrible stewardship of what the earth has to offer.

  4. kim tackett says:

    Carol, thanks for reminding me of the importance of rituals and sacred space. My daughter went to University of British Columbia in Vancouver, which sits on First Nations land (I believe it was Musqueam), and they had blessings at the start and end of every school year. I was present for the one when she started University, and when she graduated, and it added even more significance to her journey (and mine).

  5. That’s beautiful. There is something very moving and comforting about ritual.

  6. Beautiful. I love how Mother Earth is such an important part of it all.

  7. This is so fascinating and extremely interesting. You must have loved this. Thanks for writing about this, Carol!

  8. Marci Rich says:

    This is really beautiful, Carol. I’m printing out the Prayer for Creating Sacred Space, and look forward to reading more in this fascinating series. Thank you for sharing your experience—yours is a shining soul.

  9. I create my own rituals and prayers as I cannot in good conscience use another person or culture’s words. I often invoke “the Goddess” as the feminine divine is the concept that resonates with me the most. I find myself placing items from my Great-Grandmother’s possessions as objects to focus chi. A libation to my ancestors, Amish, might be a cold glass of milk. We have to do what feels right for us, and I love that this experience spoke to you. So much speaks if we listen.

  10. Ava Chin says:

    What a lovely ritual and way to close out your conference. Thanks for the reminder of how the old ways can be an antidote to the rushing around of our modern living!

  11. Lana says:

    I am so, so sorry that I missed this conference. I’m finding everything you write about touching me, and I’ve shared most of it with my husband. It has definitely opened up an area that I want to explore more. I sent you an email yesterday about mediums. Have a great weekend, and thank you SO much for sharing!

  12. What a beautiful way to set a sacred place and ritual. The entire poem was beautiful, but this is what really spoke to my spirit today:
    “Show us the mountains we only dare to dream of.
    Teach us to fly wing to wing with the Great Spirit.”
    Lovely. Thank you.

  13. What a beautiful and fitting way to close the conference. I printed the prayer. Thank you for sharing it.

  14. This is so beautiful Carol, and I love the different prayers.

  15. Kimba says:

    What a lovely ritual/ceremony. I too have printed that prayer and now have it up in my office to remind me to create sacred spaces every day.

  16. Hi Carol
    It seems we both experienced the Columbia River recently. I am wondering where on the river this took place? The photos are beautiful.

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