By Heather Price
What is ceremony and what can it be used for?
Ceremony takes you to the world of the sacred and transports you into a more conscious place where you can evaluate your health and wellbeing from a higher perspective. It enables you to call in help, to focus on what you need, to give your direction. It allows you to let go, and to invite in what you need for healing. It can be as simple or as complex as you choose.
The word ceremony can have a different meaning to different people. Some people may associate it to such things the opening ceremony of a festival, a football match, or the Olympic games, or the honoring of special times and events passed, such as ANZAC day. Others may relate it to religious rituals, or special events such as marriage and baptism. And then there are the ceremonies to honour the earth - to give thanks for a bountiful harvest for instance, or to ensure a good season. It can be as simply as reverently greeting the day, and it can be used as a daily ritual to invite in good health and healing. Or, ceremony can be used to mark rites of passage and transition. Clearly, there are many uses for ceremony. Even the telling of stories of ceremony, or in a ceremonial way, can shift energy for listeners and inspire change.
My personal journey with ceremony began as a small child when I was entranced by the priest of our local church, dressed up in ceremonial robes, as he walked down the aisle swinging a bowl on a chain filled with burning rosemary. This stirred my heart in a way that the preaching of the gospel failed to do. I could relate to the smells, the colour, and the chanting, as it awakened something sacred in me.
In my late thirties I began practicing art as an installation artist, and used ceremonial rituals to mark a major time of transition, although I had no idea that was what I was doing at the time. I explained what I was doing to myself, and others, as art as expressionism. When my husband and I, and our three sons, had to walk off the land after a series of droughts and the collapse of the wool industry, I was called to create a ritual to both mourn and celebrate the wonderful times we had as a family on our beautiful property. I was fifth generation land dweller in Australia, and goodness knows how many generations before that in Scotland, the land of my ancestors on both sides of my family. I remember realizing the significance of my three sons not having the opportunity to continue their life on the land as my husband and I had been privileged to experience, and wanting to mark that in time somehow.
Gathering together all the old fence posts lying around the sheep yards, I built three piers, one representing each of my sons. Then I created a teepee shaped pier to represent our family and our ancestors in the front of the three piers. My husband, from whom I am now divorced, and our sons kindly assisted me to create ceremony by taking off their clothes and allowing me to film them walking away naked from the piers as I began to light a fire in the central pier. The flames grew strong as we all watched our family pier burn to the ground. It is a time we will all remember. It was fascinating because at the time I was preparing for the burning, a film team from A Current Affair interviewed us on the front of the woolshed steps. They were doing a feature story on farmers who had to walk off the land. I can remember wanting to tell them about the installation I had created in the back yard, but there was no way I could explain it to them or trust that they would understand, because I couldn’t put into words. Sacred ceremony is like that; it is not easy to explain what it does or what it is. You have to experience it to understand it. An indigenous friend of mine discussed this together recently and came to the conclusion that sacred ceremony is something that can be prepared for, but you have to leave room for Spirit and the ancestors to sing to you and to do what they need to do .
After I left the land to live as a sole parent in the city with my sons, as an adult in my early forties, I was awakened in the middle of the night one night by the sound of a corroboree being sung to me in my heart. Night after night I would hear the sound of ancestors in ceremony, waking me up to the next stage of my journey – as a healing practitioner, and later teacher, of the shamanic path.
Years later, the medicine drum sang ceremonial songs to me night after night until I had no choice but to make one myself. Within a week of first hearing the drum in my sleep, a man turned up at my door with fliers for a workshop he was running on medicine-drum making. This man introduced me to the traditional American Indian practice of smudging with herbs, which reminded me of the rosemary burnt at Lent by the priests. I saw this practice as highly sacred, and not to be used lightly. In more recent times, and this is a personal decision that may change in the right circumstances, I have stopped publicly burning the sacred herbs that are traditionally used by Native American peoples as I realize more and more the links it has with traditions that, while they may be imprinted in my spirit and heart, can offend others if they are not respected and used with permission. It is the same with smoking that is done by my aboriginal sisters and aunties; I feel it is not my place to use their ceremonial practices without formal initiation and invitation. I have developed my own sacred ceremony rites that allow me to connect deeply in my own way.
Once I understood the healing power of ceremony for maintaining a healthy spirit, mind, heart, and body, I began to use it every day. I would rise early in the morning and walk down to the local beach and spend hours creating sand mandalas, praying to my teachers and guides for guidance. I began to create a sacred map in the mandalas that I would use to strengthen all parts of me. I soon found that my spiritual practice of ceremony enhanced my physical well-being, and allowed me to feel empowered to heal on an emotional and mental level at the same time.
As I began to realize the healing powers of Mother Nature, I planned ways that I could invite my clients and the people who walked with me as their teacher to do the same. My first client with whom I used ceremony with was a woman who had chosen to terminate a pregnancy when tests showed there would be major complications for the baby after birth. She had never been able to put what she had done to rest, and it had affected her mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health and her relationships. The woman agreed to meet me at a park the next day to participate in a ceremony of release so she could attempt to understand and forgive herself, and move on.
The next day I woke up and it was raining so heavily it seemed impossible to be able to carry through with our plans. However, I also knew the perfection of the rain, as water is such a healing element, and as the woman was keen to go ahead, I met her as planned. We had gum boots, umbrellas and tarps, and managed to create a sacred healing space together under a shelter in a park. After I lit candles and the woman had placed her sacred objects that represented the child she had never given birth to, I led her into a deep creative visualization and asked her to describe her experience and how her life would have been had she decided not to terminate her pregnancy. Then the most amazing thing happened, as the woman was describing how she felt when she learned of the complications, there was a break in the storm and a car pulled up not far from where we were sitting. My client had her eyes closed, and as she began to describe how her life would have been had she kept her baby, a woman got out of the nearby car and put a young child in a wheelchair. She wheeled the child past my client at the same time she was describing to me that her child would have been in a wheelchair by now had he or she lived. I gently brought my client out of her trance and asked her to look around where we were sitting. She faced the woman and her child and began to cry as the other woman smiled back at her. The woman then wheeled her severely disabled child back to the car and left. Clearly there was an energy and power greater than us at work.
Ceremony can obviously be used to mark endings, and I had my own experience of that some time after I worked with the woman in the park. Ten years after my marriage ended I found myself unable to put such a significant time to rest, until I remembered the power of ceremony. Gathering my wedding dress out of a trunk, I took it to a friend’s house in the mountains. She filmed me as I built a sacred circle with my healing crystals and smudged my dress to send all the memories that were attached to it to Spirit for release. I laid the dress down in the centre of the circle, I felt my heart expand so much that I couldn’t stand to keep my shirt on. I took my shirt off and reached to the sky, allowing my heart to be vulnerable to the elements as I welcomed in the light. When the fire burned down, I took the ashes of the wedding dress to a nearby river at the top of the mountain and released them into a stream, chanting a song from the mountain that seemed to be singing to me. Afterwards, I took an icey cold swim to complete the ceremony. There are no words to described how I felt.
Ceremony can be a sacred practice and a holy way to connect with the Divine, and with nature spirits, ancestors, and beloved beings of light who are always willing and waiting to serve and help us. It can be used to mark sacrifice, suffering, gratitude, celebration, union, loss, birth, death, transition, and other significant experiences. It can be used to invite in health and healing, however the very act of ceremony will naturally do that anyway, for it connects you with your own Inner Healer, and the healing powers of the Universe. Ceremony is a doorway, a portal to the Sacred and Divinity. It can be as simple or as complex as you like, and there will be elements beyond your imagination that you may or may not be conscious of, for it is an invitation to connect with the light and spirit of Creation, and worlds beyond this one to walk in.
Thank you, and blessings be on you and your path of the sacred.