“When there is no ritual, there can be no balance. And when the balance is upset, we make a soft place for disease to take hold inside us.”
Ritual is an art. And very often a big part of ritual is the creation of ritual objects, which are some of the most beautiful objects one can be involved in creating. I have been working with designing rituals for myself and others, as well as learning and teaching myself how to make sacred objects for these rituals for many years. I have sung the songs of thanks to the animals that have given their lives for these objects, I have learned to prayerfully skin deer and bear and transform their hides into beautiful gifts for spirit, and artifacts of ritual.
When you make your own sacred drum, something in you connects to all the women or men who have ever skinned an animal together. When you come to love the animal that you skin so dearly that you shed tears for its passing as you transform it, you can never forget what its life means, what life itself means. And when you play that drum or shake that rattle, you can’t help but remember the life that gave itself for you, for Spirit. You are automatically filled with gratitude. You are connected to all that is. That is where ritual always begins and ends--with connection.
I have helped design meaningful ritual for healing, for young women’s first menses, young men’s coming of age, for fertility, pregnancy, for birth (naming), successes, birthdays, marking spiritual growth, grieving losses, abortion, miscarriage, marriage, divorce, croning, and preparation for dying and death, all of life’s major transitions, for the turning of the seasons, for sweat lodges, and vision quests and more. And in the process of creating these rituals, have helped design and make ritual objects including deer hide rattles, sacred drums, ceremonial deerskin clothing, staffs, feather sticks, vision catchers, smudge fans, masks, prayer bundles, medicine dolls and many many beautiful gifts for spirit which were never meant to be seen or admired by anyone else but Them. These things are never for sale. They are meant for posterity, to be given away, or they are meant for Spirit.
And then there are the stories, for stories are ritual too. Everyone is made of stories, your stories, the stories of your ancestors, the stories that can make us whole and connect us back to the time when we knew how we were a part of all things and we lived in a place that supported this kind of connection to nature and to our fellow human beings. It is time to relearn how to go and get the stories. It is time now to attempt to interpret the ones we receive, to understand them, and turn them into dances and songs, pictures and gifts to spirit, to nature, to others.
Whenever I am invited to a storytelling circle I go to the ancestors, to my unseen helpers, and ask for a story, a new story to bring back, one that has not been told yet, or one that got lost. Storytelling is such an important ritual, lost now to television and movies. Let us revive the community storytelling circles. May the storytelling fires burn bright in your villages! If you don’t light them, who will?
Some in the New Age have sought to revisit ancient ceremonial practices to attempt to adapt indigenous rituals for post-modern folk. Some indigenous teachers have emerged and have been teaching post-moderns as best they can. But so often the problem is that there is no culture to support the work. We come back from the workshop all fired up, but by Wednesday have returned to the consensus way of thinking. There is no hook on which to hang these practices in the cluttered closet of the post-modern mind. There is no village to greet the initiates and welcome them back when they return from their journeys into the underworld or other worlds. There are no women to hold the space while we wail when someone we love passes.
Ritual builds community. Yet without community ritual cannot survive. Is it a paradox that cannot be solved? Yes. But it can be re-solved. For when we fail to grieve, or when we fail to mark these passages with ritual as our ancestors knew to do, something dies in us, something sacred goes silent, unsung, something stagnates and falls away.
We must begin somewhere, so let’s begin with ourselves, begin making ritual for ourselves, ask our friends and loved ones to help. If we take every opportunity to do this, slowly, we will build community. And then community will act as the nesting place, for more ritual to grow. And where ritual is alive, communities flourish.
Life is filled with transitions. Let us celebrate them with beauty and art and dancing and singing. Let us eat delicious food together and give gifts back to the land without whom there could be no food. Let us tell stories and be filled with soul and spirit. Let us find the old ways that work for us, yes, and let us find the new ways that work as well.
If you would like to work with me to create a ritual for you, your community, or someone you love, please email me.
If you would like to know how to start a storytelling circle in your community I would be honored to participate.