There are sixteen roles and sixteen mysteries on the Sacred Circle. There are eight roles which we use every day to face fears, meet challenges, pass initiations, inter-react with others. Those roles are: Fire keeper, visionary, peace keeper, warrior, nomad, dreamer, initiator and healer. We often refer to the outer roles as winds. What we call the inner roles imply long term commitment. They are vocations which often start with a call. These roles are: Ceremonialist, deboner, keeper of prophecies, keeper of the wampums, keeper of sacred sites, keeper of new borns, keeper of the dead, and keeper of the wheel. For some outer roles become vocational roles which imply a process, a journey, and a life long devotion. No matter how you look at it everyone who seeks out their unique roles will live through profound and phenomenal experiences that will literally change and shape their lives.
Recently Tom asked if I could write a blog on the topic of ceremonies and share some of my experiences. Almost 22 years ago I was invited to participate in a sweat lodge for First Nation women. The ceremonialist was an elder who spoke highly about the importance of initiation. She didn’t agree with people suddenly conducting sweat lodges because they were First Nation or because they were New Age healers who liked the concept of purification. She explained that women experience the sweat lodge every moon when they start their bleeding.
“This is why,” she said, “that traditionally the sweat lodge was for men only.”
After listening to this elder speak about the sweat lodge I decided to refuse the invitation. I was in my early 20’s struggling with infertility issues; diagnosed with endometriosis; and constantly struggling with pain and irregular menstrual cycles. It made sense to me to journey with the Moons. The way I saw it was “if I couldn’t receive the purification that my body delivered every month why would I receive the purification that a sweat lodge offered?” I figured that I wasn’t ready for this ceremony and that life was calling me elsewhere. I remember how shocked everyone was when I said “no” to the invitation. Obviously, everyone was looking at this experience from different perspectives.
We’ve all heard about the Peyote ceremony, the Pipe ceremony and the Sun Dance. These are ceremonies that originally were done by the Plains First Nation people. Today, these ceremonies along with the Sweat Lodge have been adopted by everyone who follows a traditional path or shamanic spirituality. I wish I could say that “these ceremonies have been adopted by all First Nation people;” but the fact of the matter is only about 20% of First Nation people are traditionalists. Most continue to be Christians despite the fact that it was Christian missionaries who took away from First Nation people the right to their own religion.
Don’t misunderstand my statement. It’s fact and not a grudge.
Personally I have to say that I’ve been privileged. I’ve met and loved many of those die hard traditional people who hide away their religious affiliations and activities especially when they were illegal. Until 1986, traditional First Nation people couldn’t openly do ceremonies by fear of being persecuted by the Canadian legal system. It’s not surprising that still today these elders pick and choose their initiates and remain extremely secretive.
I chose to become a traditional dreamer because of a call and because life connected the dots so to speak in a way that couldn’t be refuted. It was my destiny. Every time that I found myself in a position where I could learn to become a ceremonialist, I refused. The Peyote ceremony for example didn’t make sense for neither G or me. For years because of our dreamer status we were approached by countless people from South America and North America who were literally addicted to peyote. Where these individuals started their journey by looking for spirituality and hoping to find a tool, which would help them have a deeper dreaming experience, they ended up with a sense of loss, an addiction and no dreams at all. So much about our work inevitably became about teaching people to dream without any kind of hallucinogenic agents. Still, the elder who initiated us on our path was a Peyote ceremonialist and although we didn’t feel call to the ceremony, we still watched her do her work with reverence.
There’s the role of the ceremonialist and then, there’s the role of all others who sit in the same circle as that of a ceremonialist. The idea behind a ceremony is that we gather together to celebrate a special event in gratitude. Now-a-days there are opening ceremonies at the Olympics; Music Reward ceremonies to celebrate the best artists of the year; and Remembrance Day ceremonies to celebrate the veterans. All of these ceremonies have a few things in common. For starters they use repetitive and rehearsed ritual to express gratitude, and they articulate symbolically strong emotions through clothing, song, gestures etc… I’ve always understood ceremony as an important event in one’s life, which is meant to bring to awareness or re-enact a particular sentiment, a specific person or experience and celebrate it. The Eucharist for example in Christianity is a ceremony, which is meant to recall the death of Christ and to remind everyone that Jesus died so that human sin could be forgiven. A priest or minister is the only qualified person to do this ceremony. They are initiated and trained for the task. I tend to believe that the same applies for First Nation ceremonies. Not everyone should be allowed to conduct ceremony. Of course, I also believe that the audience or participants at a ceremony are absolutely crucial. Most may think that the crowd at the Music Award ceremony is just there to have a good time; but in fact without this crowd there would be no celebrating. It’s this same audience that buys the songs, encourages the artists to entertain and keeps the record companies in business. Their opinions count.
There are lots more ceremonies out there. Sure the sweat lodge, the sun dance, the pipe ceremony and peyote ceremony have received more attention than any other First Nation ceremony out there. Yet, every First Nation tribe, in North or South America practices their own unique ceremonies. The indigenous people of Africa, Australia and Europe have been practicing ceremonies for millenniums. Some have been forgotten, some don’t apply anymore and some are still celebrated today. Basically, it all boils down to what we need, to what we live through, to what identifies us as a collective. The Ghost dance for example was a ceremony, which appeared when the Plains First Nation people were at their lowest: Discouraged, frustrated, desperate and looking for ancestral connection.
As a Keeper of the Wheel I’ve learnt that every ceremony is built with the help of the sacred circle. In the Sun Dance for example the dancers dance around a pole and find strength within the circle. On a vision quest there’s always the ceremony of creating a circle and honouring one’s circle. A vision will only come to those who become one with their vital circle space. Every ceremony demands a connection to the finite, infinite and spirit reality. Obviously, I am not a ceremonialist; but I definitely devote to the Wheel and the MEDICINE WHEEL is what I bring to whatever ceremony I’m invited to. I have to be honest, in my personal story I’ve always been invited to ceremonies rather than seeking them out. I’ve always held a privileged position (so to speak) where I’m asked to play a specific role. My perspective to ceremony has always been about “being honoured to be there.”
There are three ceremonies that I always feel touched to attend. A ceremony that celebrates the birth of a child or the death of someone; as well as what’s called “a naming ceremony.” Almost eight years ago, G and I were invited to attend a naming ceremony, at the Big Cove Mic Mac reservation in N.B., Canada. LLB was the ceremonialist. She’s a Mohawk Medicine Woman who spends lots of her time traveling across the Globe and speaking to young people. This ceremony was for the new born baby girl of a young Mic Mac couple. Amazingly, the couple opened the circle to everyone and so LLB invited some of us to receive our name along side this infant. It was the first time I experienced this ceremony first hand.
The first step in this ceremony like most First Nation ceremony was that of purification. We were given this hot medicinal herb tea to purify. After drinking a few cups we were invited into the circle where we sat on the ground besides a helper, an individual who was trained to dream along with you and literally catch your name. People stood outside this circle near the hedge of the wigwam. They wore furs and masks that represented their totem animal. Once the wigwam was submerged in total darkness they began to chant and drum. There were several circles of this repetitive ritual. Your helper guided you through a dream while you allowed yourself to surrender to the sounds. After four turns the light was brought back into the Wheel and you were guided back into the circle. I was quite impressed with the way they induced a complete trance especially since I was someone who was already initiated into the art of meditation and dreaming. Lets say I entered this experience with a bit of scepticism. I’ve gone through other ceremonies where there was no impact to me or my life. I was also surprised to lucidly feel the presence of the dreamer within my own dream space. I’m someone who’s used to doing this; but never experiencing it. In the end, I was given the choice to let go of “my” name or claim it. My helper actually taunted me like a sacred clown and said: “If you want I’ll take the name in your place.” The fact that he gave it value made me want to journey with the name and keep it. I’m actually pleased that I did because a decade later this experience confirmed and gave consciousness to a whole other sacred walk.
After this ceremony I became fascinated with naming ceremonies and managed to be involved in many others. As a Keeper of the Dead – ceremonies concerning the dying or the dead are also important to me. Like I’ve said all through this blog, I always find myself having a role within a ceremony; but I am never the ceremonialist.
I’m not quite sure this is what Tom was looking for when he asked that I write about ceremonies; but I have to admit I enjoyed elaborating on this topic. It brought back lots of amazing memories and helped me get centered again in my role, my purpose and path. To be honest, I didn't think I was going to write so much on this subject. I surprised myself. Now that this entry is almost over -- I sit here in bed thinking about all of the ceremonies I had the good fortune to experience in my life. Perhaps, I would need to write a second blog to cover them all. Some were incredible to say the least...
Thank you to everyone who took the time to give some suggestions for future blog entries. I’ve made a list and I will hopefully get inspired to share with you some of my insights towards some of your questions. Please keep posted.
P.S. Thank you to AN and DA for the picture. The photo represents a moment during the Summer Solstice ceremony that we did in Golden, last year. This particular moment has been important in my life since Aug and continues to be wisdom and guidance for me.