Sacred Smudge Sticks

Like people, each plant has a purpose.  Some provide nourishment, while others offer shelter or have healing properties.  In addition to its use as a culinary herb, Sage is known for protecting one’s environment & healing the energetic field (aura) of the person who uses it.  Some even call it the “Spirit Caller”.   For early Egyptians it promoted fertility & for the Celts, it represented immortality.  At 47, I have no desire for either of those!  Instead, I focus on this aromatic plant’s ability to banish evil & unwanted influences, create sacred space, heal, & inspire wisdom.

I use smudge sticks of Sage (sometimes combined with juniper or cedar) for a variety of reasons, most often, to bless my home.  I light the stick & use an owl feather to direct the scented smoke to the corners of each room.  As I walk in awareness, I say a special blessing for this space to be full of light, laughter, love, & warmth.  I also pray that my family & friends feel welcomed, nurtured, & loved when they enter my home.  Other times, I use sage to prepare for meditation or to dispel the negativity that can follow me home at the end of the day.  I imagine the day’s stress floating on the smoke & eventually disappearing.

Sage 2

As the chance of frost threatens my herb garden, I decided to harvest the varieties of sage to make smudge sticks for my friends. Before I cut the silver green leaves from their woody stems, I said a prayer of gratitude.  Once my basket was full, I brought the sage inside & selected 7 different colors of embroidery floss, representing the chakras, to wrap my sage into bundles.  I grasped a handful of sage, cut the stems evenly across the bottom, & secured them with the floss.   I set the intention that each smudge stick will bring healing & wisdom to the person who uses it.  There is exactly enough sage for the 7 major chakras.  Perfect!  I hope they enjoy the smudge sticks as much as I enjoyed making them.

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A Vision Quest… for Me?

I generally recognize the moments in my life when I’m simply to say “Yes!!” without hesitation.  Whether I actually do it or not is another matter entirely.  Sometimes fear makes me second-guess myself, paralyzing me when I most want to act & filling me with regret if I submit to it.  When I find the courage to release the apprehension that grips me, instead confidently seizing life’s opportunities when they appear, I act from an authentic place- a place of intuition & deep knowing.  Then, there can be no regrets for at least I had the courage to try.

One of my spiritual teachers & dear friends offered me the chance to go on a Vision Quest…but wait a minute… aren’t Vision Quests for adolescent boys & girls of Native American descent or other indigenous people desiring a connection with all that is?  Yes.  Can Vision Quests be a way for any of us to connect with all that is, respectfully crying out for a vision for our lives, too?  Absolutely YES.

The Vision Quest is a way to seek clarity during life’s transitions & move forward from a place of greater awareness.  For example, we may need redirection or illumination at stages of our lives such as adolescence, graduation, marriage, divorce, empty-nest syndrome, menopause or retirement.  Any time we feel apprehension, restlessness, self-doubt, or a gnawing eagerness for transformation is a perfect time for a Vision Quest.

Diverse groups of people around the world have participated in Vision Quests for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  There are just as many ways to prepare for a Vision Quest, from purification rituals to fasting, as there are ways to experience the quest itself.  Some believe a Vision Quest should be taken without food & water while others believe water is acceptable.  Some believe it should last several days while others believe a shorter time is just as relevant.  There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong here.  It’s all about intent.

Can a Vision Quest be a meaningful experience for a middle class, European-American woman,  like me, in the 21st century?  Again, YES.  I approached the concept of Vision Quests carefully for I never want to be disrespectful of someone’s beliefs by arrogantly sticking in my flag, claiming their tradition for my own.  (There’s already been too much of that.)  Yet I continue to consider the value in the quest for I view my spirituality globally, believing wholeheartedly that everything is connected & that truth can be found in a variety of places if viewed with open eyes & open hearts.  I researched & meditated on this topic for weeks to ensure that I was doing this for the right reasons, taking time to consider my motives & expectations.

So why do I want to do this?  Time alone with the Divine speaks to my spirit (my soul) so I’m going to go on the quest, staying open to what will be.

As I prepare,  I realize the need for a physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual commitment on my part… obvious proof that my intentions are pure so I follow my instincts & do what feels right to get ready for this experience.  While some people set a specific purpose for their quest, I choose instead to humbly say, “Communicate with me in a way that I can understand.  Tell me what I need to know for my greatest & highest good.”

The quest itself will be a significant amount of time alone in the wilderness, where I will designate a patch of ground as “sacred space” for my quest.  It is on that patch of ground that I will simply BE… open & aware.  My quest will be like no other for each Vision Quest is as unique as those who quest.

Distant Healing Circle

When dear friends shared the stunning news of their son’s serious health challenge, I reacted the way you probably would by saying “I’m so sorry.  Is there anything I can do?”

Instead of the expected “No, but thank you.”, his mother said, “Yes, actually there is.  Let’s form a healing circle for him.”

A healing circle is a gathering of people who combine their individual power to send intense healing energy to the person in need.  While we set the intention for our desired outcome, we surrender to the knowledge that healing takes many forms & the outcome is not ours to control.  In the ceremony, I often say a prayer that includes a sentence such as- “May this healing energy be used for the person’s highest good.”  Under no circumstances do we imply that this replaces medical care of any kind.  Energy healing complements medical treatment but does not replace it.

When designing a distant healing ceremony, I ask several questions including–

  1. Does the person give us consent to perform the ceremony?
  2. Is the person willing to attune to our efforts on the specified date & time?
  3. What do I need to know about the person to facilitate the healing session?

I ask these questions because, first & foremost, the individual has to want the healing.  Second, the person has to be an active participant , doing everything in his/her power to affect change.  Third, details about the person give us a single-minded focus for the work we are about to perform.

All aspects of the healing circle are created with a combination of intuitive insights & good old-fashioned hard work & planning.  On the surface, I design & facilitate rituals & ceremonies.  On a deeper level, I co-create them with those involved, making each experience beautiful, meaningful, & extremely personal.  Customized rituals & ceremonies alter the participants in profound ways– inspiring, connecting, & reaffirming the inherent worth of each of us.

Ceremonies & rituals honoring our special moments should be as unique as we are.

Festival of the Dead

I have to say it, I find traditional, “American” rituals & ceremonies inadequate at best.  Regimented funerals, commercialized holidays, insipid baby showers, & meaningless bachelorette parties are just a few examples.  At worst, the ritual is missing altogether, like Coming of Age ceremonies for our youth.  If you say, “What about prom night or high school graduation?”, you’re proving the point.  Prom night is about the dress & staying up past midnight while our graduation ceremonies couldn’t be more generic.

I’ve taken to designed more deeply meaningful ceremonies.  This week, I created a Festival of the Dead for those who wanted to honor the deceased in a non-traditional way.  I prepared an altar with a white candle symbolizing the living & a black candle symbolizing the dead, along with other symbolic items.  Participants brought photos & objects of those they wished to recognize that night.  We created a sacred space by reciting poetry, learning about death ceremonies from other cultures, & sharing personal stories about those who had passed.

People of various cultures believe the veil between the worlds is lifted at this time of year so the spirits can travel from the other world to this one.  We made space for them by leaving an empty chair, welcome them among us, & taking a moment of silence to intuitively hear what messages they may bring.  The departed can live in our hearts & minds though they are physically gone from this world.

One participant posed the question, “Are funerals meant for the dead or the living?”  Both.  When we honor the dead, we’re recognizing our relationship with that person or animal.  Naturally, a sensitively-designed ceremony must be an extension of that relationship, meaningful to everyone involved– living or dead.  Every ritual we perform should be unique.  As you plan a special event to honor a rite of passage or a holiday that you celebrate, question what you do & why you do it.  If the ceremony doesn’t resonate with you in a powerful way, change it or enlist the help of someone who can help you.

For those who have passed, rest in peace.  For those still among the living, peace to you, too.

Authentic Selves

Can we be our authentic Selves all the time?  This question came up with a friend as we discussed our spiritual journeys & how we try to live our truth in a world where religious intolerance leads to family rifts on a personal level & war on a global level.  (Yes, we get into heavy discussions sometimes.)  She said she’s at a point in her life where she is comfortable being who she is & will not compromise that for anyone else.  I, ashamedly, have to admit that I’m not there yet.  I was raised with the belief that you never talk about religion, politics, or money in social situations.  If people agree, there’s no point to the discussion & if they disagree, there’s still no point.  These conversations rarely lead to a change of heart.  They more often lead to arguments, judgement, misunderstanding, & hostility.

Call me a chicken but I play it safe.  I sense the climate in the room & make the decision whether or not to voice an opinion.  Is that compromising my authentic Self?  This can be a real struggle for someone in the minority– be it race, religion, politics, sexual orientation, or social status.  Too often the majority squelches the individuality of those in the minority.  We give up our authentic Selves so we can belong.  But there’s the dilemma.  We’re being accepted for who we aren’t.

So when do we take the chance?  When do we say, “This is who I truly am?”  Sometimes we make that decision & other times, someone forces our hand, making the decision for us.  My boyfriend did that to me this weekend at a friend’s cookout.  He told some of the guests about my spiritual practice before I felt comfortable doing so.  I’m relieved to say they were very accepting & curious.  As we talked, they saw the similarities between my beliefs & their own.  What began as a tense moment for me, waiting for the hammer of criticism & judgement, became a great opportunity to be my Self & share my spiritual philosophy with them.

Another dear friend uses the term “universalism” to describe the commonalities that many religions & spiritual practices share, such as loving one another, honoring nature, & believing in something greater than ourselves.  At the cookout, we celebrated those similarities & connected at a much deeper level than we had before.

So many interesting topics came up during those conversations that I want to share them with you over the next few weeks.  In addition to my artwork, I’ll be writing about dream imagery, a need for community, soul loss, ritual, honoring life & death, energy work, & love.  I hope that you’ll reflect on the questions below & share your thoughts with me.

1.  Who is your authentic Self?

2.  Have you been authentic in your interactions with others?  Why or why not?

 

Ritual- For the Spiritual Journey

In the workshop that I’m leading, I asked the women to write on a slip of paper either a fear that they would like to transform into fearlessness or a hope they’d like to manifest in their lives (an activity designed by Elizabeth Fisher for her Rise Up & Call Her Name workshop).  We briefly shared what we wrote, for by saying our prayers aloud we give them greater power.  Then, we set the papers in a bowl & set them on fire.  This ritual symbolically transformed our fears into smoke & raised our hopes on the air to be heard by the Divine (whatever form that entity takes for each woman).   Spontaneous yells & cheers erupted as the last ember faded into darkness.  It was an incredibly poignant moment for us all.

Ritual, the 9th in my series of 12 collages for the Spiritual Journey, honors all of our meaningful rituals from simple ones such as greeting the sun at dawn (like the figure in the collage is doing) to something more complex like a marriage ritual.

Rituals, from the simple to the complex, should align with your true Self.

As I’ve written before, rituals mark the important transitions in our lives & connect us to what matters most.  What rituals do you perform?  Are they meaningful or do some need redefined to align with who you are now?

For the Spiritual Journey

In a few short weeks, I’ll be facilitating a workshop for women who want to continue exploring their spiritual journey in the context of woman-honoring cultures throughout history.  We’ll travel to various countries across several continents, studying matriarchal societies & the concept of the divine feminine.   I say “continue exploring” because many of these women have taken my previous workshops & want to continue their exploration in the company of other intelligent, warm, funny, spiritual women ranging from their teens to their seventies!

Leading this workshop is a bit like being a cruise ship captain, planning activities & excursions so each passenger can find the trip worthwhile & fun along the way.  Instead of shuffleboard & a swimming pool, I’m providing religion, the arts, politics, & history.

What does one pack for a spiritual journey?  Chants/songs, rituals, study, writings, personal experience, meditation, drumming, artwork, storytelling, dance, visualization, & service to others are the items which make the journey worthwhile.  Each participant will find that certain items resonate with her while others aren’t as important for the path she is traveling.  It’s ok.  Take what is needed & leave the rest.

My quick study of a jubilant African drummer in gouache & watercolor inspires me to create a body of artwork based on the spiritual items described above.  Soon, I’ll share them with you.  Blessings to you as you travel your own path.

Drumming is one way to explore & celebrate spirituality.

Art as Ritual

There are many major events in our culture that have their own ritual from weddings to graduations yet there are some that have no ritual at all, a girl’s transition to womanhood with her first period or a boy’s transition to manhood (when exactly is that?).  There is a growing movement to make moments more special by personalizing rituals that aren’t very meaningful anymore (the commercialization of holidays comes to mind) or creating new rituals where there isn’t one.  I had to do that when Buddy, my dog of 13 years, died.  I mentioned in my last post how it affected Pixie, my darling Shih Tzu.  I don’t have to go into detail about how deeply it affected me, too.

To honor Buddy’s memory, give him a proper good-bye, & give myself closure, I created my own ritual that included a burial with his favorite stuffed animal, a eulogy where I mentioned many of the wonderful memories we shared, journal writing, & the creation of a portrait that was based on a silly photo of him & Pixie in a washtub.  How he hated that experience!  I could practically hear him protesting the humiliation of being photographed in a plastic tub.  Totally embarrassing for a dog of his stature 🙂  The portrait wasn’t meant to be realistic; it was meant to capture his playful yet curmudgeonly spirit as well as Pixie’s sweetness.  This artwork helped me heal & still makes me laugh each time I see it.  Art is one of the great healers & a valuable component to meaningful ritual for me.  How do you make rituals meaningful for yourself?

 

Their expressions say it all!