By far the most controversial thing I have ever written was an article called “Please Don’t Call it Native American Shamanism.” Another article called “What You Need to Know Before Engaging in Group Rituals” fleshes it out a bit more. Since I still get questions and arguments about who is entitled to lead group ceremonies and do rituals, I want to just let you know how I lead group ceremonies. This is not to say that this is how it must be done. It’s just to give you something to think about when you choose your group facilitator or if you are considering leading group ceremonies for others.
I Know Who is in Ceremony With Me
It’s my job to know who is in ceremony with me because the ceremony is for the benefit of the group. If I don’t know who is there and what they need, I can’t give it to them. One of my primary roles is also to keep everyone safe. If someone is too fragile for the process or not ready for it, I can offer them an alternative.
Lots of people have trauma triggers. I neither want them to trigger others nor do I want them to be triggered by the process or other people. So, the more intimate the gathering and the deeper the ceremony goes, the more important this becomes. If I don’t know the people in the ceremony, I can’t know if the circle is safe or if I can handle what may come out. It would be very irresponsible of me to proceed without this knowledge. So, I only serve my community. If it’s something that is more about a celebration, like a moon circle or wedding where this isn’t likely to be a factor, this may not apply.
I Serve Within My Limitations
It’s up to me to know what I can do and what I can’t. Nobody knows everything. Nobody can do everything. When I stay within my limitations and skills, everyone is better served. This includes not offering a wide variety of ceremonies and rituals. It also means I don’t work from any tradition that is not my own.
I’m There as a Facilitator Not Participant
Regardless of what type of ceremony it is, I am always there as a facilitator first. My job is to take care of the needs of the people in ceremony. It’s not to have an experience myself or be the center of attention. If it’s a funeral, I help them departed to go and the friends and family to process the experience. If it’s a healing circle, I help people heal. I am human. I may have feelings and be in need of healing too, but this is not my time. It’s their time.
I Never Charge a Fee
Obviously there is a cost to doing ceremonies and rituals. Being present for others means I don’t have time to do other things- like work. If there are tools or costs involved, that costs money. Sometimes we need space for ceremonies and that costs money. When you serve the community, the community generally knows all this and provides labor, materials, and donations to cover these things so that it is not a hardship to serve. The only way this is sustainable is through reciprocity. This is not and will never be my “job.” It’s a service.
I Keep the Group Small
There is an optimal group size for every purpose. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. I like for things to be intimate and meaningful, so group size is always small. I want to be able to see everyone at all times and make sure they all have attention. There is only one of me, so I keep it small so I can serve everyone.
I Educate Beforehand
Group ceremonies go more smoothly when participants know what to expect and how to behave. If they are all from the same culture, this isn’t a problem. When there are visitors or new people, some things have to be explained. They are generally things like: be on time, no bathroom breaks once the ceremony has started, and no smoking, cursing, or talking during the ceremony.
I Don’t Advertise
There are lots of reasons why I don’t advertise. The primary one is that people who know what I offer already know me. If they need me, they will ask me. I am not trying to grow this into a business. You can’t sell spirit. I don’t need or want this as a credential. It just seems weird and not something that I’d desire.
I do what I do because it’s what I believe is best for me. I am not here to tell anyone what to do or believe. We all have to walk our own walk. I’m just saying that if you are searching for a group ceremony to join, be discerning. Ask yourself some questions about the ritual or ceremony, the people in it, and your facilitator. If you are considering offering healing, maybe you want to ask yourself if you’re ready. If you like the traditions of other peoples, enjoy them by all means. But perhaps you want to consider if you are the best person to share or teach it.