Ceremony As A Collective Healing Response

A few posts ago I shared my perception that ceremonies are a collective healing response to the existential experiences of being human. This clarity crystallized when I participated earlier this year in Women’s Business (Ceremonies) with Aboriginal Elder Women in the Central Desert. Previous experiences with indigenous ceremonies elsewhere, helped shape the foundations for this understanding.

Ceremonies in general are a way to step out of the ordinary goings-on of daily life to enter a sacred space for personal and collective healing through praying, singing, dancing, silence and the laying on of hands. Ceremonial practices generate movement toward wholeness and wellness by removing the blockages and heavy energy that we accumulate as part of living daily life. These blockages and layers of heavy energy prevent us from feeling and recognizing one’s belonging to this world, that we are an integral part of the great weave of life, and that the living energy travels among, through and between us.

My experience in the Central Desert reflected and confirmed other experiences I have had with indigenous people: in Africa with the Kalahari Bushman, with the Andean indigenous People of Peru, and with Native American ceremonies […]

That Old Man

In only a few minutes, this video conveys in powerful images and simple language how the Aboriginal people and their ‘country’, their art and their stories, and their songs and ceremonies are part of one another and, in fact, inseparable. Watching this film, I am reminded of Gregory Bateson’s comment that the aesthetic, the whole and the sacred evoke each other.

Having just returned from the Central Desert the second time and participating in Women’s Business at some very special sacred sites, I have begun to grasp in a new way what the notion of homeland or ‘country’ may mean to the Aboriginal people and how healing the land is healing ourselves.

Enjoy this glimpse into a completely different kind of human relationship to the natural environment, visible or not.

This post was originally published in my blog Liminal Songlines. The intention of that blog was to help capture my initial understanding of the spiritual healing traditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia while I lived in Australia from 2009 to 2012. Much of what I learned there is relevant to my continuing explorations of […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – Two

Sacred Women’s Business

Women’s Business is sacred business and it is secret business. During the ceremony important cultural knowledge and sacred practices are shared and the agreement is that participants do not talk about the particulars of the ceremonies with those who have not participated in them before.  However, we were given permission to share about the going-ons of the visiting women’s camp since we were not doing ceremony with Aboriginal elders there. We were also asked not to take any photos while in either camp and to refrain from journaling, especially notes about the going-ons in the ceremony. We were asked to come with an empty mind and to be present to what is. I have often found photo-taking during sacred activities to be somehow disturbing the feel or energy of what was unfolding in the moment and refraining from journaling helped me stay more present with what was moving through me and before me rather than spending time in reflection and analysis. (I will share a few comments about the above painting later in this post.)

I have made […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – One

Ceremonies are a collective healing response to the elemental and existential experiences of being human. As we dance, pray, chant, make offerings, surrender, and feel heard and witnessed by one another and the great mystery of which all spirits, all gods, and all that is divine are a part, our shared humanity becomes visible, and our place within this great weave of life is affirmed. Ceremony is healing and an enactment of wholeness.

The Sacred Centa: Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Last March I joined a group of nearly 30 women who traveled from across the country and overseas to the Central Desert to be in ceremony with local Aboriginal women. We spent four nights and five days camping out at a sacred women’s site about 20 minutes away from Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). Uluru is the most sacred site to the Aboriginal people of that area and over the years Uluru has become the most dominant symbol of the Central Desert as well as a tourist destination for many travelers. However, for most outsiders the area is only accessible by flying into the small airport […]

Dreamtime or Time for Dreaming – One

I made the painting, Incubation: Lizard Dreaming, two months after I arrived in Australia. Making this painting was my first exploration of aboriginal symbolism and mythology and during the process the painting became a reflection of the rather ambiguous state I have been in. I want to share with you a few insights I gained into aboriginal art, symbolism and Dreamtime, as well as about this painting and myself. I share these small discoveries with sincerity as well as with a sense of humility because I am an eager and earnest learner, and because I otherwise would not muster the courage to reveal to you the cultural and artistic naïveté with which I approached the composition of this painting. Little did I know that in the end the painting turned out to be a depiction of an American lizard incubating the vision of a German woman amidst the shifting sands of the Australian desert.

 

Lizards

I was drawn to include a lizard in a painting for a couple of reasons. I had been intrigued by the many tiny lizards in our backyard and that there are over 520 species of lizards in Australia. […]

Parliament of World Religions – Two

(This is the second part of a two-part post.)

After the introductory remarks to the session Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas, several aboriginal elders invited us to participate in a smoking ceremony. What I gleaned from these aborigines about the ritual is that whenever they leave their land and enter another, they seek protection by burning special herbs and woods. The smoking ritual also protects those with whom they share their tradition – without doing the smoking ritual the aborigines would feel responsible for any misfortune or illness would come to the others.

I was rather surprised but also pleased when I saw the elders create a rather large billowing of smoke in the corner of this small conference room. Each one of us was invited to step through the smoke and breathe it in. The smoke was thick and the smell intense. Within moments the smoke penetrated the entire room and settled on our bodies. After some time and to no one’s surprise, a fire marshal entered the room to investigate the situation. At that point […]

Parliament of World Religions – One

In November 2009 I attended the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne. The program offered hundreds of sessions for roughly 7,000 conference participants. Each day provided numerous sessions focused on indigenous and aboriginal culture. For me, attending these sessions became a fast-track introduction to the cultural practices and issues facing Australian aborigines from their perspective.

One session was led by several Ngarinyin elders of the North-West Kimberly region and was entitled Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas. The session introduced us to a Ngarinyin art project currently underway which involved participants in one of the Ngarinyin people’s essential ceremonies. This ceremony inadvertently surfaced one of many dilemmas that can mark attempts to share practices across industrialized and earth-based cultures.

Maama refers to images in ancient cave paintings of their God Wanjina who created the immutable law of the land that governs many aspects of their traditional lives.

Until recently the cave art was ‘untouchable’ and only shown to members of the Ngarinyin communities, and sometimes not even to them. A Caucasian woman who has worked with these aborigines for some years opened the session. As a creative director, she supports the Ngarinyin’s effort to […]

Direct Knowing

Several days ago I was reading Yorro Yorro: Everything Standing Up Alive. Mowaljarlai, an Aboriginal Elder from Australia and co-author of the book, shares through describing his personal experiences and the many stories he tells how he directly interacts with nature and how the natural world  teaches him and can teach us and feel fully alive.

Mowaljarlai’s description landed for me inside a perspective I’d cultivated studying with Juan Nunez del Prado, a Peruvian Mestizo and p’aqo (shaman/priest) several years back. I am struck by how Mowaljarlai and Juan help us see how we can know the world through our senses, and what phenomenologists call direct encounter with nature, a way of knowing that is unmitigated by the intellect.

In the Western world, a direct way of knowing has largely been undervalued and our capacity for relying on and working with our subjective experience has been greatly diminished. For centuries, with the rise of industrialization, we have put emphasis on knowledge processes that rely mostly on objective and scientific observation, and conceptual representation rather than subjective, embodied experience. My own work managing the tensions in our knowledge processes between subjective to objective now […]