If you are interested in prayer, ritual, and living as you intend to, check out my new program Life as Immersive Prayer and my book A Ceremony Called Life.
A ritual is a sacred way of connecting with the moment to share a prayer. That prayer can be an intention, a message of gratitude, a question, a healing or so on. There are many rituals and aspects of ritual which the Universe recognizes, often because it has been done in the same way a billion times before, and through that repetition, a silent language has been created.
Rituals have been practiced since the beginning of time. When we take the time to be in ritual, our presence, attention and intention is strong, clear and powerful. We are communing with the elements and the spirits. There are solstice rituals, wedding rituals, birth rituals, moon rituals–there is no end to the different types of rituals there are and can be. You always have the opportunity to engage with the moment in a deep way, to deepen your inner experience, hear the wisdom of the Universe and create a strong prayer that will be heard.
Here are some suggestions and guidelines for you for rituals you can do on your own, whether at home or in nature.
Preparation for ritual
What is the purpose of your ritual? Is it to express gratitude, call in an answer to a question, receive guidance, or to share a prayer? To "heal" something within you or another person? A prayer for the collective? There are no rules here: this is about the free expression of your soul. Take some time in meditation to tune into the intention of your ritual, even if it's just to be in ritual. Your intention will guide the energy.
Prepare your space by cleaning up. Wherever you are, the room should be clean and tidy. The air should be fresh. You can cleanse both the energy and the purity of the air with sage, which you can even pick up at Whole Foods. You do not need sage to cleanse the energy, but especially when we are beginning, it is helpful. Otherwise, you can cleanse the energy of the room with your prayer and intention. Either way, prepare the energy of the room before beginning your ritual.
An altar is a sacred setting we create, the physical symbolism of our prayers which creates a supportive energy of gratitude and high vibration. The above photo is of an altar in my home. You can see it has the hand drum; various crystals (citrine for abundance and manifestation; rose quartz for love); a little green packet that has dolphin essence within it–a special gift from a beloved sister; a beautiful decorated cover for a lighter from Bali; a candle for fire; and below the fire–a note inscribed with a prayer; all resting upon a Peruvian Shipibo manta, with symbolism of the plant medicine Ayahuasca. You can create your own altar with anything that is meaningful to you. Look around your room or go into your sacred treasures to carefully put it together. Feathers, photos of people you love, flowers, images, even dirt: really anything that holds meaning to you that you'd like to witness and hold your prayer.
Whenever you choose to be in ritual, turn your phone off and be ready to go into silence. Even if you choose to sing or share in ritual with others, it is best when the energy is still that of silence and stillness. This is an inner journey, so keep your attention focused within.
Perhaps it goes without saying that it's best to allow adequate time for your prayer. Don't rush it in 15 or 20 minutes. Give yourself a nice chunk of time so you can flow with wherever your energy goes and wherever you are guided.
Flow however you feel. There does not need to be a particular format. While it's always good to open with an intention, a prayer, and an offering, from there, you can just see what moves you or you can, of course, set up a format beforehand. Whatever you're feeling is good. Your flow might include meditation, spoken or sung prayer, prayer songs, spontaneous movement or dancing, sound healing/releasing sound, chanting, writing, journaling, working with card decks, cleansing, smoking tobacco–just tune in and see where you feel to go, how you feel to share your prayer.
The Ritual Itself
When sharing a prayer or opening communication with the Divine, we begin by offering something precious to us as a symbol of our honor, respect and gratitude. As a symbol of the request to begin this divine communication of ritual and prayer. This is not an act; it is important that whatever you share as an offering you are truly connecting with and plugging into your intention and gratitude. Take the time to sense it.
You can offer anything you like. While generally an offering is that which you give, you can also sometimes choose to receive it back at the end of the ritual–in particular if it is a private ritual of your own. If you are participating in a ritual that someone else has put together, it is important to respect how they have been guided to let it flow–so if they ask you to bring an offering, either be prepared to give it away or ask beforehand for clarity. Examples: you can offer tobacco you have prayed on, you can offer your menstrual blood to the earth, you can offer a poem or a prayer on a piece of paper, you can offer a crystal, a feather, cedar, mugwort, an herb, flowers, a drawing, and so on. Anything that has meaning to you, you can offer.
After or even while open with your prayer and your offering, assert your intention through your invocation. This is a bit like the summary of your ritual and your prayer. After this, you may move into silence, meditation and whatever your general flow is--so this is the time to work magic with your words. State, whether silently or out-loud, that which you are calling in and/or releasing, any good spirits, angels, guides, ancestors, spirit animals you would like to be in presence, your request to the Divine to be heard, and so on. Share from the depths of your soul; let yourself be taken, let your true Self guide the way.
And then flow. silence, meditation, stillness, music, movement, fire, water, dance, writing... or whatever format you have already created. Follow your energy wherever it takes you.
Fire is a sacred element and a divine spirit that truly lives between worlds. The fire is all powerful, transformative, and can transmute any energy we give it back into the pure energy of spirit. That's one of its gifts. Also, when we pray on an offering, (like tobacco, sage, or cedar or a piece of paper), and then give it to the fire, the fire carries the prayer through its smoke to reach the heavens. Another gift. The gift of fire is endless. Grandfather Fire teaches us about conviction, passion, transformation, steadfastness, the fire of the heart, our infinite ability to transmute and shift, humility, and more.
You can engage with fire in your ritual in large ways–such as building a fire in nature–or more basic ways, like lighting a candle in your home. You can invite it to teach you its ways, and listen carefully as it responds.
Another small (though very powerful) and very manageable way I love to work with fire is by giving it writing/words to instantly transform energy. You can do this by writing on a piece of paper: that which you are choosing to release; and that which you are calling in. After spending time with the writing and the prayer, you then set the piece of paper on fire over the candle, and drop it into a large cooking pot. This is miraculous work. Everyone I have done this with has experienced an immediate shift in energy. Remember, fire is fire, so whether you are sitting in front of a large, blazing outdoor bonfire or a tiny candle flame, the spirit is the same and equally present.
Words are magic. When we work with writing in ritual, it is extremely important to be very specific and precise with what we wish to communicate. It's best to not work with negatives, like "I do not want to have this fear anymore," and shift them into positives, such as "I release the fear of...." It is a subtle but strong and empowering shift for our subconscious when we begin speaking and communicating with positives instead of negatives. Also, it has been said that the Universe is less apt to get the full meaning if you use negatives. If we look carefully at the example I just wrote about fear, we can understand how that could be true. It's definitely more accurate to say "I choose to release xx" than to just say "I don't want xxx"
Your writing ritual can go however you choose. The point is that it's a time of clear, specific communication between you and God. You can write the Universe a love letter, you can write a list of what you are now releasing, (always present tense!), of what you are now receiving, and so on. You can even write a letter to an ex-boyfriend, family member, friend or spouse saying exactly what you want to express, with the intention of that person's higher self understanding it.
Once you've gotten it all down in words, you can do whatever you are guided with that paper. You can burn it, thereby bringing the prayer to the heavens through the smoke of the fire; or you can burn it to transmute the energy, as we know. You can place it under a crystal on your altar, (as shown in the altar photo), and from time to time light a candle on top of it to keep the prayer alive and strong. If you do choose to do that, I recommend refreshing that prayer each moon cycle by re-writing it. You can even bury that piece of paper into the earth, giving the energy back to Pachamama to transform and utilize. If you choose to do that though, it is nice to write on a leaf or a piece or organic material so we only plant goodness in Mama Earth.
Drumming is often present in ritual, ceremony and prayer songs. The sound of the drum is like our heartbeat, calling us home with each beat. The rhythmic repetitive beats help bring us into a meditative state or trance, and help to deepen and expand our inner journey. Often, drumming is worked with to help others go into a trance state where they may have visions, connect with spirit animals, and generally just see that which is meant to be seen. The Earth remembers the sound of the tambor. It is an ancient melody and a call that Pachamama is always happy to hear.
Tobacco is a sacred plant ally, prized by indigenous culture for millennia. When we talk about tobacco here, we're not talking about commercialized cigarettes or what "Big Tobacco" has made of them. Tobacco, at its core, is a masculine spirit and a powerful cleanser. We smoke tobacco without inhaling and blow the smoke over our head and upon our bodies to cleanse our energetic field. It is truly so powerful: I always feel it instantly.
We also offer both the dried plant shreds and the smoke as an offering and a prayer to Great Spirit. When you pray as you smoke your tobacco, the prayer is carried to the skies with the smoke. The smoke contains within it your prayer.
Tobacco is also a common and precious offering in many tribal cultures. It is very common that when you visit a Native American Elder, attend a ceremony and so on, tobacco is brought as an offering and an honoring. Of course, anything you bring as an offering is welcome; tobacco is just a more common offering because it is worked with so often in prayer.
Smudging: sage, Palo Santo, Cedar, Mugwort, Sweetgrass, copal
Smudging is another ancient practice for cleansing energetic fields. Sage, Palo Santo, Cedar, Mugwort, Sweetgrass and Copal each have their own tone and particular gift, though in general they are all lit in bundles for their smoke to clear the energetic field and as aids in prayer. There are other herbs and resins you can cleanse and pray with; these are just examples.
Sage is a very common herb that you can easily purchase in bundles at Whole Foods. Palo Santo, Cedar and Mugwort you can often purchase at markets that have bulk herb sections. Sweetgrass is a bit less common, though you can usually find it, (along with Copal), at mystical shops and bookstores.
All of them purify energy, but as for their differences: White Sage is an herb that grows in the US (and elsewhere). It is very gentle but strong, and is worked with most often in healings. Its name, Sage, literally means "to heal"; (Salvia in Latin means just that). It is very common to begin with the white sage, as it so purifying, and then to pray with the others that are shared here. We wash ourselves with Sage to cleanse off the energy of the world and enter the sacred space clean. Palo Santo is a holy Peruvian wood that is very protective and balances masculine and feminine energy. Cedar is the "medicine of protection." It brings in good influences and is often burned while praying. Mugwort is a variety of sage and it enhances intuition and the psychic nature. It also supports our physical wellness and endurance; deepens the dream space by bringing prophetic dreams; and supports astral travel. I love drinking in a tea it before bed for to open up the dream space. Sweetgrass braids are burned as a blessing and is often lit after the energy has already been purified. It attracts good energy and good spirits; another wonderful companion in prayer. Copal is a tree sap from Mexico and is said to be "pleasing to the Gods."