gaze up at the night sky, miles away from the artificial lights
of the civilized world, and we cast our eyes toward the distant
heavens and the realm of unimaginable space and unlimited possibilities.
We stare up at the expanse of an infinite universe with countless
stars suspended in the void, and we are connected to Time and
Hope, like junctures of light in the deep dark ocean of space.
great star we call our sun holds us in his influence as we float
along on Mother Earth, spinning in cycles within this black celestial
sea of nothingness. In all this we feel our own sense of place,
surprisingly secure, cradled between her and the all-covering
Father Sky. Our physical realities dwell here, limited and confined
to these human forms, with the exception of that part of ourselves
that draws sustenance from moments like this, when we gaze upon
the heavens and suddenly become aware of the part of ourselves
that connects us, as with the silken strands of a spider's web,
to all things, great and small, and provides us the gift of potential
we have within to expand and explore.
and eternity are abstractions beyond the intellectual limitations
of humankind. In a universe wide as daylight, immense as darkness,
there are no boundaries. There are no limitations. These come
only when we attempt to define what we cannot. In a universe beyond
our comprehension, the potential for our spiritual growth is restricted
only by the physical forms we occupy and by the way we allow ourselves
to think -- but the Great Mystery, regardless, remains forever
unending and eternal.
share life simultaneously with all things in a Totality without
beginning and without end -- this is a humbling notion, but the
humility we experience when we realize it helps us transcend into
a greater sense of Place and Purpose, and into a sacred responsibility
for being alive, and a part of it
the beginning it flowed through the primordial bloodstream of
humankind. And long ago, whether through ceremony or through simply
gazing at the night sky, the First People became consciously aware
of their place in the Wheel of Life. They recognized their connection
to the vast subconscious, and to various dimensions of Time and
Space and Spirit and Mystery, through the power of their conscious
awareness, and through the urgings of their Original Instruction.
ago they sat together in a circle, passing sacred objects from
hand to hand, or they stood alone and turned their thoughts toward
the rising sun. They traced the natural movement of the sun across
the sky, setting into motion a harmonic flow or movement within
the ceremonial circles they had formed, and within their own lives
as well. Long ago they knew the circle they created with others,
and the sunwise movement they imitated, and everything else in
Ceremony presents something, and draws special powers for specific
purposes. Long ago they became consciously aware that every song
expresses certain feelings, and entreats certain elements to come
into the world.
prayer is a seed planted in the Mystery. Each one addresses some
aspect of our needs and urgings, and
prepares the world in a mysterious way, as if it were a garden,
for its fulfillment.
ago they knew every color has a meaning; every feather, every
bone, every beaded or quilled design has a unique power and significance.
They knew their instruments were special, each one made out of
a desire to re-create the music of nature, each with a vibration
and sound that was unique to itself and that drew attention to
and from those troublesome or benevolent spirits and incorporeal
beings that inhabited their world.
ago all of these elements of ceremony intertwined and became one
with their intentions and purpose. Each one commanded their respect
and appreciation. And so their seeds of prayer gestated, were
born, and were made ready for fruition within the sacred awareness
have changed, but certain elements of the human condition have
not. No matter how civilized we humans have become, certain needs
still flow through our primordial blood. And many are now seeking
to satisfy their need for ceremony once again. But can we reconcile
our sacred relationship to all things with the way we have chosen
who chooses can learn to conduct aspects of ceremony. Anyone who
chooses can purchase a Native American pipe. Anyone who chooses
can buy a braid of sweetgrass, a bag of sage, or a stick of cedar.
Anyone who chooses can gather feathers and collect fetishes. Anyone
who chooses can learn to sing a traditional song, use a traditional
instrument, or listen to traditional melodies of the flute on
the latest digital disc. Anyone who chooses can learn words of
prayer and supplication.
bookstores display how-to books that teach anyone who chooses
how to make things once handed down in more personal ways. They
show you how to make "your own spirit mask." They show
how to make a drum, how to make dream catchers. They sell kits
to make your own flute.
priced trips to temples and pyramids and other "power places"
and "holy places" all over the world beckon from the
Internet. Advertisements for guided and supervised "vision
quest weekends" are scattered throughout the pages of New
judge the right or wrong of all this or to criticize anyone does
not serve the purpose and intention of this book (The Book of
Ceremonies). The heart knows what is true. These things may be
good for some people and bad for others, right for some and wrong
for others, but one thing cannot be denied: certain elements of
ceremony cannot be sold or purchased. The most critical of all
these are the elements that emanate from a good heart, from the
intentions of the good-hearted people that have been brought into
that Time and Space of Ceremony and share a belief in the interrelationship
of all things.
though anyone who chooses can purchase the conduits of ceremony,
not everyone can enter into a ceremonial state of consciousness.
To do this one must be of good heart, whether that heart is celebratory
and joyous or anguished and sad. The purity of the heart and the
sincerity of intentions are the master facts; they are essential.
They are vital, as is a conscious awareness of one's relationship
to all the things within the ceremony – for we enter into
a ceremonial state of consciousness out of love and reverence
for the sacredness and the beauty and the power of life and life's
journey, no matter how grand or small that life may be, or how
wonderful or difficult that road is to walk.
enter into a ceremonial state of consciousness with respect for
life, and for the purpose of
well-being and balance, not only within our own lives, but for
the Earth, our Mother, as well. A ceremony, even of one, then
becomes an expression of gratitude and an acknowledgment of the
sacred. It is a way of addressing and entreating the spirit of
benevolence. It is a way of living.
every animated life form incorporates ritual of some kind. The
ceremonial aspect of that ritual embodies that life form's conscious
awareness and recognition of the sacred. The sacred emanates from
a particular place and moment of mind that, for whatever reason,
makes a conscious connection to the Great Mystery that all things
is a remarkable scene in the book Our Kinship with the Animals.
Gary Kowolski, a Unitarian minister and animal rights advocate,
describes the observations of a zoologist who was caught early
one evening by the splendor of an incredible sunset in an African
rain forest. While he was appreciating the moment, he saw a lone
chimpanzee come into the scene, cradling a papaya close to his
chimp paused at an opening between the trees that provided an
especially impressive view. "For a full fifteen minutes,
the animal remained spellbound by the spectacle of the changing
colors of the dusk and watched them without moving."
something wonderful happened, something that could help civilized
humans become more aware of their own primal source and that of
other life forms as well. The chimp, after his motionless observance
of the setting sun, gently placed his papaya on the ground where
he stood and left it there, heading back into the thicket, as
silent as the evening breeze.
ceremony? Perhaps. The significance of this and similar incidents
among animals has been debated for ages among scientists and theologians.
They argue whether or not these are truly occurrences in Time
and Space when nonhuman life forms connect with conscious awareness
to something sacred.
say that the magic of the moment affected the chimp so deeply
that he wandered off, forgetting the papaya. Others say the chimp's
reaction must have been completely unrelated to the sunset and
that he simply lost interest in the papaya and left it on the
ground where he had been standing.
some of us feel that in some way the chimp left the papaya as
an offering, a gift to the beauty of the place and to the Mystery
of it all. Perhaps he even brought the treasured papaya there
with that intention.
he truly was honoring and expressing his gratitude for the sacred,
and perhaps this is a primal element of our own nature, deeply
rooted in our animal DNA. It does appear that the chimp, whether
conscious of it or not, was doing something that our elders insist
upon: We must never take from the world without expressing our
gratitude, and without giving something back.
don't believe humankind can ever completely surrender our ways
of acknowledging and honoring this awareness. If we did, we would
become so civilized that we would no longer live with a conscious
reverence and respect for our relationship to the greater web
of life outside ourselves. We would no longer allow the magic
in the Mystery to stir our imaginations and creativity. We would
no longer feel our connectedness to life, or our sense of wonder
and appreciation for life. We would no longer be challenged to
grow further as spiritual beings in these physical forms.
we surrender our ways of acknowledging and honoring the sacred,
then how would we come closer to the understandings and insights
that enable us to grow? How would we be able to help ourselves
heal and become whole after being hurt and broken?
if we surrender our ways of acknowledging and honoring the sacred,
then what would be the Purpose of our existence? What would be
the Purpose for living?
sacred and mysterious connects us all, human and nonhuman, corporeal
and incorporeal beings alike, and these moments of recognition
occur among a great diversity of life forms in Time and Space,
moments when that sacred union, that sense of ineffable Oneness,
is pronounced and appreciated and realized.
is natural in these moments to offer something in gratitude.
from The Book of Ceremonies, by Gabriel Horn.
(White Deer of Autumn ©2000)