Archive for the ceremony Category


Posted in ceremony, Healing, prayer, Spirituality on August 5, 2016 by Standing West

Relaxing after a good week’s work; flanked on either side by a sleepy house cat.  Had a nice fire last night, and we’re off to see Star Trek later this afternoon.

Taking care of the spirit by tending the physical.

“Honor your vices,” a teacher once told me, “because this work is so hard.”

Who am I to argue with my Elders?

So often on the path to healing there’s the urge to chuck everything that isn’t “spiritual.”  But when it really starts to click – and things begin to align – we come to realize that there is no separation; and something as simple as a cup of coffee or an afternoon of cleaning out the garage becomes good medicine.

We make a little space by getting rid of the things that no longer serve us.  We take some time to cultivate the things that do.  We go looking for things to get rid of and find only  vague outlines in the dust on an otherwise empty shelf where once they were kept. . .


Someone gimme a stone…

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Initiation, prayer, sweat lodge, visions on January 7, 2015 by Standing West

I’ve found myself being called upon to welcome the Stone People into the sweat lodge on a regular basis lately. As is typical when undertaking a ritual, one must be aware of both the practical or exoteric component, and the deeper or esoteric component that empowers the physical container with the Sacred, enabling it to become a vessel for the breath of God.

The Grandfathers leave the fire cherry red; the images on their skin whispering stories in the dark for those who will open themselves and listen. We receive the Stones from the pitchfork into a basket formed by interlocking the tines of White Tail antlers. Then they are placed into the pit to receive their blessing of herbs and the water which, in the form of steam, will carry our prayers to the Great Spirit for the good of All Our Relations.

On a practical level, the antlers are sturdy, resistant to heat, and fit together securely, keeping the Stones from rolling away and burning someone. They also provide better control over where the Stones are placed in the pit.

Symbolically the antlers represent gentleness. The fire from which the Stones are taken is a violent, masculine environment. Rather than bathing the participants in this emotionally aggressive energy, the Grandfathers are cradled in a softer, feminine energy before being brought into the lodge. Focusing on this, one transcends the self and becomes the instrument through which the process unfolds.

The last time I was asked however, a deeper level of awareness opened up. As we move through our lives, or rather, as our lives unfold through us, we will encounter difficult situations which will test us in every conceivable – and perhaps not so conceivable – way. We can meet these challenges carelessly, injuring ourselves and others in the process; or we can open up to them and receive them with gentility and grace, allowing their energy to serve, through our interaction with it, as a lesson for All Our Relations. . .

By any other name…

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Shamanism on November 18, 2014 by Standing West

“Are you a shaman, Ben?”

The question came from one of the members of the group who’d gathered at a new studio for a dedication ceremony I’d been asked to officiate. We’d prayed together, smoked together, shared a cup of mead, and offered our thanks and best wishes to our hosts. It was a multi-traditional ceremony which, like so many others I’ve attended, started with a simple idea and wove itself into a tapestry of faith, love, and Spirit.

“I never use that title in reference to myself,” I answered. “Some people in my community have called me that, but I prefer to think of myself as Spirit’s roadie. I show up, put out what I’m asked to, let Spirit do His thing, and then pack up everything and leave when the work is done.”

Perhaps my answer might have seemed a bit flippant. And maybe it might not have sat well with some Elders. At this point I have no way of knowing that. All I know is that I cannot claim title over any of the healing or curing that might take place beneath my hands. I’m  simply a man who does his best to serve as a vessel for Spirit’s love…nothing more and nothing less.

I know that there are many who would look at my initial training in Michael Harner’s Core Shamanic method and classify my work as cultural poaching or “Neoshamanism”.

And this is exactly where the difficulty of a modern healing path presents itself. To truly be a vessel of Spirit, one must walk beyond the opinions of men and embrace completely the will of the Creator. Yet one must also serve one’s fellow man, honor fully the traditions that make this possible, and remember always the Elders who’ve lived and died to keep these traditions alive, and the cultures from which they have sprung.

So how does one honor a form without becoming restricted by it? I’m paraphrasing here a bit, but as a teacher of mine once put it, “What kind of healer would I be if you came up to me one day asking me to pray for your wife because she was sick, and I told you I couldn’t because I didn’t have my drum?”

I’ve tossed this issue back and forth a lot over the last couple of years and with the help of my current teacher, I‘ve come to believe that the answer lies in acknowledgement, permission, and gratitude.

When we are called to serve, we must first acknowledge and accept our responsibility to those who’ve come to us, to the Creator, and to All Our Relations. Then, with full permission of all parties involved, we open ourselves to the Will of the Creator and gratefully allow His healing light to flow through us for the greatest good of all. Whether that healing manifests itself through song, rattle, drum, dance, or smoke is immaterial – the form often changes according to the needs of the patient.

This does not mean that we “do whatever we feel like at the moment.” That is a reckless path that leaves us open to the possibility of some very hard lessons. No. What we must do, however, is place ourselves completely in Spirit’s hands, knowing that once there, “WE” aren’t the ones making the decisions. “WE” are simply the conduit through which Spirit’s will is made manifest.

Our main responsibility lies in recognizing the difference between the two. . .

Falling in Love. . .

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Shamanism, Spirituality, Sun Moon Dance, visions on August 8, 2013 by Standing West

This past July at the Sun Moon dance, I spent nearly four uninterrupted days immersed in the awareness of Grandfather’s love.   This is not to say that the Creator’s love isn’t always there.  What I’m offering here, is simply that for the first time since I’ve been dancing, I recognized, physically as well as emotionally, the presence of a force I can only describe as limitless, unadulterated love, flowing downward through the tree at the center of the arbor, and entering the ever expanding vessel of my heart.

One becomes aware, at times like these, of many things seemingly heretofore unnoticed.  And yet, this awareness is not so much the grasping of a new idea as it is a coming home, a re-membering of components as vital to life as the very air one breathes.

How can one, after  literally feeling Grandfather’s energy holding him up as his body – hungry, thirsty, and sleep-deprived – shambles its  way towards the tree and back,  not come away from the experience altered on such a fundamental level as to feel as if his very soul had been transfigured?

We dance for the life and well-being of All Our Relations.  We dance that the People might live.  And in this dance, we sometimes fall into vision.   It is a moment of transcendent beauty when a dancer meets the Earth.  It is akin to nothing so much as a child falling into the arms of its Mother.

Witnessing this, the heart opens, and one feels the continuous ebb and flow of life.  One comes to understand that one is merely the gateway through which the Creator’s light manifests into the experience of creation.

Beautiful Painted Arrow tells us that the songs with which we dance are ancient beings.  They come to honor our sacrifice and share their wisdom.  I have come to believe the same thing about visions.  We do not go out to seek visions for our people.  Instead, the visions themselves, powerful and ancient as the one who imparts them, stand at the threshold, beckoning  us to unlock the door through sacrifice and intent, that they might enter; and in doing so, bring sustenance to a hungry world. . .

Coyote Shuffle…

Posted in ceremony, Coyote, prayer, Spirituality, sweat lodge on January 8, 2013 by Standing West

Many ups and downs these last few weeks, initiated with the solstice. A heavy sweat with Grandfathers breathing ancient medicine and fire, as Coyote dips and splashes our prayers to the Creator.

He guides us as children: never in a demeaning way, but with ample love and humor.

Tears flow with my first prayer and continue on and off over the course of the lodge, mingling with my life-water and the flowing river of Tiwa.

When the flap is opened a final time and we exit Mother’s belly, he takes hold of my hand and with an expression of pure compassion says only, “Bless you.”

It is a gift to share the inipi with this man. . .

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