Overlooked protocols and etiquette for holding sacred space
A Story of Reconciliation
Holding shamanic ceremonies and opening sacred spaces is very popular right now.
Ceremony tends to create a “reality distortion field” which beguiles and amazes the participants into a feeling of being looked after, and they believe that the person in front of them is the cause of the magical experience they are having; leaving them blissfully unaware of what is really taking place in the space.
If it was a well run ceremony, with a skilled ceremonialist, to the outside unknowing perspective, the practitioner would make it seem easy. It must be easy - right?
We regularly receive requests asking us to teach people how to hold sacred space. Many of these requesters believe we are able to impart 18 years of experience and knowledge over a 1 hour Skype session. It takes decades to refine your skills as a ceremonialist. However, there seems to be a prevailing expectation that within 1 day of discussion or observation; one can become suitably qualified to run a cacao, or other subtle plant ceremonies, whilst holding space for a group of individuals.
Did you know that some Barista trainings in Australia are 3 weeks long?
Yet there is an endless amount of online and in person training to become a Sacred Space Holder in anything from a few hours to a couple of days. By Sacred Space Holder, we are referring to someone that invokes and works with spirits in the space. We are continually stunned that the role of a sacred ceremonialist is perceived so incorrectly.
A good friend of ours was asked to do a 45 min online training video for a cacao distributor, who wanted to instruct people how to hold their own cacao ceremonies. Late last year, we got a call from someone about to serve at a cacao ceremony asking: ‘what should I put in the brew?’. And just recently a kirtan singer asked another friend to show her how to do cacao ceremony in an hour.
What has lead people to believe that they can learn how to open and hold a sacred space in a fraction of the time than it takes to become a Barista?
There is a recognised psychological phenomenon which leads inexperienced people to overestimate their abilities because they have not learned enough to grasp how much they don’t know ( abstract ). In short, they don't know what they don't know.
It must be easy ... Right?
... Not if you are also considering the multi-dimensional aspects of the space and the need to manage spirits, your team and the participants.
Please note that our intention is to bring awareness, and not blame or shame to anyone. We realise many people do this work with the right intention, despite being a tad ‘inexperienced’ or naive. We have made many of the common mistakes, listed below, on our own spirit worker paths. We were lucky to find the right teachers along the way who have helped us rectify our previous errors. We were also very naive and ignorant when we started. It has taken us a long time to get to a place of right relationship with spirits and true understanding of what it means and what it takes to be a ceremonialist. We hope the checklist below helps you understand some of the work involved in running a ceremony …
A ceremonialist needs to have a diverse repertoire of skills including: geomancy, knowledge of herbalism, counselling skills, an ability to work with shamanic tools in a respectful manner; an ability to perceive spirits and work with them; an ability to psychopomp (cross over) spirits, and to work with the energy in the room. Plus there is a myriad of skills needed to manage the participants!
We created the Plant Spirit Ceremonialist training, which we hold in Bali, to be the first step to becoming a compassionate and skilled holder of sacred spaces. Our vision is for you to become an Authentic Enchanted Human: someone with integrity, gravitas, respect, humility and power, who operates in harmony with the blessing of the surrounding spirits; who stands in their own sovereignty and who acknowledges that there is still much to learn. We encourage our students to continue mentorship, learning and practicing, to continually improve their ability to hold an impeccable space.
A ceremonialist needs to have done substantial amounts of spirit world training, ancestral healing and trauma work in order to be able to lead participants in a well held and energetically protected environment. Note, by using the word ceremonialist, we are also referring to sound healers and any workshop leaders who open medicine wheels, call in spirits such as angels, ascended masters and/or use shamanic tools such as a drum.
Did you know that because of the tradition of doing sacred work with a drum, and the resulting morphogenic field that is now in place; that anyone who beats a ‘shamanic’ drum, without exception, is inviting spirits into their space?
Since drumming invites spirits into a space, we need to know what type of spirits are coming in, and how to manage them, cross them over and set strong boundaries. As the drummer, YOU are in charge of the spirits of the place, the participants and the helping team. As the ceremonialist you are also in charge of creating a proper relationship with any plant spirits that are used.
Here are some tips to adopt and common space holding mistakes to avoid:
- Expecting the guardians of the land, and local beings to be ok with foreign magickal practices, including foreign medicine wheels and foreign plants, without any say, is not following right honouring protocols. If you cannot perceive spirits you may miss the ‘cease and desist’ notice from the local spirits, who may require an appropriate offering and task to be performed, before they will provide permission and blessing to hold the ceremony in that location.
Mixing Lineages. It is trendy now to open space, by calling in, and using the prayers and invocations of, different lineages. Mixing lineages and not understanding anything about the lineages that are being called in is also disrespectful to the lineages and spirits of the place. Compatibility and alignment between lineages must be established first.
- Avoid calling in random spirits from books, or using invocations (which call in spirits) you have heard people say. This opens the door to potentially non-helpful beings to run amok in your space. Understanding the energetics of ceremony, plus being able to perceive energy is vital.
- Expecting celestial or higher frequency energies to come into spaces which have not been properly cleared or protected and calling them in for unknown reasons because you’ve heard someone else doing it, should also be avoided.
Protecting allies. You are responsible for the spirits that you invoke into a space. If the space is not safe for your Spirit Ally, then you are being negligent.
Protecting participants. It is imperative that you protect participants from opening and exposing their energy fields to the energies lurking in unclean spaces. This includes potentially harmful earth energies, portals, entities, spirits and other opportunistic beings that can cause possession and worse. If you cannot perceive spirits, or negative energies, it is imperative you learn how, for your own safety and that of the participants.
Deactivated plant materials. Any plant substance that has travelled several thousand miles, such as Sage, Palo Santo, Cacao, etc; as well as medicinal mushrooms that have been stored in the attic for a year; will have become dormant so the consciousness of the plant needs to be awoken. It is also courteous to ask cacao, or whatever plant spirit you are working with, if it even wants to work with sage or medicinal mushrooms; or if it even wants to work in the venue you have booked or with you!
Meet the spirit first. We have been to so many ceremonies where the plant spirit has never properly met the facilitator. This is a serious issue with many plants at the moment, especially cacao and is also highly disrespectful. Relationships need to be built over time in a mutually beneficial way. These plants have come here to assist mankind and they are being disrespected. Some people have yet to develop the capacity to connect with the sentience of these beings, and are still viewing them as commodities. By doing this, you upset the ancestral lineages of these plants.
Avoid overdosing. Overdosing with lineages, sound and plants for effect, can damage the nervous systems of your participants. We see a lot of mixed lineage events where 3 different shamanic lineages are mixed with 2 different tantra lineages and then cacao is served. This is like mixing tequila with milk, wine, whisky, avocado and turmeric - not very tasteful energetically…
Icaros and chants are powerful songs that are ‘received’ by spirit workers for a particular effect. The energy of the song was given to effect the space in some manner. If you sing another person’s icaros or chants, without understanding the language, or the words, or their origin, you may be calling in dead souls from a lineage that is not yours. This is like rocking up to a family reunion as a stranger to the family. What energies are you calling in? Where is your energy, or your participant’s energy, being taken?
- As a general rule, please do not chant any songs from Native American tribes unless you have permission. South American curanderos tend to be more sharing of their songs, however, you need to first understand what type of spirits they will be calling into the ceremony, and what the cost is to you as part of the use of the song.
Clearing the space. Activated herbs and clearing tools can be very effective, if properly used, at cleansing a space. Incorrect use can cause entities to jump from participant to participant, which will interfere with their journeys, or worse still, cause them to leave with way more baggage than they started. Participants on the whole get very little instruction, and have usually not developed appropriate levels of discernment to be able to distinguish between their own feelings and other types of sensations that are not theirs. If your session impacts on their energy, this will create karma for you.
Spirit work is messy and unpredictable. You participate because you want access to a frequency that reveals deeper and deeper amounts of your ‘stuff’. Telling participants it’s all about love and light, is somewhat irresponsible. Unfortunately, this feeds into the state that some adults are in, which results in them seeking out highly sanitised, ‘pasteurised’ versions of ceremony - where they do not have to do much introspection or unravel any of their ancestral 'dysfunction’. This might as well be a party or a social gathering - so call it what it is. Many want to turn up to an experience that is done to them. Ceremonial work is healing work and requires 100% self responsibility where you do as much work as the ceremonialist; note that the work may need to continue for several weeks afterwards.
Cultural and Lineage appropriation. Using medicine wheels from a lineage that you have not been initiated in is highly disrespectful and can lead to psychic attack from the lineage you have offended. Consider walking your ancestral lands before running to the current trendy land. Learn to honour your lineage instead of first jumping on the bandwagon of the current en-vogue lineage. All spirit workers must do deep ancestral healing and reconciliation of their own lineages so that they work from a place of empowerment, instead of neediness or dysfunction. Learning to work with your ancestral medicine wheels honours your ancestral lineages; however, this practice takes years to refine.
Reconciliation. Taking on the responsibility of leading a group with the help of spirits is a serious undertaking. Being disrespectful to spirits can lead to serious consequences. Irresponsible behaviour will also lead to karmic entanglement and debt with participants. We have had to do much in terms of reconciliation for our own past indiscretions. We are grateful that our prayers for the right teachers were answered and that our sincere efforts for reconciliation of our wrong doings were answered by the spirits. Our teachers and helping spirits have been instrumental in correcting our hubris and naivety.
We hope our story inspires you to take this work seriously and to approach with caution, humility and respect.
Much Love as Always
The Shamanic Energy Training team