By Deb Matlock

The shaman’s responsibility is to bring back the ceremony. Why? Because the world has lost the ceremony. A ceremony is something you do which is good for you and which nourishes you. When the ceremony loses its spirit, it becomes a ritual. You do something just because it has been done that way – without knowing why you do it. And the world is full of rituals.

I came across the above quote when reading a Facebook post from Greenland Shaman, Angaangaq.  This quote struck me deeply as it articulated what I have felt for years regarding the making of meaningful ceremony.  I have certainly been part of many rituals – the obligatory office birthday party, the award ceremony for someone who did not wish to be noticed, etc.  However, the times I have been deeply affected by the events of life, the ceremonies took on a deeper meaning.  Until I read the above quote, I never thought about the difference between rituals and ceremonies and how much the role on intention plays into the equation.

trees at colorful sunset

Often, when the word ceremony is mentioned, our thoughts turn to weddings and funerals.  Indeed, these are two of the most prominent ceremonies we honor as a species regardless of culture.  Both are milestones in many of our lives and mark the passage of time and the transition of life from one passage to the next.  A quick search of the definition of ceremony brings up mentions of large and grandiose events.  However, I wonder about the small and personal ceremonies we can fill our lives with day to day.  Our lives can be full of ceremony, large and small, personal, and communal.  Daily, we embark on routines, events, and activities that could be turned into ceremonies with nothing more than a dash on intention and awareness.

Several years ago, one of my beloved dogs passed away at a young age from an aggressive cancer.  I was beyond grief stricken and I wanted to honor her with some sort of ceremony.  I turned to books to try to find one that felt right.  Nothing did.  In the end, I sat outside, closed my eyes, and asked the Universe to show me what I might do.  I felt guided to find a special, silver bracelet and take it to one of my favorite spots in the mountains.  When I got there, I had the impulse to put the bracelet on an exposed root of a Ponderosa Pine tree and leave it there while I cried, talked to my dog Kaia, and wrote about her in my journal.  I felt her presence throughout.  I moved through this ceremony with the land, the trees, the birds, and the squirrels as my companions.  Once I felt complete, I took the bracelet off the tree root and placed it on my wrist.  I still wear this bracelet always…16 years later.

This ceremony was and still is deeply meaningful to me.  It was not taught to me by anyone else.  It was not a ritual I read about in a book or witnessed someone else performing.  It was organic, raw, and authentic and its meaning to me was and is indescribable.  Or course deeply intricate rituals can, and often do, hold great meaning for people.  They can be ceremonies.  When our intention is there, ceremonies can live in our lives in so, so many ways.

Deb Matlock grew up in the mountains of Colorado and is deeply committed to nurturing the connection between people, animals, earth, and spirit.  She has spent twenty-five years working as a professional environmental and humane educator and naturalist.  Additionally, Deb offers shamanic-style spiritual guidance, animal communication, nature connection workshops, and retreats through her business, Wild Rhythms.  She is passionate about helping people find connection and deep spiritual meaning in their lives and in the places where they live.  Deb holds a Master of Arts in Environmental Education from Prescott College and is pursuing her doctoral degree in environmental studies at Antioch University New England. 

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