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Grief Ceremony

Shamanism and energy medicine are dynamic alternative approaches for wellness.  They employ techniques that encompass the mind, body and spirit—your whole being.  They view a person as an energy system or a soul that needs maintenance for optimum health and well-being.

Our energetic system was designed by the cosmos to operate perfectly and to be capable of constant regeneration, but in the context of three-dimensional reality and the exposure to toxic energies (not only in out environment but because of our thoughts) we often suffer from the misplacement or distortion of our energy fields in ways that cause us to suffer illness, depression, pain, and a host of other maladies. These negative forces require significant attention if we are to achieve a restoration of our perfect self.   Shamanism offers many modalities for healing, such as extraction, which is a common method used to eradicate lower frequencies.  However, in this article I am going to touch on the method of the Grief Ceremonies that are used in dealing with energies that extraction might not be able to expel.

Grief Ceremonies are a natural occurrence in some cultures and are performed
soon after a traumatic event has occurred. In some cultures if a person dies, the friends and family gather and grieve together.  This is often very vocal and physical. In the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso West Africa, the ritual of grief might be conducted for several days as a way of releasing the tremendous amounts of stress caused by loss. The Dagaras cry and wail, often beating the ground with their fists. This may go on for 4 days. The ceremony also served to bring the community together in a supportive fashion and then to restore and reclaim vitality.  Once the ritual was complete there was closure to the grieving cycle and attention was refocused in a positive direction.

Indigenous people have practiced wellness of the soul for centuries.  In fact there is a group of African Spirits that I have learned to use in ceremony that eat grief.  They view grief as nectar and they are attracted to it and feed upon it.  When I first learned of these spirits and this relationship with humans, the idea of eating grief struck me as odd. But then as I sat with the information, I was reminded of our amazing relationship that we have with the plant and tree nations.  Our waste product of carbon dioxide is nectar or food for the plants and trees and their waste product is oxygen, which is essential for our life. I was reminded that the perfection of the cosmos also includes the spirit realms and, of course, it would be natural to have spirits that feed upon the energies of grief that we need to expel, to clear us of harmful perhaps deadly energies and to return positive healing energies.

Other examples of grief ceremonies include Israelis at the Western Wall (sometimes called the Wailing Wall) in Old Jerusalem, where prayers are offered to God and lamentations, howling, weeping, and crying take place publicly and without restraint.  Examples are also found in an Irish wake, Italian Catholic mourning, and traditional Eastern European ceremonies. I recently visited New Orleans and was reminded of the burial practice of playing dirges and weeping in route to the cemetery and playing joyful music in the march back. This Creole tradition is the perfect example of grief being expressed and released which the soul replaces with joy and celebration.

Grief rituals happen to help a person dig deep within and release the suppressed wounds, pains and suffering and to rid the body of harmful, toxic energies that can cause illness.  Expressing grief aloud and loudly, as well as through physical exertion, are natural ways to expel energy from the body.  Unfortunately these ceremonies are mostly forgotten in the Western world except where ancient tradition has sustained them.

Western culture generally loves to highlight joy, happiness, glee, and enthusiasm, but shuns expressions of grief as debilitating and a sign of weakness.  Even death rituals have been politely glossed over with positive affirmations of afterlife renewal. I am an advocate for positive attitudes, but sometimes in life, the sorrow is too great and the grief too severe to be ignored by an optimism that overlooks the residual energies of heartache that remains and tortures the soul.  A return to joy is the second step, not the first. If grief is suppressed it not only causes damage to the body but also to the mind and the emotions of the individual.  Often there is an inappropriate projection of anger towards others that is the result of suppressed grief.  When grief rituals are practiced there is a healthy avenue for the grief to be released and to allow the mourner to reconnect with people in a positive way.  It is not projected at someone or something else but expelled from the body in appropriate ways. Grief ceremonies are part of shamanic practice and, when used appropriately, can relieve current heartache and old wounds.  They can be used for individuals in private ceremony or they can be used in a supportive group expression.  Many times communities or groups of people are unified in their agony.  Bringing these groups together and preforming a grief ritual or ceremony can bring multiple healings, not only in the expulsion of the grief but also in fostering unification, collaboration and support. New directions and optimistic outcomes can be envisioned together.

I recently conducted a grief ceremony for the LightSong community. The following template can be used individually or with a group. 

  • I chose a location that felt safe and private.  No matter how willing or in need people may be about releasing their grief, there is still a reluctance or stage fright at being watched. 
  • I started the ceremony with the ground rule that we were finding an appropriate way to release grief, anger, rage, deep-seated sorrow, wounds, or pain without projecting these energies onto anyone. 
  • I asked the participants to bring supplies for two altars.  One altar would house the sacred beings to whom they would pray or honor.  These altars would line both sides of the room and literally hold space in their love for the process.  The other altar would be a grief altar.  They were to bring representations of their grief. We would burn this altar at the end of the ceremony.
  • I then created a threshold for the participants to step over into the grieving arena.  As they stepped over the threshold they were to ask the African Spirits that eat grief to come to them and to allow the deep feelings that were stuffed inside to surface.
  • We as a community would support their process with drums, rattles and sound.  However, we also would keep our eyes down and not watch their process.  This would give a sense of privacy. 
  • I had a punching bag for those that wanted a safe physical release and pillows on the floor for those that wanted to sit in front of the grief altar. 
  • I called in the spirits and said an invocation.  We as a group began to drum in a rhythmic, high energy way.  It was a loud and alluring dynamic energy. 
  • When felt called people would approach the threshold, pause, and then step over.  They began their release. Between the drums, rattles and other sounds in the room there was an odd juxtaposition of privacy and support.   The spirits seemed to know exactly how to stimulate deep release and unified support simultaneously.  People moved in and out of the grief circle throughout the evening.  Exhaustion set in.  The exhaustion was a result of a deep cleanse. Like a good cry, when you finally let “it out,” you feel cleansed and tired at the same time.
  • We decided to all cross the threshold one last time together, hold hands, arms around each other and do one last release together, unified and supportive of each other.
  • As a conclusion we took the grief altars out to our bon fire and watched them being engulfed in flames.  The fire was the great transmuter of energy in full power.  We sang songs together and talked—cleansed, renewed and ready to move forward in life in a healthy way.