I met a woman a few weeks ago who works with a Kogi mamo, or shaman, from the Sierra Nevada of Colombia. He came to California a few years ago and performed extensive ceremonies on a particular spot of land. He said, “You’d better do a ceremony here regularly, or there will be serious fires.” No one did the ceremonies, and the next year there were forest fires. He came back afterward and repeated his warning. “If you don’t do the ceremonies, the fires will be even worse.” The next year, the fires were worse. He came again and issued his warning a third time: “Do the ceremonies or the fires in this part of the world will be worse still.” Soon after that, the Camp Fire devastated the region.
Later the woman found out that the spot the Kogi shaman identified was the site of a genocidal massacre of the indigenous people who lived there. He was somehow able to perceive that. In his understanding, a horrifying trauma like that affects the land in addition to human beings. It will be angry, out of balance, unable to maintain harmony until it is healed through ceremony.
Two years ago I met some Dogon priests and asked them about their views on climate change. Like the Kogi, the Dogon have kept ceremonial practices intact for thousands of years. The men said, “It isn’t what you people think. The biggest reason that the climate is going crazy is that you have removed sacred artifacts from the places where they belong, the places where they were placed with great deliberation and care, and removed them to museums in New York and London.” In their understanding, these artifacts and the ceremonies that surrounded them maintain a covenant between humans and the Earth. In exchange for the payment of beauty and attention, Earth provides an environment fit for human habitation.
My friend Cynthia Jurs has been holding ceremonies for a couple decades now in which she buries Earth Treasure Vases, Tibetan religious vessels made in a monastery in Nepal according to a specific ritual procedure. She learned the practice from -– this sounds like a cliché but it actually happened -– a 106-year-old Lama in a Himalayan cave. She had asked him, “How can I best serve the healing of the world?” He told her, “Well, any time you gather people to meditate, that has a healing effect, but if you want to do more you can bury Earth Treasure Vases.” Initially, Cynthia was disappointed with this suggestion. She was a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism and quite sure that it was a beautiful ceremony and all, but come on, there is real social and ecological damage that needs healing. People need to be organized. Systems have to change. What good will a ceremony do?
Nonetheless, she accepted the gift of a batch of vases that the Lama instructed be made in a nearby monastery. Five years later she began traveling the world to places where land and people had suffered great trauma to bury the vases according to the ceremonial instructions. In some of those places, miracles large and small would occur, including the mundane sort of social miracle such as the founding of peace centers. From what she can observe, the ceremonies work.
Ritual, Ceremony, and Materiality
How are we to understand such stories? The politically correct modern mind wants to respect other cultures, but hesitates to seriously adopt the radically different view of causality they hold. The ceremonies I speak of are in a different category from what the modern mind considers to be practical action in the world. Thus, a climate conference might begin by inviting an indigenous person to invoke the four directions, before moving on to the serious business of metrics, models, and policy.
In this essay I will explore another view of what modern people can draw from the ceremonial approach to life, as practiced by what Orland Bishop calls “cultures of memory” -– traditional, indigenous, and place-based peoples, as well as esoteric lineages within the dominant culture.
This alternative is not a substitute for the rational, pragmatic approach to solving personal or social problems. Nor does it stand alongside but separate from the pragmatic approach. Nor is it a borrowing or importation of the ceremonies of other people.
It is a reunion of the ceremonial with the pragmatic built upon a profoundly different way of seeing the world.
Let’s start with a provisional distinction between ceremony and ritual. Though we may not recognize them, modern life is replete with rituals. Swiping a credit card is a ritual. Standing in line is a ritual. Medical procedures are rituals. Signing a contract is a ritual. Clicking “I agree” to the “terms and conditions” is a ritual. Filing taxes is a complicated ritual that for many people requires the aid of a priest –- initiated in arcane rites and rules, fluent in a special language that the layperson can barely understand, and distinguished by the addition of honorific letters to his or her name –- to properly complete. The CPA helps you execute this ritual that allows you to remain a member in good standing of society. Rituals involve the manipulation of symbols in a prescribed manner or sequence in order to maintain relationships with the social and material world.
By this definition, ritual is neither good nor bad, but merely a way that humans and other beings hold their reality together.
A ceremony, then, is a special kind of ritual. It is a ritual done in the knowledge that one is in the presence of the sacred, that holy beings are watching you, or that God is your witness.
Those whose worldview has no place for the sacred, holy beings, or God will see ceremony as superstitious nonsense or, at best, a psychological trick, useful maybe to calm the mind and focus the attention.
Now hold on. In a worldview that does have a place for the sacred, holy beings, or God isn’t it true that He or She or They are always watching us, watching everything we do? Wouldn’t that make everything a ceremony?
Yes it would –- if you were constantly in the felt presence of the sacred. How often is that? And how often would you, if asked, merely profess to know holy beings are watching, without actually in the moment knowing it through and through? With vanishingly few exceptions, the religious people I know don’t seem to act most of the time as if they knew God were watching and listening. The exceptions transcend any specific faith. One recognizes them through a kind of gravity they carry. Everything they say and do carries a kind of moment, a weight. Their gravitas permeates beyond solemn occasions to their laughter, their warmth, their anger, and their ordinary moments. And when such a person performs a ceremony, it is as if the gravity changes in the room.
Ceremony is not an escape from the messy world of matter into a hocus-pocus realm of spirituality. It is a fuller embrace of the material. It is practice in paying due respect to materiality, whether as sacred in and of itself, or sacred because it is God’s masterwork. At the altar, one places the candles just so. I have an image in my mind of a man from whom I learned the meaning of ceremony. He is deliberate and precise; not rigid yet neither sloppy. Paying attention to the necessity of the moment and the place, he makes an art of each movement.
In a ceremony, one attends fully to the task at hand, performing each action just as it should be. A ceremony is therefore a practice for all of life, a practice in doing everything just as it should be done. An earnest ceremonial practice is like a magnet that aligns more and more of life to its field; it is a prayer that asks, “May everything I do be a ceremony. May I do everything with full attention, full care, and full respect for what it serves.”
Practicality and Reverence
Clearly then, the complaint that all those days in ceremony would have been better spent planting trees or campaigning against the logging industry misses something important. Steeped in ceremony, the tree planter will attend to the proper placement of each tree and the right choice of tree for each microclimate and ecological niche. She will take care to plant it at the right depth and to ensure that it will receive the proper protection and care thereafter. She will strive to do it just right. Similarly, the campaigner will distinguish what really needs to be done to stop the logging project, and what might instead gratify his crusader’s ego, martyr complex, or self-righteousness. He will not forget what he serves.
It is nonsense to say of an indigenous culture, “The reason they have lived sustainably on the land for five thousand years has nothing to do with their superstitious ceremonies. It is because they are astute observers of nature who think seven generations in the future.” Their reverence for and attention to the subtle needs of a place is part and parcel of their ceremonial approach to life. The mindset that calls us to ceremony is the same mindset that calls us to ask, “What does the land want? What does the river want? What does the wolf want? What does the forest want?” and then pays close attention to the clues. It holds land, river, wolf, and forest in a status of beingness -– counting them among the holy beings that are always watching, and who have needs and interests entwined with our own.
What I am saying might seem contrary to theistic teachings, so for those who believe in a creator God, I will offer a translation. God is peeking out from every tree, wolf, river, and forest. Nothing was created without purpose and intent. And so we ask, How may we participate in the fulfillment of that purpose? The result will be the same as asking, What does the forest want? I will leave it to the reader to translate the rest of this essay into theistic language.
I personally cannot claim to be someone who knows that holy beings are always watching him. In my upbringing, holy beings such as the sky, the sun, the moon, the wind, the trees, and the ancestors were not holy beings at all. The sky was a collection of gas particles petering out into the void of space. The sun was a ball of fusing hydrogen. The moon was a chunk of rock (and a rock an agglomeration of minerals, and a mineral a bunch of unliving molecules…). The wind was molecules in motion, driven by geomechanical forces. The trees were columns of biochemistry and the ancestors were corpses in the ground. The world outside ourselves was mute and dead, an arbitrary melee of force and mass. There was nothing out there, no intelligence to witness me, and no reason to do anything better than its rationally predictable consequences could justify.
Why should I keep the candle on my altar positioned just right? It is just wax that oxidizes around the wick. Its placement exercises no force on the world. Why should I make my bed when I’ll just sleep in it again the next night? Why should I do anything better than it has to be done for the grade, the boss, or the market? Why should I ever exert any effort to make something more beautiful than it needs to be? I’ll just cut some corners – no one will know. In my childish imagination, the sun and wind and grass may see me, but come on, they aren’t really seeing me, they don’t have eyes, they don’t have a central nervous system, they are not beings like I am. That is the ideology I grew up in.
The ceremonial view does not deny that one can usefully see the sky as a bunch of gas particles or the stone as a composite of minerals. It just doesn’t limit the sky or the stone to that. It holds as true and useful other ways of seeing them, not privileging their reductionistic composition to be what they “actually” are. Therefore, the alternative to the worldview of my upbringing is not to abandon practicality for some kind of ceremonial aesthetic. The divide between practicality and aesthetics is a falsity. It stands only in a causal account of life that denies its mysterious and elegant intelligence. Reality is not as we have been told. There are intelligences at work in the world beyond the human, and causal principles besides those of force. Synchronicity, morphic resonance, and autopoesis, while not antithetical to force-based causality, can expand our horizons of possibility. Accordingly, it is not that a ceremony will “make” different things happen in the world; it is that it tugs and molds reality into a form where different things happen.
Living a life devoid of ceremony leaves us without allies. Shut out of our reality, they abandon us to a world without intelligence -– the very image of modernist ideology. The mechanistic worldview becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy, and we are indeed left with nothing but force by which to affect the world.
The transition that traditional people like the Kogi or Dogon offer is not to adopt or imitate their ceremonies; it is to a world view that holds us humans companioned in the world, participating in a colloquy of intelligences in a universe bursting with beings. A ceremony declares a choice to live in such a universe and to participate in its reality-formation.
Ceremony in Environmental Healing
Practically speaking -– wait! Everything I have said is eminently practical already. Instead let me speak of extending the ceremonial mind to the realm of environmental policy and practice. That means to do right by each place on Earth, to understand it as a being, and to know that if we treat each place and species and ecosystem as sacred that we will invite the planet into sacred wholeness as well.
Sometimes, the actions arising from seeing each place as sacred fit easily into the logic of carbon sequestration and climate change, such as when we stop a pipeline to protect the sacred waters. Other times, the logic of the carbon budget seems to run contrary to the instincts of the ceremonial mind. Today forests are being removed to make way for solar mega-arrays, and birds are being killed by gargantuan wind turbines that tower over the landscape. Furthermore, anything that doesn’t easily exhibit an influence on greenhouse gases is becoming invisible to environmental policymakers. What is the practical contribution of a sea turtle? An elephant? What does it matter if I place my candle sloppily on the altar?
In a ceremony, everything matters and we attend to every detail. As we approach ecological healing with a ceremonial mind, more and more becomes visible for our attention. As science reveals the importance of formerly invisible or trivialized beings, the scope of the ceremony expands. Soil, mycelia, bacteria, the forms of waterways… each demands its place on the altar of our agricultural practices, forestry practices, and all relationships with the rest of life. As the subtlety of our causal reckoning deepens, we see for example that butterflies or frogs or sea turtles are crucial for a healthy biosphere. In the end we realize that the ceremonial eye is accurate: that environmental health cannot be reduced to a few measurable quantities.
I am not suggesting here to abandon remediation projects that might be based on a coarser understanding of the beingness of the world; i.e., that might be mechanistic in their conception of nature. We have to recognize the next step forward in the deepening of a ceremonial relationship. Recently I’ve been corresponding with Ravi Shah, a young man in India who is doing breathtaking work regenerating ponds and their surrounding land. Following the example of Masanobu Fukuoka, he exercises the most delicate attention, placing some reeds here, removing an invasive tree there, trusting in the innate regenerative powers of nature. The more he minimizes his interference, the greater its effect. That is not to imply zero interference would be the most powerful of all. It is that the finer and more precise his understanding, the better able he is to align with and serve nature’s movement, and the less he needs to interfere to accomplish that. The result is that he has created – or more accurately, served the creation of -– a lush and verdant oasis in a deteriorating landscape; a living altar.
Ravi is understandably impatient with large scale water restoration projects like those I described in my book: Rajendra Singh’s work in India and the loess plateau restoration in China, which come nowhere near to his degree of reverence and attention to micro-local detail. Those projects arise from a more conventional, mechanistic understanding of hydrology. Where is the sacredness? he asks. Where is the humbling to the exquisite wisdom of interdependent ecosystems unique to each place? They’re just building ponds. Maybe so, I said, but we must meet people where they are, and celebrate each step in the right direction. These mechanistic hydrological projects also carry within them a reverence for water. Ravi’s project can offer a glimpse of what might be, without indicting the work that represents the first of many steps to get there.
I would add to that, that for land to heal it needs an example of health, a reservoir of health from which to learn. The oasis of ecological health he has established can radiate outward through the social and ecological surroundings, transmitting health to nearby places (for example, by providing refuge and spawning grounds for plants and animals) and transmitting inspiration to other earth healers. That is why the Amazon is so crucial, especially its headwaters region, which is possibly the largest intact reservoir and font of ecological health in the world. It is where Gaia’s memory of health, of a past and future healed world, still resides intact.
Ravi’s earth repair work functions exactly as a ceremony. One could say, “Don’t make special ceremonies – every act should be a ceremony. Why single out those ten minutes as special.” In the same way, one could insist that every place on Earth be immediately treated as Ravi treats his. Most of us though, like society as a whole, are not ready for such a step. The chasm is too great. We cannot expect to undo our techno-industrial systems, social systems, or our deeply programmed psychology overnight. What works for most of us is to establish one oasis of perfection – the ceremony – as best we are able, and then to allow it to ripple out across our lifescape, progressively bringing more attention, beauty, and power into every act. To make every act a ceremony begins with making one act a ceremony.
Ceremony From First Principles
Bringing some part of life into ceremony does not cast the rest into the category of the mundane or unceremonious. In performing the ceremony, we intend that it radiate through our day or week. It is a touchstone amidst life’s sturm and drang. So also, we are not to merely preserve a few wild places, sanctuaries, or national parks, or restore a few places to pristine condition; rather, these places are lodestars: examples and reminders of what is possible. As people like Ravi steward such places, we are called to bring a bit of them, and then more and more of them, to all places. As we establish a tiny moment of ceremony in our lives, we are called to bring a bit of it, and then more and more of it, to all moments.
How do we reintroduce ceremony in a society from which it is nearly absent? I said already that it is not to imitate or import the ceremonies of other cultures. Nor is it necessarily to resuscitate the ceremonies of one’s own bloodline, an endeavor that, while avoiding the appearance of cultural appropriation, risks the appropriation of one’s own culture. Ceremonies are alive though; attempts to imitate or preserve them bring us just their effigy.
What option is left then? Is to to create our own ceremonies? Strictly speaking, no. Ceremonies are not created, they are discovered.
Here is how it might work. You start with a rudimentary ceremony, perhaps lighting a candle each morning and taking a moment to meditate on who you want to be today. But how do you light the candle perfectly? Maybe you pick it up and tilt it over the match. The where do you put the match? On a little plate perhaps, kept off to the side. And you put the candle back down just right. Then maybe you ring a chime three times. How long between rings? Are you in a hurry? No, you wait until each tone fades into silence? Yes, that is how to do it….
I’m not saying that these rules and procedures should govern your ceremony. To discover a ceremony, follow the thread of “Yes, that is how to do it,” that mindfulness reveals. Watching, listening, concentrating the attention, we discover what to do, what to say, and how to participate. It is no different than how people like Fukuoka learn right relationship with the land.
The candle may grow into a small altar and its lighting into a longer ceremony of caring for that altar. Then it radiates outward. Maybe soon you organize your desk with the same care. And your home. And then you put that same care and intentionality into you workplace, your relationships, and the food you put into your body. Over time, the ceremony becomes an anchor point for a shift in the reality that you inhabit. You may find that life organizes itself around the intention behind the ceremony. You might experience synchronicity that seems to confirm that indeed, a larger intelligence is at work here.
As that happens, the feeling swells that numberless beings accompany us here. The ceremony, which only makes sense if holy beings are watching, draws us into an experiential reality in which holy beings are indeed present. The more present they are, the deeper the invitation to make more acts, indeed every act, a ceremony done with full attention and integrity. What would life be then? What would the world be then?
Full attention and integrity takes different forms in different circumstances. In a ritual it means something quite different than it does in a game, a conversation, or cooking dinner. In one situation it might demand precision and order; in another, spontaneity, daring, or improvisation. Ceremony sets the tone for each act and word being aligned with what one truly is, what one wants to be, and the world in which one wants to live.
Ceremony offers a glimpse of a sacred destination, the destination of:
Every act a ceremony.
Every word a prayer.
Every walk a pilgrimage.
Every place a shrine.
A shrine connects us with the sacred that transcends any shrine and includes every shrine. A ceremony can make a place into a shrine, offering a lifeline to a reality in which everything is sacred; it is the outpost of that reality or that world-story. In the same way, a healed piece of ground is an outpost of those remaining oases of Earth’s original vitality, such as the Amazon, the Congo, and a scattering of undisturbed coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and so on. We look with despair at the new Brazilian government’s plan to pillage the Amazon and wonder what we can do to save it. Political and economic action is surely necessary to do that, but we can simultaneously operate at another depth. Each place of earth healing also feeds the Amazon and draws us nearer to a world in which it remains intact. And, strengthening our relationship to such places, we call upon unknowable powers to fortify our resolve and coordinate our alliances.
The beings we have excluded from our reality, the beings we have diminished in our perception into non-beings, they are still there waiting for us. Even with all my inherited disbelief (my inner cynic, educated in science, mathematics, and analytic philosophy, is at least as strident as yours), if I allow myself a few moments of attentive quiet, I can feel those beings gathering. Ever hopeful, they draw close to the attentiveness. Can you feel them too? Amid the doubt, maybe, and without wishful thinking, can you feel them? It is the same feeling as being in a forest and suddenly realizing as if for the first time: the forest is alive. The sun is watching me. And I am not alone.
Helen walker says
Are you an adept in the modern mystery school? Modernmysteryschoolint.com
I want to ask the same question of Orlando bishop. Rudolph Steiner was. Anyway, all the same path of the “ceremonial eye”.
Brilliant. As in burning with Truth. Thank you.
I had lunch with you in your friend’s house in Camp Hill many ages ago, in your lifetime. Your personal style fits mine (enneagram 4. Are you?
Thank you—for so generous ly being a center of expression for the Primal Will to Good which eternally creates and sustains the universe.
This is so interesting. I just recently watched Russell Brand with Wendy Mandy discuss this on an episode of Under the Skin programme – fascinating stuff. It just rings so true. Bruce Chatwin hinted at it in his book Songlines.
Roberta Jones says
So beautiful. Thank you for being, the bridge that you are.
Kazimira Rachfal says
This is a beautiful way to understand rituals and especially ceremony. I am a painter and I am always
struck how beautiful my own rituals are, even before I start painting. I want my paintings to be beautiful
and powerful, therefore I bring that moment, that attention to the acts of preparation, painting, and clean up.
It is the place where I feel the most connected, so perfect and true…I never thought about it in this way
until I read your essay. Thank you.
Sinead Cullen says
This piece of writing is sublime.
I am left, after reading, with a sense of awe and the memory of companionship in my favourite places in wild nature.
Thank you for letting these words come through you.
I’ve always believed that creativity is not ours; that it moves through us when we let it. As a child, drawing was ceremony for me where I would let the pencil go where it ‘wanted’. It was a privilege to watch. To let the drawing be discovered.
I feel that what you talk about, discovering ceremony, it is one answer to a question I wanted to ask you: How do we nurture ourselves while in this place of unlearning, not judging, not knowing…? And it is, in part I think, to feed, as the Kogi make pagamientos, payments in gratitude for life; to listen for the offerings, to listen for our unique offerings, however small they may seem.. somehow the honestly drawn line or the consciously light candle are worthy and enough, and an anti-dote to the great separation, the deafness, the big noise that we have found ourselves in. I don’t know, but I feel calmer after reading your word and writing these one.
Suzanne Grenager says
You spoke my heart after reading those words — Charles’ words and your words. I feel calmer too, Thank you, dear one.
Really beautifully accessible and inspiring.
I can feel more possibility of ceremony.
Thank you so much for what you bring.
Putting my hands together as I send this comment .
Thank you Charles for your words… For the ceremonial attention you place into the way you express these feelings and ideas. I am always deeply touched by you. Your words bring solace and relief.
Your writing reignites the ancient seeds of oneness found in us all.
Caron Harris says
Very worthwhile reading. I am inspired to do a small ceremony before cooking. As a start. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
This article moved me deeply. All of nature is singing praise to you.
You are an inspiration and your presence on this earth is a blessing!
Ewout Van-Manen says
Blessed are those who Listen to, or read, your Words Charles Eisenstein. Blessed are you for being One, One of the Awakeners.
Awakeners shine light on the shadow aspect of the modern superficial thinking brought to us by materialistic science and greed capitalism.
To me this essay is at least as important as your books.
There are so many ways to see, and present, Truth and this essay is pure Truth nurtured by the Wisdom of all that Is and by all who Are.
If this Essay was truly appreciated, understood and brought into Will by all human beings your Work would be done.
Those of us who are Listening, Feeling, Seeing to what is Everything Recognise the Importance of what you bring.
May you be Truly Heard.
PS I value the previous comments anove and the mention of Rudolf Steiner too. There is no doubt that there is a deep connection between his Being and Yours.
Love World Peace Day Parade Berlin says
“God”(afterlife, beyond for those who don’t like “God”) is love
Our body(-> like all matter of the Universe) is the shrine/temple
Our life is to experience this.(->which requires peace)
Become part of the experience and celebrate World Peace with us on International Day of peace: https://www.facebook.com/events/1949153198521861/
Justin Wall says
I have been meaning to contact you for a while, I’m sure we have common connections in Asheville. I direct a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center across the mountains in Tennessee. We have been burying treasure vases throughout the Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains for the past years, and have created a network of pilgrimage places. It would be good to collaborate at some point. Thank you for your words and your work,
kathie wallace says
You have some thoughtful insights. But I am deeply disturbed by what is not accurate or what is distorted in what you say. It is like a man trying to explain woman’s wisdom. Your writing comes from left-brain, dominator intelligence which is a separation perspective where the “I” is still central and controlling and telling the whole story from his perspective.
I think this quote speaks about lifetimes of enforced oppression where only a man’s voice….and a white privilege man’s voice…is heard to say:
“No need to hear your voice when I talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew………………
I am still author, authority. I am still the colonizer” ~bell hooks
That is why I have stopped quoting men’s thoughts. I want to hear woman. And for that, what is needed is …….space and silence from men while men support women speaking and standing at the centre. It’s really a woman’s voice that we need to hear, rather than a man’s.
norman douglas says
long time. as usual, thanks for this?
your writing is ever lucid.
i wonder if you’re familiar with alejandro jodorowsky’s manual de psicomagia / psychomagic: the transformative power of shamanic psychotherapy.
he offers fourscore rites for personal healing (incest, rape, parental and marital trauma, addiction, intimacy, etc) and a few more for societal remediation (peace demonstrations, the massacre at tlatelolco, collective healing, etc).
the point of the work isn’t to deliver exact prescriptions, although their effectiveness seems plausible.
in fact, his book suggests pretty much what you discuss: the union of “reason” and “occult” practices for a society comprised of people who have not learned their connection to the universe.
as popular as magical thinking has become, magic is a practice like other practices.
ideas don’t work unless we do.
maybe we can invite your readers to share the ceremonies they’ve devised (or might like to undertake) to underscore the effectiveness of ritual (like storytelling) beyond a matrix of metrics.
thanks for you, brother.
peace and love
mike k says
Beautiful Charles, Deep, deep thanks for your Love.
Thank you Charles. This reconnects me to my innate subtle intuition of when things are ‘right’, which I have progressively turned into just knowing when a frame on the wall is straight to the feeling of what needs to be done during sacred moments of creativity or prayer. Second, it allows me to glimpse how science can also be a path to the awe towards life, to the reverence that is the spirit of ceremony.
I have almost finished the translation to french. If I could at last know to whom I have to send it so you can add it, that would be awesome 😉
Peter J Sullivan says
Thank you Charles for this beautiful and inspirational piece. I feel called to respond to this article in a very strong, passionate way. I am also an initiated man in the Mankind Project and my mission is to help to bring more healing energy to the world. I have been planning to bring people together to discuss ways to promote alternative healing strategies by making food be our medicine; healing the earth through regenerative agriculture, organic gardening, growing vegetables instead of so many acres of lawns around the country, making a positive difference as much as possible. My reading your article this morning has given me the keys, an underlying theme of using rituals as a path to moving forward in my mission. Thank you again for your gifts of so many insightful essays.
God speed and blessings to you, to Mother Earth, and to all of us as we continue on our hero’s journey.
noah Mayers says
I enjoyed the essay.
I Was disappointed to see so many words written critiquing solar and wind. If every word really is a prayer, as you mentioned, its sad to see you praying against renewable electricity, as the continued use of Coal, and other carbon fuels has been linked to the extinction of millions of animals.
Truth: Most solar projects don’t involve cutting down forests. (as you mentioned)
Truth: Coal, Oil, Gas, projects will cause the extinction and death of millions of animals. A future that consists of renewable energy will help keep them alive.
I think we can have a spiritual and scientific vision of the world, as they both contain revelations and truth. I Enjoyed the essay, but feel radically compelled to defend the earth from a spiritual, and scientific world view.
Veerle De Bock says
thank you! Reading this article feels like an act of ceremony. An act of ceremony in which I honour first of all my self. Acknowledging how I am a sacred being instead of a scared human. In this acknowledging I can effortlessly open to more perspectives and as you so eloquently invite us, include so much more of the intelligent design of the earth and all life on it. And more perspectives offer me more solutions, without me looking for them. My solutions become ceremony and as you said I discover them. I don’t adopt them from somewhere and I don’t create or invent them.
Thankyou so much for your voice and your work and this essay.
As a middle class white guy brought up in the suburbs of Connecticut over 50 years ago, I can relate to your beginnings and formation and the ways of being indoctrinated into a civilization that the architect Frank Lloyd Wright said had no culture of its own. There is a brilliant 1950s interview (so relevant today) of Wright describing his views on this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeKzIZAKG3E
Fast forward to the present and I have been living in the UK for more than 20 years practicing the profession of architecture in a very small way and only recently in the last 6 years, found my way to ceremony via devotional singing and meditation. This relatively recent practice has been healing and transforming – first for myself, and then in degrees has radiated out to my family and friends and as well to my work where I endeavour to try the best I can to promote a type of architectural design that is based on a love of nature and endeavours to protect and enhance biodiversity.
It seems to me undeniable and inescapable. Some say the earths biodiversity will be determined by what the present generation does over the next 20 years. This confrontation of western culture with Gaia, this Anthropocene age which we are all a part of and currently living in.
There was at a time when I was unsure and anxious about semantics and symbols and narratives, and how I couldnt see myself fitting into any kind of spiritual tradition. I was concerned with explanations and layer after layer of ideas/explanations/histories and a friend said just focus on the source, on the now, on the indescribable – where its all coming from.
To me, it is about the source, and its about gratitude, wherever you come from and wherever you were born, it is ancient and everyones birthright, it is part of nature and part of us.
Eric Dunn says
Aumen my brother. I am with you in this process of healing our world and each other.
Sheila Williamson says
Deeply moving refreshing inspiring. Thankyou Charles
Phil Feger says
Thank you so much for this inspiring eloquence! I treasure your writings and attempt to spread these same ideas to my local community.
I am reminded much of the book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community by Malidoma Patrice Some. If readers here want to look further at the impact of ceremony, I would definitely recommend this book!
Romeo Tolentino says
As in “GOD” is infinitely everywhere, ever present – in every beings and out with of beings. That all are “GOD” and “GOD” in all.
Thank you for your beautiful and inspired words!
David Cameron says
This, these, are the motivations for our decades of work here at the edge of the world, in the many ancestral lands of pilgrimage. Thank you Charles for illuminating and elucidating this regenerative path.
Lisa Fitzhugh says
‘The result is that he has created – or more accurately, served the creation of – a lush and verdant oasis in a deteriorating landscape; a living altar.’
will read this line and several more, again and again, for their richness and truth.
biren shah says
can’t digest this. the explanation, not the truth.
nature, god or life can’t be so reproachful, leave alone revengeful.
there has to be a truth… a piece… without which life/nature looks like this.
Baldev Raj says
It’s very fine to be with nature,but it needs only the holy eyes to appreciate it. Though it’s good effort to make people aware.
Theresa Giroux says
You provide such hope and promise of the potential within us all to live a life of meaning and mystery.
Thank you for your beautiful words and profound wisdom.
David Yates says
This answers so much inside me. I have been called into the mindset (heartset?) of ceremony time and time again, never fully knowing why, but of course something in me certainly KNEW why. You’ve provided the explanations I could feel but never quite explain.
I have the altar space. I have felt the ripples spreading from my altar to my home. And I have felt those ripples extending into any work I do out in the world. With the right attention, eye, ear, sensitivity, heart, you’re right: it can all be ceremony. And it is all healing work in a realm we can’t ever fully comprehend, only feel into.
Thank you so very much!
Yes. That’s the reaction I had when I read this article, too.
Thank you, Charles. I am not familiar with your work, but a friend provided a link to this offering, and I feel the truth of your words. I feel duty bound to ‘take up arms’ as an environmental defender, but the truth of that action crushes my body and spirit too mortally, so i needed to find my own way. I create labyrinths, and sacred standing stone circles, and forests to bathe in…. It is as you wrote:- that planting a tree is ceremony, when approached with reverence and pure intention… Planting trees, and praying my flute, wafting delicious herb smoke into the air I breathe, these are my ceremony.
Andrea Palframan says
The word ‘sacrifice’ means, literally, to make sacred. in acts of giving up luxuries, reusing objects again and again and in living in quieter, closer harmony with the Earth we aren’t ‘doing without’ in a grim kind of self-punishment. We are burnishing up the beauty of the world with our attention and our care, washing things over and over instead of throwing them over our shoulders. This practice of ceremony is an every day practice and the holy vessel can be your reusable coffee mug or the act of lacing up your sneakers to feel the Earth rolling beneath your walking feet instead of jumping in your car. Sacrifice is good medicine.
Alan Brisley says
Than you, Andrea, for a clarification of sacrifice. On my two short visits to Burkina Faso I was interested to hear the use, in translation to English from colonial French used by Dagara speakers . . . , of the word “sacrifice” where I had been using the word “offering.” I couldn’t shed my anglo/Christian slant on “sacrificial” which implies deprivation, punishment, pain. There, it is quite true, that even the ritual and ceremonial sacrifice of chickens, goats, sheep and cows to feed the spirit world was a “making sacred” of the life force of those domestic animals in the form of blood offerings to ancestors and guiding spirits. Every single detail of protocol in such ritual offerings is followed unwaveringly, attended by acute observation of all the signs of nature (omens) while the healing ceremony is performed. Europeans and Europeanized people, myself included, are indoctrinated to view such offerings as
cruel, vile wastes of life. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even though such healing rituals are often tended to with what appears to us as casual indifference and humor, it only takes one step out of protocol to trigger immediate reprimands and corrections from the elders. Very careful attention to detail is just beneath the casual veneer. From the point of view of sacredness, every part of a sacrificed domestic animal is put to beneficial use. The life force is dedicated to unseen forces of healing and reconciliation. The shared meat is cause for celebration in a community where meat is a rare and costly addition to the table.
I want to thank Charles Eisenstein for his discourse, also. He has framed something that I struggle often to put into words and spend a fair amount of time being frustrated by my own attempts. I end up wanting to scream, “The spirit world is real! Nature responds to our gestures of friendship and gratitude, and to our appeals for help, in extremely tangible ways. Especially when the attention to detail is precise and thorough – what in “cultures of rememberance” are referred to as ceremonial protocols.
In traditional cultures ceremonial protocol has been honed by centuries of cumulative experience. We are capable of generating a baby version of such practices for ourselves and with our communities. By honing our sensitivities, paying attention, opening our awareness, experimenting, trusting and sharing our “results” with one another, fledgling ceremonies and rituals of connection, healing, divination and gratitude that really do “work” can be born. I can tell stories about this “magic” from personal experience.
Who knows, these baby rituals may grow into full blown remembered cultural ceremonies and cosmologies one day . . . .
I want to put a very important emphasis on the word “remembered.” Oral cultures literally must re-member, put back together, stories and protocols every time they are told or used. Traditional ceremonies and rituals live in the cultural mind and web of stories and everyday practices of a people, inseparable from the people themselves. They cannot be stolen or written down because they are way too multidimensional and interwoven.
Cultural appropriation is a thing, and it is wrong, but it is also kind of impossible, like an oxymoron. Stolen protocols without their elder-remembered contextual container are empty artifacts, always offensive and sometimes actually dangerous. I can tell stories about this as well, tragic fatal stories, involving people I was very close to.
Oh my, I’ve launched my very own diatribe (the tribe I belong to.) This means Charles and Andrea touched something in me, so thank you again . . . . .
My word! You have precisely described the way in which my daily life has evolved over time. I had no conscious understanding of what or why everything I endeavor, I now endeavor ever-more carefully and precisely (from gardening, making my bed and coooking myself a meal to whatever. . . ) but now . . . well Charles . . . I think you are right! I have come to consciously appreciate that I am forever under the ‘eye’ and so, everything, absolutely everything matters
Jacco Versteeg says
Puts in words so many things I could never express properly. Thank you.
Deeply moved.. Thank you
Richard Fuller says
My favorite Journal, KOSMOS, has just re-published this piece with beautiful illustrations, including one of Cynthia Jurs in ceremony.
You may be asked to subscribe. Please do! You choose your own price. KOSMOS is a force for good.
Really useful. I really enjoyed reading this post.
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I am really thankful for your post, it gives me more knowledge. very nice!
Very beautiful, thank you.
kamir bouchareb st says
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kamir bouchareb st says