Herbal Lore: Myths and Ceremonies

The Rite of Ceremony

Disclaimer: These facts and interpretations regarding Ceremonies are meant only for information and entertainment. I am not involved with and do not endorse any Ceremonies done with negative intent or using unhealthy, unwholesome, or illegal practices. I make no claims about or take any responsibility for the effects of participating in any Ceremony.

In preparing Ceremonies for present-day needs, I respectfully research and borrow from various traditions. I adapt these concepts in a spirit of peace and love, and with the hope and intention that reading about them will prove beneficial. Because Ceremonial information is so diverse, actual historical practices and data may differ, according to time, please, and observer.

Check out a Spring Equinox Ceremony

About Ceremonies

Before we discuss Herbs and Ceremony, let's discuss Ceremony itself. To me, Ceremony means Taking Notice of Life with the Wonder of Innocence, no matter how old we are. It means releasing the child within us so that we can see through his or her eyes the wonder of it all.

I heard a line in a movie once that said something like, "Normal is extraordinary." My goal is to celebrate the normal, the ordinary, the every day events with ceremony, because, in fact, your whole life is one magnificent ceremony, one long dramatic myth with you as its central character. We are all accustomed to celebrating our birthdays, yet we frequently do it without and Reverence. Awe and Reverence are part of ceremony. Birth Day is the day that Spirit came to earth in Your Name, to take up its earth form in Your Body and depend on Your Wisdom, Faith, Courage and Guardianship. It's the day Spirit came to earth so you could take your earth walk this time, and grow yet once again. It is the commemoration of your Spirit's Birth Day on this planet, under your name, in your shape. Do you remember? Do not wait. What can you do to commemorate the Divine grandeur of your Birth Day today even if, especially if, today is not the anniversary of the day you were born. Do not wait! You are Here, now. You are Now, here. Celebrate!

The Need for Ceremony

Spiritual peoples tend to be more likely to remember to acknowledge, in ceremony, or prayer, if you like, the most ordinary daily events, like breathing, waking up, drinking water, eating, arriving, departing, because they recognize the immensity of these acts. Many tribal people the world over celebrate the rising of the sun every day, not for the sun's benefit, but for their own, for the connection, for the reminder. Some pay homage to the marvel of Dreams, for who can really explain the mystery of Dream Messages? After all, what is a miracle, but something beyond our limited "scientific" understanding or something that happens with such great infrequency and unexpectedness that we forget from generation to generation, and therefore remember to be awed. But look, is there no greater mystery, or miracle, than your breathing in and out every hour of every day for your entire life? Is that not cause for ceremony?

But most of us forgot, and as the world became busier and noisier and faster and more sophisticated, we started to think that ceremony was something that ancient peoples did or tribal peoples did because it was long ago, or they were strange, or they had other needs. We envisioned colorful costumes, exotic symbols, foreign tongues, awkward movements, and we shook our heads and said, "That's not me." Or we remembered the negative aspects of negative rituals and worked to put lots of space between them and us.

But then the yearning starts within us again because it is all going by so fast. The milestones and benchmarks pass with barely any notice, or none at all. Families are often far away, or estranged. Friends are strangers and we can't find our place in something called community. Time, that old gypsy, as one poem says, keeps ticking, ticking, ticking, and age and change wrap us in that ancient shawl. When will come the right time for ceremony to mark your progress on this earth walk? It is time here. It is time now. Every milestone in our lives needs acknowledgment, needs a ceremony, to center us, to connect us to the universe and to each other and to every other life form and non-life form with whom we share this planet. Ceremony makes the connection between the internal and external, the spirit and the body, the individual and the cosmos, the life form and the life form. Ceremony makes the connection, so each path joins the other, and together we commune and become community.

Ceremony for Surviving

So, what can you acknowledge with a ceremony? You can acknowledge any aspect of life, from the tiniest seedling growing to the most cataclysmic tragedy. The fact is, we all know about celebrating the big joys: the births, the promotions, the graduations, the weddings, the house-movings. We know about commemorating the greatest loss of all, as a beloved life energy passes from here to there, out of our realm. But what about the other passages, the ones that allow you to grow because they force you to confront painful truths or difficult experiences the ones that you often suffer through all by yourself the ones that occurred too early in life for you to have acknowledged when they happened the ones that are locked somewhere inside you because they are so sad the tiny ones like a favorite vase breaking the gasp-for-air ones like an earth-shattering betrayal. With every trial we walk through, we make passage to our truest nature, to our greater selves. We survive with every grief. And survival demands notice! Alone or with friends, we have to satisfy the need to apply dignity to the events in our lives, big or small, easy or difficult, happy or sad to transmit and receive love, to draw the sacred shield, to make Ceremony.

Ceremonies to Honor the World We Live In

I believe that regardless of the immediate predicament you may find yourself in, you are always a nurtured and integral part of the Universe, and therefore, in ways we may never fully understand, we are always safely home, no matter when or where we are. A Zen Roshi was on his death bed, and his followers begged him not to go. "Go?" he asked. "Where would I go. There is nowhere else to go." All is here, and here is everywhere.

Perhaps this is the reason that we perform Ceremonies not only to honor ourselves and our lives, but also to honor the Earth and her cycles. For in doing so, we empower and stabilize ourselves. There is not a place in the world, for instance, where the Seasons have not been commemorated in some way. If each of us is a microcosm of the Universe, then we celebrate our own birth when we celebrate Spring — our own active adult years when we celebrate Summer — our own letting-go of children, illusions, unproductive habits when we celebrate Autumn and our own wisdom and faith in the rebirth hidden seeds and hidden potential when we celebrate Winter. So teaches the Medicine Wheel of the Native Americans and similar concepts among human beings the world over.

We know that our cycles are enmeshed with the ebb and flow of the oceans and the lunar rotations of the moon. That we draw power from the sun and nourishment from the earth. Doesn't it make sense, then, that in honoring them in Ceremony, we are honoring the Sacred connection that immortalizes us? Whenever you stop the feel the wind blowing out of the west, you perform a Ceremony by hearing his voice, his movement, his direction, his energy. Ceremony means stopping the world long enough to take notice.

How to Design a Ceremony

How do you create a ceremony that's right for you? Ritual is the name for ceremonies that have been done over and over again through the ages in exactly the same way. But for many, the old rituals no longer feel right. For others, there are so many rituals, from so many corners of the earth and so many settings of the time span that feel right, that you want to borrow, improvise, adapt, personalize, modernize. But some things never change. All Ceremonies use some or all of these:

  1. A location made special for the occasion.
  2. Words, original or traditional, said aloud or silently, in speech, or poetry, or chant, or song.
  3. Sound and rhythm, music, drumming, horns, woodwinds, clapping, tapping, rattling.
  4. Lighting, often flames from candles.
  5. Movement designed for the occasion.
  6. Symbols: rocks, shells, semi-precious stones or crystals; totem animals.
  7. Aromas or scents.
  8. Herbs, flowers or plants.
  9. Food and drink
  10. An appropriate place to put these things. Some call this special place an Altar. Some place them directly on the ground, believing that Mother Earth is our primary and most sacred altar.

Step lightly on her face. Every step upon her is a Ceremony.

Where

Ceremonies can be held in huge arenas with thousands of people attending, and not just for religious purposes. Even a parade is a magnificent public Ceremony! They can be held in small quarters with just a few close kindred spirits. Or you can hold a ceremony by yourself, and make it exquisitely meaningful.

Herbs and Ceremonies

And then, there are ceremonies that are focus on or incorporate specific herbs. Every herb has its own personality, appearance, and unique energy. People all over the earth, have combined the power of herbs with ceremony. From horseradish at the Passover Seder to the Palm leaves at Easter to Sage for a Vision Quest to Mistletoe at Christmas to Frankincense at the Winter Solstice of the ancient Druids, to cardamom the Scandinavian Yuletide to St. John's Wort at the Summer Solstice, to the spiritual yam in Africa to of seaweed in the list as endless as the peoples on the face of the earth and the variety of herbs and foodstuffs that grow in their vicinity. The tie between the Green Standing People and us, the two-leggeds, is without controversy. The connection is essential to our life force. The connection is tangible and mystical at the same time. To understand the energy of herbs in our ceremonies, you need to first understand the herb.

Being Close Being Still Just Being

How do we learn to understand something. Look at the word "understand". Take it apart. Under. Stand. We learn to really know something by Standing Under it.

By being silent, and drawing in its energy.
By listening for its song.
By connecting with the rhythm of its vibrations.
By bringing to it the essence of who, of what, we are.
By combining energies.
By not talking.
By not asking.
By not wanting.
By not taking.
By Being.
By being, together.

Try it. Today.

Find the lowliest of herbs growing near you, which, oftentimes is the most useful, and in some areas, the most sacred. Find a Dandelion. A Plantain leaf. Some Chickweed. The Parsley growing on your window sill. The Queen Anne's Lace down the street. The light blue Chicory in the lot. The velvet leaves of Mullein growing near the railroad tracks.
Be next to it.
Lie down on the ground beside it.
Hold it in your hand.
Feel its rhythm.
Hum to it.
Hold it to the light.
Smell it.
Crumple it.
Press it to your heart.
To your lips.
Hear its song.

When you connect with an herb that vibrates to the same energy rhythm as you do, make it yours and use it in Ceremony. Welcome it to Your Circle. Welcome yourself to the larger circle of human kind. And then the larger circle of all life and non-life forms.

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