A group of close family and friends sits with a woman. The women in the group have spent several hours bathing and dressing her. Tonight she will step out of her old self and into a new life. Other friends sit or stand in groups around the room. They have come to listen as the woman and her friends and family tell the story of the trauma she has faced, and of her courage and persistence in reclaiming her life from that trauma. They have come to see her step into a life of balance, and they bear gifts and food to celebrate her new life.
The ceremony begins with the shaman cleansing the space, then asking the Ancestors and Spirits to join the gathering, and to bring blessings to all in the room. The shaman asks all present, human and spirit alike, to support and encourage the woman as she carries out the ritual and begins a new life. As the evening progresses the woman and those that support her tell the woman’s story. They speak to the trauma, the drug use, and the broken relationships. They tell the story of loneliness, lost creativity, and dark depression and rage. The telling is in broad strokes, with few details, yet considerable time passes.
When all has been spoken, the tone changes. Now the woman speaks of her journey back to balance and wholeness. Others in the room speak to her courage, and perseverance. Again, many stories are shared before the tone changes once again. Now she speaks of her dreams and intentions for the future. Family and friends express their hopes and dreams for her.
It is late. The woman rises and the shaman greets her in the center of the room. The shaman brushes the woman with the leaves of freshly cut branches, then lights sage and carefully covers her with the sweet smoke. The shaman requests forgiveness for her errors, and blessings and joy for her now and in the future. She is now ready. Two beloved ones stand, pick up a pole with a drape attached, and lift the pole into the air, providing a curtain which the woman steps behind for privacy. Other friends quietly join her as she disrobes, and dresses in clothing that has never been worn. When she is dressed, she collects herself and steps out into the room.
On the floor lies a cloth line. Thoughtfully, with great intent, she steps across the line into a new life. The shaman and the group welcome her. There is much joy in the room. One by one, very slowly, each person in the room brings a gift and places it into her hands. Each looks into her eyes, and speaks to her from their heart. Finally, the shaman brings a gift to her, and speaks to her of her courage, and the goodness of her heart.
The shaman turns to those gathered in the room and reminds them of the woman’s long journey, and of the trials and challenges which must lie ahead. The shaman asks each person present to commit to support the woman in her life, through ease and challenge. The same is asked of the Ancestors and Spirits, before the shaman ends the ceremony by once again acknowledging and thanking them for their support and healing. Then, all join in a feast of celebration.
The ceremony described above is a composite drawn from several ceremonies; it is also an accurate description of such ceremonies. The recipient could just as easily have been a man, perhaps a warrior returned from combat. Such ceremonies may be preceded by brief rituals, healings, and other activities to aid the recipient return to balance. The person spends time-sharing his/her life story with his/her chosen community. Support persons are shown how to conduct their parts in the ritual. Much courage is required, both from the recipient of the ritual and those supporting them.
Each healing ceremony is a collaboration between the person for whom the ceremony is held, the shaman, and the people who are the recipient’s community. Together they find the shape and content that will best suit the needs of the recipient. In the process, both the recipient and their community may heal.