You have a right to know the purpose of a ceremony; although many Native American writers (obviously including me) say that non-natives ask too many questions, they would never expect anyone to enter into a ceremony without knowing its purpose or what was going to happen to achieve that purpose. You not only have the right, you have the responsibility to know. If you are the one creating the ceremony, you have the responsibility of orienting the other participants before the ceremony begins. If you are to be a participant, you have the responsibility to find out these things at a time and in a manner that does not distract from the ceremony itself.
Incidentally, it is traditional in Native American cultures that the person for whom a ceremony is being held (and/or his or her family members) bring some kind of gift to the leader, to the rnedicine person who is to conduct ceremony. This is usually a practical gift, and may take the form of tobacco, food, a blanket, or other forms. It is likely never money. Native people believe that medicine cannot be purchased but is always a gift from Spirit. A medicine person will staunchly refuse money for their ceremonies, but will usually accept gifts for food, gas, lodging, etc., when they are offered in the right “give-away “spirit.
What is that give-away spirit? Gift-giving is not merely a formality. Many people strongly believe in the notion of a “transaction “of energy; therefore, if they give away energy in the form of the gift, they leave a void that may be filled by Spirit. So, their giving away something to the leader is an essential part of the ceremony itself. The leader receives the gift, hopefully, not as a personal favor, but as a give-away to Spirit, a gift to the transpersonal power evoked in the ceremony. There is much to be learned from this giveaway attitude, particularly as it is an opposite to the “let me get mine first” attitude often found in the mainstream culture.
The next stage of creating ceremony is all too often minimized, that is the announcing of that a ceremony will happen, and its intention, and securing needed cooperation. Native peoples make much of this step. The person announcing the intention for ceremony must, well in advance of the ceremony, address literally the universe, saying who is speaking, and announcing what is intended. To be thorough, one carefully announces one’s intentions to the weather, to the earth, to the elements, to the four directions, to surrounding animals, plants, structures, whatever, to anything that may be an element in how the ceremony turns out, and so ultimately one evokes the cooperation of “all that is.“
Specifically to be notified are any persons who may wish to participate or any who may be affected consciously or unconsciously by the ceremony whether or not they attend. (Native Americans always try to notify the local medicine person in an area before a ceremony is undertaken in his or her “territory” since presumably he or she will pick up on the energy transaction). Don’t forget your own teachers, friends, or power people in your life that are connected to you or have done ceremony with you before; even if they do not physically attend the ceremony, they can help to hold the energy for you during that time.
Know the medicine you think is needed for the ceremony you are planning and be sure to evoke that energy in your announcement of your intentions and in asking for cooperation. Remember your ancestors. For example, for a ceremony of sight call on Aunt Susie who was blind, etc.
Remember, this business of announcing and seeking cooperation well in advance of the ceremony is most significant and is the part that is most often overlooked. Set aside specific time for it. Give it your full attention.
This is all very practical. Before I do any ceremony, for example, I may sit for a while with my hand on the earth in the location where I intend to conduct the ceremony. I look around me to notice whether there are ants or poison ivy or logs that snakes might be under. I notice whether I will have the sun in my eyes during the ceremony. I wonder what will happen to the firewood if a rain storm comes unexpectedly. I think about shade on a sunny day. I notice whether structures are light or dark or cold or echoing. Such communication with all that is in the environment of the ceremony is just absolutely essential. And I do not hesitate to tell you that I talk to “All My Relatives” and ask humbly that all the creative powers of life, in all its forms, in every time, join with me in the creation of this life-promoting ceremony. I know that I am heard and responded to by a loving universe.
There are, of course, energies that may not be or seem so loving, But I humbly acknowledge them as well, particularly those voices or attitudes inside myself.
I think it is essential to make peace with the enemy before ceremony. In Jungian terms, I acknowledge my own shadow side, the parts of me that may trip me up or handicap me in doing ceremony. I acknowledge, for example, that I am not good with machinery and that the projector or the music player could, if it chooses or if f don’t pay due attention to it by being sure to have it in good order, it could sabotage the best showing of slides or the best music meditation.
I also acknowledge the dark realities of death, pain, and suffering, and ask that I may come into right relation to them, indeed, that I may be in balance and harmony with all that is.
This so-called management of evil, as anthropologists refer to it, is often overlooked in creating ceremony, but it is overlooked at one’s peril.
A friend of mine had a very bad experience in some ceremonial work she did in a group. My friend sat first and listened to a man’s painful story of horror and to his desperate weeping. My friend went into a sort of archetypal pain that was more than her own–it was hers and the man’s and it was universal pain all at once–and she had a terrible experience. She had not paid attention to her own “semi-permeable membrane” that could differentiate what she could handle and what she couldn’t. We have to triage, as they do in hospital. We can’t personally take on the whole suffering of mankind, though it has to be honored.