Here is a simple ritual with all the basic elements for practicing Ancient Ritual Postures. It is what we call the Cuyamungue Method, named after the Cuyamungue Institute that Felicitas Goodman founded. Using this method you will learn to set up a sacred space, calm your mind and let sound and body position awaken your body’s natural ability to experience a shift in consciousness. You will be teaching your nervous system to alter your awareness from engagement with the outer world to awareness of the non-material world of spirit and the world within.
The more you learn to respect these inner experiences they will become more meaningful, as dreams become more meaningful when we learn to speak their symbolic language. Just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, it gets easier with practice.
Preparing for the Ritual
First, find a special location for your sacred space for the ritual. Begin with creating an altar or central focus for the space. Find a piece of beautiful fabric that you can spread on the floor or on a table at the center of your space. Keep this as your ceremonial cloth to use only for your altar. Have a candle, a small bowl of water, an herb for smudging (I’ll address how to do smudging later), and a small bowl of blue cornmeal or tobacco as an offering for the spirits. This way you are honoring the elements: fire, water, air, and earth. You might want include other sacred objects – crystals, feathers, rocks, statues or pictures – that are special to you. Blue cornmeal is a traditional gift to the spirits among the Pueblo people who are neighbors to the Cuyamungue Institute in Northern New Mexico. Felicitas used it in the ritual of the Cuyamungue Method. I still buy it when I go to New Mexico and you can probably find it in grocery stores.
Find six pieces of colored cloth (usually cotton or a cotton blend works best) to be used as prayer flags or ties that mark the six directions. These are the boundaries of your sacred space. My prayer ties are 12” x 36” in six colors: one in yellow for the east, red for the south, black for the west, white for the north, blue for above or sky, and green for below or earth. Other traditions use different colors and it’s fine to use whatever colors are meaningful to you.
Then turn off the phone, tell others in your household to please not disturb you, and invite the cat to join you only if she promises to be still.
Begin your ritual by putting a prayer tie, one by one, in each of the six basic directions: east, south, west, north, above and below. You might say something like, “Spirits of the East, join with me in setting this point in the circle and helping to create a sacred space for this ritual.” Do the same with each of the other five directions. Following the four cardinal directions makes a circle. Connecting the circle with above and below makes it into a sphere that represents the womb of all creation. Some early versions of the Bible say, “In the beginning there was Six,” meaning that God manifested a sphere to set a place in the material world where creation could take place. We are making our own sphere and inviting spirit to be with us there.
Smudge the space and yourself with the smoke of an herb. Sage and cedar are traditionally used for smudging, but any naturally grown herb works. I like to use White Sage because it smells good to me. Smudge sticks, often made with sage and juniper, are available at herb stores and alternative bookstores. Over a large flat shell or a fire-resistant bowl, light the herbs then blow out the flames, letting the dried leaves smolder and smoke. Use a feather or your hands to wave the smoke over your face, throat, heart, belly and back to clean the energy around your body.
For people who are allergic or cannot inhale smoke, I have found that essential oils offer a good alternative. Sprinkle a few drops of an oil of your choice in a small bowl of water and deeply inhale the aroma. If several people are doing the ritual together, the bowl can easily be passed from person to person.
Calling the Spirits
Now it is time to invite the spirits to be present and in that way to sanctify your space. Use a drum or rattle to call the spirits. In indigenous traditions, the rattle or drum has a spirit that should be awakened gently. I breathe softly onto a pinch of blue cornmeal saying, ‘This is my breath so that you can recognize that this gift comes from me. Thank you for your help in this ritual.’ Then I offer the pinch of cornmeal to the rattle or drum to awaken its spirit. With a small puff of breath, I blow the cornmeal gently into the surrounding air.
To call the spirits with the rattle, we face each of the six directions, one at a time, and call upon the spirits and forces that are associated with that direction. This is a greeting and summoning I often use.
Calling The Spirits Of The Six Directions
Spirits of the East, we are calling you, inviting you to our ritual,
Come be with us. Bring with you the white light of morning, the beauty of springtime, the freshness of dawn and the potential in new beginnings.
Come join us, we have made a place for you in our circle.
Spirits of the South, come, we are inviting you to join us.
Bring with you the bright light of mid-day, the season of growing and thriving, when all beings – the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, those that fly, those that crawl, those that swim, and those planted in the ground – can flourish.
Come, we invite you, come be with us.
Spirits of the West, Grandmothers, you who are the keepers of the Heart,
come join us. Bring with you the red light of evening, the beauty of autumn, the abundance of the harvest. Come remind us to harvest our experience through self-reflection. Come, we have made a place for you in our circle.
Spirits of the North, Ancestors, you who are the keepers of the Wisdom, come be with us in our ritual today. Bring with you the wisdom of the time of cold and of darkness, when everything seems to die and fall away, leaving only essence like a seed that is buried in the ground, awaiting a new cycle. We rely on you to teach us about letting go. Come join us, be with us, we invite you.
Spirits of the Sky World: winds and clouds, moon and sun, stars and Milky Way, galaxies and all that lies beyond, Great Mystery – come, be with us in our circle, bend over us, awaken the wonder of the Mystery that resides in the universe and within. Come, spirits, join us in our ritual.
Spirits of the Earth, Gaia, Mother, rise up and be with us in our ritual today. Remind us that our physical bodies are made of you, the elements of the Earth, so we are indeed your children. Come join us and support us in our ritual today. We have made a place for you in our circle and we welcome you.
Then blow breath on the cornmeal or tobacco and offer it to each direction as you speak: “East, South, West, and North, Above and Below – to all of you who have heard our invitation and who have come to be with us in our ritual today, we thank you for your presence here and we welcome you”
Throw the cornmeal in the air as a gift of thanks.
Quieting the Mind
Use a simple concentration exercise to slow down your thinking. It has taken a lot of years to train myself to relax all the busyness in my mind. This is really like a simple meditation practice.
Sit comfortably. Focus on your breath as it enters your nose. Then, without working at it, gently release the breath through your mouth. On the inhalation, focus on a spot just below your navel. See if you can feel your belly rising as you draw in a full breath. Now allow that breath to naturally release, that is, exhale it from your belly. It may help to put your hand on your belly to feel the rising and falling and to keep your concentration there. Pause, and then take in a second breath, expand your belly slowly, then release, and count “two.” Continue for fifty breaths or about five minutes.
Stimulating the nervous system
To experience an altered state of consciousness it is necessary to do something to the body. Sound is an easy way to cue your nervous system to start operating in a different way. You can use a recording that Felicitas and I made decades ago with four fifteen-minute segments of rattling and/or drumming. She had determined in her research that fifteen minutes was enough for most people to shift into the altered state and yet not too much to leave you feeling disoriented. She emphasized how important it is to maintain a steady rhythm of 210 beats per minute to keep the nervous system activated in the right way.
The recording we made is FREE just for reading this blog post! If you are using the recording, make sure that your player is ready in advance.
Assume a Ritual Posture
To make a ritual complete, you need to do something to shape your state of consciousness. With Ancient Ritual Postures our bodies hold the prayer or the ritual, non-verbally and non-conceptually. There is nothing else to do. Directions for correctly assuming each posture are in each of my books (see listing below) and books by other practitioners of Ancient Ritual Postures.
Assume the ritual posture you have chosen. During the fifteen minutes of ritual, your only job is to stay in the correct position and pay attention to what you are experiencing. No need to try to make something happen. Learn to just be curious and accept whatever might be happening inwardly. However, if you are uncomfortable and want to end the experience before fifteen minutes, you can move out of the posture and turn off the sound. That will bring your nervous system back to normal functioning.
When the rattling or drumming ends, move out of the posture and sit quietly for a minute. Then journal about your experience. In a group you may want to share with each other. You might also explore making drawings or collages, or doing expressive movement as ways to externalize what happened inwardly during your fifteen minutes in the posture.
A spiritual practice that engages the body gives us direct experience rather than just learning abstract concepts. While elaborate imagery or flows of numinous energy are possible embodied experiences, don’t set up expectations. Meaningful contact with the spirits can come in a wide variety of ways.
This ritual is so simple that some people initially mistrust it, explaining away the sensations and insights as “just imagination.” That may be due to not having a cultural framework for understanding and integrating the experience. The ability to perceive in altered states uses the same inner senses that make it possible to see, hear, and have physical sensations in dreams. However, in the ritual we can actually interact with the spirits and consciously be part of the events in the Alternate Reality. It is a gift to be invited into the world of the spirits and journeying there can change us forever.
Books of Ritual Postures
Ancient Ritual Postures: Oracle Cards for Ritual, Healing, Divination, Metamorphosis, and Spirit Journeys – 52 Cards with Accompanying Booklet.