A Question of Ritual as Servicesam
Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more.
*Ask Your Mama™ The What, When, Where, Why, How, and Who of Ceremony & Spirituality
by Mama Donna Henes, Urban Shaman
Dear Mama Donna,
I work with a group here in Cleveland who cook and feed close to 200 men at a homeless shelter every Thursday. It is a big commitment. The shelter is run by the Salvation Army, and the people who run the shelter are open to programming. As we have come to know these men, they are opening to us, and I feel it’s an opportunity to do some spiritual work. It occurred to me that I might start a drumming circle. I wanted to ask if you have ever worked with this particular population. They are really down and out, and I need some ideas about how to approach them and how to structure a circle.
Reaching Out in Ohio
Dear Reaching Out,
Wow! A spirit circle in Cleveland, my hometown. Who’d have thunk?
I actually do have a great deal of experience with populations of disenfranchised, dis-spirited folk. As an urban shaman, I move in all sorts of society and my constituency includes everyone. We are all equals in the eye of spirit.
Over the years I have done drumming circles with drugged and deranged women in a shelter, with very young single homeless mothers and their babies at a half-way house, with HIV-ill women at a treatment center, with inmates at several women’s jails and adolescent detention facilities, with the criminally insane at a state forensic psychiatric center, and dozens of other snake-pit venues for the down and out.
It is my experience that people are pretty much just people. In these special groups there is the same mix of helpful, open, clear, disruptive, hostile, sad, closed, and needy souls as I see in my open-to-anyone circles and celebrations. If you approach the situation as normal, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how normal it will be. Sanity, stability, centeredness is the continuum that we all travel on our journey toward our best selves.
Once I did a May Day/Beltane tree planting ceremony in Loring Lake Park in Minneapolis with a group of students from the College of Art and Design there. As it turned out, this park was a hangout place for intoxicated Native Americans. During our ritual, a bunch of fairly far-gone guys wove over to join us. They were drunk, but not rowdy. They instinctively understood the sanctity of what we were doing and were mightily drawn to be part of our circle.
At one point in the ceremony, one of the men stepped forward. He identified himself as Sioux, then announced, “I have no right to do this” and proceeded to offer a chant. While he was all-too-aware that he was ceremonially unclean and spiritually unprepared for such a righteous task, he also knew enough to realize that somebody had to sing this tree into the ground, and he happened to know the words. It was powerful magic that day: for him as he was tranceformed in grace, for me as an awed witness to true reverence, and for the tree, which I am sure is still thriving.
Another time, I did a big public celebration for the Fall Equinox at Pershing Square in Los Angeles. During the event, the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs came by the park to check on me because he was worried for my safety in this “dangerous” junkie/wino infested plaza.
Of course, it was these very men, drunk and high though they might have been, who actually got involved. They climbed ladders, helped me to hang my peace chants banners, and brought me coffee. And when the police came to arrest me later that day (despite my official status) for Inciting Littering (of all things) it was these same outcast men who tried to protect me.
After hundreds of similar situations, I have come to understand that if you enter a ritual situation with an open heart, people will recognize your sincerity and share themselves in return. Don’t worry. Your drum circles will be great. And you are dear for doing them.
Great good luck to you. This is a grand project.
Dear Mama Donna,
Thanks so much for your response. I want to work with these people in a spiritual way, and hope to start a small circle in the upcoming months. I think your point of treating the men in this shelter as normal is a good one. I have no fear, and believe some soul-level support and treatment is greatly needed. For about six years, I worked at Rosary Hall, a treatment center here. I learned that there is a yearning for something more in all of us, and I saw that the spiritual program was the strongest part of recovery. I’ll keep you posted, and again thanks for your feedback.
Peace and love,
May you drum up a beat of connection, a rhythm of pleasure and joy, a sacred circle of support.
Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles, and celebrations to Mama Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donna Henes is an internationally renowned urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, award-winning author, popular speaker
and workshop leader whose joyful celebrations of celestial events have introduced ancient traditional rituals and
contemporary ceremonies to millions of people in more than 100 cities since 1972. She has published four books, a CD,
an acclaimed quarterly journal and writes a column for UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum.
Mama Donna, as she is affectionately called, maintains a ceremonial center, spirit shop, ritual practice and consultancy
in Exotic Brooklyn, NY where she works with individuals, groups, institutions, municipalities and corporations to create meaningfulceremonies for every imaginable occasion.
For information about upcoming events and services contact:
Mama Donna’s Tea Garden & Healing Haven
PO Box 380403
Exotic Brooklyn, New York, NY 11238-0403
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