On Being a Leader and Holding Sacred Ceremony

Ceremony is a universal phenomenon found in cultures around the world. In fact, most of the earliest archeological sites that date 12,000 years or more are thought to or known to be ceremonial sites of ritual.

Ceremony is a sacred thread in a community that connects the people with the cosmos.

I am writing this article because I wish to share the importance of good ceremony, which, in the current era and the society I live in, has fallen from grace. Ceremony is not alive among the masses, though its sacred thread lives on. Further, I also wish to share my knowledge of what it means to be a leader in a ceremonial container – this wisdom I have received from my elders, and my time holding sacred ceremonial containers. My name is Zachary Koop, and in ceremony I am called Aya. I hold sacred ceremony to teach the way of breath, yoga, movement, meditation, and plant medicine.

A basic position I have is that ceremony is integral to being the heart and guiding force of a community. To best explain what I mean, let me first give you a brief look into what ceremony is. There are many ceremonies and rituals, and the way in which ceremony flows is always going to be a unique co-creation of the humans involves and the land that the ceremony is held upon. However, there are some generalizable observations we can make about ceremony that cross cultures.

On Ceremony:
In ceremony, one aims to include the entire cosmos in a ritual drama.

Therefore, a ceremony leader, or those conducting the ritual will set the stage to open the awareness of the participants to the widest context of their lives. Which means invoking the 4 sacred directions that surround each universal center (the individual), and the two vertical dimensions above and below… below connects us to the earth mother, and the dimension above connects us to the great sky, or the celestial beings and heavenly realms. The dimensions above and below are not simply the areas above and below your body, but your body is a representation of the cosmos, and your lower body, and your lower energy centers are related to the physical realm, the earth, and connections you have to the earth and community; whereas the upper regions of your body, such as your brain, are connected to your higher mental body, and your neurons are numerous like stars in the sky.

Further, ceremony is about connection to the 4 sacred elements, earth, wind, water, and fire…these fundamental vibratory energies create our universe, our outer body (the world), and our inner body is made of these fundaments parts, and when our spirit passes from this body, the elements shall return. In ceremony, one connects, with nature…the land which one is on is the sacred ground of ritual, it is a part of the ceremony, as are all the life-forms that inhabit the land…this is why ceremony produces such brilliant art across cultures, it is the same creative intelligence that creates radiant peacocks, and dazzling fish that offers intelligence through humans to design the aesthetics of ceremony. Ceremony is about connection to time, wherein each individual has an opportunity to connect with their past self and selves, their future self, their ancestors, their children’s children, and the time-lines of all their community members.

Are you seeing the wide context for which ceremony is setting the stage for? The ordinary consciousness and the way we live our lives often creates a divine drama in which we are an isolated self, in a specific moment of time, and the ordinary doings of most people’s lives are not connected with the stars – and many forget to look up and see a near infinite array of galaxies above-, it is easy to forget we are connected to a sacred land, and live as one being with a multiplicity of life-forms. Ceremony is a reminder of the wider context and the connections that sustain our life. We could not have been born, and our live cannot be sustained -not for a single breath- unless the stars are hung just as they are, and the actions and prayers of your ancestors were not just as they were.
Do you feel the weight of this?

Can you connect with yourself, not as a separate identity, but as someone beyond time, someone who is the center of a universe, a creator, maintainer, and destroyer of the cosmos.

There is much more to say, but to summarize, a ceremony leader will create a unique scenario or ritual that contains symbolic elements and ritual acts that bring into consciousness all that I have spoken of and more. The more threads of connection they can weave into the collective prayer or drama create an opening of awareness for the individual and collective consciousness to be present. Presence is key, that is where healing happens, that is when manifestation happens, that is how realization occurs. When we become present with this moment, the eternal moment, and our place in the cosmos, we then become one with the cosmos, and can grab from the infinite intelligence that pulses through our living universe.

So then a community will come together, often gathered on the land, guided to open their awareness to the entire cosmos, and be brought through a ritual and symbolic drama to enter an altered state of consciousness. Ceremony may include the sacramental taking of plant medicines to enter altered states, the performance of dance, or entering heated or cooled environments, perhaps ritual sex or orgy may take place, or sitting in pews in a church. There are many ways to pray. And though not all ceremonies and cultures call it prayer, ceremony is about prayer, or if one is averse to that word, one can think of it as a personal and collective conversation with the universe – or that which is beyond the limited self.

What is a prayer? You are a prayer. Your life is a prayer. At a fundamental level of energy, you are conscious encoded light (information) and intelligence. Your being and your actions are your life’s prayer. Thus, the energy or vibration you live with, is your offering. Ceremony is a safe space for you to adjust your frequency to call in your prayer – which could be for healing, manifestation, enlightenment, etc. Depending on the intentions of the individual and the group the ceremony may be conducted uniquely to set the sacred stage for the prayers to be heard.
The power of proper prayer. Here are some elements that create powerful prayers:

  1. Prayers are lifted up, meaning sent off to the infinite intelligence of the universe when we truly desire their outcome with our total being.
  2. Prayers are lifted up when we raise our frequency – high frequency states include joy, ecstasy, love, compassion, etc
  3. Prayers are lifted up when we are fully present – with the entire cosmos, the four sacred directions, etc
  4. Prayers are lifted up when we offer something in return – a symbolic offering of something valuable to a sacred fire, or a gift of service
  5. Prayers are lifted up when they are deeply felt in the body – one may fast, or go through a trail of intense heat or even beatings to reach this state
  6. Prayers are lifted up when the prayer is heard and seen by their community
  7. Prayers are lifted up when they are in nature and when they work with the elements
  8. Prayers are lifted up when the prayers are harmonious with the law of One

The Role of a Ceremony Leader

The role of a ceremony leader is to guide the energy of the ceremony. The energy of the ceremony is the unique cadence of subtle energy moving through the field of awareness of the group. For example, in a healing ceremony, it is common that individuals will experience highs and lows, the heights are joy are exuberant emotion, and the lows are the depths of their body and being, deep sadness, grieving, and even despair. Ceremony is about entering these highs and lows in the safety of the group. A ceremony leader works the energy of the group, perhaps they sing, or instruct movement or dance, they may guide ritual acts, or ask certain individuals to share. Ceremony leaders must put their ego aside and be a clear channel for the higher intelligence of the collective group to speak through them. They will have a high sensitivity for the consciousness of each participants and will work with love towards the opening and clearing of the subtle energy blockages in the individuals. Though they may have a general form or structure to how their ceremony is held, the exact dance that develops for them has to be a deep listening to what is happening or who is there. In this way, a ceremony is truly an authentic co-creation of everyone there and their unique energy that is being offered in that moment.

A ceremony is often conducted in a ritual building that allows for the flow of energy to be guided and/or cleared. For example, the subtle magnetic fields that radiate from an individual’s energy body flow well in circular buildings, like a tipi, or a dome, or a maloca. Elements such as a central fire may be used to lift smoke, which helps to lift up the energy, and take the prayers into all the sacred directions.

When I guide participants in breathwork and medicine ceremonies I am always paying acute attention to individuals and their energy, and at times arranging people in certain patterns to amplify the energy. Participants will often be arranged in shapes, such as sitting in a circle, which helps the flow of energy and information move like waves through the group. As a ceremony leader, or facilitator, it is important to assure everyone is heard and seen and feels safe. In order for the nervous system to disengage from its ordinary state of consciousness and access the deeper layers of the psyche, one must feel truly held and safe to surrender. The ‘work’ of a ceremony holder and facilitator is not a part time gig. They must be able to live at a level of alignment and purity to truly be the kind of person on their own, and in the community that others can feel safe around. For a ceremony holder (depending on the type of ceremony they hold), they may be holding space for individuals young and old, or they may hold space for individuals who are near death, or are working with a malicious disease. There is a great responsibility and wisdom that is needed to hold this sacred space.
The guidance of the leader and the wisdom all participants receive is not from or at the level of the human being. Ceremony calls upon the higher forces, energies, and beings to guide the ceremony. What and who are these higher forces? Our cosmos is imbued with a living intelligence, the earth and stars, and the natural elements, and beings all carry a spirit, an intangible and intelligence spirit with energy and information. There are higher and lower worlds, each of these dimensions is home to various intelligence beings, gods, deities, and more. Different cultures are going to work with different energies, depending on the environment the ceremony is in, what the local culture is, and what the purposes of the ceremony are. The importance of understanding that the wisdom received and the guidance of ceremony is not of the people, but of the greater collective intelligence is key. That is why ceremony must connect individuals to the wider context of the cosmos, for when we connect with this greater intelligence, our understanding and actions can be rooted is greater field of awareness and power.

Which leads me to why ceremony is the sacred treasure our society has lost. We have become a people who has lost connection and guidance with the co-evolution of the life-forms of this planet. It is through ceremony that we connect to the earth and sky and find our why. It is when we continue to gather in community and hear and see all people that we gain the clear perspective of what is right action, who we are, and what we are here to give. Community is the stage for giving our authentic gifts, it is our wider spiritual body. Governance of the people, is not about an elected group of figure-heads trying to figure out what is best for the people. Governance is a deep listening to the cosmos, and learning to dance in the ritual drama of life.

As a ceremony leader I have seen ceremony heal what was termed fatal disease, and I have worked with individual making transitions to go beyond this life, I have seen true love develop in ceremony, I have held the space for individuals to laugh, and cry, and release pent up emotions they had been holding their whole life, and even lives. I have done none of these things except by the grace and good guidance of the universe, my elders, teachers, my guides, and the willing participation of the community and the individuals involved. And in this time where our society has an opportunity to develop new ways of being and relating to ourselves and in our world, I am standing up as a leader of ceremony and a guide for people to come back to the way of ceremony. This is an encouragement to remember your lineage and the lives you have lived in ceremony, and remember who you are in the widest context of your life. This is a call to come out to ceremony and join your community in a reclamation of our birth rite as sovereign souls to gather in council to heal, and to listen earth for answers.
Community ceremony is the cornerstone of healthy community. And ceremony is also a way of being and living. I have dinner ceremonies, bathing ceremonies, and morning and evening rituals. For example, I have an altar which has representations and reminders to draw my awareness to the entire cosmos, and those I love most. I keep them close to my heart and mind so that I never forget why I am here.

It is my prayer that you remember why you are here, to know your sacred purpose, to live and be held in your community, and for you to remember, it’s all a divine drama.
I thank you for reading.

If you resonate with these words and feel the call to reach out to learn more about ceremony and how to get connected with these ways, I am available.

I thank you, again – for you can never say ‘I thank’ you too many times.
With love,

  • Aya

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