"If there is no expression of grief, it will affect the dead and the living detrimentally. The dead cannot then go free from their earthly consciousness. As the deceased takes on spirit essence, he or she may get snagged into thinking of himself or herself still as a person. Thus, the deceased may begin to intrude into the business of the living in a way that can constitute a serious nuisance.
I remember once looking for an apartment in town where I was a student. The rental-office lady took me to a nice-looking efficiency apartment on the second floor of a building. As soon as we entered the place, I was frozen by a dismal sight. There at the kitchen sink stood a girl in her twenties with a kitchen knife two-thirds into her chest. She was bleeding profusely with her white robe soaked in blood down to her feet. It took me a second to realize that she was the ghost of a person who had been dead for quite a while. My reaction startled the housing person who was showing me the place. Of course she saw nothing. She asked if there was something I did not like about the place. I said yes. She asked what. I could not tell her what I saw. I said it was a vague feeling that I should look somewhere else. This is what happens when a dead person is not grieved. It takes a living person to shed tears on behalf of a dead person for this kind of thing not to happen. Humans must feel grief and be able to express it sincerely in order to free the dead spirit.
In the village there is an opportunity to grieve daily because there is death almost everyday. And funeral rituals last long enough to produce a continual opportunity for the expression of grief. It takes a great deal of involvement within a community for grief to be expressed freely. It is the presence of the community that validates the expression of grief. This means that a singular expression of grief is an incomplete expression of grief. A communal expression of grief has the power to send the deceased to the realm of the ancestors and to heal the hurt produced in the psyches of the living by the death of a loved one.
The ghost I saw in that apartment was perhaps grieved for only a few hours, maybe less, and by a few people only. Those who came to support the family in grief were probably trying their best to make sure that the members of the family did not shed too many tears. They were preventing grief from happening rather than encouraging it. They themselves were without tears, and so the poor deceased girl never went away. Tears carry the dead home. Communal grief therefore provides the opportunity to reach that important cathartic peak that grief must logically lead to, as well as serve as an energy that transports the dead home.
Grief is an energy that works at mellowing the mind, heart and body. An agitated or prolonged expression of grief exhausts the body to the point where rest is needed. One notices that a baby sometimes cries heavily before going to sleep. Grief takes us to the top of the hill and then lets us walk back down slowly, peacefully. It helps relieve the person who is in sorrow and leads him or her toward acceptance of the phenomenon of death, separation and love."
Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community
A Water Ritual Healing Experience
|At a retreat in California focused on ritual, a small group of thirty-five people, maybe forty, came together in planning and conducting a water ritual. We designated it a radical ritual, because it involved a whole community and because we were seeking deep healing. We called it a water ritual because its purpose was to help those with unreconciled matters in their life, reconciliation being the gift or attribute of water.
At the retreat site, we found a little stream. The water wasn't very deep, but it was quite clean. Twenty feet from the stream we cleared a space that we designated as the village. It was the place where everyone would gather during the ritual. The village was carefully marked off and was decorated to look beautiful. At the center of it we laid a fire ring ready to ignite. It was to symbolize the collective focus. The village was facing the stream where the radical ritual was to take place. As you walked toward the stream from the village you had to pass through a gateway. It was built with natural elements, including ferns and flowers, and was intended to symbolize a gateway between the village and the healing place of the stream. Close to the stream was another gateway, smaller in size but just as impressive and beautiful.
The water was decorated to look, when night came, like a place of light, and to inspire people to devotion and piety. The reflection of countless candles floated in it with the kind of gentleness that invokes trust, safety, and even love. From the village to the healing place of the stream, the path was paved with dancing and light.
We divided into three groups, each with a specific function in the village. One group was in charge of the village dynamic. In addition to building the space for the village, these people were expected to keep everyone singing and moving throughout the ritual. The second group was in charge of healing. Their headquarters was at the waterfront, even though only a few at a time actually stood there during the ritual. The third group was in charge of the overall fluidity of the ritual. They worked on the gateways and the road to the waters, planting all the candles we needed to make it look beautiful in the dark. All three groups worked hard during the day.
When night came, we proceeded to the village, chanting and drumming. The atmosphere was tense, but also comforting because people were eager to benefit from what they had invested so much energy in preparing. At the village we prayed to Spirit, asking for help in finding peace amid the rattling of the world, and of everyday life. We asked Spirit to come and help us align within. When the invocation was complete, the healers walked to the stream and waited for the first person to come. I must refrain from describing details of what happened at the waterfront out of respect for the ritual itself, and for the people who participated in it. It suffices to stress the fact that there was a huge emotional release that healed most of the people who walked the short distance to the stream and surrendered to the helpers there.
As soon as the first person returned from the stream and crossed the gateway into the village, the fire was lit. It burst into flames, as if excited by the state of the returning villager. Each returning villager was accompanied by two helpers, one posted on either side. As the fire grew, the drummer kicked in with a frenetic rhythm, and the village burst into an African song of praise to the ancestors, a Dagara song that we had all learned together earlier. For five hours we sang and drummed in support of those who went to the stream seeking help in reconciling with the plethora of things they were in conflict with in their day-to-day lives. At first the singing was rather formal. But as time progressed it became more and more emotionally intense and physically relaxed. People began to dance, some alone, others holding hands. Each person that returned to the village after being healed at the stream broke into tears as he or she was welcomed by everybody else. Some were weeping long before they were escorted back to the village. Their tears intensified upon their return. When it all ended, we were in such a high, and we thanked the Spirit with great emphasis. It was past midnight. Tired, though full of joy, we went to sleep.
The next morning people shared their experience of the ritual. A great number of them found it one of the most transforming experiences of their lives. Some were still in the emotion of their experience. They spoke in tears about how they felt.
The Healing Wisdom of Africa
Responding to the Call of the Ancestors
The focus of this month's newsletter is the element Water as it relates to grief and healing in Dagara cosmology. 2011 is a double water year according to Malidoma's culture, so we're further expounding on the topic of the year. Those of us who have studied with Malidoma learned that the colors blue and black represent water, with black representing deep water---thus, the color scheme of this newsletter. Also, with the recent natural water disasters of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, it is fitting to give voice to the power of Water!
We invite you to review the January 2011 newsletter posted in our archives on our website for more information and discussion regarding the element of Water in the Dagara indigenous tradition!
Peace & Blessings!
|Hurricane Irene Arriving in New York|
|A Time to Grieve---A Time to Grow
Water is a key element that at the beginning cooled the raging fires and brought stability, reorienting the cosmic energy toward producing continuity and community. Since then, people all over the world have felt the need to return again and again to water for purification, cleansing, reconciling, and making peace in the face of the onslaught of life's challenges.
(Excerpted from The Healing Wisdom of Africa)
This means that to the indigenous, challenge or crisis is cosmologically and spiritually symptomatic of a rise in fire. When someone is in crisis, regardless of the nature of the crisis, that person is said to be returning to fire. The distress of the person drifting toward or into fire is a plea for the radically reconciling introduction of water. When there is no water around, we are vulnerable to crisis. People, especially people in crisis, are naturally attracted to water. Many recognize that when they are agitated about something in their lives, they find peace at the waterfront. Just the sight of a large body of water brings a feeling of quiet and peace, a feeling of home. Water resets a system gone dry in which motion is accelerated beyond what we can bear. African healing wisdom looks at physical illness as a fire moving a person's energy beyond the limit of what he or she can bear. This suggests that we all need water, and need rituals of water, to stay balanced, oriented, and reconciled.
There are countless aspects of human experience that water rituals affect in a healing way. One of them, perhaps the most important, is the emotional self. Many people in the Western world walk around like time bombs, loaded with contradictory emotions that are often so hard to articulate that the individual is dangerous to himself and to his surroundings. Perhaps first among these emotions is grief. In this culture, the challenge of confronting overwhelming grief must be considered the most crucial task requiring the reconciling energy of water.
In indigenous Africa, one cannot conceive of a community that does not grieve. In my village, people cry every day. Until grief is restored in the West as the starting place where the modern man and woman might find peace, the culture will continue to abuse and ignore the power of water, and in turn will be fascinated with fire. Grief must be approached as a release of the tension created by separation and disconnection from someone or something that matters. The average Western person is grieving about being isolated. Western men in particular are grieving about the dead they didn't grieve properly because they were told that men don't cry. In my work, I hear this everywhere. Grief is not only expressed in tears, but also in anger, rage, frustration, and sadness. An angry person is a person on the road to tears, the softer version of grief. Sadness and the feeling of heaviness within are symptomatic of a deep well of grief in the psychic underground.
One must ask why tears, the softest expression of grief, are not as acceptable in the modern world as are anger and rage. I say this because to indigenous Africans emotions are sacred. To villagers, it looks as if the West is uncomfortable with tears because one cannot argue verbally, logically, against this kind of emotion. Villagers also believe that Westerners are afraid of emotion because they are afraid of loss of control. Emotions have the tendency to spread from person to person, and therefore social control, to the Western mind, is being risked with any display of emotion.
Many Westerners are beginning to see that there is also danger in remaining stuck with rage, anger and sadness; they are the directionless vehicles of a grief that remains hidden. When these emotions are not allowed a fluid catharsis, one is left in a state of incompleteness. The end of the domination of one's life by such emotions requires an outpouring of liquid. You cannot truly grieve within and remain composed without. Emotion is an extroverted phenomenon, and it cannot find its much-needed release if expressed only internally. Denied an outward expression, grief grows stronger and organizes itself like a hurricane that can rise up and sweep us away. I have heard many times people express their fear of grief because they feel that if they even begin to release it, they will be overcome, eventually drowning in their own tears. Indeed, this is how it feels, but this is not what actually happens.
In my village, emotion is ritualized because it is seen as a sacred thing. If addressed within a sacred space, the emotions of grief can provide powerful relief and healing. Any time the feeling of loss arises there is an energy that demands ritual in order to allow reconciliation and the return of peace. These are crises that water rituals can resolve. Water rituals help to shed the massive accumulation of negative emotion due to loss, failure, and powerlessness. Each one of these problems heightens our awareness of the challenges of life. Loss and powerlessness are particularly humbling because they disrupt continuity and reveal our humanity. One of the things all humans have in common is loss, be it the loss of loved ones or the loss of dreams, be it the loss of a job or a relationship. In all of these situations, water rituals are necessary.
In order to do a water ritual effectively, one needs a community. There are few personal water rituals, as the Dagara people don't comprehend the idea of private grief. Grief is a community problem because the person who is sick belongs to the entire community. Just as a wound on your leg cannot be approached as the leg's problem alone, but must be treated as a problem for the entire body, a person in a village who is sick with grief sickens the rest of the village.
(For examples of water rituals for healing, see pages 221-230 in Malidoma's book The Healing Wisdom of Africa).
The Healing Wisdom of Africa
Donations for The Dagara Cultural Youth Festival February 27-March 3, 2012
Because of his achievement, Malidoma has indisputably become the leader in the safeguarding and promotion of Dagara ancestral traditions. In the past, UNESCO, a division of the United Nations was co-sponsoring this government program. Suddenly in 2009, both UNESCO and the government dropped support and the Ministry of Culture told Dano that it was on its own. The High Commissioner of Dano, upon learning through the grapevine of what Malidoma had been doing in the West, asked him for help. This was the beginning of Malidoma's highly visible leadership role in his own country.
The Dagara Cultural Youth Festival is an attempt to interest youth in the values of the traditions of their ancestors so that they can preserve it in themselves amidst the sweeping changes of modernity. UNESCO had shown interest in it for reasons of its own and then dropped out when these interests dried up.
Again we need your help!
If you have ever been moved by the values of the Dagara culture in the West, this is a wonderful opportunity---and we believe---an invitation from the ancestors, to show the extent of our appreciation of the wisdom that is now endangered in its place of birth.
|Photo by David Sprague|
The goal is to raise $15K or more for this week-long event. Your tax-deductible contribution can be sent directly to Aviela Inc., c/o Robert Walker, P.O. 82, Cherry Plain, NY 12040. You can also go to our website and donate by PayPal.
Attn: IAST Graduates & Participants
Burkina Faso Trip, February 2012
Malidoma has scheduled a trip to his village in Dano and to the city of Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa from February 6 through March 2. This trip is focused on further studies of Dagara shamanic medicine, the culmination of our Indigenous African Spiritual Technologies, (IAST) two-year training sessions offered in the U.S. (and now Germany). Therefore, this trip targets graduates and participants of the two-year training program.
|Photo By Wendy Kaas|
The fee is $3,500 per person (not including airfare). For more information and details, write to
Upcoming Divination Sessions with Malidoma!
|Malidoma with Divination Cloth!---Photo taken by Ulli Bonnekamp|
Receiving a divination from Malidoma is a fascinating and powerful encounter with Spirit! He will be available in the following locations:
Lincoln, MA, September 28-October 1
Brooklyn, NY, October 3-4
Bad Bevensen, Germany, October 17-19
San Francisco, CA, October 27-28, 30
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, November 7-9
Ojai, CA, November 14-16
Negril, Jamaica, W.I. January 21-22
For more information and to sign up for any location (except Lincoln, MA, and Germany) call 407-574-5350, or write to
Vom Geist Afrikas
Wir freuen uns, lhnen ein zweijähriges Training mit fünf Terminen von jeweils 5 Tagen mit Malidoma Somé, PhD anbieten zu können.
Unser Zentrum liegt idyllisch in einer hügeligen Wald-Parklandschaft, die die heilende Kraft der Natur erleben lässt und sich sehr gut für die Arbeit mit den Elementen eignet wie sie. von Malidoma Somé angewendet wird.
We are lucky, to offer a two years training with 5 dates lasting 5 days each with Malidoma Somé PhD to all friends. Our Center is lying in the beautiful landscape of the Lüneburger Heide and it's a nice place to work with the elements as Malidoma does.
Erster Einführungs-Termin/First date Di/Th 11.10. 19h bis So/Su 16.10. 2011 12h
Divinationen am 17.10. und 18.10.2011 (extra registration necessary)
Kostenbeitrag/charge: 750 EUR je 5-Tages Kurs / for five day-course
Kostenbeitrag/charge: 260 US-Dollar für eine Divinationssitzung/for one divination
Caduceus Zentrum Karin Püscher-Findeisen
Niendorfer Weg 5
29549 Bad Bevensen
Tel.: 05821 477 129
Fax: 05821 477 130 email: email@example.com
IAST-1st Session Germany
for more info contact Karin Püscher-Findeisen here
or call 05821 477 129
Bad Bevensen, Germany
for more info & to sign up, email here
September 28-October 1
for more info & to schedule an appointment, click here
Brooklyn, NY (Park Slope Area)
for more info & to schedule an appointment, write to firstname.lastname@example.org Also for more specific location &
other information click here
Claiming Our Roots~Embracing New Growth:
2011 U.S. Systemic Constellations Conference
San Francisco, CA
for more info & registration click here
San Fransisco, CA
Westin Airport Hotel
October 27-28, 30
for more info write to email@example.com
Malidoma @ Boston University
Details will be forthcoming!
Grieving Our Losses & Realigning with Our Gifts & Purpose
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
An Evening Talk, Friday Nov. 4th & Grief Ritual Nov. 5-6
with Malidoma Somé & Leslie Fell
Talk: $25*, Ritual, $295* (*see contact for more specific info on fees)---for more info, fees & sign up, contact Isabelle King at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-400-1820
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
for more info write to email@example.com
for more info & registration click here
Malidoma @ Jackie's on the Reef
Negril, Jamaica, W.I.
Cost: $1,600 (does not include airfare)
for more info contact Jackie Lewis at 718-469-2785 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Malidoma will also be available for divinations at Jackie's on the Reef, Jan. 21-22. for more info: email@example.com
|"I do not think that we hot-blooded Creoles sorrow less for showing it so impetuously; but I do think that the sharp edge of our grief wears down sooner than theirs who preserve an outward demeanor of calmness, and nurse their woe secretly in their hearts."|
~Mary Seacole, 1805-1881~
Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, 1857