As I sat in one windowless room after another, I held my retreat sisters and our experiences in my heart while I listened to one presentation after another explaining how to create more sustainable practices by sparking social impact, engaging employees, assessing economic impact, enhancing leadership skills, implementing better technology, issuing more thorough reports, and shifting to more renewable energy sources. Throughout the weekend I came back to one question: Where was the natural world in this conversation?
As I prepare for upcoming events such as A Walk on the Wild Side: Answering the Call of the Wild, I felt called to revisit some of my experiences that contributed to the creation of the workshop series. This article was originally published in 2008 on my old website. The Revolution continues…
New Year’s Revolutions
or what happens when the spirit world decides it’s time for a change…
Every year I perform a Peruvian shamanic ceremony around New Year’s called an ayni despacho. Each year the number of attendees has grown; this year the despacho had become so popular that I had to add a third separate ceremony.
As I was preparing for the first of the three ceremonies, I received an email from a friend asking if I thought that the tiger that had died at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day had been taunted. Since I do not watch the news or listen to the radio I had no idea what he was talking about. A quick search on the internet revealed that Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, had somehow escaped from her enclosure, killing one person and mauling two others, and that she had subsequently been shot and killed by police.
I did not even have an opportunity to finish reading the article before I was suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of anger, fear, extreme frustration, and confusion—all coming from Tatiana—and all without my making any attempt to contact her. She shared that she had been under pressure for quite some time, and the strain had finally become too much. I experienced difficulty feeling sympathy for the humans who eventually did confess to taunting poor Tatiana. I felt sadness that our zoos continually fall short in truly educating children and adults about the wonder and beauty that can be found in a positive and respectful encounter with a wild animal, and anger that once again our society had failed miserably at understanding the needs of animals. I felt like raging myself—here was a captive animal subjected on a daily basis to the energies—good, bad, indifferent—of all the people that passed by her enclosure; an animal that depended completely on the care of zoo officials to keep her safe and healthy (and healthy does include emotional needs).
And the taunting is, unfortunately, not uncommon. I recall a time at the Philadelphia Zoo where I witnessed a group of male teenagers teasing a male silverback gorilla. The normally gentle gorilla got so riled up that he went into aggressive display mode, beating his chest and rushing the fence. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be for anyone to be subjected to that on a daily basis, unable to affect change, or at least be able to avoid the harassment?
On another occasion at the New Orleans Zoo I was standing in front of the enclosure of a mother jaguar and her cub. It was feeding time and the cub was eating quite close to the glass. Two eight year-old boys began tapping on the glass and making aggressive hand motions at him. Snarling, the mother jaguar rushed the children repeatedly, attempting to protect her cub from what she viewed as danger. The mother of the boys was standing right there, watching, and made no attempt to intervene. Amazingly she did not recognize the protective instinct in another mother, albeit of a different species. That inability to perceive the world through the eyes of another results in intolerance, and ultimately, a lack of true connection with anyone, human or animal.
With the sadness from my encounter with Tatiana’s spirit still weighing heavily on me, I began assembling the materials for the first despacho ceremony. A despacho is a ceremony of reciprocity and contains gifts to the spirit world as well as the prayers of the participants. For this ceremony it would be prayers of gratitude for all that they had received in 2007, and with gratitude in advance for what they would like to receive in 2008. The ceremony also helps clear energy blockages or hucha (Quechua for heavy energy) that might be standing the way of what one is desirous of manifesting. The entire ceremony is designed to bring one into a state of ayni (balance and harmony) with the natural world and with your life.
There are many elements that go into a despacho such as burnable offerings of fragrant incense, dried flowers, sweets, and alcohol. Since the despacho is a representation of the world that we wish to create, all of our connections to this earth, its inhabitants, and the universe are symbolically represented. One of those connections is to the animals that we share this world with, and is usually symbolized by an animal cracker, just like the kind that you ate as a child.
As I gather the items for the ceremony I usually get a sense of what the spirits would like included. This time I had some chocolate crackers that were baked in the form of animals native to our land such as cougar, bison, and eagle, rather than the usual exotic animal crackers contained in the red box decorated like a zoo cage. I was very excited to be able to use these crackers for the first time, they had been a recent find, and even better, their purchase helped to support wildlife in our national parks. When I asked Spirit which animal shape I should choose for the ceremony I was directed to pick out four, three more than I would normally include. I found that interesting, and thought no more of it until later.
The role of the officiating shamanic practitioner at a despacho is dual; one functions as the ceremonialist who creates the despacho and as teacher, educating and including the participants in the various stages of assembly. There is a general format or guidelines to the assemblage of the despacho—there are certain elements that go in at certain times although variation is possible due to Spirit guiding how much of something should be added. Sometimes that means that you do not use all of the items that you laid out for the ceremony.
For this particular ceremony there were two important variations that I had never seen before. When it came time, midway through the ceremony, to add the four animal crackers, I was instructed to place them at the four corners of the despacho. Usually it’s one cracker in the central area. The other variation was even more major, I was not allowed to include the alphabet noodles which symbolize clear communication through our words. I actually argued about that exclusion with Spirit, but Spirit was adamant, no alphabet noodles!
When a despacho is completed, it is wrapped, just like a gift, and tied with ribbon. It is then wrapped in a woven Peruvian cloth and each participant in the ceremony is then cleansed with the despacho by brushing them from head to toe with it. This removes the filaments of hucha that might be standing in the way of balance and harmony, thereby promoting healing.
I had finished cleansing each person and my animal companions, when one of the participants (another energy worker), suddenly blurted out that the spirit of Tatiana, the tiger that died at the SF Zoo was present and wanted to be cleansed with it.
A quick check of my shamanic training revealed that there was no precedent for the clearing of hucha from animals in spirit with a despacho. As a matter of fact, there was no precedent that I knew of for the clearing of hucha from animals, although I do it for my own animals since they work in the healing practice with my clients.
So, I turned to the lineage (think Ascended Masters from many different traditions) and asked, “What should I do?” I waited for an answer and got…nothing. It was as though they were holding their breath to see what I would decide—I had free choice. That moment of decision seemed to hang forever, my head did not want to “break the rules,” whatever they might be, but my heart was moved with compassion for the spirit of an animal that had lived and died tragically. Casting thoughts and fear aside I focused on my heart and the feelings of compassion, and taking a deep breath like one who is about to step off into the unknown, I said, “Yes, I will.”
Immediately, there was a surge of energy and the spirit of the tiger materialized in front of me. I could perceive her so clearly, her head came almost to my waist and her body angled to my right. She was breathtakingly close, and I exclaimed involuntarily, “That’s a really large tiger!” Grasping the despacho firmly and refusing to think about what I was doing, I began to cleanse her, sweeping from her head down toward her tail. With the first pass I could feel her spirit begin to dissolve, by the third pass she was gone. She had been able to cross over once the heavy energies of fear, pain and confusion had been cleared. Tears rushed to my eyes, and I felt a deep sense of awe and humbleness in the face of this unexpected request for assistance.
Later that evening, after the despacho had been burned to release the prayers and gifts, there was a discussion about zoos and zoo animals among the participants, and I cast my eyes upward in frustration. Out loud I implored Spirit to show me how I could gain access to zoo officials. For many years I have wanted to demonstrate some simple energetic techniques that could be used by zoo caretakers. Techniques that might prevent the anger and frustration that Tatiana experienced and that could ultimately result in longer, healthier, happier lives for the animals in their care (and probably the lives of their caregivers as well).
Be careful what you ask for! The following two despacho ceremonies did not have any surprise attendees, but the pattern of change continued in the ceremony itself. During the final ceremony I began to understand what was happening when I was instructed to place the four animal crackers in the four corners at the beginning of the ceremony, rather than in the middle. Symbolically it meant that they anchored the four corners of the world that we were creating. I was told by Spirit that without other species we were lost; with global warming (and Spirit specifically mentioned that phrase) it was a very real possibility. I was given to understand that Spirit did not want that to happen and I was being firmly guided in the direction Spirit wanted the ceremony to go.
It was further explained to me that no alphabet noodles were allowed in the despacho because humans place too great a reliance on what comes out of our heads in the form of written or spoken words. Where our species needed to be was firmly focused on our connection to this world, if it failed so would we. We needed to perceive this world from our hearts, not our heads, in order to change the course of events. And so, at the behest of the spirit world, when I thought I was participating in assisting people with their New Year’s resolutions, I was actually shamanically drafted into a New Year’s Revolution on behalf of Pachamama, Mother Earth.
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A WILD WAY TO HEAL
Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is an animal communicator, Reiki Master Teacher, shamanic energy healer, and author. Her classes, sessions and ceremonial work are inspired by wild and domestic animals who have issued a call to action for personal and global healing.
Her book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism features heartwarming stories about animals and their role in her evolution as an energy worker and shamanic healer.