In this episode, Kelle and guest Kathy Scheiern discuss rituals. Rituals are markers of change (e.g., birth, marriage, coming of age, graduation); often marking achievement. Transformational ritual, however, is putting your insides on the outside and working with them. Transformational ritualists provide opportunities to shift your identity through a series of experiential processes using a ritual structure that elicits transformation or growth/change for the people who participate.
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–Written by: Kelle Sparta
–Performed by: Kelle Sparta and Daniel Singer
–Produced by: Daniel Singer
Kelle Sparta, The Spirit Doctor, Spirit Sherpa, Spirit, Spiritual Life, Manifestation, Magick, Realms, Shaman, Shamanism, Wicca, Paganism, Life Transformation, Personal Journey, Personal Growth, Ritual
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What Is Ritual And Why Is It So Effective For Making Personal Change? With Kathy Scheiern
Kelle, how’s it going?
It’s going well. I made my move to Virginia, and life is happy go.
You’re in Virginia, and this is important for the audience to know because this is a little bit different feel for the recordings than we’ve done in the past.
You’re in Massachusetts and I’m in Virginia. We have a guest in this episode from Michigan too.
We do have a guest. We are covering the globe as it were but not really the globe, just for humans.
We’re going to have to work on your global concepts.
I’m trying to make it feel bigger than it is.
We’ll work on that.
Let’s invite the guest in and welcome Kathy Scheiern here with us. You’ve talked about Kathy a number of times and we’re going to let you tell that story. First, let’s introduce Kathy. Kathy is part of your Shamanic Training Program. Kathy, you’ve been practicing ritual and transformational dynamics for several years, is that right?
Yes, and counting.
You did your PhD dissertation on ritual.
Yes. The title of the dissertation was Transformational Dynamics: The Study of Change in Human Systems. Basically, I was looking at what helped people make real changes in their lives and ritual was a key component of that process. I did an extensive study of rituals as part of my dissertation.
That’s pretty cool. Can people read that? Is it online?
In studying change, what happens is my dissertation committee gets freaked out because reading it was causing change to happen in their lives. My committee kept quitting, so I had a new committee. I think I was on the third committee before I finally get graduated. Nobody was stopping me from writing what turned out to be three dissertations in one.
It is available. It can be downloaded as a PDF but it’s 640 pages. It’s not something most people want to wade through. I’m in the process of turning the key components into a book. I hope to have that out sometime in 2023 or so so that people don’t have to wait through all the academic-speak and 640 pages to get the real essence of what the research was all about.
That’s fantastic. People will be pretty excited to hear about that when it comes out. Kelle, why don’t you tell us a story about how the two of you met?
It’s a funny story. I was on a walkabout and I met Kathy on her front stoop. I have to start a little further back in order to explain how I got there, which is I was at Brushwood in Upstate New York. I ran into a woman in the bathroom and offered to braid her hair. We ended up talking and I told her I was on a walkabout.
She said, “You need to go to this event called Spiral in Atlanta.” I said, “Sure. That sounds awesome.” I went, “Do they have a work-study or something because I am on a walkabout. I’m living on $350 a month and the kindness of strangers. I’ve got enough money to pay for gas to get there but I don’t have any money left after that.” She said, “It’s interesting because I was supposed to go and I set aside money to go, and now I can’t. If you go, I will give you the money to go.” I said, “That would be fantastic.” I had to follow her from Brushwood, New York down to her house in Lexington, Kentucky, which is right over the border from where Kathy used to live in Cincinnati.
It turns out that she and this woman’s boyfriend were carpooling to Atlanta. I was caravanning with them. I stayed with them and then showed up on Kathy’s doorstep to pick her up, and that’s where we met. We ended up rooming together at Spiral. By the time the end of that event happened, we were looking at each other going, “We’re going to be working together. We don’t know when it is, but we’re going to be working together.” We did an event in 2007. We did a retreat then we started working together more regularly. Was it 2012 or 2013, Kathy?
It was 2013.
We’ve been working together pretty consistently for years, but we’ve been friends the whole time.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Let’s get into the content that we want to talk about for the audience. It’s probably not a big surprise to anyone but we’re going to talk about rituals.
Kathy, you jump in whenever you feel like it. Let’s say there are different kinds of rituals. Let’s start there. There are rituals that are markers of things that are changing, like marriage, death, and birth. Those are the things that we think of. There are coming-of-age rituals, which in Jewish culture, you have the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah, but a lot of us in the US don’t have a lot of ways in which we identify when we go from being a child to being an adult.
We use ritual to say, “Yes, you have achieved this.” Graduation from high school and college are all rituals that we are all used to. Now, when we talk about transformational ritual, that’s when we step into a different boat. When you get into transformational ritual, you’re looking more at how do you take your insides bring them into the outside world and interact with them. That’s what we’re trying to do as ritualists in a transformational ritual environment. It is to provide you with a chance to shift your identity through a series of experiential processes.
I want to add that there’s another use of the word ritual, which people may be familiar with. It is not in the context of what we’re talking about. That’s where people talk about, “My morning ritual.” I get up. I have my cup of coffee. I brush my teeth. Whatever is the morning process. Ritual is a word that has been used to indicate a pattern of something occurring in a certain order. The kinds of rituals you mentioned, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, are standardized processes where rituals to create that transformational space has been standardized.
Ritual For Personal Change: When you get into transformational ritual, you’re looking more at how you take your insides, bring them to the outside world, and interact with them.
It starts out as a standardized process, and then they get created to do certain things that then get repeated over and over again. The transformational ritual component that we do is we’re literally creating rituals using basic structures. Creating rituals to elicit a certain type of transformation, growth, or change for the people who participate. It’s like the customized creation of transformation using a ritual process.
When Kathy and I do it specifically, even if we’ve run this particular ritual before, we will tap into every single person who’s registered for that ritual into their energy field. We test each of the points of transformation within that ritual we have designed and make sure that it will work for every single person who comes through the process. If it doesn’t, then we will substitute a different piece for that part of the ritual that didn’t work for that person’s energy. It is entirely customized even when we have something we’ve done in the past. It’s a very personalized process.
Do you have an example for the folks who might not have gone through this before and have a feel for what it means beyond like what you said before, Kathy, their “the morning ritual” or something like that? Do you have an example of something that the two of you do with regard to rituals that will give people some perspective?
I have an example of a ritual that I can describe for you. It’s not one that I ran with Kathy. I’m not going to give you one that Kathy and I have done together because one of the biggest elements of doing this ritual is not knowing what’s coming. If you know what’s coming, then your resistance can kick in. I’m not going to describe one of our events because that destroys part of the efficacy of it. I will tell you about an event that I ran.
When I went on walkabout, I met someone who then subsequently went on his own walkabout and came up to Massachusetts, where I was living at that time. All my friends were saying, “Can you tell us what it’s like to be on Walkabout?” I said, “No, but I can give you an experience of what it’s like to be on walkabout.” They said, “That’d be great.” He and I and another woman that I worked with put together a ritual so that they would be able to experience what it was like to be on walkabout.
We began them in a living room and set a bunch of rocks in front of them, and said, “Pick a rock that works for you and then take all of your hopes and dreams for the future and imbue them in the rock. When you feel like you’ve gotten everything imbued, then come down the stairs and knock on the door at the bottom of the stairs.” They did that one by one, and they were instructed not to be next to the door when the person was going through.
They would come downstairs and knock on the door. The woman would answer the door and she would give them a challenging question which is, “When you step out into a walkabout, you are stepping out in faith. You are surrendering to the universe and trusting that the universe is going to give you not necessarily what you want but what you need. I’ll take that rock now.” For some people, this was like a meltdown moment because, “What do you mean I have to give up my rock? These are the things that I want.” All the control factors kicked in. For other people, they went, “That makes sense,” and they handed it over. It’s no big deal.
This is how it becomes personalized. It is because everybody has their own response to these experiences. She would hand them over to me and I would say, “When you step out in faith, you don’t get to see the path ahead of you. You have to take each step and trust that I will not let you fall.” I put a blindfold on them and we went out on a trust walk. I took them outside the yard. I had them walk across Rocky Ground where I would hold them very strongly to make sure they didn’t fall. I took them across a very smooth grassy ground and led them by a single fingertip.
I had them interact with a rock and sit still for a minute. I took them out into a wooded area, left them there, walked away for 30 seconds, then called to them and had them come to me to the sound of my voice. I said, “You have learned how to follow. Now, it’s time to learn how to lead and trust that I will not let you fall,” and then they would lead. For many of the people, it was walking around. One person turned around and started dancing with me. It was a matter of the person as to how they did that.
I brought them back to the stairs to bring them up to the deck to come back into another part of the living room for the end. There’s always an insert miracle here portion that we don’t plan but the universe provides. What I discovered as the people debriefed at the end was that when I led them up the stairs, I was walking backward, and I had their hands-on top of mine so that they would feel where I was going. For the first few steps, as I walked backward, they thought I was levitating.
That was cool, and they hit the stairs and realized what was going on. I led them backwards up the stairs and placed them in front of the guy who was in town on his own walkabout. He pulled the mask off, handed it to me, and I went back to start over, but he looked at them. Now they’ve been in the dark for 5 to 7 minutes at this point, and it’s bright light outside. It takes them a minute for their eyes to adjust. They realize that it’s not me standing in front of them. They’re questioning where did the transition take place? His message was, “The universe has many faces and messages come from many places. I invite you to come in, have a seat, and contemplate in silence your experience.”
We went through that whole process. We took twelve people through the process. In the end, you debrief and you talk about it. That’s where people get to see what their response was to the exact same series of events that someone else had another response to, which is educational. One of the guys had been complaining for months that the universe was not talking to him. He was very frustrated that he was not getting messages. He felt like he’d been abandoned and all this stuff.
He was the only person in the group where I dropped them in the woods and had them come to the sound of my voice. I literally screamed his name and he did not hear me. I had to go and get him. When I am standing in that space and representing the universe, you will have the interaction with me that you have with the universe. He wasn’t hard of hearing in any way, and I didn’t walk any further away from him than I did from everybody else. To everybody else, I said, “Come over here.” I was very soft, but with him, he didn’t hear me.
It’s a question there of whether the universe is not talking to you or you are not listening.
That was his a-ha from that experience. This is the thing that you get from these sorts of experiences as you get to have the experience itself. If you were imagining as I was walking you through that process, how you would have felt. You’re getting a sense of what it’s like to have been in it. The debrief process of seeing how different people had different experiences is informational as well because that shows you where your stories kicked in versus the experience you could have had.
You’ve mentioned the debrief process a couple of times, and it seems to be important. Is that sharing of the experience, especially if you’ve done the ritual with a group? Is it important for your own recognition of what happened as well?
We have found it to be, yes. I didn’t start out getting the PhD in Ritual. I started out learning from a shaman, co-creating rituals, then building a ritual group, doing regular rituals, holding transformational intensive events, and all that. The PhD came afterward when I wanted to have some research on, “We have all this experiential process that we have through experience learned that worked. What does the literature say about that? What does the research say about that?” That’s how I backed into the PhD.
One of the things that we found that were important was the debriefing at the end of the process. Usually, not immediately, if you’ll notice in the ritual that Kelle described. They were to sit and contemplate their experience. There was some time for them to experience it, integrate it, and think it through before they then sat down and shared their experience. The sharing of the experience deepens and enriches the experience for all of them. It helps them anchor into themselves and integrate more fully their own experience.
Ritual For Personal Change: One of the biggest elements of doing a ritual is not knowing what’s coming. Because if you know what’s coming, then your resistance can kick in.
It deepens the experience for everyone when they hear the different types of experiences, nuances, and ways in which people respond. I’m not going to describe the ritual. It’s too long to go into that, and I won’t do that. It was a counterintuitive ritual. By that, I mean that the ritualist was there to get in your way, but people weren’t told that. The successful completion of the ritual was to tell the ritual to get out of the way and do what you were told you were there to do, but that isn’t the way rituals usually work.
It’s a very counterintuitive process. When we were doing the debrief afterward, people were talking about that a-ha moment that they had when they understood that they could move forward, didn’t need anybody else’s approval, blessing, or whatever, and could move past these people that were getting in their way. It was a powerful moment for them. This one guy sat there and listened to it all. He said, “I get it now. I thought you all were bad ritualists.” For him, his a-ha moment came in the debrief.
Sometimes you also need to be witnessed. If you had a powerful experience, you don’t share that with others and have it witnessed, it’s easy to talk yourself out of the belief that it had happened at all. Being witnessed is an important element for some people and in some instances of transformation.
Also confirmed because you may think, “I’m the only crazy person that happened to,” and as you listened to the debrief and other people say, “This happened to me,” and somebody else said, “That happened to me too.” You can sit there and know, “I’m not alone. This is a shared experience. Other people experience it the same way I do.”
Sometimes it’s like, “I’m special because I had a different experience than everybody else.” It could be that as well. I have many times in the course of going through other people’s rituals had experiences that were not on the scheduled docket.
Are there standard components of rituals that you put in place, or are they truly, as you mentioned before, customized for the audience?
The answer to that is yes. There is a basic framework that all-powerful ritual incorporates. Any piece of the framework that’s missing tends to undermine somewhat the efficacy of the ritual. There is the content or the intention that you place within that framework. The framework is pretty universal. That was one of the things that came out of my dissertation research. The content then is your own. What’s your intention? Who are the people that are coming to your event like Kelle mentioned before? What type of experience are you looking for them to have?
When you take those intentions and that content and design within the framework, you end up with a very powerful transformational experience, but you need both. I’m going to give you a different example for that one. I went to an event that was supposed to be about helping women of all ages feel more beautiful about themselves and their bodies. This was not by somebody who was trying to do a ritual. This was somebody who did a Hollywood type of remake to help people feel good about themselves. Women in particular.
At that point, I knew what the model was. She did a fabulous job of bringing everybody into the space and the right kinds of experiences and content. I’m thinking, “I’m in the middle of a transformational ritual. This is awesome.” She dropped the back part, the closing, the end piece that was so critical to making sure that the whole experience was taken in and able to be integrated. I knew what had happened because I was aware of the model. She didn’t because she didn’t realize that she was in the middle of the model.
All the participants felt abandoned, unsettled, and unhappy. It’s like, “This was so good.” They didn’t understand why they didn’t feel good at the end. I did. I could fix it for myself but I was a participant, so it wasn’t my job to fix it for anybody else. If you understand what the framework is, you can choose to be in it and use it effectively or you can choose not to be in it and keep things at a more surface level, which can be very wonderful but doesn’t leave people discomforted at the end of the process.
I want to say one more thing about the process of designing it because there are a couple of pieces that people don’t necessarily look at if they’re new to designing rituals. One of those is what is the metaphor that you’re going to use. I’ll come back to that because it is dependent upon what are the steps that you have to take in order to get from where people are to where you want them to go and how those steps operate. When you know what the steps are, then you can choose an appropriate metaphor to go along with them. When I was looking at the walkabout ritual, what is walkabout?
Walkabout is a leap of faith. It is a stepping out into the world and allowing the universe to bring you where you’re going to go. It’s a surrender process. When I’m surrendering, what does that mean? How can I physically represent the act of surrender or trust walk? A blindfold of trust walk is a great way to physically represent the act of surrender, and the giving up of your control over the process is a great way to represent the act of surrender. You’re choosing a metaphor to go along with it. That’s a very broad stroke. The metaphor you choose, the paths you take, and everything else is very specific to each individual scenario, but that’s the general construct 500-foot view of how you would think about it.
You have to look at how it flows. I helped a man who was designing a ritual for burning man. They figured about 150 people would attend. He had a good metaphor and steps, but he had a choke point in the middle where people had to go through something one by one. For the person in the experience at that moment, it was great, but for the 149 people that hadn’t been through it yet, they were standing there going thumb-twiddling.
For the last guy through, his experience would have been a lot of waiting. His experience and 149 people on the other side would be going, “What’s next?” We had to undo his choke point to shift how that particular experience happened to allow 150 people to flow through it in an easier way. The energy of the process didn’t get stuck and the flow continued, and people didn’t get bored or check out.
How you design for a group of 12 is very different than how you design for a group of 150.
When you’re doing that ritual planning, there’s also the element of logistical considerations that needs to go into that structure as well.
That includes physical environment. If you’re going to be indoors or outdoors or if you’re going to be in a nice space or a space that could be boggy, wet, and marshy. We worked with another woman who was putting together a program for women who were stepping into their priestess selves. She had a physical location that was walking across a bridge. We had to work with the archetypical constructs that go with crossing a bridge because that’s a transformational point when you cross a bridge.
There’s the symbology that exists within our cultural construct that says a bridge is a marriage between two places. It is a transition from one place to another. It is a crossing point. It is in sometimes a danger point. We had to take into account the physical environment in which she was going to be structuring it. We made sure that that was in alignment with the piece of the ritual that she wanted to do there.
Ritual For Personal Change: If you had a really powerful experience and don’t share it with others and have it witnessed, it’s easy to talk yourself out of the belief that it had happened at all.
A properly constructed framework with powerful content, anchored metaphor and the logistical piece of it generates profound transformational experiences for people. It almost makes me inarticulate because people have said so many powerful things about lives changing in huge ways from these kinds of experiences. If anything I want to emphasize that when this is done right, it’s an incredible tool for powerful transformation.
There’s an added benefit when you’re stepping into a ritual space, especially if it’s within a retreat environment. It’s amplified in that space, and that is that you’re stepping out of everyday roles and the expectations that are placed upon you as a person in your everyday life. When you can separate from those things, you free yourself to make transition and transformation at a much deeper level.
When it’s done within this environment, you can, at your choice, take a shallow dive, a medium dive, or a deep dive and make transformation that I, honestly, feel cannot be made in other environments in the same space of time. You have all these other things energetically holding you in place. It’s one of the saddest things to me that our culture doesn’t have a reference point for it because when I try to explain to people what it is that we do within this retreat transformation environment, people don’t have a point of reference. They don’t understand how amazingly powerful this work is.
When we talk about the ritual like we have here, it’s very clear that it’s incredibly important for the transformational journey that we’re all going through. As we’re talking to the bright and shinny’s here, it seems to me that this isn’t something that intention is enough. We’ve talked about that, Kelle, how many times throughout the course of the show, it’s the intention, but this has a structure around it that allows it to be effective in a way that you need to be trained for. This isn’t something you can want to do and go out and do. It does help to have some specialized training here.
Yes, that is very true. I have been to any number of poorly designed rituals. You know it when you go through it because it leaves you flat. It does require a level of training and knowledge. When we train rich lists, we require that they go through our process of getting rid of or a lot of their personal issues enough so that they don’t get triggered to a state where they have to respond at the moment so that they can be safe containers for other people.
When people are walking through transformational space, you have to expect that their stuff is going to come out. That’s what we’re there for. We’re there to bring their stuff out. If you, as the ritualist, have not done your own work. You cannot hold safe space for someone else and then and only then will we begin to teach them the process of how to walk other people through these sorts of experiences. We don’t want people misusing the knowledge. It’s like we’re handing you a nuclear power plant. I’m not going to let you walk in and start flipping switches before you’ve studied how nuclear power works and know how not to blow yourself up and everyone around you.
It’s that level of knowledge that we work with. It is literally a 3-year process to learn to be a ritualist and a 4-year process to learn how to do the designing of the ritual and become a transformational Sharman yourself. It’s not for the faint of heart, but when you’re done, you know with absolute integrity and authority that you are safe and solid and that you will provide amazing experiences for other people.
It goes to what we’ve talked about all along here, which is creating safe spaces. It sounds like, as ritualists, you will become not only the creators of that safe space but the safe space itself. That is all that we have time for this episode. Is there anything that either of you wants to say as the last word?
If you haven’t tried ritual, try it. Get out there and have some experiences. Get a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t. I think Kelle said it earlier, which is that it’s sad that people don’t have a context for what it is a lot of the time that we’re trying to explain to them about what it is that we do. Getting some experience will start to provide that context.
If you don’t like it with one person, go to somebody else’s because there are a lot of different ranges of experience and skill levels. Just because somebody knows the structure of a particular type of ritual doesn’t mean they’re doing the energetics of it. If you don’t like it with one person, try somebody else. Don’t say, “I don’t like rituals.”
That is the way of the world. Folks, be sure to join us next episode as Kelle adds another chapter into your beginner’s guide to energy magic in the spirit world.
About Kathy Scheiern
Coach and Consultant with substantial experience in developing and successfully implementing both personal and business change efforts. Skilled in creating customized, multi-faceted solutions to real life issues. Interested in working with those who have mastered the basics and are looking for ways to move to the next level.
Specialties: Strong balance of analytical skills (C.P.A.) and creative solution development skills (Certified Values Assessment and Cultural Transformation Consultant, Certified Systemic Constellation Work Facilitator, PhD in Transformational Dynamics).
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