Part IV of the Shaman Series: Ojibwa Healing Ceremony

Initially the ceremony was supposed to be a sweat lodge. In the end it was at the shaman’s house. The sweat lodge was no longer an option, but I do not remember why. The shaman is part of the Ojibwa tribe in Wisconsin Rapids. I travelled to the ceremony from Chicago with Mona, my roommate at the time. We both were healing from break ups.  When we arrived we were introduced to everyone. As we settled in we were asked if we wanted to receive a healing.  I said yes.

The moment we arrived I immediately felt a power. It overwhelmed my entire being and dismantled layers of shields built up. We were told to assemble into a circle on the floor. There were about ten people present. Then, the shaman gave us instructions.


The shaman said, “This is a safe place, however you feel, we want you to feel here. Nobody will judge you.”


Immediately I began to cry. The shaman looked at me and said she would need to talk to me privately.  I completely lost composure sobbing. It was unnerving, she could see through me. The pain would no longer hide in groups of people, it was out for good now, for better or worse.

There were two men from the Ojibwa tribe present.  The shaman asked them to begin drumming. One of the Native men sitting next to me apologized to the group.  

“I am was not used to being in the same room with this many women and this is very powerful for me.”


His hand was shaking when he lifted his drum.


He said,

“The spirits spoke to me and told me that my duty in life was to show women their value.”


The drumming began.


As part of their culture, Native men  are not supposed to be in the same room as women when they are on their moon. That day there were women on their moon.  In general Ojibwa traditional ceremonies are separated by gender.  The shaman  mentioned later this was the first time her brother and another man from the tribe had joined.

After the drumming was played, the shaman explained the the peace pipe. Sage was lit and passed around.  I had tears rolling down my face, I had no idea I was even in this much pain still. I had no idea there was a place I could go to share my pain. There was a community of people that welcomed pain, acknowledged it, and blessed it. So often, in American culture, or rather my culture which is difficult for me to define, friends and family urge for you to move forward. To not feel the pain. To toughen up. Or rather, numb the pain. Here, pain was able to naturally came out. I did not feel judged.  

The shaman sang a song with the men on their drums. After they finished, the ceremony was explained.

There was an altar in the middle of the room we were sitting around. The altar consisted of a bear skin and a blanket. Pink and yellow roses were strewn on the border of the bear skin.

The shaman described how she became a healer. The people of her community had approached her. She had forgone a vision quest and spiritual training. She asked us to respect the space as well as this process of healing.  


The shaman’s brother said,

“We believe in these ceremonies for healing. Because you are here you have already done all of the work needed, this is just the space before the end of the period.”


I was then asked to go and talk to the shaman in private room. My best friend was also present that day, Melanie. She had known the shaman for years. The shaman’s brother was also asked to accompany us.

We went downstairs. I was still crying. The tears would not stop. We sat in a basement on couches. She looked at me said,

“I have talked to the spirits about you and they had said very good things. I have been waiting for you to come there and am so happy you are finally here.”

She then asked me what my situation was and what I wanted healing for. I began to describe what my pain was. Part of it was letting go of a man who had recently abruptly left me. In retrospect, the signs were there, I chose to ignore them. I explained the situation and my confusion. At that time my heart was still open and I did not know what to do to shut the door.

As I was explaining my story, I noticed that the shaman’s brother had the same style of tattoo on his hands as the man who had abandoned me. There were letters on his knuckles that spelled something all the way across his hands in black ink.

I explained to them that I was in a gray area because I had never experienced this kind of love and wasn’t sure about letting it go.  


The Ojibwa man said, “Sometimes love comes into our life to show us what it is like.”


I talked about how much I valued the people around me, how much love I share.


When I finished talking, he asked,


“What about your value, why can’t you see the value in yourself?”


The shaman then asked, “Have you ever tried killing yourself?” The spirits have told me you have. I admitted that I had thought about it after my abortion but never attempted to.

She said, “But you opened the door, once you open the door you need to ask for it to be shut, do you want to live? You have been reckless.”  

I said, “Yes, I want to live”

This was a very difficult moment, my friend Melanie was sitting to my right, tears rolling down her eyes.

She said, ” I had no idea how much you suffer, you are the strongest person I know, every time I see you you have a smile on your face and are happy.”

I responded, ” I am not always aware of my suffering either, but it is there.”

It was an important moment in our friendship, a reminder of how much we need each other and how much we love each other.  Something neither of us will take for granted.

The shaman then explained to me what would happen in the altar. She would close the door to this man, and to death.

She told me to make a prayer tie with twelve prayers on it, six for courage, six for letting go. Prayer ties are pouches of tobacco strung together. Tobacco is the best herb for communicating with the spirits. This explains the significance of the peace pipe.

I was told while I make my prayer tie that it was ok for me not to talk to anyone, that I could do what I wanted and be left alone.

This was significant for me, because I often feel like I have to please others. I was in a place where I needed to be accepted for who I am, and not trying to please others all of the time.

I was then finished with my talk and went to make my prayer tie. As I sat cutting pieces of teal and pink fabric, I started to think of  memories I had with this man. What we had created was beautiful.

Our introduction was an ethics conference where he was giving a talk. I approached him because I was curious about the professor with tattooed hands and his talk moved me. Other memories arose, the Puerto Rican baseball in Humboldt Park, watching the full moon together on the 606, dancing at the Revolution Brewery Oktoberfest. Now I can see these memories can still be beautiful and not painful. This is easy to see from a distance, but difficult up close.

I felt broken, the tears would not stop. I packed tiny bunches of tobacco pouches, tying them shut. I felt confusion in my heart, grasping to those memories. But I knew I wanted to shut the door.

I finished my tie and noticed  “Women Who Run With the Wolves” on the bookshelf. I had always wanted to read the entire book and had not gotten around to it.

I turned to a story about love archetypes. The story I read talked about the cycle of life death life, and how this is what love is. That the only thing you can trust in loving, is that in every end there is a new beginning. Those words helped me to make my choice of letting go. I needed the courage to do it.

The ceremony began after I had finished the story. We all sat in a circle. It started with songs and beating of drums to summon the spirits. I felt the atmosphere change into a charged energy, it was overpowering and humbled me but made me feel strong and safe.

The first women who went in the altar was trying to let go of a deceased person. Soon it was my turn to go to the altar.

I was nervous when I walked up, I do not like being the center of attention, especially when I am in pain.  She asked me before I entered what I was asking the spirits for, but then said, Letting go of this man,  I want to Live, and I want Courage.

She asked me if I was sure that I was ready to end a relationship with this man emotionally and physically and I said,



In the circle I laid down and closed my eyes as she and a masked woman performed on me all around my heart. While they were performing the men were singing and beating their drums. Their rhythm quickened and rose in volume to a climax, then slowed down towards the end.

While I was laying there the shaman said, “You must see this man in person and explain to him why you are letting him go.” I said ok.

My eyes were closed the entire time during my time in the altar When I opened them everybody was standing around me in a circle holding hands.

I stood up, the shaman asked me how I felt.

I was facing the window outside and could see trees. I said, “I feel like a spiritual leader and I love trees”.

The shaman laughed and said, “You are very wise and amazing. I want to hear you say you are amazing.”

It was difficult for me to do but I said, ” I am amazing.”

She said, “Now we will sing a song and I want you to go around and say thank you to everyone in the circle and give them a hug.”

I did as she said and went to sit down. I felt  something had broken off completely in me, and I felt stronger than I had felt in a very long time. My core had been given back to me.

I was in a daze and do not remember much other than at one point the shaman looked  at my roommate and abruptly said, “You must bury the pipe in your purse.”  

Mona and I both glanced at each other, it was odd because there was a pipe was in my purse. Nobody could have possibly seen it tucked away in there.

The day went on and we ate a feast then performed  ceremony on a women who had back pain. We then parted ways.

The shaman said our travels would be safe because the spirits were with us.  

On the way home back to Chicago I was confused because google maps was saying it was a three hour drive. Normally it would take five hours. Also, something that had not been working at all in my car before, immediately worked. The drive only took us three hours, there is no way to explain this.

In conclusion for the ceremony the shaman said the spirits are saying we did great and everything was done in a good way. One thing that that we did not do was ask to say our individual prayer before she closed the opening. So it was very important for us to take a little time to talk to the spirits and let them know what you need. This would be the conclusion of everything we did that day.

I decided to walk down to Lake Michigan and throw my prayer tie into the lake at the end of Navy Pier. It was pouring freezing rain, but I knew I had to do it. I walked down the nearly vacant pier. There was a song playing, Bittersweet Symphony. Fitting. Once I reached the end of the pier, I recited “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Longfellow and asked for courage and letting go.

I dropped my prayer tie into the lake. The colors of my pink and teal ties contrasted beautifully with the aqua blue color of the lake.

The waters of Lake Michigan were the best gift for the spirits I could think of.   Ever since I was a kid I confessed my dreams to those waters. Those dreams were manifested in my life by the cold waters of Lake Michigan. I know that there is something larger, that I can see and feel in the world around me guiding me.

This story was several years ago. I can say now, my pain is healed, but my journey to heal continued, it took time. I did face the man, many times after that. I regressed, but in the long run, progressed, taking the steps I needed. We all take the time we need in healing, there is no shame in this, only lessons to be learned. I gained the necessary tools I needed to handle things better in the future. 

It’s ok to admit that something was beautiful even though it did not last and caused you pain.

My friend and I did bury the pipe in our backyard in Chicago. It remains there until this day.

“The only thing you can trust is that every end has a new beginning.”






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