This is a dream I had on December 26, 1996. It changed my life forever and I was told to share this story with as many people as possible.
Aliens had invaded the earth. They were so advanced beyond us that they had, in essence, conquered the planet without actually trying. We were afraid of them, yet we had to interact with them. I remember thinking, “They are our future. They will change our culture in such a way that we will become more and more like them.” In our efforts to communicate with them (I mean this literally—they could speak and understand English and likely many other earth languages), we discovered something important. Out of all the many achievements that human civilization had accomplished over the thousands of years of our existence, there were only two things that the aliens really valued and appreciated: storytelling and our ability to do ceremony. The aliens were great ritualists and their entire culture was based around ritual. They were especially drawn to North and South Native American rituals, because these were closest in spirit to their own. Overnight, everyone on the planet who knew anything about ritual—the people we had disposed, whose lands we had stolen, those we had tried to annihilate to steal their resources, those we had labeled “ignorant savages”—was suddenly taken very seriously and elevated to a level of great importance, and everyone was trying to learn how to do ritual.
Eighty of us sat down a large narrow rectangle, forty humans on the left side and forty aliens on the right. The aliens began singing together and I was filled with a wistful longing and a quiet excitement. I thought, “It may be true that they are taking over our planet and our culture, but our future will be a culture filled with ritual, and I long for that.” I saw a vision of the future in which ritual had healed our planet. There would be no more war, or rape, or racial hatred, or battering, or cruelty to children, or separation between people and nations, and I was filled with the deepest and most powerful sense of joy that I had ever experienced. I kept thinking, “We have been saved. The human race is not going to destroy itself. We were going to make it. We’ve been brought back from the brink of disaster.”
When I woke up from the dream, I remembered that words of Black Elk, what he had realized following the vision he received as a child. He said that a vision is not real until we take it out into the world and act upon it. I realized that I needed to begin creating healing rituals for the community of which I was a part. At the time I was reading a book by Gloria Naylor called Mama Day in which she described a Candlemas ceremony that took place yearly on February 2. Since I am of Irish ancestry, celebrating Candlemass seemed the right thing to do, so I invited about fifteen people to meet around a fire circle on the beach and asked them to bring white candles in a jar to protect them from the wind. I told them about my dream as the sun was going down, then lit my candle from the fire. Using my candle, I lit the candle of the person on my left with the ritual words, “Lead on with light.” Each person in the circle shared something with the group, then lit the candle of the person next to them, repeating the ritual phrase. I could see the spiritual hunger one each person’s face as they spoke of their hopes and dreams for peace and passed on the light to one another.
Years later when I was sitting in a Native American sweat lodge with Richard Sparrowhawk, then the spiritual leader of the Lakota, I shared this dream with the group. He looked very thoughtful, then said, “Yes, that confirms something for me.” But my most special memory is when I told this dream to my friend Bob Roberts, founder of the prison aftercare program Project Return. Bob, who had seen more pain, more grief, more transformation, and more hope and healing than most people see in twenty lifetimes, said, “It’s not just a dream. Ritual really can heal the world if we believe it is possible.”
To this day, I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that our “salvation” from our self-destruction is possible and that ritual can cure the world’s ills, can heal our hearts and our communities in ways we have yet to imagine.
There will be more about ritual in this blog.