The Medicine Bag: Shamanic Rituals & Ceremonies for Personal Transformation
“would make a lovely gift for a friend who is interested in learning more about personal change, who is exploring recovery from physical or mental illness, or who enjoyed and wants to learn more about the tradition that gave rise to The Four Agreements.”
Is it time for you to wake up and change your life? Toltec shaman and healer, don Jose Ruiz, suggests that it is time, and lays out rituals designed to help the spiritual seeker “wake up” to the power each of us has to be creative, loving forces in our own lives. The Medicine Bag: Shamanic Rituals and Ceremonies for Personal Transformation is an entry level guide to ritual creation and a beginning to form a habit of seeing the sacred in the world around us.
The Toltec worldview emphasizes personal healing and the cultivation of love as a means of changing the world around us. While the author does at times mention other traditions to paint a broader picture, he is faithful to his own.
According to Ruiz’s perspective, each of us is lost in a dream. When we recognize that we are living in a dream, we can begin to see ways to remove the negativity we infuse into our lives. Those familiar with Hindu or Australian Aboriginal concepts will find similar echoes in the Toltec tradition. As we wake up and begin to heal, we see how we self-harm with our negative internal dialogue. Ruiz believes that through ritual, we can bring more love into our lives.
The essential human problem, according to Ruiz, is that we are “addicted” to suffering. We are caught in ruts of experience that bring our fears and worries to the fore. We ruminate on potential catastrophe. Ceremony and ritual provide opportunities to change our life’s journey by providing signs, symbols, and practices that point us in new directions.
Ruiz uses the metaphor of the medicine bag to explain how a person can use ritual to move from suffering to love. A medicine bag is a small pouch that holds symbols that help the holder remember to move forward on their spiritual journey. As people stuck in our suffering, we can benefit from reminders to replace our painful patterns with actions that lead us toward growth.
There are two main tools Ruiz suggests that the reader use: a medicine bag and altar.
Beyond that, Ruiz lays out a host of other ideas for creating ritual and ceremony. Though these are based on Toltec practices, the author is clear that they can and should be revised to be personally meaningful and appropriate for the user.
There are no limits on how ritual might be created. The focus for Ruiz is on personal need, authenticity, and doing what elicits love for one’s self and others.
Ruiz reiterates throughout the book that we are powerful, creative beings. We find our creativity in artistic expression. We need not be professional artists. We are all creative.
Art in all forms can be a springboard for inspiration and growth. As we create with our hands, bodies, or voices, we break free from what we have been told: that we can’t or shouldn’t express ourselves creatively or that we can’t be different than who we have always been.
To Ruiz, the idea that we cannot change is the greatest lie we hold.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book is on the use of sound. Sound—singing, chanting, playing music—is an integral part of almost all cultural traditions and can take rituals or ceremonies to higher levels of meaning. Sound allows us to become more embodied and may take us to spiritual heights where we find new insight.
The Medicine Bag is a good book, but recognize it as a beginner’s guide to ritual. Those with substantial experience creating their own rituals and ceremonies will likely be disappointed in this book.
Additionally, the book’s focus on the Toltec way smacks of an invitation for cultural appropriation by the reader. Ruiz seems unbothered by this, addressing the issue by encouraging readers to bring in whatever feels good and right to them. He teaches from his tradition, inviting the reader to incorporate their own.
The book will appeal to readers who resonated with The Four Agreements (written by don Jose Ruiz’s father, Miguel). However, this book goes beyond general principles, describing how to use Toltec rituals and ceremonies. It is an interactive guide for ritual and ceremony creation.
The Medicine Bag: Shamanic Rituals and Ceremonies for Personal Transformation would make a lovely gift for a friend who is interested in learning more about personal change, who is exploring recovery from physical or mental illness, or who enjoyed and wants to learn more about the tradition that gave rise to The Four Agreements.