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Sacred Objects: who holds the power?

Sacred Objects: who holds the power?byAdele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

Picture this: A row of attached homes, and like a ribbon being blown in the wind, they dip and wave on the crested hills of a seaside town in the UK. The neighborhood has a lovely, soft, comfortable feel to it. You watch kids riding their bikes, dogs being walked and people returning from the market.

I am invited to a home on this street. As the door is unlocked, and I am ushered inside, I find myself walking with my mouth open and my eyes wildly trying to take in everything that is before me. I am on visual overload.

Inside the house, there are three floors filled with sacred objects including drums, rattles, pieces of wood, stones, feathers, wall hangings, art work, candles, tree branches, statues, animal likenesses, beads, furs, fetishes and kachinas. Every wall, every table top and every shelf is artfully arranged with an assortment of these objects that are special and meaningful to my hostess, a healing arts and shamanic practitioner

As is my way, I talk to everything as I make my rounds around the rooms and absorb the sheer volume of my friend’s collection. And, conversely, I like listening to the stories of how my friend was gifted a tiger head or led to a painting. Everything has a story and a history; everything has been a part of her personal journey. My shaman hostess has travelled widely and studied broadly. Her rooms hold a cross-cultural mix of totems from indigenous healers and spiritual teachers, gifts and Spirit-inspired purchases.

The house does not feel cluttered; admittedly, it feels full, very full. It also feels alive and animated; it seems to hum and thrum with a life all of its own. Each one of these items, from the smallest rock to the rug of a leopard hand-woven by Tibetan nuns, has an energy, and the combined effect is palpable.

The most amazing room in the house is her designated sacred space. It is beautifully filled with her treasures, and, as to be expected, there are a few items that really grabbed my attention. There are three towers, like the three wise men, who stand at the windows and oversee the room. These wise men are, in fact, upright crystals. They are huge, heavy (a good 1200 lb.), halves of natural formations with smooth rock exteriors. They have hollowed-out interiors of jagged topographies that twinkle in their multi-faceted, crystalline structure. There is a pair of citrines that measures about four feet in height that book-end an amethyst tower that stands over six feet tall. They are quite something and their massiveness, like longstanding trees in a grove, bespeaks a quiet, powerful presence.

A fun aside: Apparently, getting the wise men into this upstairs room was a bit of a challenge. The more senior and elder of the movers claimed he could get these babies into place. He loaded them onto a hand-truck, one by one; they were wrapped and looked a bit like ET’s being dragged into the house. The neighbors stopped on the street to watch this production. The mover hoisted the first one step by step. À la the Incredible Hulk, in his exertion, the seams of his trousers split. The mover completed his endeavors in his underwear. The neighbors got a good show for their viewing.

Needless to say, I enjoyed seeing all of this good stuff and hearing the tales, but I am full of some consternation. I have been to trainings and conferences where there are special, supposedly sacred tools for sale. People can go wild in their zeal to purchase something that they feel is full of potent energy and divine connection. They want to know which item is right for them; they can become fearful of making a bad choice. They ask, “Is this right for me?” They doubt themselves, and that doubt seems antithetical to finding a personal sacred tool.

We all seem to be searching for own version of the Holy Grail. But here is what concerns me: are we not giving away our power to an object? It sometimes seems as if the recipients and purchasers of these wonderful, ritual goodies have given their power to the object, and in that process, devalued themselves and their abilities.

Do we not enhance the power of the object as opposed to the object giving us power? In other words, are these special, sacred objects our tools of empowerment or have they become tools of disempowerment?

This makes me wonder.

I know where healers have passed along a stone in which they have imbued with their personal juju, and the recipients report great calm, decreased pain and, even, heated hands when they hold their special stone. These personal stones bring them healing relief. How can I argue with their experience? And, really, why would I want to anyway?

Last night, while visiting this house of treasures, I had my own personal experience. I am more of the power-of-the-person school of thought; the gods decided, once again, to stretch me and my beliefs.

I had the opportunity to see and hold antique Tibetan shamanic pieces which have been passed down through the generations. Many were blackened by fire and still held the faint scent of wood smoke. I held phorbas, dagger-like, Tibetan ritual objects of metal or wood, carved with power symbols. These pieces reverberated in my hands; there were different levels of pulse and reverberation. I tapped drums; I wore a carved wooden mask and ritual jewelry of snake vertebrae. I wore a one-of-a-kind necklace that held tusks, cobra fangs, hammered metal and the like. This necklace, once unwrapped and in sight, so unnerved another healer that she dashed from the room and had to leave the premises.

Clearly, there was something to be said: these items held tangible energy that rolled and waved in my hand, on my chest and around my being. I felt their energetic presence physically. There was no argument from me: these objects held potent juice.

I know people who believe that their object, their sacred tool, is, indeed, a magic wand; to them, the object holds the power, not the user.

I disagree. And as with most things, I do not believe that this is an “either/or” conversation. I think it is “and and.”

Everything is energy, and energy can be discernible. I believe that which we make sacred and use in that manner holds a special kind of reverent, grace-filled energy. I think those Tibetan objects are a good example of that kind of sacred tool.

However, if we perceive the object as holding all the power, where then do we stand? Haven’t we taken ourselves out of the equation? Haven’t we forgotten that the tool cannot be animated without our intention, energy and use?

There is an old saying, “water finds its own level.” I think the same holds true for personal power; if you haven’t journeyed to the next level, that door, and in this case that object, will not be made available to you.

See, it is all rather hand in hand.

About the author:
Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today’s Fast-Paced Whirl and a contributing author to the best-selling anthology, 2012: Creating Your Own Shift. You can learn more about Adele and her thinking


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