Plants and Ceremony for Animals

Saying good-bye to an animal friend is one of the saddest moments I have experienced. The hardest part is helping them transition. “Sometimes they need us to help them move on,” a friend said to me after she had to make the decision to take her husband off life support. This past July, we had to suddenly say good-bye to our beloved dog, Oscar. I was so grateful I had some plant medicine to help him through his transition.

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Plants and ceremony have been instrumental in my life in many ways. One of which is helping me say good-bye to an animal friend. I also find them helpful throughout my mourning process. Below is the story of how I discovered using plants to create a ceremony for animals along with suggestions on using plants to create your own ceremony.

The Story:

One fall, my 28-year-old Morgan horse, Pete, became very sick. He was in a great deal of pain, very weak and not able to stand. We tried for 24 hours to help him get through this strange illness. I spent the night in Pete’s stall talking and singing to him. He quietly laid there listening and sighing every now and then. As the sun started to rise and light illuminated his stall, I whispered to him, “Hey Pete, the sun is rising. It’s going to be a beautiful day. How about you getting up too?” Pete just stared at me with a beautiful calmness, and in my heart I knew he was ready to go. My husband John also noticed how peaceful Pete was and said, “That is the quietest I have seen him in the past 24 hours.”

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The vet arrived and began explaining the invasive technique she was going to perform to get Pete up on all fours and into a harness. Holding back the tears, I said, “But look how quiet and peaceful he is.” She then gently said to me, “You only have one other option.” John and I knew intuitively that Pete’s tranquility signaled that he was ready to go, even though we were not ready to say goodbye. Thinking back to my recent trip to Belize, where I had learned about spiritual and healing ceremonies with plants, I realized we needed our own ceremony or ritual to aid Pete and ourselves in his passing.

After telling my vet that we needed some time to say good-bye, I went to my garden and found some plants that were still growing. One of them happened to be rosemary, a symbol of regeneration, which the Greeks and Romans believed gave comfort to the living and peace to the dead. I then selected some essential oils, and my copal resin for smudging. For our goodbye ceremony, I infused a bowl of water with rosemary, hay, and essential oils of rose, myrrh and frankincense for a spiritual bath. I braided rosemary into his mane and tail and then burned the copal resin in his stall while we were saying our goodbyes. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment that I believe greatly eased Pete. This experience convinced me that ceremony and ritual have the potential to help all animals. After all, our animals are a blessing in our lives and it only makes sense to honor them in this way.

Ceremony:

Although my first ceremony was to aid in an animal’s passing, ceremonies and rituals can be performed for many other occasions as well. A ceremony can welcome a newly acquired animal into your life and help it let go of the life it left to come into yours. ISaying good-bye to an animal friend is one of the saddest moments I have experienced. The hardest part is helping them transition. “Sometimes they need us to help them move on,” a friend said to me after she had to make the decision to take her husband off life support. This past July, we had to suddenly say good-bye to our beloved dog, Oscar. I was so grateful I had some plant medicine to help him through his transition.

Plants and ceremony have been instrumental in my life in many ways. One of which is helping me say good-bye to an animal friend. I also find them helpful throughout my mourning process. Below is the story of how I discovered using plants to create a ceremony for animals along with suggestions on using plants to create your own ceremony.

When I am preparing a ceremony for one of my animals or for a friend’s, I plan for a daylong event or, at the very least, a half day. This is a time set aside for myself, the animal and the people who are invited to participate in this special moment.

First, I choose my setting. If the weather is agreeable, I find a spot outside and place my ceremony blanket in the middle to form a circle for us all to sit around. I gather plants, tying the bundles for the plant brushings with a special ribbon and placing them in a beautiful vase (I always make a plant bundle for each person attending the ceremony). Next, I place the plants chosen for the spiritual bath in a crystal bowl filled with water, and then set the bowl in the sun, along with a special cloth that I use for the bath. I gather my smudging materials and set them in the circle. I also place pictures and mementos of my animals that have already passed on alongside significant objects relating to the animal for which the ceremony is being conducted. These items can be things such as collars, favorite toys or their favorite treats. As participants arrive, I ask them to spend a few minutes walking the yard and collecting any plants they might like to contribute to the spiritual bath. When the bath is ready, I add two drops each of the following essential oils: frankincense, myrrh, rose and sweet marjoram; I call this my Peace Blend. Then I will place the completed bath in the center of the circle.

Once the center of the circle is complete, everyone is in attendance, and our special animal has been welcomed, we begin the ceremony. I go around the circle and smudge everyone by waving a feather over the smoke so it covers the person, and during this time I am saying an opening poem or singing a song. Each participant then introduces him or herself and says something about the animal for whom the ceremony is being held. I welcome the spirit of all the animals whose photos are in the center of the circle to the ceremony. Then we give the animal present a spiritual bath and a very light plant brushing, always mindful of how the animal is receiving the bath and the plant brushing, adjusting them according to their response. I quietly talk to the animal, expressing my love and gratitude for them and if someone has something to add, it will be during this time.

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Once this part of the ceremony is finished, everyone sits in silence with love in their hearts. This is my time to connect with the animal in a quiet state. When the silence is broken, we all stand in a circle and perform a plant brushing on each participant. With them standing in the center of the circle, we gently brush them with our plant bundles and sing a song. When we have completed giving the last person their plant brushing, we smudge everyone and close the ceremony. The end of your ceremony is yours to decide. If you are having a goodbye ceremony with your animal, whose time it is to pass on, you may wish for your vet to be present and say your final goodbye at the end of the ceremony, or you can wait for everyone to leave and then say your goodbyes privately. It is your ceremony, and you can shape it in whatever way feels most appropriate to you and your animal.

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Unfortunately, sometimes our animals choose to leave suddenly and there is no time to prepare for a ceremony. If this is the case, you can create a quick ritual with the plants around your home, or any essential oil you may have available. Frankincense is a good one to have on hand, and I always have my Peace Blend with me. With these simple plants and oils, you can create a blessing and say your special goodbye. With our horse Pete, we had little time to prepare and I simply did what I could at the moment. After his passing, I created a little altar in his stall on an upturned water bucket. I placed a crystal, carrots and rosemary on it and I continued to burn the copal resin in my smudge bowl every day for a week. To this day, there is still a purple ribbon tied to his stall door.

With another one of my animals, his passing was sudden and we were out of town. Our dog, Merlin, decided to pass on at our home in Colorado, while we were on vacation in Rhode Island. I found two small glass bowls in the cottage where we were staying. I gave one to my husband and kept one for myself. We walked around the yard of the cottage gathering plants. We found red clover, wild rose, yellow flowers, pine needles, and purple chicory flowers to place in these two spiritual bath bowls. I then made a little altar on a table out in the sun and tended to these little bowls of love the entire week we were there. On our last day of vacation, we poured the spiritual baths into a beautiful pitcher and walked to our favorite spot on the beach where we tearfully said our goodbyes to Merlin. We poured this spiritual bath water on our feet and onto the sand and watched the waves carry all the plants and water out to the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful and painful moments of my life, and a wonderful way to honor Merlin’s spirit. Even though we could not be physically present, I was grateful to know that our house-sitter at the time had the Peace Blend on hand and had given it to Merlin during the time of his passing.

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If you are having a ceremony during the winter and you live in a place where the plants go dormant, you can always purchase some plants at the flower store, or you can use plants you have dried in seasons past. I collect my marigolds, basil, rue, sage, yarrow and other plants during the growing season and dry them for use as tea or for use in ceremonies. The trees want to take part in these ceremonies, so if it resonates, include them too. I always buy fresh roses for the center piece of the ceremonial circle and for the plant brushings. You can be very creative during the winter months.

All of these ceremony ideas can be performed before, during or after your animal companion has moved on. You can also perform a ceremony on the anniversary of their passing. I have performed ceremonies for animals that have been newly adopted, had to be given away, had passed on years before, who were lost and for animals in the wild. Ceremonies are personal so feel free to create your own unique ritual to honor your animal friend.

I also use plants and essential oils during my bereavement process. I will fill a crystal bowl with water and add plants to them. (I am creating a spiritual bath.) At the end of each week, during a four week cycle, I will empty this spiritual bath on a favorite space in the yard where my animal friend used to hang out; I then repeat this process for the next three weeks. I keep the spiritual bath in a special area of the house with a candle and pictures of my animal friend. Much peace to you and your animals.

Plants are a main component in all my ceremonies. They offer the healing, support, love and peace we need, especially when we ask them to take part in our lives. Plant medicine and plant spirits have been part of daily life for centuries. I feel that in today’s world, surrounded by technology and social media, it is especially important to reconnect with the plant world again. The plants are waiting for you.

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Some plant suggestions to use in your ceremony and their meanings:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): A plant that is known to comfort the heart, mind and spirit.

Copal (Bursera microphylla): This resin has been used ritually by Mesoamericans for centuries. It is burned year-round in Mexican churches and is especially popular in homes during the Day of the Dead celebrations. Copal resin is traditionally burned in protection, cleansing and purification ceremonies. Large amounts of copal were burned on top of the Aztec and Mayan pyramids.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha): Since antiquity these resins have been burned to create sacred smoke that rises as a bridge between the spirits of this world and the heavens. The oil of frankincense was used in ancient Egypt to anoint the head the dead or dying. The resins and oils are both used ceremonially to help dying animals or people move on to the next realm. Frankincense and myrrh help close the wounds of loss and rejection.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender is considered the balancer of emotions. Rudolph Steiner suggests that lavender stabilizes the Physical, Etheric and Astral bodies.

Marigolds (Tagetes patula): Mesoamericans believe this is the only flower the dead can smell. Marigolds are believed to comfort the heart and the spirit.

Rose (Rosa damascena): This plant represents love and protection. In the eighth century B.C. epic poem, “The Iliad,” Homer tells us how Hector’s body was anointed with rose oil after his death at Achilles’ hand. Rose is helpful in times of sadness, grief, disappointment and great joy.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): The Greeks and Romans saw this plant as a symbol of regeneration; they held it to be a sacred plant. They believed this plant gave comfort to the living and peace to the dead.

Rue (Ruta graveolens): This plant posses the power of magic. It is also known as the herb of grace. It is used for blessing, releasing and banishing evil spirits or thoughts.

Sage (Salivia apiana): Sage is used to cleanse objects, places, people and animals. Its aroma has very calming properties.

Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata): Sweet grass is also burnt as a purifier, similar to sage. It is lighter than sage and often burnt after burning sage. It encourages positive vibrations to enter the area or room.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana): Sweet marjoram gives a feeling of comfort in cases of grief and loneliness, since it has a warming effect on the emotions. The Greeks used wild marjoram as a funeral herb and it was planted on graves to bring spiritual peace to the departed.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Thyme is associated with strength and courage.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow heals wounds on the physical, mental and spiritual level

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