Creating Sacred Space Through Ceremony

Creating Sacred Space Through Ceremony

By Bettina Shultz-Jobe and Mary Oliver

We walked. 

Mary carried a bag with a mixture of corn meal and tobacco leaves that each of us sprinkled along the entire perimeter of the property. Cooper played the drum and recited scripture that was meaningful to him.  Mabel sang songs. I carried essential oils and anointed every door and every entrance as we said, “May all who enter here be blessed.”  We were sweaty and at peace –  covered in oil, cornmeal, and tobacco.  We felt a sense of interconnectedness deep in our bones, as the mystery of a property blessing unfolded step by step.    

Several months ago we decided that it was time to perform an intimate ceremony to help us to connect with our new place in the world.  We did it for the land, for ourselves, for our family, and for every single living being who will ever find themselves on the land we inhabit. 

We came together to bless the land 

Mary Oliver was our guide. 

She spent time in meditation and prayer and allowed her intuition, life experiences, cultural history, spirituality, and creativity to guide our experience. She encouraged us to do the same, to be spontaneous, trust our intuition, and do what felt right.  Mary has ancestors who are Shawnee, Cherokee, and Powhatan, and she is a member of the Southeast Kentucky Shawnee.  This heritage is very important to her.  

Most of my ancestors come from Germany, and my Christian Faith and my relationship with my Creator is what feeds my soul and nurtures my intuition.  All that we collectively hold sacred came together in a ceremony to set aside this land, that was gifted to us, as sacred land – a space dedicated to healing, growth, love, and peace for the people, the critters, the trees and plants, the water, and even the rocks that support our foundation.  

It is my hope that when people come through the gates of our property, they feel something right away.  They feel the veil lifted between the mundane day-to-day and the Divine.  When people step foot on our property I pray that a healing energy penetrates their feet, spirals up their legs and pulses through their body – an energy that prepares.  An energy that pierces the soul and prompts the heart to say, “I am safe here.  I am protected.  I am ready –  to heal and to transform.”  It is my desire that this place prepares the way – for profound growth that begins when people arrive and even extends to those whose feet never tread this land.  It is my deepest prayer that the land itself carries a healing legacy.

So, with all of this in our hearts we created a ceremony that was ours. 

What is Ceremony? 

I love ceremony and I love the rhythm that ritual brings.  We can do the ceremonies and rituals created by those who have come before us, connecting us through movement and similar practice, but anyone can create their own ceremony. What I love most about ceremony is that it often has a sensory component that allows us to do something physical and concrete to represent something more abstract or difficult to quantify.  For example, in many wedding ceremonies the couple exchanges rings to represent their commitment to one another.  

Ceremonies engage the body in matters of the soul.  In our case, the ceremony we created represented our commitment to gratitude, reverence, and the setting aside of our place to make this world a better place – recognizing the new NL Headquarters as sacred land.    

How did we create our ceremony?

We created a ceremony that was supported by our personal experiences and by those who have come before us.  

Corn and tobacco were two of the most important crops where Mary grew up in Kentucky.  Corn was important to feed the family and could be eaten year round.  Hominy, corn relish, cornbread in various forms. . . my mouth is watering now.  Corn was the main source of food for settlers and the First People.  When Mary was a teacher they learned a native song called “Follow Mother Corn who Brings Life,” so when her spirit guides showed her cornmeal for our ceremony, it made sense.  

For us and many of our ancestors, corn represented life – we used corn in our ceremony to represent new life for the land. 

As a child, Mary’s family raised tobacco.   She remembers getting a wasp sting and her granddaddy rubbing a tobacco leaf on it to pull out the pain.  They hung tobacco in the barn where she played. If she had an ear ache, they would blow smoke in her ear to stop the pain.  The First People honored tobacco as a medicine plant, so when she received the guidance to use the tobacco, it was a symbol for bringing back healing to the land. 

We mixed cornmeal and tobacco leaves together and sprinkled them along the perimeter of the property to create a boundary – that all the land within the boundary begin to heal and find new life so it can support the healing and growth of others.  Just like us, the land can only take others on a journey it is traveling. 

In many ancient cultures, including our family’s Christian culture, oil signified prosperity, blessings, and stability.  Oil was poured on people and inanimate objects to set them aside as blessed by the Divine – a sacred object or living being anointed to do healing work.  Various cultures have poured oil over people, animals and objects as part of the healing process.  

In our ceremony we set aside every doorway and every entrance as portals to fullness, purpose, and joy – “May all who enter here be blessed.”  Also, as we have built a herd in our new place and as I have come to know each horse, I have, when it felt right, anointed them with oil.  Simply an acknowledgment of their sacred and holy purpose in our family, as part of our business, and in our community.  A physical representation of a sense of purpose and gratitude I hold in my heart.    

We truly are preparing a place for you. 

The next ceremony is for all of us 

This first ceremony was mostly about us and the land.  This move was hard.  Our children have struggled.  Our horses and other animals have struggled. Prior to our arrival, the land and facilities were neglected and abused.  It’s always a long story, but so much loss and grief in the last year. 

The second ceremony will be mostly about you and our little community.  At our coming Sacred Landscapes conference, we will perform a ceremony similar to the first, but completely different  – because each of you will bring something unique.  

We are in the process of asking people from various cultures to contribute to and guide our time.  We will honor those who loved and cared for the land before us.  We have reached out to the Tonkawa Tribe, who inhabited this land. There are many immigrants who came before us here – such rich history.  Many cultures will guide our community experience, but we will ask each of you to trust your intuition, honor your beliefs, and do what feels right as we engage in a multi-cultural property blessing.  

Together, we will set aside this land for our larger community and for your larger communities.  You will learn how to create ceremony in your communities and on your land as well.  We invite you to (literally) walk with us as we reconnect with the land and all living creatures, and find a renewed sense of awe and wonder in our world.  The property blessing, a family dinner, and live music with The Darling Daughters (one of our own!), is open to all Roots Pass Holders.  

We invite you to walk with us. 




NL Member Spotlight: Larry McDaniel

NL Member Spotlight: Larry McDaniel

Each month we take a moment to recognize one of our members who’s made an impact in our beloved community.

For this month’s Member Spotlight, we’re focusing on Larry McDaniel, MSW, LCSW, who is the founder and former CEO of Coyote Hill Children’s Home. Larry is a valuable member of our community and uses the Natural Lifemanship approach to assist in his therapy and equine programs.

Learn more about Larry’s career in providing children with secure homes and his journey with Natural Lifemanship.

Keeping Kids Safe

Aware of a serious need for foster homes in Missouri that nurture a loving and safe environment, Larry and his late wife Cathy founded Coyote Hill in 1991. The organization started by caring for one child in a single home and quickly grew from there.

They now have a campus on 300 beautiful acres in central Missouri, called The Hill, that features six large foster family homes and a duplex. This is where they host their Equine Program.

Children are twice as likely to live with their siblings at The Hill compared to traditional foster homes and the organization boasts a 98 percent retention rate with foster families.

Coyote Hill has offices throughout Missouri in Columbia, Jefferson City, Moberly, and Hannibal. They’ve licensed over 200 foster homes in the last three years and provided safe homes to over 1,000 children.

Larry stepped down as the CEO of Coyote Hill a couple of years ago to focus more on the Equine Program.

Finding NL

Larry found Natural Lifemanship while researching ways to improve his Equine Program at Coyote Hill. He had previously trained with other EAP organizations but felt the need for something more.

He found friends and a community from his very first NL training, but it took time to fully embrace the Natural Lifemanship approach. Being used to traditional programs and techniques, while also possessing a task-oriented personality, Larry had difficulty getting into a rhythm early on.

“The NL approach isn’t about techniques, it’s about connection. I didn’t think I signed up for that, but in the end, it turned out to be the right thing,” Larry said.

It’s very common and natural for NL practitioners to face difficulty and uncertainty at some point in their NL journey. We are asking you to think very differently about your work and the way you engage with clients, horses and yourself. Larry knew if he stuck with it, he’d find tremendous value.

By letting go of his expectations of a traditional approach, Larry was able to thrive as a Natural Lifemanship practitioner. He’d ended up taking the Wild Horse Sanctuary – Relationship Logic Immersion training, which is still his favorite NL training to this day.

“I loved everything about it … the camaraderie, the camping, the mustangs, the hosts, the fireside chats, the cowboy poetry, and especially the food prepared at the campsite,” Larry said. “When I think of this training, it always brings a smile to my face.”

Since joining Natural Lifemanship, Larry has been proactive about sending other staff and therapists to the trainings he learned the most from. He’s seen a big difference in the way the children in his care are now able to embrace the concepts of trust, safety, and healthy relationships through their friendship with horses.

Larry’s Advice: Keep Going

Larry did not fit in at his initial NL trainings, to the point where he considered quitting in the middle of one training. He struggled with group activities and forming deep, personal connections with others.

Despite his early struggles, he kept at it and pursued an NL certification.  He also contributed to an NL blog post in 2020 titled We Need So Much more than Words.   His persistence was rewarded when he found Tim Jobe as a consultant for his certification journey. They formed a deep friendship and Tim was a great entry point into the NL way as someone who had personal experience working with youth in the foster care system.

While Larry still wouldn’t describe real connection as something that comes naturally to him, he’s recognized that he’s grown immensely in that area through NL’s trainings.

“I have learned that I can grow in the area of appreciating and actually pursuing meaningful connection to others and horses, and have found that connection to be valuable and something that has improved my work with others, and also improved my life in general,” he said. “Don’t beat yourself up because you are task-oriented or mission-minded. People like you built this world. But I believe the people who are best at managing it going forward, are those who understand the importance of sincere connection without agenda or expectation. It is a valuable skill to learn and grow in, and NL is a wonderful place to do that.”

We’re so proud of all Larry has accomplished and grateful to have him as a valued member of our NL community. We look forward to seeing him continue to impact the lives of those in his own community.