The smoking ceremony

A smoking ceremony is an ancient Aboriginal custom performed at rites of passage. Nowadays, it is also carried out by elders when they conduct a Welcome to Country. There is a reciprocity to being welcomed onto country. We ask for permission to enter and the elder in turn welcomes us with a ritual in which the history of the land and people is shared. A Welcome to Country, especially one with a smoking ceremony, is always a rich and moving experience.

Last Friday, I attended a workshop at Rylstone Public School with several teachers, principals and a special Canadian guest, Lyn Sharratt. Out in the playground, Local Elder Peter Swain welcomed us onto the land. He explained the importance of the matriarchal lineage to Aboriginal people, through which there is a deep connection to Mother Earth. A coolamon beside him contained white ochre paint and the women were invited to paint their forearms along their veins. We were asked to think of our ancestors whose lifeblood still flows within us and whose protection and strength we sought through this ritual. I found the symbolism deeply moving and felt a strong connection to my parents and grandparents who have departed long ago.

After this part of the ceremony, a coolamon was used for the smoking ceremony. There were leaves from various endemic plants including the bottle brush, which is used to wake up the brain. This was just what I needed so I kept crushing and smelling the leaves before I added them to the coolamon to burn. We also used eucalyptus leaves and other plants which have different healing and spiritual qualities. Peter then blew under the leaves to ensure there was enough of a fire to create the smoke.

We stood in a circle, and he brought the smoke to each of us, purifying our feet, our hearts, and our heads. It reminded me of Western religious ceremonies where frankincense is used in a similar way. Incense is also used in Eastern traditions for purification. This just highlights the deep spiritual connection that all cultures have to one another.

I am forever grateful for the generosity of Indigenous Australians who continue to welcome us onto their land despite the colonial history of the past 230 years. It is therefore in the spirit of profound respect that I acknowledge that I live, work, and write my stories on Wiradjuri land. I acknowledge elders past, present and those emerging who hold the hopes and dreams of Aboriginal Australia. I also acknowledge that this land was stolen and that it is, was and always will be Aboriginal land.

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