As part of my time at Joshua Tree, I am doing some genealogical research, specifically looking into Native American and African American traditions and how they overlap. My first stop was Wind Walkers Medicine Wheel, which offers several options for engaging with Indigenous spiritual traditions, including the medicine wheel (obviously, hence the name), guided meditation, and a full moon ceremony among others. For my first visit to the wheel on August 30, I participated in the full moon ceremony and then the following week, I participated in a guided meditation to meet my spirit animal and animal guide. In this post, I’m going to talk about my experience with at the full moon ceremony.
The website said the event started from 8-8:30 p.m. but when I got my booking confirmation, it said to arrive at 6:30 p.m. Since the event was a nighttime affair and mosquitoes love me, I prepared by slathering on bug repellant. That turned out to be an excellent move because gnats were hovering around the site bothering almost everyone but me. However, since this was one of the first out of the cabin experiences I went to, I wore my Birkenstocks, which was not a good idea. The wheel (like most places in Joshua Tree) was mostly gravel and sand so I kept kicking some up into the bottom of my shoe, and that was annoying. Lesson learned: I would wear my hiking boots everywhere I went from now on.
We (me and the other people there for the ceremony) all hung out in the drum circle area waiting for the sun to go down. If I had worn my boots and if I had been thinking, I would have walked the medicine wheel trail while I waited. (To be fair to me, I did consider it but the lack of boots stopped me. Along with the sand and gravel there are these cactus bud things that can get lodged in your shoes or–if you’re wearing sandals and keep kicking dirt/gravel into the bottom of them–your feet. I didn’t want to risk it.) As it was, I made some small talk with the people around me and then remembered I had my Kindle so did a little bit of reading. We were all also handed little slips of papers so that we could write one thing we wanted to let go and one intention for the new moon cycle. During this time, there was also a lot of moving around by people trying to find the place they were most comfortable and the place with the fewest gnats. Abe promised that the gnats would dissipate once it got dark, and he was right.
Once it was dark, the ceremony began with Abe doing an introduction and giving a little background about the ceremony: what it was, why it was held, how the ceremony would go, etc. I can’t remember everything he said, but he said that the moon was considered like a grandmother to give guidance (mother Earth, grandmother Moon, etc).
I should also point out that Abe is Cherokee but said he was pulling from several traditions, most of them from western Indigenous nations, I believe. According to the website, the wheel “has been blessed by the Cherokee (Tsalagi), Navajo (Dine), Blackfoot, To’hono Odahem (Papago) and the Aztec Nations.” I mention this because even within the US, there are some things vastly different on the West Coast than on the East, so while the things Abe told us may be generally true, I know they don’t necessarily reflect every single Indigenous nation because that would be impossible. (And also a Google search tells me that some nations had different names for the moon at different times of the year, so you know.)
Then the ceremony began. It followed what’s on the website:
Each ceremony begins with smudging using white sage. All participants and instruments are cleansed and blessed. Honor to the creator, mother earth , the four directions and the present are given.
To smudge each participant, Abe walked around and had us stand with our arms out to our sides while he said a prayer and then gave the blessing. Once he was finished, we all sat down with our drums to begin the first drumming portion. For this part, we were to hold our drums out to our sides so that the edge rested along our hearts because the drumbeat and our heartbeat are extensions of each other. We also were to follow along with the pace/rhythm that Abe set.
My first big lesson came during this section, and it was pretty simple: MIND YOUR OWN DRUM. I say this because at one point, I thought someone was off rhythm, and I wanted to figure out who it was, but as I was looking around, I (of course) lost the rhythm myself. This happened more than once (maybe 2-3 times max) before I figured out that it didn’t matter what other people were doing because while I was worried about that, I was dropping the ball on my own drum. Now, this is something I know and adhere to most days but clearly not that night and I clearly needed the reminder that what other people did what their drums was none of my business since I had a drum of my own to worry about.
After that, Abe moved to the big drum and asked for three volunteers to help him. Because I am who I am, I volunteered to be one of the big drummers. Everyone else who wasn’t at the big drum followed along on their personal drum. This drumming portion was to honor the four directions: North (bear), East (eagle), South (wolf), and West (buffalo). So Abe would drum with us following along, do a chant, and then stop. Once he stopped, we all sat in silence for a bit before he repeated the process until we had honored all four directions.
Once that was done, we went back to the main circle and then did the intention setting ceremony. For that one, Abe again set the tone by saying a prayer and then every one went up one by one in clockwise order. Everyone approached this part of the ceremony differently, but we all threw in a handful of herbs along with the piece of paper that held our intentions for the new moon and what we wanted to let go of. I can’t remember, but I believe after that we did a little more drumming and then the ceremony was over.
Once it was done, Abe asked everybody how they felt or if there was anything they wanted to share. He and someone else noted how bright the moon was: “It almost feels like daylight.” Some people shared about their experiences with animals because during the ceremony, he had talked about what the different animals in the ceremony meant or represented. I didn’t share, but I did ask where we could find out more about the animal symbology, and he recommended Animal Wise by Ted Andrews and Dancing with the Wheel by Sun Bear, the latter of which he referred to as his bible during my guided meditation session (more about that in a future post). We also took some time to admire the moon, which along with being super bright was also the last monthly blue moon we’ll experience until 2026 (!).
All in all, I enjoyed the experience. I love a spiritual practice and am a firm believer in ceremony to solidify intentions, so I found this especially impactful for my time as a writer in residence.