During 1986-87 I was graduating from the teacher training in fine arts, and my graduation project was ‘shaman costumes’. Inspired by my dreams and old photo’s of Siberian shamans I spent one year making all kinds of shamanic costumes. After my graduation I moved to Finland where I worked for three years at various design institutes and academies of fine arts. Back in the Netherlands I taught one year at the Vrije Hogeschool, and then I decided to stop working in schools so I could dedicate all my time to teaching shamanism. Apart from a few rare courses as a guest teacher at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and other Academies or Institutes elsewhere, I have never returned to the class room. However, the solid didactic training I had when I was in training to become a teacher is still an important help in every group I lead.
I had been teaching shamanic courses already since 1987, but after returning to the Netherlands in 1991 I started working as a guest teacher at the Elfenbank center in the first shamanic year training to be held in the Netherlands – an intiative from Roelien de Lange. At the Elfenbank center I met Ivana Caprioli, and Ivana and I started our own shamanic training groups in the early nineties. We created new exercises and rituals for each meeting of the groups, inspired by the things we learned and experienced in our dreams.
We were partly focussed on trance journeys, but the most important foundation of our work was the wheel of the four directions. Ivana and I both had our own shamanic teachers. For me, Ailo Gaup and Wallace Black Elk were very important in that time. While we did the groups in the Netherlands together, I was also teaching on my own in ongoing shamanic groups in France and worked regularly as a guest teacher in other countries. From 1997 on Ivana and I did not start new training groups anymore together, and I coninued to teach the shamanic year training in the Netherlands independantly.
In 1998 I got to know the family constellations. The constellation method was developed by Bert Hellinger, who based it on elements from various other disciplines in the fields of therapy, analysis and group dynamics and added some of his own finds. The use of representatives for family members had already been introduced by Virginia Satir in her Family Sculptures, and Bert Hellinger learned the forms and effects of healing sentences (sentences offered by the group leader and repeated by the representatives to restore order and balance to the system) from Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis (Hellinger – Ein langer Weg p. 61). The most important things Bert Hellinger added to this mix of already existing methods, were his own observations and theory about the dynamics of belonging and loyalty to family and groups.
Impressed by this powerful method I participated in many seminars, happy to have found a possibility to heal parts of myself that had never been touched by shamanic healing and ritual. The similarities and differences between shamanic rituals and family constellations fascinated me and I started writing to Bert Hellinger, who had developed the constellation method out of various other therapeutic disciplines. For a year and a half I devoted a lot of time to this correspondence. The letters I had written became the ground material for my book ‘Images of the Soul’, which by now has been published in eight languages. When the book was published, Bert Hellinger had started to leave the classical family constellations behind so he could be free to develop another form of constellations called the ‘movements of the soul’. In this style of work, less representatives were placed in a constellation, less senetences were used and the facilitator would make less interventions in the constellation. Gradually the professional exchange between Bert Hellinger and I came to an end, because from my perspective the original style of family constellations was more compatible with shamanic ritual.
The combination of ‘Images of the Soul’ and the support of Bert Hellinger opened many new doors, and soon I was giving an average of thirty seminars in ten different countries a year. First I was leading the constellations in the classical way, but during the last eight years I have explored many combinations of aspects of constellations and elements of shamanic ritual, and out of these two I gradually developed a new method which I call Systemic Ritual®.
Systemic Ritual® is not the same as family constellations or as shamanism. It is not even a combination of the two anymore because by now it has its own characteristics, form and dynamics. In Systemic Ritual one can still recognize the influence of family constellations in the use of the representation method and the use of healing sentences. The shamanic roots of the method reveal themselves in the sound of the drum, the ongoing prayers and the use of ground plans and fixed structures that guide the movements of the ritual. There is also an element of Judaism in Systemic Ritual: just like many shamanic traditions, the mystical jewish tradition teaches that instead of just one soul, a human being has many souls, and each of these souls has its own characteristiscs and history. In Systemic Ritual, various souls and layers of the soul can be represented. Also, when I do the work, it is accompanied by niggunim: wordless melodies in the style of the hasidic tradition. I learn many of these melodies in an unusual way: I hear them in my dreams while I sleep.
In Systemic Ritual® there are usually more representatives active than in a family constellation, for example: the ritual can be surrounded by circles or groups of ancestors. The emphasis is more on the essence or archaic structure of a family story than on the specific precise details. This strengthens all participants’ connection to the work. Experience has shown that Systemic Ritual is a specially powerful method for specific target groups in which people and/or their ancestors share a collective trauma or difficult history, for example: war, slavery, persecution, natural disasters or forced migration.
For years, I described my work usually as ‘family constellations and shamanism’, but this became less and less acurate because the method became more and more independant of these two. By now there are quite some people who are making their own combinations of constellations and shamanism, and all of them are doing this in their own way. Different forms of work have come into being, each with its own potential and with specific qualities, and all of them are called ‘constellations and shamanism’, even when they are very different in form and nature. I felt the need to find a specific name for my own work, and started calling it Systemic Ritual a few years ago. Systemic Ritual was developed and got its distinct shape over time in hundreds of seminars, it has it’s own theoretical foundation which serves as a guide how to develop the work further. I have protected the name Systemic Ritual with an international registered trade mark, and Systemic Ritual® is now a fact. The name Systemic Ritual® guarantees a specific method and quality.