The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

Add comments to this entry

Council of All Beings

COUNCIL OF ALL BEINGS - a ritual for Rosh Hashanah Lab'heimot!
~ guide compiled by Rabbi David Seidenberg
Click here to download a formatted doc file with these directions

The Council of All Beings is a ritual to help us get in touch with our inner wisdom that connects us to all living creatures. It is also a great ritual to honor the New Year for the Animals. For more ideas about how to do that see Aharon Varady's page on The outline of the Council of All Beings you'll find below and on opensiddur is based on a version created for schools by the Institute for Human Education ( This version is itself modified from the original version found in Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings by Joanna Macy, Arne Naess, John Seed, and Pat Fleming. The original version describes a series of rituals that happens over several days, culminating in the Council of All Beings. The outline here is a meaningful short version of this powerful activity that can happen in two hours or less.

I first participated in a Council of All Beings ritual led by John Seed when he and I were co-leading a seminar on ecology and Judaism at Elat Chayyim. I added quotes from John's work below and also sent him my first draft of this outline to get his comments. You'll find this material below interspersed with the IHE's instructions, labeled "JS". Some of these comments are actually scripts that can be read as part of the ritual. I want to thank John for his help here and for his vision and leadership, and crazy wisdom and delight, on so many levels. You can read an intro to John's work that talks about the Council here.

In between the IHE’s instructions, in a different typeface, are directions and scripts from John Seed and his colleagues, again with emendations.

For Ages 10 and up.
Time: 1-2 hours
What’s needed: A quiet place outdoors or in a room where you won't be disturbed. (Avoid rooms with fluorescent lights, or bring a lamp. The mood matters.) Art supplies: construction paper, paints, crayons, stones, shells, or other found and recycled objects, scissors, glue, any other art supplies that you would like to bring for mask-making. Pillows and chairs for people to be able to listen comfortably.

1. Explain the entire Council before beginning (finding a being to be an ally, making a mask, speaking as your ally and listening to every other ally, bringing what you learn back to your human life), so that participants know what is going to happen. Emphasize that silence (in between the spoken comments of Council members) is an important part of the Council.

One of the things that people more grounded in the Earth than ourselves have always known, and continue to know, is that it is not difficult for us to be the voices of nature, or to allow other beings to speak through us, that we can become a medium for their truth. This is the basis of the Council of All Beings, which is the ritual that we'll be doing.

2. Invite students to go out into nature, to the trees, grasses, rocks, or to find a spot in the space that participants are in, and to sit or lie down so that they are comfortable. Instruct them to close their eyes, in whatever spot they have found, and let the image of an animal (human or nonhuman), or part of nature or landscape, come to them in their imaginations. Remind them not to force themselves to think about a certain animal or part of nature, but rather to let the being visit them in their thoughts.

The first thing we're going to need for the Council of All Beings is an ally, and that ally is a non-human being, because the Council, for the moment, consists of non-human beings only.

There was a time when human beings were part of the Council, and we pray for a time when human beings as a whole again come to the Council. Now, it is time for the voiceless to be heard. So there will be no humans in the Council, but ANY non human beings are welcome and these may be animals, or plants, or features of the landscape, lakes, rivers, rain, clouds, trees or worms - it is all OK. Go out into the woods and begin to do this walking meditation, and just meander, amble, and then you might suddenly feel that you need to allow things to blur, you just want to be able to see enough so that you don't fall over, and then you might feel a certain tree pulling you towards it, at but when you get there, the tree is not it, you discover that it is not that the tree is your ally, but the tree is an antenna, that allows your ally, which might for example be the African Elephant. The process of finding your ally is an important part of really letting go of our usual boundaries, our sense of what's dignified, and our sense of what's nonsense. Just letting go, child-like, saying, "Maybe I'm going to learn something new today, maybe something is going to happen, that hasn't happened before." So, we are looking for that place of readiness for something new. You can bring back anything interesting you find on your journey, e.g. feathers, that may help you with your mask, but be gentle in taking things from nature.

3. Ask the participants to "become" the being that has visited them in their imaginations. Encourage them feel themselves turning into this animal or part of nature (such as a cloud, a mountain, a tree, a wolf, or a spider). Let them ask: "What is happening to me as this being? How do I feel? What is my life like? My days? My nights? My interactions with other beings? With my environment? What do I want? What do I have to say? What would I like to tell people? What wisdom do I have as this being?" Remind them to listen inside for the answers.

4. After giving students some time to really "become" their being, bring the art supplies into the center of the circle and invite students to open their eyes and silently to make a mask to represent themselves as this being. The mask does not have to look like the being, as long as it is evocative for the wearer. Some participants will be tempted to spend a long time on their mask. Remind them that the mask is only a representation, and give a five-minute and one-minute warning for finishing the mask.

The mask doesn't have to be a likeness at all, it can be an abstract representation. The mask doesn't have to be beautiful; it's good if it covers our face because it can make it a deeper experience if we are not looking at human faces, but sometimes people have come back with a mask that was just a fin which they wore on their back as a dolphin. You can do anything you like. If you put it over your face it’s good for the mask to have eyeholes so you can see what is going on. And it's great if you have a hole where the mouth is so that it’s easier for all to hear what you are saying. This can be quite fast, it doesn't matter what the mask looks like because you are going to introduce yourself in the Council, so everyone will know who you are.

5. When everyone has finished their mask, form the Council.

Briefly introduce the council process with the following instructions: * Use the 'first person'. Introduce yourself as your ally - e.g., "I am snake and I live close to the Earth....." * Refer to humans as "they" or "the two-leggeds" etc. That is, don't talk to the other creatures in the circle as if they were human - this is very confusing for them. * Feel free to let your ally express itself in any way - including movements and noises which it likes to make.

6. One by one, each being should introduce him-, her-, or itself and say what their life is like, who they are, and how they spend their time. After each being speaks, if you wish, the Council can respond by saying, "We hear you ____ (name of being)."

We come to this council to share matters that are close to our hearts, also to share our strengths, our beauty, our troubles and our wisdom. Invite any being to speak.

7. Ask the beings to each speak again, this time telling the Council what is happening to them, including what humans have done to them and what they would like to say to humans. Once again, the rest of the group can respond by saying "We hear you ____ (name of being)."

A council can be all about the beauty of Gaia, our planet. It doesn't have to focus on problems! Some advice to the facilitator is to be invisible; when something seems needed, wait a few minutes. But don't let it get boring or fidgety, add questions that lead or prompt or suggest, and always connect them back to something another being has said. So it is important to note things said that can be weaved into an ending, and to allow all the possibilities to be explored.

8. After each being has spoken again, ask them to talk once more, sharing whatever wisdom, knowledge, or gifts they have to offer and what they might teach people who are willing to listen. The group can respond by saying "We thank you ____ (name of being)."

If there is a 'conspiracy' to deny what the humans are doing, get in and give humans a real talking to. Don't let the council be falsely protective of humans activities.

9. Finally, after each being has spoken for the last time, ask participants to remove their masks one by one. As each of them takes off the mask, you can invite them to turn their masks toward themselves and make a small promise to their being.

Invite everyone to "put on human masks."

Ritual burning of the masks. This can be a final release of the spirit of everyone's allies back into the world, and a chance to thank them for the specific gifts they have brought to us and that we will carry on into our everyday lives. One by one, we place our masks on the fire and speak our thanks. Many groups don't want to burn the masks but have kept them or passed them on. A ritual burning, however, can be a powerfully symbolic way of transforming the magic of the council into reality, and can 'ground the energy'.

10. To end the Council, you can say something like, "May these promises be sacred to us. Many thanks to the beings who have come together today to share their feelings, dreams, hopes, and wisdom."

We must not forget our wildness. When you see a fellow being, remember this, be heard, speak out, do something every day to remind us of our true selves. Let us teach the humans our rituals and make them fun, and lure them back to Council. We have shared much, surely enough for the humans to change, if only they can hear us.

When we hear the earth speak to us, we are transformed and come to understand our actions from a new perspective. Once we have experienced the fierce joy of life that attends extending our identity into nature, once we realize that the nature within and the nature without are continuous, then we too may share and manifest the exquisite beauty and effortless grace associated with the natural world.

Spirit that hears each one of us,/ Hears all that is--
Listens, listens, hears us out—Inspire us now!
Our own pulse beats in every stranger's throat,
And also there within the flowered ground beneath our feet,
And—teach us to listen!--
We can hear it in water, wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth, and we are bone of its bone.
Barbara Deming


More notes from John Seed on facilitating the Council:

These days the way I do the Council is less structured. After once round the circle when each being introduces itself as you suggest (I don't add the instruction "the rest of the group can respond by saying 'We hear you ____,'" but there's no reason for you not to do so if you like the feel of that), I basically let the group evolve as it will. An interesting conversation invariably develops and there's nothing left for me as facilitator to do but participate till I feel its time to bring the Council to a close (which is when we run out of time or I start to get bored or I sense that other people are starting to get bored.)

That is, once round the circle when all the allies introduce themselves, then "popcorn" style thereafter and everyone speaks as they feel moved. This inevitably means that some speak more than others but makes for a more interesting conversation.

for the Earth,
John Seed


Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006