We don’t talk about neurotypical consensus in spirituality.

 There’s an unspoken assumption that all spiritual approaches embrace inherent cross-utility–everyone can do them, as-is, and should. Many rituals likely do meet needs for a wide range of folx. Practices like chanting, toning, breathwork, rhythmic movement, are techniques that have been honed to shift brain states, which generate change in our awareness, in our nervous systems.


When we delve into spiritual practices that require liminal alertness so that we can perform specific functions or retrieve particular information, as in ecstatic trance, divination, and even energy tending, the processes that drive these practices are often presented with iron-clad formulae. Spiritual sovereignty (safety in navigation of and returning from liminal spaces), is the most-cited reason for not deviating from set routine with these practices. Others include thoroughness (cultivation of relationship to the ritual, for relationship’s sake), cultural tradition (meeting or deepening ancestral relationship requirements), satisfying taboos (meeting the relationship demands of specific divinity), outcome (repetition is required until a certain outcome of the practice is met), and stability (repetition ensures a particular standard of spiritual being).

All of these reasons for formulaic spiritual practice are relevant. Specifically, I will be the first to advocate for safety in ritual, ecstatic trance, and energy tending. Deviation for the sake of rebellion is risky. However, if rote techniques can’t allow space for our unique neurology, they already aren’t safe. They already haven’t allowed room for how we experience and express the sacred. That omission leaves us vulnerable to missing the value of the practice, and quite possibly to soul disruptions–which the repetition was said to protect us from.

Ritual is everything, but it has to actually work

I’ve taught ecstatic technique for almost 30 years. I didn’t always understand the flexibility needed in how we approach it. I can say without hesitation that it never worked true-to-form right out of the box for me, which is why I’ve held space for that need in how I teach. Not one technique I’ve ever been taught went according to instruction. This reality is in part because my cosmology had other plans, and partly because I’m neurodivergent.

I’m not saying don’t listen to your teachers. Rather, what I teach is to do it according to plan the first time, with an ear toward your cosmology and neurology, and adapt as relationship to the practice deepens.

For some practices, like chanting or breathwork, their success is predicated on repetition. Given that, some spiritual practices may be harder to adapt to personal neurological needs. As well, part of the cultivation of what’s right for our neurology is understanding the difference between pathways being triggered by a spiritual practice or experience, and pathways telling us there’s a more functional way for us to access and use them. Those two things can often feel similar, and we have to know the difference to stay safe in spirit work.

Truly successful ritual rests on the wisdom of the previous generation, and we didn’t have elders or lived tradition to demonstrate them. We can’t adapt spiritual practices to our own needs without trying to understand why rituals were structured the way they were by our Ancestors, and without understanding what works for our neurology. This information is critical for making informed choices in how we maintain the integrity of ritual in a way that meets our needs now.

Rainbow Winnike (@rainbowchrysaliscoaching) and I (@kelleysoularts)will be discussing ways we can begin cultivating sensitivity to our unique needs in spiritual practices, while maintaining the integrity of their purpose. Join us 22 July at 12:30pm EST for Neurodivergence-Affirming Spiritual Practices. Learn more and register in advance.


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S. Kelley Harrell

S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

Kelley Harrell is an animist, author, deathwalker, and death doula held by Tuscarora, Woccon, and Sissipihaw land. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts she’s helped others ethically build thriving spiritual paths. Her work is Nature-based, and centers soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral tending, and deathwork. She hosts the podcast, What in the Wyrd, and also writes The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Work with her in the Runes for Change community or in her intensive soul tending training, The Spirited Path.  Full bio.

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