First, while I would recommend Arrow Breaking ritual to anyone that is working to overcome a fear, make sure that you participate in a ritual run by someone that is experienced. Using the wrong type of arrows can cause major injury.
It has been a long time since I participated in my first Arrow Breaking ritual, but it has stayed with me since then and still remains as powerful an experience. It was back in 2007 at PantheaCon that I saw the class “Arrow Breaking Ceremony: A Journey from Fear to Power” offered by Sumir Rawal, and I was immediately intrigued. I think it appealed to me for a variety of reasons, but two main ones. I have Cherokee blood on my mother’s side, so anything related to Native American culture and ritual fascinates me, and I had been going through a difficult time starting in March 2003 when I had a panic attack that resulted in me ending up in the emergency room. While I was in a much better state of mind by 2007 (thanks to Yoga and meditation), I was still in a more heightened anxious state than most people typically are for extended periods of time.
2007 was my first PantheaCon, which I will say was such a wonderful experience that I have not missed one since. For those of you that have been, I am sure that you will agree that the group of people there have a wonderful energy and are some of the most supportive and accepting people that I have ever met. You may have never met someone before but they treat you like family. It was this atmosphere that convinced me to participate in the ritual itself. After the teacher had explained the process and what was involved, he passed out paper and told us to write our greatest fear on the paper. A lot of people took a fair amount of time to do so, but I knew mine instantly and simply wrote “fear”. For anyone that has experienced the irrational dread associated with a panic attack that has no natural stimulus this will come as no surprise. We then were to fold the paper up, come to the front of the circle, place the note on the board the teacher was holding up, position the arrow head over the note, and place the shaft in the nape of our neck. Then, focusing on conquering that fear, we were to step forward to the chants of the group, breaking the arrow with our neck.
When he asked for volunteers, I hesitated. For that matter, I will admit that I was the last person that participated and that it was not until the class was about to end and I knew that I was about to lose out on a unique opportunity that I managed to make my way to the front. I stood up there for probably close to ten minutes, trying to force myself forward – resulting in multiple false starts an half steps. The group was not upset though and, if anything, pulled together becoming energized by my struggle. My teacher was patient and understanding, and even though I did not succeed at breaking my arrow with my neck, I did succeed at facing my fear for an extended period of time, which was one of the first steps to recovery. He had me break the arrow over my knee and talked to the group about the process of facing fear. I still have my broken arrow to this day. When I broke the arrow, I cried (which is extremely rare for me) and most of the group (none of whom I had ever met before) came up to give me hugs and words of encouragement. This outpouring of support was perhaps even more cathartic than the ritual itself, for it let me know I was not alone.