Women's Rites Of Passage
The Celebration of Womanhood
Sitting Owl's Great Great Grandmother (Mum's side)and her daughters.
Women's Rites Of Passage
By: Cheryl Hart with Sitting Owl
Modern day society, with the absence of rites of passage ceremonies and its disconnection from nature has had detrimental effects on the society at large; both men and women. Our subject here however is women's rites of passage .
Rites of Passage always involve three stages:
1. Separation: Separation from the existing limited awareness of all that is familiar and secure (in this case childhood). It is important to acknowledging the fear and resistance, with awareness that we have no choice, but to let go and face the fear of the unknown. At this stage the community has to see that the initiate is ready for the transition. In the case of women's rites this is evident in her menstruation.
2. Transition Rites or the Adventure: This is a hazing period, when we are in full flight of the adventure. This is where we face the fears head on, as the grip of old consciousness fades, and in time merges with new revelations. This is a time when our faith is tested, a time when the community support is needed for wisdom and clarity. This is fulfilled by the sharing of wisdom of the elders. This is the 'Dark Night of the Soul'. This is a time to surrender to The Great Spirit and His mystery.
3. Rites of Incorporation - the Return: The return of the same person, but forever changed. The ceremony or ritual has penetrated the subconscious. The deed has been achieved and the initiate has accepted the gift, which has brought her to self recognition and a deep understanding of surrender. Celebration and community support enhances the individual's experience to trust in the cycles of life. There is a strong sense of belonging and acceptance from the community of this new mature woman.
These rites of passage ceremonies connected all women to each other in a meaningful way. And the blessings and understanding of the women's role as the life givers were carried with much pride and transferred to the initiate's consciousness so that all women were united and proud of such a responsibility.
In traditional cultures menstruation (or Moon Time) was considered a very sacred time, and when that time came the women would leave whatever they were doing and go to the menstrual lodge. The rest of the tribe took over their duties, tended to the children and brought them meals for three days, honouring this sacred time. This is how it is with all of nature including the moon, which is dead or dark for three days, just as Jesus was dead in his tomb for three days.
Every month at the time of their menstruation the women would gather at their menstrual lodges where they would reconnect with their sisters. Here they would laugh, share and reconnect. They understood their role as women and were aware of their connection to Great Spirit, and the gift that had been bestowed upon them as the life givers.
They used this time to pray and give gratitude for the role that they played as a woman. They would bleed into Mother Earth, replenishing her and giving back for all that she had given them. They rejoiced in their womanhood and they were aware of the magic of this time of month, and with the wisdom of life that was accessible at this time of going within, including the wisdom that life, in its intrinsic nature, is painful.
They honoured their emotional sensitivity, bringing to their awareness emotions that needed to be confronted. They understood that the pain felt deep within was proof that they were the vehicles of life in their readiness to bring forth a new manifestation of life. This pain that was shared and understood amongst the women bonded them further as they were able to empathise with each other. Meantime all the rest of the tribe were eager to have their women return from the lodge, with their newly found wisdom and clarity for the benefit of the whole tribe.
Puberty and the onset of a girl's first menstruation marked the beginning of her reproductive life. Nature decides for us when our body is physically ready to menstruate and produce life, but menstruation alone is not enough in our western society of today to make the changes needed for the transition from a child into a woman. A girl's first rite of passage was regarded as the most important, as the timing of this menstruation and the importance of the ripeness of the initiate signalled to the other women the need to pass on their knowledge and traditions.
All women in the tribe were proud of their role to impart their wisdom, share stories, to nurture and to prepare the young one for their new role in the tribe. The women assisted the initiate by passing on their knowledge and leaving her to contemplate their teachings, to connect with Great Spirit and to release all of her fears and resistance before embarking on her new role. She would reflect on her childhood, and all that was familiar and she would allowed herself to die from this role and be reborn. When the women felt that she was ready, a ceremony or ritual was conducted.
These rituals solidified a new identity helping individuals to function and fit into the community as responsible adults. The understanding of the cycles of change was passed down from the wise elders of the tribe, who reinforced these necessary role changes with ceremony and ritual. These rituals all had much symbolism, which affected the initiates on both a conscious and a subconscious level.
Due to the symbolism and dramas of these ceremonies, and the way they were undertaken, they left an everlasting and indelible imprint on the psyche. They evoked a sense of awe and created a lasting and powerful image on the whole community. These milestones were never forgotten and most importantly, they were understood, accepted and supported by the community at large.
These ceremonies greatly enhanced the initiate's ability to move forward into their new role with pride and respect during these important transitions. This Ceremony also greatly effected the community or tribe by reminding them of there responsibility in responding to the initiate in a new way, in their new role as an important mature member of the community.
After the ceremony the new woman in the tribe was welcomed into the sisterhood, the circle of women, and then into the tribe or community at large in her new role. She would attend the menstrual lodge every month to reconnect and share with her sisters, also reconnecting to the shared women's wisdom, walking with pride, respect and gratitude for the role that she is to play. She would take part in the future puberty rites of passage to educate and share her knowledge and make the transition easier for her new sisters.
This rite of passage set the way for all initiates to better deal with life's changes, and the seasons of life. It would teach of surrender to Great Spirit and Mother Earth and to trust in life. Our Western Society is in resistance to change and we fight it not wanting to let go and this causes us great pain.
Another very important rite of passage for women is menopause, and here is what Lynn Andrews has to say about it.
Gateway to a Woman's Greatest Beauty
By Lynn Andrews
Wise blood. What a beautiful expression, exquisite in its richness of life, dignity and promise.
Wise blood, the time in every woman's life when she has lived long enough and experienced more than enough to become 'one who knows', a woman who has gone through the gateway of Changing Woman and stepped into her own sacred self. It is the time when a woman's spiritual life truly begins, for change of life is but a process of rebirth into new responsibilities, new mirrors and new power in life.
Not that long ago, the grandparents held the position of the 'ones who know how', the wisest and most respected members of their communities. With the wisdom of their elders as their backbone, they had lived through their own time in history, adding to the knowledge and wisdom imparted to them, and it was their role to pass it all on to the next generations.
Today, much has changed and not always for the better. Gone from our lives are teachings of our elders, who are all too frequently shunted off to hidden corners of our lives. Gone also the rites of passage given to us by the elders, those initiations which marked the individual and social growth of a people, which taught us what was coming and what was expected of us at different stages of our lives. Gone, indeed, are our communities themselves and the structure which they had provided for tens of thousands of years. In just a few short centuries, the ways of living that had stood the vast majority of people on this earth in good stead for eons have, themselves, been stood on their heads. All we have to do is look around us at the chaos, confusion and stress that our world faces today to see that we are not necessarily better off because of it.
Yet if we take a second look around, we see on every horizon the glimmer of hope and promise for a better future. Women the world over are struggling to understand the true meaning, the essence of our lives, and it is women, especially, who are taking the lead in shaping the promise that beckons.
And one of the most inspiring and profound things that I see happening today is that shamans and medicine people all over the earth are coming forward to return to a world that had once turned its back on the knowledge and wisdom of the ancient ways of all people, as it has been preserved and handed down from shaman to apprentice, from mother to daughter and father to son, in an unbroken chain for tens of thousands of years. What a truly amazing time it is to be alive, today!
I have had the great blessing over the last 30 years of my life to be an apprentice to, and now a member of, one such society of shamans, the 44 women of the Sisterhood of the Shields. These are indigenous women from three different continents who are practitioners and guardians of a feminine spirituality that is as old as human memory, even longer, perhaps, for who can truly comprehend the passage of 50,000 years when most of us can't imagine what it will be like to turn 50? Yet turn 50 we will, God willing and the creek don't rise! It was my good fortune to make the difficult passage into menopause under the guidance of these Native elder women.
Western society holds up for women a particularly pernicious (harmful Ed.) image of aging, that of an old witch with a wart on her nose, totally devoid of beauty and power, standing over a bubbling pot of darkness after losing her turf to younger, 'prettier' women. It is an image which says, It's either this or be hidden away, because there's only so much the surgeon's knife can do. Like the young girl's passage into first blood, in today's world a woman's passage into wise blood has become something to hide, something to dread, even, perhaps, a source of humiliation. And what a terrible tragedy this is.
I was taught that there are four passages in every woman's life, four cycles of fertility, which are to be honored and celebrated for the incredible and unique gifts they hold: First blood, when a girl moves from the exuberant imagination of childhood into the beginnings of her own cycle of fertility and creation in the world; marriage, whether to her partner or to her artistry, when she truly begins to conceive what her own gifts to the world will be; childbirth, whether it is the birthing of a baby or the birthing of her talent and intellect into the world; and wise blood, when she moves from fertility of the body into fertility of the spirit. Yet only two of these passages are even acknowledged, marriage and childbirth; and all too frequently they are acknowledged only if they conform to certain socially prescribed notions. Of course woman is leading the struggle to understand the true essence of life in the 21st century! For the last several centuries she has been allowed to be seen as only a very circumscribed part of herself, a very limited part of life.
In the old way, as taught to me by Agnes Whistling Elk, Ruby Plenty Chiefs and the women of the Sisterhood of the Shields, all of these cycles of woman were honored and instructed by initiations and rites of passage which supported, guided and celebrated women through these glorious seasons of her life! With each passage, there is a new plateau that needs to be recognized, a time not only of sacred ceremony but also of taking stock and silent introspection, guided by the love and wisdom of those who have gone before. To them, the gateway of Changing Woman is profoundly strengthening and filled with joy. It is a rite of passage in a woman's life that needs to be fully illuminated so that the actual event of menopause, when a woman's monthly bleeding cycle stops and another cycle begins; becomes not the inevitable onset of aging and decline but the access to the beginning of a new and beautiful way of life.
In today's society, it is so difficult for a woman going through menopause to find any comprehensive information or support for the strange and often unsettling changes she is experiencing, let alone an honoring and celebration of her. We joke about our hot flashes and lapses of attention in an attempt to make them less frightening, but there is still a general feeling that as we age, we are no longer beautiful, as our external beauty wanes, we will lose our power. Never do we hear someone say, Look into the eyes of one who has gone through the gateway of Changing Woman and see the incredible experience that lives there; look at the creases of her skin and see the amazing strength and beauty that has molded them.
To my teachers, the gateway of Changing Woman is the gateway into the most sacred time of a woman's existence on earth, a time when she can release the dominion that time has had over her life and at last discover the deeper meanings she has always sought. Through ancient initiations and wisdom, these elder women teach that hot flashes, the symptoms of shifting hormones, are actually the kindling of a fire within that prepares a woman for an incredibly powerful time of living. Their heat is the alchemy of transformation that clarifies the body and spirit of negative debris and prepares a woman for her new cycle of life. Hot flashes need to be welcomed instead of fought against. So when you, as a woman going through the gateway of Changing Woman, experience hot flashes, dance with the heat, ride it like a fractious horse and know that there is something going on that is far more important than the physical rebalancing of hormones! Wise blood is the time for holding not only your blood, but, significantly, for holding your own power.
The spirit's soul strength does not leave our blood as we grow older, it gathers and grows stronger. Its strength will only leave the blood if you want it to. If you decide that when you hit 60, you're going to decline, then you will likely decline. But if you intend to grow stronger in spirit as you grow older, then when you hit 60 you will grow stronger. You will seek out ways to build up your energy and provide a protective armor against disease. You will also find the voice of spirit within you, a voice that has been ripening and growing richer within you during all of the life that you have experienced.
When we as women learn the old ways, we are reintroduced to the deep, internal beauty that comes with age, a beauty that makes itself visible by virtue of its innate power. As you feel this beauty, you will express it, and all those with whom you come into contact will be touched by your newfound strength, your heightened awareness and the loveliness that emanates from deep within you.
So who is Changing Woman? Changing Woman is you. She is every woman who has lived long enough to go through the gateway of menopause, a gateway which stands between the two worlds of woman. The first world of woman is where we are dedicated to physical existence and the fertility of our bodies, the raising of family and career, choices in relationships and the conditioning of family and society. The second world of woman, the second ring of power, is filled with the fertility of spirit, the enlightened, sacred life that marks the second half of a woman's evolving. When you go through this gateway with intent, you as a woman have the great opportunity to meet Woman at the Edge of Two Worlds, the goddess from antiquity who initiates you into the second ring of power. Then you will know for sure that menopause has nothing to do with decline; it is but the beginning of the second half of a glorious and beautiful life!
Woman at the Edge of Two Worlds stood before me in my cave of initiation.
"I am the fire", she said, her face glowing. "I can only move upward as I burn. You, my daughter, are apprenticed to the fire. Whether you dreamed of the vast possibility of transformation or not, your body is now your teacher. Feel the burn of the heat and welcome the fire, for the fire is I, the goddess woman who changes you and prepares you for your sacred life. Gather knowledge about yourself and your body. This knowledge is the wood for your central flame."
Lynn Andrews is the New York Times and internationally best selling author of the Medicine Woman series, 19 books and workbooks on spiritual growth and personal empowerment which chronicle her 30 years of adventure and experience first as an apprentice to power, and then as a woman of power in her own right. Woman at the Edge of Two Worlds, The Spiritual Journey Through Menopause, is the 11th book in this critically acclaimed series. Please visit her website at www.lynnandrews.com.
This happens to be the first book of Lynn's that I (Sitting Owl) read. Does that mean I was ready to come into my own male version of 'Wiseblood'? It was very soon after I had 'let go' and when I was 'opening up'; the two neccessary stages of all trasformations, which often come in short succession or instantaneously.
Remember that woman is the vehicle of life; her energies and Earth's energies are the same. Man is the protector of life and the creator of society and he must be guided by life (spirit).
Comparing this with where we are today and why we still need these rites of passage ceremonies more than ever.
Over time, that sisterhood has become lost and the community acceptance and support of the role of women has been undermined. The shared wisdom has not been available, which has resulted in a separation amongst all women.
Today women carry shame, self loathing and are suffering from the loss of pride in their role as life givers, which was previously revered because it was the foundation of the community. They have struggled to live in a man's world and therefore have felt not strong enough, not clever enough, not pretty enough, or not educated enough. Their nature has been denied, periods cursed, and their ultra sensitivity, especially around menstruation, is viewed by many as a handicap.
Pregnancy is now viewed with disdain and is considered a limitation to career advancement causing financial loss. Pregnancy is now causing a great deal of stress to women and theses stresses come in many forms. One form is from the introduction of contraception and all the other ways of altering our natural biological functions and hormonal system, therefore causing further separation from nature. Today it is never the right time to get married, have a baby or buy a house etc.
All too often pregnancy is seen as an act of manipulation on the woman's behalf to gain attention; to snare their man; to enhance their relationship; or to gain financial support. And although this does occasionally happen in this day and age, all women are smeared with this accusation to some extent. Ironically in traditional cultures where the gift of new life was a joyous occasion and pregnancy helped to bond the community, today it often causes more separation. Even breast feeding was recently viewed as a chore because it was seen as uncomfortable, messy, time consuming, and detrimental to the mother's figure.
Over the years the importance of women as life givers has been forgotten not only by society, but by women themselves. How many times have we heard women say "I'm JUST a mother", as though it was not important. The bonds of sisterhood and oneness have been torn apart by suspicion, envy, jealousy and betrayal. Women do not trust one another and due to their subconscious projections they judge other women very harshly as a result of their non-acceptance of themselves.
Women are so deprived of their value in society that many believe that all they have is their appearance to rely on for any concept of self esteem and pride. Many feel that the only way they can be valued is to have acceptance from men, so the pressure of being physically beautiful is paramount. This has further increased the ill feeling and competitiveness between women, which in turn explains why body image is so important these days, and why cosmetic surgery and surgical enhancement procedures are having a boom.
Women have used this control over men to the detriment of their sisters. Many who are so hungry for approval by men and are motivated by the urge to prove their desirability, have willingly stepped over and betrayed their sisters. This adds further distrust and separation of the sisterhood. All too often relationships are viewed as conquests and there is little respect, honour and value placed upon them, but in ancient cultures the sense of oneness and connection to their sisters would make this competition unthinkable.
I am aware that there will be many reading this that will be in denial or resistance. There may be some of you with some anger building up, but that's ok. If you really look deep within yourself, you will be hit by the profound truth. This is the truth of our times, and there will be a deep sadness that needs to be felt and acknowledged. We have lost something of profound significance and we need to allow ourselves to grieve. We need to forgive ourselves and all our sisters. We need to come from a place of true compassion, which means being prepared to suffer along side each other, and we need to see the wounds that all women carry and the deviation from our sacredness that has occurred.
A spirit that is born in a female body and refuses to accept the fact is a female in denial of her very essence and she will become competitive and domineering. We are all one, so let's live decently amongst each other with the knowledge that to hurt another is to hurt ourselves. We need each other and we need to learn about true interdependence.
We as a society need to address this issue, and bring healing and wholeness back to women and our society. I personally feel very passionate about this and I invite anybody who feels compelled to do some work on the healing of the sisterhood to contact me.
Together we can give birth to the new consciousness. I feel that in this day and age we have found another reason for the rites of passage ceremonies. They can play a part in the releasing of the current way of relating and give a rebirth to the new way, which is also the ancient way of respect and honour. To address this problem, and mark the profound shift necessary we will need to refer back to the three stages of transformation.
1. Separation: Separation from the dysfunctional consciousness of disconnectedness. Here we need to let go of all the beliefs and preconceptions about what is and is not possible and those that support a sense of separation from each other. We need to release our cellular memory and mechanical thinking and separate from all that is familiar. We need to separate from our beliefs and ideas about what it means to be a woman. We need to let go of the illusion of competition and feelings of inadequacy and shame of being female. We need to acknowledge the fear and resistance we may have, but still let go.
2. Transition Rites or the Adventure: This is where we face the fears head on, as the grip of the old consciousness fades, and in time merges with new revelations. This is a time when our faith is tested, a time when the support of others is needed for wisdom and clarity and for keeping us on track, which is fulfilled by the sharing and communicating. We need to have awareness of all that is possible, and reflect on why we had to have this dysfunction in the first place. We need to have forgiveness of ourselves and all of our sisters. We need to be aware that we have no choice, but to change, and face the fears that may arise and embrace the unknown, which will be the new way of relating. This is a time to surrender to The Great Spirit and His Mystery.
3. Rites of Incorporation - the Return: The return of the same person, but forever changed. The ceremony or ritual has penetrated the subconscious and the healing from deep within has been achieved. We must have the acceptance of ourselves and our new way of being. We as women will have healed ourselves internally giving us self recognition and a deep understanding of surrender. Incorporation of the new ways of being, thinking and feeling can then be lived and passed on from the heart. Celebration and community support enhances the individual's experience to trust in the cycles of life. There is a strong sense of belonging and acceptance from the community and a desire to assist others to heal within, will ensure. There will be a desire to gather more women and to begin working on a larger scale. This is when women can embrace each other in a rekindled sense of sisterhood; when the real healing of our society will become manifest.
My aim is to resurrect ritual and to re-create rites of passage ceremonies to mark the major changes in our soul's journey. And I aim to bring hope, not only to our children struggling with the confusion of adolescence and entering into adulthood, but also to bring healing to all women by bringing back the deep connections of sisterhood and bonding once again. Bonding is about honesty, vulnerability and trust.
We need to let down the walls that separate us; to put aside all judgment and jealousy, and instead choose to see the Great Spirit within them all. We need to open our hearts to our long lost sisters and embrace them as the lost parts of ourselves and to come home to the sisterhood; vowing never to let them go again.
Yours in Sisterhood