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).