Honouring our daughter’s menarche and our son’s turning 13.
One community’s experience.
Spring 2008 Our modern cultures have forgotten to honour the rites of passage in our lives. In not doing this we miss the opportunity they provide of welcoming, celebrating and honouring the huge transformations that we go through. Honouring rites of passage is an ancient tradition seen in many cultures across the planet. And actually, our rites of passage happen whether we bring consciousness to them or not. The experiences we have at the times of transformation in our lives are what teach us about what our culture expects of us in our new role and how that role is valued, whether we realise it or not. Women have far more obvious rites of passage than men do. At menarche, childbirth and menopause a woman is transformed, moving from one life season to another. For men, the times of transformation, apart from becoming a father, are more age or work related rather than being heralded by changes in their bodies. Puberty, of course, is a phase of many gradual physical changes for boys over a period of months or years, but in our modern culture, there is no actual experience that they encounter that results in them becoming a young man. Our community gathers every six weeks to honour and celebrate the ancient sabbats that mark the rhythm of the cycle of the seasons. At Beltane we camp together and hold rites of passage for the young women and young men who’s time has come. This is our forth year of doing so and the younger siblings who have patiently, and not so patiently, waited their turn are coming up the ranks so to speak. It’s a wonderful celebration of life. The families that experience this feel so blessed to have their children honoured, nurtured and held. In celebrating our children’s rite of passage into womanhood and manhood we have created community. Each Beltane the prepubescent girls dream that next year maybe it will be time for their ceremony. “Soon, soon”, their mothers say. This is a very different experience to many other girls as they approach their menarche. These girls are excited about becoming women because they have seen the value our community places on that role. Likewise with our boys as they enter manhood. The younger boys look forward to their time of honouring and watch respectfully the new role the older boys gain. Theirs is the responsibility of keeping the fire going, of teaching the younger boys about making the flares used in the ceremonies and they get to participate with the men when the men’s circle is called. We feel that looking forward to these sorts of responsibilities and privileges better shape a young man than just looking forward to getting drunk or driving a fast car. At our solstice, equinox and other cross quarter sabbat gatherings the teenage girls and boys who have had their rites of passage are the ones who start and end the ceremonies invoking and devoking the directions and elements – big responsibility, and they don’t take it lightly. What could be laughed at and made fun of, they take very seriously, because we take them seriously.
At her menarche, the experience a girl has, how she is treated, the messages she receives, both subliminal and specific, inform her of her culture’s value of woman and how she is expected to behave. In modern times, some families acknowledge the menarche with a gift for the young woman, a celebratory dinner, even a party. Sometimes this happens within a circle of women who welcome the newly fertile woman to their sisterhood. They share stories of their own experiences of menstruation and make wishes and blessings for the new woman’s future life. And for others the menarche is not acknowledged. Few of us were treated with celebration and honouring to welcome us to our next phase – Woman. So few of us know what to do with our daughters. We need to welcome our daughters to womanhood and teach them that they are special and valued. We need to tell them it’s important that they honour their cycles – to ‘go with the flow’. However first we must do that ourselves, and heal from any wounds from our own menarche rite of passage.i In our community we welcome the girls to womanhood with a beautiful ceremony to honour them. We sit in a circle and the maiden sits in the centre. We all wear red and she wears a circlet of flowers on her head. Her Mother is there. Each woman around the circle shares with the maiden “What I wish I had been told at the onset of my fertility cycle, or what I was told that really helped me.” “What I have learned through and from my cycles over the years.” We each give a special specific wish for the maiden, give her gifts and have a tea party. The girls feel like they have been initiated into a special club, They have – Womanhood. I love some of the young women’s comments after their Menarche ceremony: Charissa: tears in her eyes – thank you Chelsea: I didn’t want to do this you know, but it was cool, the best day of my life! Katelyn: I feel special, like I’ve won something, you’re all being so nice to me! And Tess and Millie, 10 and 9 year olds who where at the ceremony with their mothers, said they were going to watch the moon together, so their blood would come at the same time and they could have their ceremony together. We have a circle once a month, with these girls and others who have started menstruating, who have also had menarche ceremonies. It’s a beautiful thing, we each talk about where we are in our cycle and how we are experiencing it. We talk about the opportunities that our cycle gives each week, very like the seasons of the Earth. They certainly feel a connection with each other and with the cycles of the Earth and moon. How will this affect them as women? My guess would be that it will build on where they are at now, feeling aware, conscious and in tune with their cycles, comfortable talking about it all and understanding why they feel the way they do on certain days. They say they feel very glad that we gather and do talk about this kind of stuff, they say most of the other girls at school don’t and to them that seems immature. Why wouldn’t we do everything we can to help our girls as they embark on their journey into womanhood, we may even heal ourselves, the wounded feminine and the Earth in the process. Here the girls speak for themselves: “I am glad you asked me to write about the rite of passage because it is such a special thing. I remember the day my sister had her rite of passage and as we all sat in the circle, women and children, I suddenly started to think what my rite of passage would be like, and how great it would be. From that day I couldn’t wait till it was my turn. During my rite of passage I really felt loved by everyone in the circle. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know some of the women very well at all, being around all those beautiful people who I new loved me and wanted to share such a sacred thing with me was all that mattered. I think the best bit was hearing the other women’s stories about when they first got their periods and being able to listen to them about the things that were hard for them as a teen. When I had finished the rite of passage I really did feel a part of the community and I also felt really proud about being a woman! My advice to girls who are thinking about having a rite of passage is to do it! Because you really do see having your period as a beautiful thing rather than a pain (even though the cramps really suck). After doing the rite of passage I didn’t see women as people who told you what to do but I could see them as my friends and it wouldn’t matter if I saw them at their weakest because it was all a part of the friendship that I could share with them. The rite of passage was really an eye opener for me to really see how sacred being a women is and having your period is all part of that.” Tess 12
“I am proud of our Beltane Rite of Passage and how it has helped each of the maidens who have done the rite to womanhood become the amazing people we all are now. Coming up to my rite of passage I felt scared and worried about what was to happen in the red tent since Katelyn, Charissa and I were the first maidens to be celebrated. During the rite of passage I felt so much love from the women surrounding me. I was shocked that that many people really cared about me, and I was really happy that I had made decision to come instead of going to my friend’s party! The best bit was being able to share this, what I thought was a secret thing, with my childhood friends and the older women who had seen me grow up. The worst bit was sitting in the middle of the circle with what felt like a spot light on you. This was hard because I had my friends around me and every time I saw their faces I felt a little embarrassed even though I knew they would have to be under the spot light after me, but I still felt it. Afterwards I felt that the only people who could truly ever understand how I felt were Charissa and Katelyn and we all had massive smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. I felt special and grateful for being able to do such an amazing thing. I would say to any one who is thinking of doing the rite of passage or any one who is about to do it – to just jump right in to it and no matter how weird you think it is just remember that our ancestors used to celebrate the rite of passage from child to maiden and really if you think about it its weird not to do it. The experience has affected me in a positive way but I don’t know the words to describe it. And it has affected my experience with my period. Before the rite of passage I hated talking about my period and almost felt uncomfortable when the word was even spoken. I thought it more of a curse than a blessing, but since the rite of passage I have learnt that really it is a blessing and every day is different, its not just about bleeding its a whole cycle.” Chelsea 14
“I didn’t want to go through with the ceremony when Mum first told me about it because I didn’t know much about it and it was a really different thing for me. During it I felt great! It was really interesting and relaxing. It felt good to just sit back and be pampered by other people. The best bit was hearing the wishes, kind words and wisdom of the other woman. The worst bit was waiting till the ceremony began. After our first circle when the woman left us, we had to wait a fair while as Jane was off helping a woman give birth. Although none of it was really that bad. I enjoyed it all. After it I had a strong sense of belonging to the community although I had been welcomed to it only about four hours before. To other girls about doing the rite of passage I would say, it may not be your thing but you’ll never know before you try it. Chances are you’ll really enjoy it. I mean what girl doesn’t like being pampered once in a while! The experience has made me more open and accepting of new things and given me a feeling of connectedness. Also I am happy that I met so many beautiful people along the way and thank them for being so welcoming. At the start of the ceremony I didn’t want to talk at all about my menstrual cycle because I found it embarrassing. Now I know that there is no reason to be embarrassed and I am much more comfortable talking about it.” Dakota 13
The mothers of the daughters have a huge experience as well. “It was an amazing experience to share something so special with Dakota. To make her journey into womanhood empowering not embarrassing, was awesome. Dakota was nervous but very curious beforehand. She was so strong and proud during the ceremony and afterward she seemed very knowing, it was as if she held a very valuable secret about the universe, she seemed to carry herself taller. I would definitely recommend this to other parents of daughters, I feel it encourages pride and power in becoming a woman. Dakota was given the opportunity in the circle to tell me how she felt about me, she told me I was an awesome mum and that she felt so lucky to have me as her mum. She said that she was enormously proud of the work I do as a paramedic. I had the chance to tell her how amazing she is, how proud she makes me, and how much I love her. We share our feelings all the time but to stop in ceremony and consider our words and just how important she is too me was incredibly special. The best bit was the intimacy between everyone, the other mothers and the women of our community, sharing the experience.” Kylie, Mother of Dakota (and Mia, Jarvis and Finley) “Sharing the rite of passage celebrations with my daughters Chelsea and Tess was a privilege. Both girls went in with very different expectations. They were each a little hesitant but both shone with beauty and walked away feeling part of a very special club! Although the gift of bleeding can be empowering it can also just get in the way of a young girl’s life so to give them a deeper understanding and respect for the cycle of womanhood has made the transition into bleeding so much easier. For the girls to understand the flow of the cycle over the month enables them to honour their bodies and work with it not against it. Watching my girls each be honored as women by a circle of women was very moving, they literally blossomed before my eyes. They each mark that day with great significance. It brings tears to my eyes to reflect on the beauty of the day and each of the girls involved. It was a true honor to be there to welcome the other maidens to their womanhood as well. Being there deepened my relationship and understanding of each of them. At a time in their lives when the pressure is on from their peers and society to suppress their individuality and to so freely give away their bodies, I feel that through the rite of passage, welcoming them to womanhood, honouring them, we have armed the girls with knowledge and respect for their bodies. Interestingly both girls are not so keen to randomly “hook up” with the boys, this could of course be the individual but I believe that it is because they have been empowered by other women to be woman themselves and to know and honour their bodies!” Sara-Jane Mother of Chelsea and Tess (and Joe, Gus, Caspar and Felix)
Sara-Jane and Tess
So, girls have their rite of passage into womanhood one way or another when their first blood comes – their menarche. But the boys in our culture often miss their moment as there’s nothing as dramatic as the first blood to notice. From puberty they start growing pubic and facial hair, their voice deepens and the get taller but when do they become men? Some folk say it’s their first ‘wet dream’ that heralds manhood, some say its an age they reach when they take on more responsibility. Either way, there’s nothing obvious, or that they’d like anyone to notice! and that has its effects. Our community uses the turning of 13 years as the mark for the boys leaving childhood and entering manhood. The boy’s rite of passage starts with the men taking them into the bush, prepared for possibility of snake bites and getting lost. Their mothers stand at a distance and drum them farewell, each having her own deep experience of seeing her ‘baby boy’ going off with the men. For her, it’s the next stage of ‘letting go’ and during this process we bring consciousness to this literal enactment and feel and share our emotions. I remember watching my son Jackson going off with the men and thinking “No, I want my baby back!” But alas, that was never going to happen. He was not a baby anymore! Of course I knew that, but actually going through that process, particularly with the other mothers doing the same, enabled the inevitable letting go of my son’s childhood the recognition and mourning it deserved. The boys are sent off on a ‘treasure hunt’ follow-the-clues type of obstacle course that is a metaphor for life. They need to work together to find and decipher clues to move through the journey. It is a modern day quest filled with mental, physical and emotional challenges. The quest is shrouded in secrecy, men’s secret business. It takes all day. Toward the end, the boys sit with the men of the community in a circle and share what they’ve learned. At sunset the victorious questers, these boys who have passed their initiation into manhood, march back to the community camp, blazing flares held high, to light the bonfire that the women are dancing around, singing and drumming in celebration of the young men’s return. We dance together, the Spiral Danceii. The young women who have had their menarche ceremony that day play a central role with the young men and as they dance in the inner circle their community hoots and cries words of support and love and celebration to them. It’s a joyous occasion, an event they won’t forget. “On our way out into the bush its usually the same – a group of nervous boys unsure of what to expect and perhaps anxious they may not be ‘up to it’ or perhaps even truly deserving of all the fuss. They manage by making jokes, some show off and some – perhaps in the hope remaining unnoticed – remain silent. All of them islands unto themselves. By the end of day on the way back in to camp however they seem surer of themselves, more grounded, more upright, even taller! United as a group and now with a greater sense of belonging they seem more robust and ready to better cope with the challenges of life that lie ahead.” Andrew, Father of Chelsea and Tess (and Joe, Gus, Caspar and Felix)
Tristen, Lochlan, Jackson and James getting ready to ‘come back’ For the boy’s fathers the experience is also huge. “I felt so proud of Jackson that he was coming into his manhood. I felt really pleased that he was getting a good grounding of what it means to be a man, not just from me but from other men also. In the rite of passage process the men shared experiences from their lives that had been difficult or challenging for them. This was great for the boys to see and to hear that men are not always bullet proof and telling hero stories, rather they are very human and vulnerable.” Paul, Father of Jackson (And Sam, Ella and Ellie)
For Phillip, James and Tristern’s (and Amellia’s) father being part of his sons’ rite of passage brought home to him the lack of any rite of passage in his own adolescence. He could see that when communities don’t create conscious rites of passage, events such as 21st & 18th birthdays, driving license qualification, introduction to alcohol and sex, become unconscious rites of passage with the opportunity for honouring the individual being overlooked and the chance passed without proper recognition. Tristern was one of the younger boys that had watched his big brother and father do the rites of passage from a distance. Finally it was his turn. “Before my rite of passage, I was excited and really looking forward to our quest and being able to light the fire and call the directions for our Earthdance gatherings. I had no idea what to expect, except I knew there was a large obstacle course, but not much more. I thought we might all get lost straight away and that it would take longer than it did. Once the quest started, I felt excited and relieved that we were finally on our journey to manhood. I felt very disappointed that my close friends were not on this journey with me. The boys who were with me I did not know very well and I was feeling a bit anxious. My experience on our Quest was fun. We all got to work together and got to know each other and listen to each other’s thoughts and ideas on our journey. The best thing was knowing that the men will always be there for us when we needed them.
When we strayed down the wrong path, Paul popped out of nowhere to guide us along the right track. The quest went very quickly, I believe because we all worked well together. The best part of the day was carrying the gigantic torches (flares) back to the families, like big warriors coming back from war, happy and excited with a feeling of achievement. The worst bit was trying to find a clue that just wasn’t there, but what we did find was something else, “Paul”, and that was a huge relief to us all. I would like to tell other boys that the key to this journey is to expect the unexpected and that it is great to do. I feel that this quest has started a new beginning on the next part of the journey of my life, I have a sense of inner strength and accomplishment. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have done my Rite of Passage – My Thirteen Year Old Initiation.” Tristern, 13 “Tristern’s older brother James says he felt a real sense of achievement when he finished his quest two years earlier. The quest for James was very different. He went with his two closest friends and they talked about it for a long time, so Tristern felt his had to be like theirs. Tristern got something very different out of his quest. As well as other things, he learnt that it was OK to trust new people in his life. I felt a sense of mourning for myself and the other mothers when our sons departed on their rites of passage. It brought up the fact that my journey with my sons was coming to a fork in the road, and that I really want to enjoy them and make the most of our journey together. The best bit was watching the boys triumphantly returning with their torches to light the community fire. Tristern particularly looked forward to this point as this signaled the time when his community and ceremonial responsibilities included tending the fire. (His favorite thing).” Our daughter Amellia has attended three Menarche ceremonies with me in our community’s women’s moon lodge and is very much looking forward to attending her own Maiden Menarche Ceremony this year at our Beltane Camp. It is fantastic to see her happiness, she has no fear and has such willingness to embrace this next stage in her life.” Nicole, mother of James, Tristern and Amellia
James, Tristen, Lochlan and Jackson return
Marty came with his mother and older sisters to the Beltane camp for his rite of passage. I asked him afterward, how he had felt leading up to the rite of passage “I guess I was curious and excited on figuring what would be happening. I expected something hard and challenging. Once it started I was a little bit anxious and a tiny bit nervous but it was probably mostly excited. It was very fun and made you think and examine every situation.” What was the best bit? “During the rite of passage, I would say the best bit was crossing the ropes and finding the food and drinks for us. But I also liked the end when all the men and us shared a story of a hardship in their lives.” What was the worst bit? “Well at the beginning on one of the first challenges we got stuck because we went the wrong way but eventually we figured out that we were not in the right place.” What was it like coming back into the circle to light the fire? “That was very fun and I guess relaxing in a way, because you knew you had accomplished and conquered it!” How did that feel? “Great.” Can you feel any difference in yourself having done the rite of passage? “I guess I feel a little bit older and more matured.” What would you say to other boys about doing it? “That it’s a lot of fun and you would be glad while your doing it and when you have finished it.” Marty 13
Marty, Tristern and Sam light the fire
So, it’s a wonderful thing to take time out of time, to pause and acknowledge our children as they become young women and men. To honour and celebrate them, not for their achievements in school or sport or whatever, but just for being them, for being alive and ‘growing up’. In theory, and in practice, they feel that they are revered by their elders, that their value is significant and that they are loved, supported and held by a group, their tribe so to speak. And this is good, its want they are meant to feel. If you’d like any further information about what and how we do these rites of passage please contact me. You will however, have deep in you, a very clear knowing of how to do this stuff that you can tap into. After all, as humans we’ve been doing this sort of thing for a lot longer than we haven’t.
The day after the rites of passage we have our “Maypole”
i“Temple of the Blood” a CD by Katherine Cunningham has a wonderful guided meditation for women to use for healing around their menarche and menstrual cycles. Contact Living Gently PO Box 717 Lakes Entrance Victoria 3909 Australia ii http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC05/Cogburn.htm