And other important questions…..
I sit to write for the Autumn Newsletter, to do as one does, or has the opportunity to do, at this time of the year, of reviewing one’s harvest… and the big question: has my growing, my metaphoric gardening technique/s yielded a bounty-full harvest? What went right? What went wrong? Will I be able to sustain myself/us during the winter ahead?
So from a very literal perspective as I prepare for what I have ahead, this newsletter piece, the Being Woman Keynote address, the Seven Sisters Festival workshop, the Homebirth conference presentation, I review my harvest. What have I learned to answer the questions that are the basis of my presentations:
“What does it mean to you to live a life as a full, conscious woman?”
“How does one navigate the altars of womanhood with consciousness?”
“What can we do when a Rite feels like a wrong?”
“How do our rites of passage or our visits to the Altars of Womanhood connect and what are they teaching us?”
Its not that hard to see what it looks like to navigate the altars of Womanhood without consciousness. That’s the dominant picture in our culture, the disempowered, disconnected feminine. Whether that means a young girl who gets her first period amidst comments of ‘poor you’ or a woman who doesn’t know the personal and planetary opportunities for healing and renewal inherent in her menstrual cycle, or a mother who learns from her birth experience that her body doesn’t work, ‘fails’ at breast feeding and feels disconnected from her baby, or the middle aged woman who takes drugs recommended by her doctor to keep her ‘young and healthy’ and so stays in a land of limbo somewhere between mother and wise woman, keeping a pace that actually no longer serves her. Or when a rite feels like a wrong, begging the question, and leaving her wondering – why did this happen to me? These and more are the signs and symptoms of the unconscious navigation of the altars of womanhood.
When we bring consciousness to our experiences at the altars of womanhood otherwise known as our rites of passage, we can even see what our life journey this time holds. The experiences we have are a look into the patterns that occur in our lives and what the contributing factors are or have been. Retrospectively we can see the patterns that have emerged as the repetitions unfold. Prospectively, we can see what wants to happen and trace that to inherited beliefs and attitudes, cultural influences or what is called the Red Thread. Daughters will do what their mothers have done until they decide to do something different.
When mothers take responsibility for their own experiences at the Altars and do the inner work that they offer – in acknowledging fears, updating beliefs, recognising patterns and asking ‘how does this serve?’ then their daughters have the chance to face their Altars without those inherited issues, fears and beliefs. Thus healing the Red Thread. This also happens the other way too, when she does her inner work, then shifts happen back down the line, her mother is also healed, her grandmother and all the women before.
The new and next wave of feminism is the reclaiming of the sacred dimensions of womanhood, this shows up through the Blood Mysteries, the Altars of Womanhood, our Rites of Passage, which are all portals into the sacred, spiritual and shamanic dimensions of womanhood.
Conscious negotiation of the Altars of Womanhood, our rites of passage, serves not only our selves but also ‘all our relations’. Rites of passage serve many purposes, and primarily for the purpose of this discussion, I shall focus on the fact that rites of passage create culture and they reinforce it.
I have learned over the decades in my role as Homebirth Midwife, Priestess to the Birth Altar, and more recently as Priestess to the Menarche Altar, that rites of passage create community. The women and their families that I attended the births of, became friends, became community. This community grew as more friends joined, not necessarily because of their birth choices but because they were invited due to their like-minded-ness.
During preparation for birth classes that I offered to my homebirth clients and other women in the community, Mother’s Circles grew. From the Mother’s Circles grew the Women’s Circles and Men’s Circles. We came together as communities do, to support each other at times of need – births, deaths, sickness, and we did and continue to gather together to mark the sabbats over the year, the ancient festival days that mark the shifts between seasons, the equinoxes and the solstices and the cross quarter festivals in between, just like our forbearers did in their communities. We share the roles and responsibilities at these celebrations just like we share the roles in inviting new folk into the community, or calling for help for someone in particular, or spreading the word about the conscious rites of passage for teenagers that we do together. We all know ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and we know what that looks like today in our modern lives, we’re practical. We gather to celebrate International Women’s Day and have held information stalls in our local town during Homebirth Awareness Week.
I facilitate a Maiden’s Circle for the girls in the community who have reached their menarche and beyond. I teach the young women the spiritual practice of menstruation and the wisdom of the cycles. My presumption is that if these young women are supported in connecting with their menstrual cycle rather than masking, drugging or avoiding it, then they will have the experience Mother Nature intended and move through their lives, through the ongoing process of letting go and renewal consciously, and this will best prepare them for their visit to the next Altar of Womanhood – Childbirth. This presumption is based on a knowing coming from years of helping women connect the dots between their Menarche, their experiences of menstruation and their experience/s of childbirth and later perimenopause. None of these rites of passage stand alone, each is connected to and greatly influenced by the one before.
When we bring consciousness to rites of passage, our visits to the Altars, we can participate in and co-create healing, for ‘all our relations’. Our first rite of passage is our own birth and what happens around and during this experience affects us forever. What we imprint from our experience choreographs how we ‘birth’ things, our creative process, how we bring things into being, and also how we ‘do’ process.
Following that first rite of being born are probably several other specific cultural rites of passage like going to preschool, primary school, high school etc. And the next big one for a girl is her menarche. Again what happens around and during her menarche influences the girl becoming a young woman, forever. The circumstances around a rite of passage, what happens, what doesn’t happen etc, inform, usually on a subliminal level, the person, about how their culture values (or doesn’t) that new stage they are entering and what their culture expects of them in their new phase/stage. Likewise for childbirth and perimenopause.
Picture a young girl born by caesarean section as a result of foetal distress from the cascade of intervention following an induction of labour, with lots of drugs, including synthetic hormones and narcotics, crossing the placenta (probably somewhere between 20-30% of births in Australia) all to hurry her earthside because she didn’t come on time and she was too late… she arrives at the Menarche Altar, the place of transformation into being a woman, to hear “bad luck” or “get used to it, its going to be like this for 40 years” or “keep it hidden, carry on regardless” (the most common experience for girls past and present) and then her periods come irregularly (actually the norm in the first few years) and cause her pain (something her culture wants to pretend doesn’t happen), so she is prescribed The Pill (the most prescribed medication on the planet, so famous its called THE pill), to regulate her, to bring her into order, on time, predictable, and to reduce the flow and the pain. Unbeknown to her at the time, trusting her adults and her doctor, she is chemically induced into a pseudo state of pregnancy, her physical and emotional development is slowed and sometimes even arrested. She is drugged with a synthetic version of the hormone that is up to 300 times more than the normal amount of oestrogen her body is made to deal with and she endures the side effects which include many dangerous and unwelcome symptoms, it throws the fine balance of her hormones right off. Her menstrual periods are not real, they are chemically induced break through bleeds, and when she becomes sexually active, because her pheromones are messed with by the pill, she is attracted to boys/young men that she wouldn’t be if she wasn’t on the pill. Add to this mix that 2-3 in 5 women have been or are being sexually abused, and are seeing or are experiencing physical violence in their homes. When it comes time for her much wanted baby, she may have difficulty conceiving, or she may not, either way she will rely on the doctors to guide her, knowing they know what’s best. (She hears an echo in her mind of an old wives tale – mother knows best and chuckles at the wrongness of that, of course the doctors know best, after all they are the experts.) Because she may never have actually found her body’s rhythm with a natural cycle, she may never have realised that her body talks to her with messages through symptoms of what needs to change, what’s out of balance, what she needs to do more or less of. She hasn’t actually connected with her body’s wisdom. So when her labour hasn’t started ‘on time’, she has an induction and the cycle repeats itself. When she reaches her perimenopause, she doesn’t understand why she feels so sad, so angry, so confused. So the doctor prescribes antidepressants and artificial hormone replacement drugs and she feels numb. Not better, numb.
During her maiden years a young woman may wake up to the untruths, the lies, or it may take a visit to the Birth Altar before she gets it.. “my baby was born just like me!” or maybe during her perimenopause she realises what she’s angry and sad about.
This may not be your story, but I assure you it is the common one.
So what can we do about this?
Firstly we must always respect that everyone is on a life journey to wholeness, having the experiences they ‘need’ to have to ‘teach’ them want they need to learn to get them to the next place on their journey. Simple, no judgements, no right or wrong, just lessons, specific to the individual. There are times when intervention (intervention doesn’t need to be a dirty word!) can be helpful, there are times when whatever happens will have a profound effect, these are the times that we need to focus on and bring all we can to. These times are a baby’s birth, a girl’s menarche, each and every menstrual cycle, childbirth, perimenopause and death.
Menstruation can teach us to trust our bodies, some thing we may not have imprinted from our own birth nor experienced at our menarche.
I have thought long and hard about the question ‘what can we do?’ and I believe through the spiritual practice of menstruation, which includes honouring the menarche and the healing this provides for the mothers of the daughters; conscious conception, pregnancy and childbirth; and conscious perimenopause – navigating the altars of womanhood consciously, we can change the dominant paradigm and live rich, full conscious lives, healing ourselves and the Red Thread.
If a girl is honoured at her menarche, if entering womanhood is celebrated, if wisdom is shared within the circle of women that hold her, then she will learn to trust her body. This opportunity presents itself daily as she brings consciousness to her cycle and engages in the spiritual practice of menstruation. The pop culture will have a lot to say against this and those messages may come reinforced by her peers, her teachers, the media, however if we hold her and encourage her to listen to her body and to trust her body, then she is less likely to need to learn that when she gives birth by replaying the ‘you can’t trust your body’ belief through her experience of childbirth. If her baby is born gently, then the healed cycle can continue.
Women’s stories about the connection between their menarche and childbirth:
From Ten Moons:
“ I can see a connection with my menarche and my experience of my first birth. Growing up in my home, brought up with the Catholic faith, topics such as sexuality and women’s cycles were taboo and not talked about openly. So as a young teen I was not really aware of much. I mainly learned through ‘sex education’ at school and playground talk. I am positive that my mother grew up with that same taboo and so found it hard to talk about these subjects with me.
Likewise with my first birth, I was only aware of what the system offered, I followed it from the day I found out I was pregnant to the day I left the hospital. There was little education, little information and little choice. My pregnancy and birth felt like a product of the system.
At the time I thought that was the best and only option for me and my unborn child, but like with my cycle if I had of been given more education that would have lead to more choice and a richer and deeper experience. However, I trust that this was the perfect and divine plan for me and my family as it led me to where I am now.”
“There is a major connection between my first blood and my first birth. My first birth experience left me feeling as I did when I first bled. The deepest part of me felt that something amazing had just happened, yet I felt empty and confused. I didn’t have any support or knowledge of a way to express my feelings, and I still struggle when I think about those two experiences. I get the same feeling like – what was that all about? When I first bled my Mum was the only person I told and she didn’t even stop what she was doing, just simply told me where to find the pads. Mum was at my first birth too and although she really wanted to help me and be close, I couldn’t stand her being there. Not one bit of me felt that she could offer any help. The confusing part is that my Mum is very nurturing and caring, she’s great in many ways. I have searched myself for the reason for my attitude towards my Mum and my feelings of rejection and anger that seem to come from nowhere. Both times I needed reminding of my inner wisdom and my connection to all that is, my Mother didn’t help me. I can’t blame her of course, but seeing these connections helps me understand the root of my feelings towards her and that part of my journey.”
Consider this scenario: you were born, born gently, in a quiet calm space into the hands of your mother who felt safe warm and so so happy that you’d come. You grew up a free child, nurtured not controlled.
When the time came you excitedly awaited your menarche, knowing the stories, the importance, yet unsure of what awaited you. You were welcomed into the circle of women, they held you, loved you and shared their wisdom, saying they were there for you.
You rode the winds of your cycle as they changed and developed into patterns and teachings. Each time your blood came, you took some time to be alone to hear the lessons, to receive the gifts. You knew how to wo-manage yourself through your cycle, when you would have lots of energy and when you wouldn’t. Your cycle was your friend, your guide, your body, your subconscious, and your connection to the Moon and Earth, you knew that and you gave great thanks for that. You met regularly with other maiden’s, your friends and you developed your understandings together. As you got older your responsibilities in your community increased at the six weekly sabbat ceremonies, you were developing with the others your acute sense and knowing of the cycles of the Earth.
When you became sexually active you knew about how to avoid conception through your cycle awareness and your lunar ovulation. When you found your mate and you both heard the call from your soulbaby, you conceived her consciously, such a profound gift to her. You gave birth in your chosen space, with your chosen support, undisturbed, in the altered state of consciousness that the process enables. Your baby, born gently, in a quiet calm space into your hands, where you felt safe warm and so so happy that she’d come. She grew up a free child, nurtured not controlled. You had more babies, each birth a deeper initiation into motherhood, each child here with you with a ‘sacred contract’. You mothered with love and respect for your babies and yourself.
When the time came and your fertility waned, you started to feel and see the physical changes you’d watched your own mother go through. You welcomed them, as she had welcomed them, knowing this was heralding the next season of your life, your shift from summer to autumn.
As your children grew more independent and your life had more space for your personal dreams and plans, you took your harvest, the things you’d learned in your intense mothering years, to the world, the larger community. Your wisdom was welcomed and relished, you had learned so much, you had so much to share and offer.
You became a grandmother over and over and could hardly believe how wonderful that felt, life just kept getting better!
As you aged you withdrew from the outside world and spent a lot of time reflecting and contemplating your experiences this lifetime, fortunately one of your grandchildren would sit with you and write down your stories, so they would be there for the next generations that wouldn’t meet you in this flesh.
When your time came, and you knew it when it did, you died peacefully and consciously, just how you’d lived. They all mourned your passing, but knew it was your choice and that you were ready.
They always had you with them anyway, a quiet, or not so quiet sometimes, voice in their minds that would reassure them, remind them all was good.
This need not be a faery tale, we can all begin again at any moment. How we heal ourselves heals others, heals the Earth and heals the Red Thread.We can heal our birth, reclaim our menarche, heal our childbirth experiences, learning what we need to learn from them, we can engage in the spiritual practice of menstruation, we can reclaim our menopause, we can be healed. This is in fact the opportunity, and it is for all our relations.
So how to start?
Get off the pill, take out your IUD or your implant and take responsibility for your fertility. Chart your cycle, watch the moon, celebrate the seasons, honour the Earth. Acknowledge your fears, let them go and update your beliefs, don’t judge yourself, or others. Trust in the perfection of everything and every moment. Follow your nose and your intuition, eat organic food, drink lots of fluoride free water, exercise, walk or run in Nature. Feel your feelings and express them without doing any damage. Know that the people who press your buttons the most are the ones you have the most to learn from. Don’t watch horror movies or the News or the TV at all. Listen to what you’re telling yourself and adjust it so that its positive. Be kind and gentle and laugh lots, and trust the process.