Rituals are society's way of teaching and maintaining the culture. To restore the matrilineal lines of initiation (old women teaching young women) rituals are essential. A menarche (first menstruation) ritual can make this time easier and more meaningful for both the young women beginning menstruation, and her mother. Such a ritual comforts the young woman and lets her know that her feelings are natural and have been shared by women throughout time. It focuses the attention of the community on the young women's needs at this time in her life. And it instructs the young woman about what her family and society expect of her now that she is entering womanhood.
When your daughter's first menstruation arrives, congratulate her, love her, and make sure you take care of her immediate physical and emotional needs. Then call together your community of women to participate in the ritual you have planned. Let other women support and nurture you both at this time. Don't worry if some of the women are embarrassed by the idea of a moon-time ritual. Their feelings will be healed as they join in the honoring of your daughter. And please don't put off your daughter's ritual because she is shy and doesn't want to tell anyone “she has started. " This is her moment. I recommend helping her to face it and feel good about it. Surround her with women she loves and who love her. You may be surprised, especially if you have never attended a menarche ritual, at the healing and joy that accompany such a gathering.
At most menarche rituals, women only are present. The men of the family, and the young girls who have not yet begun menstruation, are invited to congratulate the new woman after the ritual, and give her gifts.
Begin your ritual by creating a sacred space in whatever way feels comfortable to you and to your friends and family. Turn off all phones (and cell phones) and put “Do Not Disturb" signs on the doors. Light candles or incense, play soft music or drum softly, read poetry or sit in silence.
An altar is a common way to create a sacred space. Altars help us remember and focus on what is meaningful for us. The objects on the altar are symbolic of the theme of the ritual. We may have symbols of the Earth, pictures or statues of great or holy people or pictures of revered family members. Flowers and other decorations are welcome. A flower garland, to be worn later by the new woman, can be on the altar.
Another way to create a sacred space is to make a circle with a red rope. Our community has a rope that has been dyed red, which is used at many community rituals. You can also sprinkle herbs around the outside of the circle.
As you enter the sacred space, purify your minds and hearts of daily concerns. You can sprinkle everyone with water, or throw flower petals over everyone, or smudge-whatever feels to you like dropping the mundane. Smudging symbolizes cleaning off negative energy and preparing for the sacred ritual. You can buy smudge sticks at most food coops, natural food stores, or stores that sell herbs. Or pick some herbs from your garden, wind cotton string around them to form a “stick" a few inches long and one to three inches in diameter. Hang the herb stick in a warm dry place for two to four weeks. At your ritual, light the stick, let it burn for a few seconds and then extinquish it. It will continue to smoke. You then “smudge" each other or yourself by letting the smoke drift around the body.
The Woman's Blessing: At your ritual, have ready a dish of clean sand or corn meal. (I use a large clay flowerpot base and fill it with sand. ) Ask the new woman to step into the dish of sand or corn meal, leaving her footprints. (Have a towel for her to wipe her feel afterwards. )
Each woman comes forward, lights a candle, and puts it into the footprints in the sand or corn meal, which represent the new woman's journey on Mother Earth. Each woman then gives her woman's blessings, such as: “I am Marie, sister of Georgia Ann, daughter of Selia, granddaughter of Mary Ann and Christina, mother of Christina and Elizabeth, grandmother of Erika, Clara, and Savannah Rose. I ask all the women of my line to bless, teach, and protect (Name of new woman) on her journey through all the cycles of Grandmother Moon.
After each woman has made her blessings, the new woman lights a candle and puts it into the same dish of sand. She gives her woman's introduction, and accepts the blessings of all the women. “I am. . . . . . , daughter of. . . . . . . , granddaughter of. . . . . . . I accept your blessings, and thank you all.
The new woman must be adorned in some way. I suggest decorating her hands with henna. Henna is an herb that dyes the skin a red-orange color that turns to brown the next day. Henna kits are available at natural food stores or on the Internet. Flower crowns or garlands are also beautiful. After the adornment, gifts may be given that have some significance to her passage. Red jewelry is traditional. Red underpants are useful! Each gift is given with some ritual words such as, “I am giving you this book on the life of . . . . . . . . . . . . .because I have always found her life to be an inspiration. I know you will find your own path in life and be an equal inspiration to all of us. "
Songs may be sung, poems recited, stories told. Continue with some symbolic ceremony of passage. Women have invented a variety of ways to create a passage ritual for their daughters entering puberty. The women may stand in two lines with arms raised, forming an archway. The new woman stands at the entrance to the archway. She holds a few toys representing her childhood. She has been asked to bring the toys to the ritual to be given to the younger children of the community. However, she is not asked to bring all her toys, or her favorite toys, because aspects of the child remain within all of us and continue to be treasured throughout our lives.
The young woman's grandmother leads the passage ritual. If her grandmother is not present, then a grandmother figure may be chosen to represent her. The grandmother asks, “Who approaches this passage?" The new woman gives her name. Grandmother continues, " ("New woman's name, ) it is time for you to leave behind your childhood and become a member of the circle of women. When you are ready to do so, leave your toys behind, and walk through the archway. " The new woman puts down her toys and walks through the arch. As she comes to the end of the archway, the women ring bells, throw flower petals, and cheer. Everyone kisses and hugs the new woman.
Closing prayers and/or songs end the ritual.
After the ritual the men of the family and the girls who have not yet begun menstruation are invited to congratulate the new woman and present gifts. Everybody joins in food and friendship.
Marie Zenack is a teacher of fertility awareness and a facilitator of women’s rites of passage. http://www.menstrual-cycle-period.com/