‘When the red rose bloom in her belly, the doorway between her eyes shall open.’ -Ancient Celtic saying
Ritual calls in, awakens and connects us to ancient wisdom available to us all when we stop and humbly listen. I see transitional rituals as essential and foundational for contemporary women to return to the sacred, reverent, receptive and earthy connection to our bodies, our spirits, our unique wisdom, and our capacity to dream our healthy futures into existence.
Working with mothers and daughters over nearly two decades I continue to loudly encourage women to create ritual and ceremony for young girls ushering them into menarche. It doesn’t have to be on the first day or month she bleeds. It doesn’t have to look like something specific. But it’s symbolism and spirit will subtly and profoundly bring a message to girls: this is your woman-body, your body is a powerful force, a dear friend, a temple for your spirit. Walk in pride and beauty, respect and responsibility, wonder and strength, knowing you are connected to all women everywhere through the sacred red thread of blood, regardless of whether you ever have children or not, and even beyond menopause.
Menarche Rituals have played a vital role in Indigenous cultures as symbolic enactments of, and reverent gestures to, the holy power of Fertility. Ritual honouring of young women in adolescence pays homage to the spiritual and visionary dimension of her role as ‘creatress’, illuminating the sacredness of the female body, it’s mysterious and miraculous womb connected to lunar cycles, and the privilege and responsibility to bear children, bringing spirit into form. Women’s bodies symbolise the Great Mother Earth herself, containing the life, birth, death cycles all within her.
It makes sense. If a young woman learns to honour her body as sacred, to self-care and self-respect, then she will make healthy choices for her body, her sexuality, her birthing and her children. She will stay connected to her body’s wisdom and learn from it’s changes, and her healthy entry into menstruation will support her through her menopause. She will be empowered and strengthened by knowing she carries (and is carried by) something of value, deeply connected to the cycles of the universe, something of mystery itself, the red thread connecting women throughout time, and all humans…..as every human has been birthed through a woman’s body. She will recognise her menstrual cycle as a resource, a friend, a wise mentor, a sanctuary.
If on the other hand she is told silently and overtly through cultural messages that menstruation is dirty, unclean, a hassle, or just a basic mechanical function that can be controlled with the right medication, she will learn that her body and the natural cycles of Earth and life are the enemy ……to be tamed, feared, and controlled.
Within a contemporary Western context of individualism and sanitised menstrual-phobic culture it can seem pretty weird to a young girl to be celebrated at menarche. Just ask her. Most girls will run. Some might say, ‘No thanks, mum, I prefer to be private.’ But I ask women, mothers, ‘How can an adolescent girl understand, and have a context for, the importance and lifelong impact of how her early menstrual years will shape her views of herself as woman, affect her energy levels, her relationship to her sexuality, her birthing, and her menopause?’ ‘Do you think she is prepared now to make her own decisions about her future?’
When I educate women about the impact of women’s cycles of menstruation over a lifetime women often cry quietly, ‘If only I would have known as a young woman, if only my mother or aunties or grandmothers would have held me, oh my life’s choices would have been very different.’
A word of caution: If we overlay a shallow, plastic, contemporary version of a ritual celebration on menarche it could become like a birthday party with red balloons. Menarche rituals and ceremonies carry powerful symbolism. Have clear intention. Dig deep inside. Go gently. Get support from others who have held these ceremonies before. Be sure it’s not only about her as a person, it’s bigger than that. Remember, it’s not what we say that will imprint our girls most, it’s how we live, moon by moon, breath by breath.
Yes, we want to celebrate our young women entering womanhood, yes we want to honour life and fecundity, but are we living in a way that is congruent with what we may espouse in these rituals? If not, what mixed messages are our girls getting? Where are the challenges that traditionally came with entering womanhood rituals? Where are the elders to hold space, pass on the wisdom over time, consistently, not only for the party times, …….for the troubled times, reaching out to nieces daughters granddaughters everywhere? Are you willing and ready to be a future elder?
Breaking this internalised menstrual taboo calls all of us as women to reclaim the power of womanhood. Not power as in ‘power over’, but power as a natural, intuitive, subtle, receptive, earth-rooted depth sustaining and nourishing us to walk shamelessly and steadfastly, to stand strong, allowing the cycles of blood and ovulation, moon and darkness, life and death to keep us balanced, renewed and unwavering in our commitments to the Feminine qualities of nurture, fierceness, protection, vulnerability, endurance, visionary, healer.