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Birthrites: Birth as a Rite of Passage

“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly bellypictureinvolved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger (Rediscovering Birth)

“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA (via Mama Birth)

I have long held that birth is a rite of passage worthy of acknowledgement, care, and deep respect.  This post is second in a series of short posts from the book Birthrites by Jackie Singer (the first was about ritual). Singer writes powerful about birth as a rite of passage here:

Birth is the archetypal rite of passage for a woman, containing the essential elements of any ritual: separation from normal life, a profound transition during which the participants occupy a timeless time, followed by re-entry into society in a changed state. It can also be seen as a holy sacrament; the entry of a soul from another plan into this earthly dimension. Birth has always been, and still is, a momentous event, attended by great hopes as well as genuine risks, and one in which people call on a variety of powers for support and protection…

…such a calling in of the spirit is still possible today, whether the birth is at home in a candle-lit pool, or by Caesarean in a brightly lit hospital…

Some collected quotes from past posts on this theme…

‘All cultures believe that women become better and more generous through the process of giving birth. That is why some cultures use words such as ‘sacrifice,’ ‘suffering’ and ‘labour.’ These terms can seem overwhelming and to be avoided’ however, seen from a different viewpoint, childbirth helps us to become strong, resourceful and determined.’ (The Pink Kit)

via Birth as a Rite of Passage & ‘Digging Deeper’ | Talk Birth.

‘Birthing is also a rite of passage–into parenthood–and like any other passage, it comes upon us and we just have to deal with it. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, and it would be perfectly natural to want to prepare in some way. And you can do that. But to some extent the experience is still out of your control.’ (The Pink Kit)

via Birth as a Rite of Passage | Talk Birth.

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –from the book MotherMysteries

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

‘So how can today’s modern goddesses, and in particular mammas-to-be, prepare themselves for life’s many transitions? A good starting point is to create your own rite of passage for whatever transition you may be going through. Pregnant women could change their planned baby shower to a Mother Shower (also known as a Blessingway). Mother Showers celebrate and nurture the mother rather than focusing exclusively on the child and are a growing trend amongst women. They offer pregnant women a chance to honour their pregnancy journey, to enjoy symbolic rituals of preparation for the labour and birthing ahead and indulge in an afternoon of loving, nourishing attention from their closest friends and family. And yes, there are still cupcakes!’ –Kat Skarbek

via Rites of Passage… Celebrating Real Women’s Wisdom | Talk Birth.

December 2013 009

Listen to the wise woman…

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Mini mamapriestess sculpture I made to take with me for my medicine bundle.

Last summer after I finished my priestess certification and I’d been facilitating women’s retreats for two years, I got a wild idea to go to a womanspirit or goddess festival of some kind. I did a google search and found one that sounded great—the Gaea Goddess Gathering–and it was happening in just two weeks. Imagine my surprise to then look at the bottom of the screen and see that it was located only a five-hour drive from me, just over the border into Kansas. I decided it was “meant to be.” My mom and a friend signed up with me (and Alaina) and we packed up my van and went! The night before we left on our adventure, I sat down at the kitchen table and felt a knife-like stinging pain on the back of my leg. I’d accidentally sat on a European giant hornet (these are not regular hornets, they are literally giant hornets about two inches long).

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Sting before I left.

Though it became hot and swollen and terribly painful, we set forth anyway. I asked for input on Facebook and did google research and started putting benadryl cream on it, even though I usually go with home remedies over medical-model remedies. It got worse and worse, eventually running from my hip to my knee and wrapped around my entire leg so
that two thirds of my thigh was sting-area and the difference in size between my legs was noticeable through clothing. During the festival, as I watched myself get worse and worse and people kept making remarks about needing epi-pens and maybe I should go to the hospital, I decided to dispense with the benadryl and listen to the wise women instead. My friend found plantain and made me a poultice. The cook gave me baking soda that I applied in a paste. I went to a ceremony that involved a healing ritual with sound and a priestess in a tent beat a drum over me as I lay there on my stomach. After a little Reiki healing, she then leaned very, very close to my ear and said quietly, “are you taking good enough care of yourself? You give and give and it is time to receive. You need to be taken care of too.” And, I cried.

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Sting after arriving. I didn’t take any pictures of it at the worst. It got about twice as bad as this. Every time I thought it could not possible get worse, it got twice as bad!

I came out of the tent and laid on a bench and women I didn’t know came and put their hands on my back and made me tinctures of strange plants they found in the herb garden and I drank it even though it almost made me gag. Another woman I didn’t know rubbed my back and though I couldn’t even see her face, she leaned close to my ear and said, “sometimes life stings you. Your friends, your family, being a parent, taking care of your children. It stings sometimes. Things people say without meaning to sting you. You’re sensitive, Sometimes it stings a lot and you worry that you’re not good enough. I see you with your baby. You are such a good mother.” And, I cried again, lying there on bench in the middle of nowhere with my dress pulled up and my red, sore, swollen, horrible thigh covered with a poultice of mysterious weeds, surrounded by women I didn’t know, but who were caring for me. And, I got better. By the time I got home, the sting was almost totally healed.

As soon as I returned home, I made a list, intending to develop it into a blog post about everything I’d learned at this gathering of women. The list languished in my drafts folder and the wheel of the year continued to turn and now it is September again and next week, some friends and I will be hopping back in my van and heading back to the GGG for this year’s festival. I decided the blog post will never get “developed” into the post I had intended, but that I can still share my list anyway. I also realized that I have been reluctant to post it here for fear of being too “weird” and alienating readers. But, Talk Birth is like a buffet, you can take what works for you and leave the rest! 😉 I’m also writing now because I’m going to go ahead and give myself a week off from blogging and I wanted to post some sort of explanation as to why. I’m going to focus on getting ready for the festival (I’m selling jewelry while there too!) and hanging out with my family (and, oh yeah, grading all the papers that are due this Sunday night!).

So, what did I learn at the GGG?

  • I have a lot to learn
  • Likewise, I know more than I give myself credit for—I am both more skilled than I may think and less skilled than I’d like to be.
  • I want to be more confident
  • I need to always remember to look for a wise woman when I need help. And, that allowing myself to be cared for by strangers is a surprisingly powerful experience.
  • I am much more quickly judgmental than I realized or like to admit—I judge the book by its cover and assess “worth” by appearance more often than I thought and I disappointed myself with that. I learned that ALL women have hidden gifts and I was surprised over and over again what people had to offer, that their appearance might not have suggested.
  • My body knows how to heal (I’ve learned this before, also from a bug)
  • It was great to have just one-on-one time with Alaina. She just wants to be with me. I didn’t have to cook/do laundry or anything else. I just toted her around which is exactly what she needs/wants (*note from this year: she still wants exactly this and I’m looking forward to giving it to her).
  • My mom is incredibly creatively gifted. And, I’m lucky to be around so many creative women in my own community. They have awesome gifts!
  • I don’t need to do everything—other people have their own talents and I don’t have to “do it all,” all of the time.
  • But by the same token, I don’t have to be good at everything and it is still okay to do things and be bad at them, but still try. (However, it also good to let other people have their specialties/share their gifts. I don’t have to do it all.)
  • I can be open to receive.
  • I can be a singer! Perform in a group! Feel awesome!
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    Once this started, I knew I’d made the right choice to come after all!

  • Ditto drummer!
  • Explanation of the two points above which also connect to the one about not having to do everything and yet it also being okay to try. One of the sessions at the festival was the “GGG Soul Singers.” One of the women taught a large group of us several cool songs. During the special dinner that night, we got up together with sound equipment and everything and performed our songs. Everyone was yelling and cheering and clapping and it was great. So much fun! I’m a terrible singer, I know that, but that night I felt like I was amazing. And, I learned that being terrible at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it anyway and enjoy yourself. I’m looking forward to doing this again this year! At this festival I was captivated by these massive community drums the women had. Large enough to be played by four or even more women at once, I absolutely loved them. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried, and discovered I could indeed do it. I could drum and sing and keep up with the group. When I got home, I decided I must have a drum like this and spent way too much money and ordered one online. And, even though I’m tone-deaf and “non-musical,” I can play it. And, I’m still amazing, whether I really am or not!
  • I felt both more and less competent—related to knowing a lot and yet having a lot to learn, I discovered that I’m a pretty good ceremonialist, a lot better than I’d given myself credit for, but that some other people are way better than me (and others are not. What matters is trying).
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    Intense stairs from the dining hall and lodging to the “ridge” where ceremonies took place. Navigating these was NO FUN with that sting on my leg! But, isn’t tiny Alaina cute setting off on her own and heading on up?!

  • I was acknowledged/recognized as priestess/clergy to my own circle of women and it felt very good to be seen in that way. I’m trying to be/offer/bring something to the local area that still feels tender and vulnerable in myself. I lack some confidence. Want to build it! And, yet, I do it anyway. I’m brave! Maybe I’m not as skilled or musical or awesome as I could be, but I’m pretty darn good and…at least I TRY!
  • Want family to be clear priority. Family harmony is a top goal. I want to make sure to give them my good stuff too! Don’t save my passion and enthusiasm for “others” only!

When I got home from this festival, I was so inspired that I planned and facilitated a pretty great nighttime, firelit “sagewoman” ceremony in a teepee (with drumming on my new community drum) for the wise women of my own community. As a ritualist/ceremonialist, I learned from the GGG-experience that ambiance really, really matters in offering a cool ritual.

Since last year, I’ve developed my ceremonialist skills even further and last month received an additional supplemental ordination from the American Priestess Council. I’m almost three years into my D.Min program, I’ve taken advanced coursework in ritual design as well as pastoral counseling, liturgy, the role of the priestess, ethics, history, and so forth. At this time last year, I was struggling with whether or not it was “okay” for me to own the Priestess identity I felt “called” into and at the GGG I was seen and heard into this identity particularly by my friend and also by my mom. It turns out it is okay for me to serve others as a Priestess and to claim that title with authenticity even though I’m not as perfect and amazing as I feel like I should be (I’m also a blogger for SageWoman magazine and I’m currently working on a post called who does she think SHE is, that is about exactly this tension).

Some more pictures:

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Henna feet! From the woman who did this for me, I learned the phrase: “sparkles are my favorite color.”

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Medicine bundle! This was the best class ever. The woman brought piles and piles of random and awesome stuff and it was all free to choose what you wanted for your bundle. How cool is this face?!

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She also had simple clay goddesses for us to paint and attach as well as we could.

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Pensive little Lainey looking back thoughtfully at the stairs up which she just journeyed.

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Back home demo’ing a beautiful sarong gifted to my by my seeing friend!

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What’s this…

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…I hear…big DRUMS!

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When I got home, I was inspired to make some new sculptures and Mark cut a lovely gemstone and made a pendant.

Here I go again! I wonder what lessons await me this year…

New Baby Ritual (Plus Maruti Beads Review!)

July 2013 014One of my good friends recently had her family’s eighth baby. I’ve had mother blessing ceremonies for her with past babies and I meant to do so for this baby as well, but our unexpected trip to California occurred right at the time we should have been having the blessingway. Last week, I had the chance to visit her and to meet her new baby. I decided to put together a mini-welcome-new-baby-ritual and have it with just us by the river. I called it a “blessingway in a bag” and I included some tea, candles, and bindis in the bag, so that her family could have the complete ceremony themselves on their own if they wanted to do so. Several months ago, I also received a beautiful box of Maruti Beads to review. They’ve been sitting by the computer waiting for a special occasion and this was finally it! I made a pretty necklace for my friend to honor her family’s “tree of life” and I included one of the gorgeous Maruti beads (more pictures to follow).

July 2013 043 At the river, we didn’t actually do the full ceremony that I’ve included below—I’d written it up as a complete ritual that could be done with a group, as needed/wanted—instead, I just read my friend the poems and gave her my gifts 🙂

Ceremony of Welcome for a New Baby

*Opening reading:

Wonder of Wonders

Wonder of wonders,
life is beginning
fragile as blossom,
strong as the earth.
Shaped in a person,
love has new meaning,
parents and people
sing at their birth.
Now with rejoicing,
make celebration;
joy full of promise,
laughter through tears,
naming and blessing
bring dedication,
humble in purpose
over the years.
–Singing the Living Tradition (UU Hymnal)

*Baby name is announced!

 A Prayer for One Who Comes to Choose This Life

May she know the welcome
of open arms and hearts

May she know she is loved
by many and by one

May she know the circle of friendship that gives July 2013 013
and receives love in all its forms

May she know and be known
in the heart of another

May she know the heart
that is this earth
reach for the stars and
call it home

And in the end
may she find everything
in her heart
and her heart
in everything.

(by Danelia Wild in Sisters Singing)

*Gifts, Beads, Blessings…
A good idea is for each guest to bring a special bead and add it to a necklace/mobile for the baby–as each person places their bead, they offer a wish or blessing for the baby.

*Sing Call Down a Blessing
(each person fills in a word of choice for the blank space and whole group sings each in turn. i.e. “Joy….joy before you, joy behind you…”)

Call down a blessing

Call down a blessing

Call down a blessing

Call down.

__________before you

__________behind you

__________within you

__________and around you

*Hold up/out baby or mother and baby stand in center of circle.

*Group Reading (optional: simultaneous “anointing” with elements):

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

*And/OR

Stars give her strength
Sun turn her eyes
Moon guide her feet
Earth turning hold her
We pray for her
We sing for her
We drum for her
We pray.

–Chrystos (in Open Mind)

Back to the beads!

I received the 50 piece Maruti, Kashmiri & Lac Bead Mix. These beads are really something special! They are handmade in India and are of very high quality. Each one is like a small work of art. They are sparkly and beautiful and solid and wonderful. It is hard to decide how to use them, because they feel really special! Since my friend and her new baby are special too, they deserved one of these beautiful beads 🙂 Maruti Beads would make a wonderful, special addition to any blessingway or mother blessing ceremony.

Ceremony Preparations!

My brother got married at my parents’ house early last month and it involved a surprisingly huge amount of work and preparation even though it was a small wedding. Now, we’re getting ready for an overnight women’s retreat at the same location and it feels like almost the same amount of prep work! I’ve been planning and facilitating quarterly women’s spirituality retreats locally for two years. Early this year, we decided to have a special “SageWoman” ceremony in the fall to honor our Queen/Crone members of the circle. It will be similar to a coming of age ceremony for a maiden or a mother blessing ceremony for a pregnant woman. My own mother has already been celebrated multiple times, but the other four honorees have never had a blessingway ceremony—not for coming of age or for pregnancy. (Side note regarding my own mom: she has already been a part of a group ceremony like this for wise women and then through two blessingways during her own pregnancies–I’m one of the only people I know whose mom who was also given blessingways during her pregnancies. I think sometimes the current generation feels like they “invented” them, but there were plenty of awesome women who paved the way to ritually acknowledging the power of the transition to motherhood. In fact, I feel like in many ways, it was my mom who “brought back” the mother blessing to my own circle of friends when she hosted a ceremony for me during my own first pregnancy. Before that, the local women were no longer holding the kinds of ceremonies they’d held during the 80’s.)

We’re having an overnight retreat and planning to have a nighttime ceremony of awesomeness with candlelight and a fire and the deep tones of my new community drum. That’s right, after being totally entranced by the large powwow/community drums at the Goddess festival I attended in Kansas in Sept, I spent way too much money and bought one of my own! We’ve often tried drumming as a group, but just can’t quite get it going. The community drum is going to change all that by involving multiple people on the same drum. Plus, we learned cool chants! I’ve been drumming and singing with my husband since the powwow drum arrived. There is something about the deep sound and the rhythm and the energy of drumming together on the same drum that makes you feel like you are great and could take this show on the road! (I’m not really musically skilled at all, quite the opposite, but the community drum changes that feel of arthymic tone-deafness into awesomeness.)

It is thankfulness-every-day month on Facebook and on Nov. first I shared the following:

Today I’m thankful for a husband that has spent hours and hours this week helping me make presents for MY friends (including a trip to the store today to fix a problem), staying up too late to do so (1:00 a.m. two [three] nights in a row), and patiently persevering when I said I was ready to quit! And, I’m also thankful for a dad and a good friend who spent hours this morning setting up a tipi for us to have a ceremony in this weekend. I guess behind every great women-only ritual are several helpful and awesome men 🙂

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And then yesterday, my dad made a beautiful drum stand using native hardwoods (I made the drumstick in the pic, but Mark made four others for us. See what I mean about the awesome, helpful men?! And, unlike popular stereotypes, this is proof that it is possible to be both a feminist and love and appreciate your menfolk :))

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Since words and ritual creation are my thing, I’ve been working hard creating what I hope will be a beautiful and meaningful ceremony. I will have the ritual outline to share and pictures of the aforementioned gifts I’ve been slaving over after they’ve actually been presented to my friends. Here are two of the readings I’ve chosen to use:

Womanspirit Rising
(an opening. Call and response)

We have come from years of pondering

Silently and alone
As we nurtured our children.

We have come from long, slow generations of women

Who knew their minds
And would not settle

We have come from the ages of pre-history,
Out of the civilizations of Mycenae and Minos
Of Lesbos and Crete.

Of the Olemecs and the Druids
Of Mesopotamia and China

We have come through the ages

Bearing the children,
Nurturing the community
In search of ourselves

We have come to know that

The rising of the womanspirit
Means the rising of humanity

Now we are discovering and re-discovering ourselves

And creating and re-creating
Our depths and our heights…

And our womanspirit is rising
And rising again…

Blessed Be.


*From a Unitarian Universalist Women’s meeting in Albuquerque, NM. Reprinted in the book Readings for Women’s Programs

Womanspirit Rising
(a closing. Call and response)

We come to stay forever

Our womanspirit is rising
Deepening
Converging

We rejoice in it and in one another

We who are many are also one
We who are one are also many

On behalf of our Sisters around the globe

We give thanks.

On behalf of our Sisters who have gone before us.

We give thanks.

On behalf of our Sisters yet to be born

We give thanks.

We are the past.

And we are the future.

We are the here

And we are the now

We are one, we are Sisters

And our womanspirit is rising
And rising again.

We rejoice in our Sisterhood.

Blessed be.


*From a Unitarian Universalist Women’s meeting in Albuquerque, NM . Reprinted in the book Readings for Women’s Programs

Rites of Passage Resources for Daughters & Sons

Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –from the book MotherMysteries

“One of the greatest failings of our society
is that we do not have a ceremony to mark
the passage from childhood to adulthood.”

~Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain~

As a culture, we have very few recognized rites of passage.  I would suggest that perhaps marriage is the only remaining rite of passage that is acknowledged in the mainstream with celebration and ritual. We also have 18th and 21st birthdays recognized as transitional, but unfortunately only through celebrations that involve a lot of drinking. We also recognize the birth of a new baby, but the focus is on the baby and not on the transitional rite of passage for the woman and very often her needs, wishes, and feelings about the experience are trivialized, minimized, or even discouraged (i.e. a healthy baby is ALL that matters…). This summer when a friend’s son turned 13, I was looking up rites of passage for boys, and was frustrated to find the most common definition or experience of a “rite of passage” for a teenage boy was having sex for the first time or getting drunk for the first time. 😦 I would actually venture to conclude that some of the nationwide problems we experience with birth and maternity care stem from this basic lack of acknowledgement of significant rites of passage in our lives.

So, I’ve very much been enjoying my participation in a free telesummit on Rites of Passage for boys and girls, planned by DeAnna L’am of Red Moon and Janet Allison of Boys Alive (there are a variety of guest speakers from a variety of other organizations and backgrounds as well, both men and women).

The event goes on through next week, so check it out if you get a chance! Good stuff!

Rites of Passage: Skillfully Guiding Girls into Womanhood and Boys into Manhood

This same week a student asked me for resources for a mother-daughter group. I had some suggestions for her and figured I’d include them here!

The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens
Amazon affiliate link included in image.

In the past, I’ve facilitated a mother-daughter group using a curriculum called Meetings at the Moon that was published by the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’m not sure if it is available any longer though because I no longer see it available on their website. I really love it. Some other resources I like are: Wild Girls which is a book by Patrician Mongahan and includes ideas for facilitating a girls’ circle; the curriculum/program Women’s Rites of Passage by Hermitra Crecraft; and the book Becoming Peers: Mentoring Girls into Womanhood by DeAnna L’am.

I’ve previously referenced some material on rites of passage and rituals from the book The Thundering Years also, which is an excellent book about creating rituals and sacred ceremonies for teenagers. The other books I mentioned are specifically for girls, but The Thundering Years is for both boys and girls.

I’d love to hear additional suggestions from readers if you have favorite resources on rites of passage celebrations or initiations for our adolescents!

And, speaking of telesummits and also my own need for self-care and rest, I also decided to treat myself to the “upgraded” version of an upcoming telesummit for women called Wild Free Beautiful You. (The basic event is free, so check it out!) More about this soon!

Amazon affiliate links included in book images and Wild Free Beautiful You affiliate link included in telesummit image.

(and, this was another “short post”—I’m doing pretty good, aren’t I?! ;-D)

Blessingways and the role of ritual

In this circle No Fear
In this circle Deep Peace
In this circle Great Happiness
In this circle Rich Connection

I saw this gorgeous blessingway image pinned on Pinterest a while ago. Love it!

I’ve recently been on a reading streak with books on ritual. I’ve always been interested in ritual, especially women’s rituals, and I’ve planned and facilitated a lot of different rituals. I also have a huge variety of books that include information on planning rituals, women’s spirituality books, books about blessingways, and more. I’m branching out even more with my recent kick though, starting with buying books on officiating/planning wedding ceremonies (I have two weddings coming up in October). Then, I was talking to some mothers of newly teenage boys about planning some kind of coming of age rite/ritual for them and  bought some more books on creating sacred ceremonies for teenagers. (I’m good with books for women/girls, but sadly lacking in resources for ceremonies and celebrations for boys/men.) One of the books I purchased was Rituals for Our Times, a book about “celebrating, healing, and changing our lives and relationships.” I left a mini-review on goodreads already:

There were some good things about this book about the meaning, value, purpose, and role of ritual in family life. I lost interest about halfway through and ended up skimming the second half. While it does contain some planning lists/worksheets for considering your own family rituals, the overall emphasis is on short vignettes of how other families have coped with challenges or occasions in their own lives. Also, the focus is on very conventional, mainstream “ritual” occasions–birthdays, anniversaries, holidays–rather than on life cycle rites of passage and other more spiritual transitions in one’s life.

However, one section I marked was about the elements that make ritual work for us and I thought about blessingways and how they neatly fulfill all of the necessary ritual elements (which I would note are not about symbols, actions, and physical objects, but are instead about the emotional elements of connection, affection, and relationship):

Relating–“the shaping, expressing, and maintaining of important relationships…established relationships were reaffirmed and new relationship possibilities opened.” Many women choose to invite those from their inner circle to their blessingways. This means of deeply engaging with and connecting with those closest to you, reaffirms and strengthens important relationships. In my own life, I’ve always chosen to invite more women than just those in my “inner circle” (thinking of it as the next circle out from inner circle) and in so doing have found that it is true that new relationship possibilities emerge from the reaching out and inclusion of those who were originally less close, but who after the connection of shared ritual, then became closer friends.

Changing–“the making and marking of transitions for self and others.” Birth and the entry into motherhood—an intense and permanent life change–is one of life’s most significant transitions. A blessingway marks the significance of this huge change.

Healing–“recovery from loss,” special tributes, recovering from fears or scars from previous births or cultural socialization about birth. My mom and some close friends had a meaningful ceremony for me following the miscarriage-birth of my third baby. I’ve also planned several blessingways in which releasing fears was a potent element of the ritual.

Believing–“the voicing of beliefs and the making of meaning.” By honoring a pregnant woman through ceremony, we are affirming that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are valuable and meaningful rites of passage deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.

Celebrating–“the expressing of deep joy and the honoring of life with festivity.” Celebrating accomplishments of…one’s very being.

Notice that what is NOT included is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may so too be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. I come from a family history of “non-religious” people and I feel like I seem to have less baggage about ritual and ceremony than other people do. An example from the recent planning for a mother blessing ceremony: we were talking about one of the blessingway songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–we weren’t sure if we should include it for fear that it would seem too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!) and I remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not come a religious framework in which blessings are traditionally bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer felt simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, there’s nothing supernatural about it.

I also think, though I could be wrong, that it is possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

In another book I finished recently, The Power of Ritual, the author explains:

“Ritual opens a doorway in the invisible wall that seems to separate the spiritual and the physical. The formal quality of ritual allows us to move into the space between the worlds, experience what we need, and then step back and once more close the doorway so we can return to our lives enriched.”

She goes on to say:

You do not actually have to accept the ideas of any single tradition, or even believe in divine forces at all, to take part in ritual. Ritual is a direct experience, not a doctrine. Though it will certainly help to suspend your disbelief for the time of the ritual, you could attend a group ritual, take part in the chanting and drumming, and find yourself transported to a sense of wonder at the simple beauty of it all without ever actually believing in any of the claims made or the Spirits invoked. You can also adapt rituals to your own beliefs. If evolution means more to you than a Creator, you could see ritual as a way to connect yourself to the life force…

As I continued to think about these ideas, I finished reading another book on ritual called The Goddess Celebrates. An anthology of women’s rituals, this book included two essays by wisewoman birthkeeper, Jeannine Pavarti Baker. She says:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth.

[emphasis mine, because isn’t that just a cool idea?! I feel another blog post coming on in which I “read” my own blessingway experiences and how they cleared the way for my births]

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…

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I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” —Flaming Rainbow Woman, Spiritual Warrior 

(in The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens)

Genuine, heartfelt ritual helps us reconnect with power and vision as well as with the sadness and pain of the human condition. When the power and vision come together, there’s some sense of doing things properly for their own sake.” —Pema Chodron

(in The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens)

Other posts about mother blessings can be found here.


Amazon affiliate links included in book titles.

Women’s Retreat Recipe

Quarterly, I get together with some of my friends and we have a women’s retreat. We had our summer retreat this past Sunday and I thought I’d share the outline and our activities as a “retreat recipe” that others may use if they wish to do so. Since my friends do not necessarily share specific religious beliefs, the retreats are spiritual in a somewhat generic “womanspirit” sort of way and you can obviously customize your own retreat to best suit the spiritual beliefs/backgrounds of your own friendship group.

Circle up—we stand in a circle, place our hands on eachother’s backs and hum together three times to raise the energy of the circle.

Invocation to directions. This time we used an invocation by Judith Laura:

We honor the East
Home of air
March wind
Morning’s song
Eagle’s flight
Aurora’s breath
Welcome East

We honor the South
Home of fire
Noon sun
Flame of change
Heat of passion
Pele’s power
Welcome South

We honor the West
Home of water
River’s flow
Font of feelings
World’s womb
Kwan Yin’s love
Welcome West

We honor the North
Home of Earth
Root of life
Shaded mystery
Ground of being
Gaia’s growth
Welcome North.

Light candle/opening quote

“I see the wise woman. And she sees me. She smiles

from shrines in thousands of places. She is buried

in the ground of every country. She flows in every

river and pulses in the oceans. The wise woman’s

robe flows down your back, centering you in the

ever-changing, ever-spiraling mystery.

Everywhere I look, the wise woman looks back.

And she smiles.”

–Susun Weed quoted in Birthing Ourselves Into Being

Check-in–we take turns “passing the rattle” and each woman has about two minutes to share what’s been on her mind.

Since we are close to summer solstice, I then chose to do this solstice prayer of healing from the United Nations as a responsive reading as a group:

A Prayer of Healing
From the United Nations Environmental Sabbath

We join with the earth and with each other.
To celebrate the seas.
To rejoice the sunlight.
To sing the song of the stars.

We join with the earth and with each other.
To recall our destiny.
To renew our spirits.
To reinvigorate our bodies.

We join with the earth and with each other.
To create the human community.
To promote justice and peace.
To remember our children.

We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving mystery: for the healing of the earth and the renewal of all life. We join with the earth and with each other.
To bring new life to the land.
To restore the waters.
To refresh the air.

We join with the earth and with each other.
To renew the forests.
To care for the plants.
To protect the creatures.

Guided visualization/meditation/relaxation (for this particular retreat, I used a nice full body relaxation from the book Birthing Ourselves into Being. This one isn’t available online that I can find, but you can find others online, like this one for example.)

We followed the relaxation with a muse questions and journaling using one of the questions from Shiloh Sophia’s Museletter:

Your Muse would like to show you something you haven’t been able to see.

She wants to invite you to have a thought you haven’t had yet…isn’t that an enticing thought in and of itself?

A thought that has lingered on the edge of your consciousness for maybe even a few years, or months….tell her…

I want to know what it is I am not seeing.

Then automatic write whatever comes up until you have to put the pen down.

Immediately following this question, it began to rain. Blissful, blessed, healing, glorious rain for which we were in so much need.

Discuss responses/experiences to relaxation/journaling.

Listen to songs/perhaps drum (this time, went outside together and stood in the rain)

Closing circle: Sing Woman Am I (recording of my friends singing it together is here).

Closing quote and extinguish candle

“A circle! No sharp edges, no hierarchy, just a circle of women…We are mothers. We are the portals. The next generation comes through our bodies.” –Annie Lennox

and one of my all-time favorites:

“I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

When reading a 1988 back issue of SageWoman magazine, I fell in love with Womanrunes by Shekhinah Mountainwater (originally in her book Ariadne’s Thread, which I then purchased) and so I made copies of the images to share with my friends. We are going to make some sets of runes at our next retreat. (And, after much scouring of the interwebz, I found a pronunciation guide for the runes here).

I also made a handout packet for them of various moon wheels/circular calendars for tracking your cycles, or simply for planning and thinking in circles rather than in lines. In the packets were:

And, then it was time for a craft, so as we snacked and chatted, I showed everyone how to make a small, hardbound pocket journal. You can find instructions for a simple book here, or, to make it even more simple, use this kit from Blick Art Supplies.

It was a delightful afternoon of connection and celebration—my original vision for holding these retreats was to bring some blessingway spirit into our regular lives, rather than only centered on being pregnant and I think that purpose was achieved.

This post is crossposted at Woodspriestess.

Book Review: Moon Time

Book Review:  Moon Time: a guide to celebrating your menstrual cycle
by Lucy H. Pearce
Paperback, 145 pages, 2012
ISBN13 9781468056716
http://thehappywomb.com/

Reviewed by Molly Remer, Talk Birth

When I wrote my blog post about moontime’s return in April, I was delighted to get a comment from writer and womancraft wisewoman, Lucy Pearce the author of the book Moon Time. Lucy offered to send me a copy of her book and I received it last week and instantly devoured it. Subtitled “a guide to celebrating your menstrual cycle,” Moon Time is written in a friendly, conversational tone and is a quick read with a lot of insight into the texture and tone of our relationships with menstruation.

The book contains information about charting cycles and about the relationship to the phases of the  moon. I especially enjoyed the excellent section on  “Instant PMT [PMS] Busters” and planning time to nurture and nourish yourself during your monthly moon time. The book also includes planning information for Red Tents/Moon Lodges and for menarche rituals and it ends with an absolutely phenomenal list of resources—suggested reading and websites.

Towards the beginning of the book Lucy observes, “We live in a culture which demands that we are ‘turned on’ all the time. Always bright and happy. Always available for intercourse–both sexual and otherwise with people. Psychologist Peter Suedfeld observes that  we are all ‘chronically stimulated, socially and physically and we are probably operating at a stimulation level higher than that for which our species evolved.’ It is up to us to value rest and fallow time. We must demand it for ourselves to ensure our health “(p. 53). She also comments on something I’ve observed in my own life and have previously discussed with my friends:  “I strongly believe that a large amount of the anger and tearfulness we experience pre-menstrually, is our body’s way of expressing the deep truths which we try to stifle” (p. 56)

Since early spring, as I anticipated moontime’s return in my own life, I’ve been reflecting on how I have been such a devoted proponent of taking good care of yourself physically and emotionally during pregnancy, birth, and especially postpartum, so why have I not applied the same care during moontime? Why haven’t I included this monthly experience of being female as an experience worth respecting and as a sacred opportunity to treat my body and my emotions with loving care and self-renewal? Moon Time includes this great reminder with regard to creating retreat space, taking time out for self-care, and creating ritual each month: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.” You don’t have create something extensive or elaborate or wait for the “perfect time,” but you can still do something with what you have and where you are. (This is a good reminder for many things in life, actually.)

I highly recommend Moon Time as an empowering resource for cycling women! It would also be a great resource for girls who are approaching menarche or for mothers seeking ways to honor their daughters’ entrance into the cycles of a woman’s life.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Moon Time yourself, Lucy made this offer to my readers: “Would be delighted to offer your readers a discount on the paperback version of MoonTime: a guide to celebrating your menstrual cycle – they just need to enter MBLP20 at the checkout.”

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book.

Virtual Mother Blessing, Part 2

Last week I posted about a virtual mother blessing for Molly Westerman of the blog First the Egg. Tuesday, I emailed her a “blessingway in your inbox” containing the words of birth energy, thoughts, and encouragement emailed by her friends and family as well as a recording of the blessingway chant, “Woman Am I,” that my friends and I sing at all of our ceremonies. This inbox version was also accompanied by some mailed items (a blessingway in a regular box).

I enlisted the aid of my friends last week at playgroup at the skating rink to sing a rendition of “Woman Am I” using the voice memo feature on my iPhone. I feel really lucky to have a group of friends who will stand in the skating rink lobby with me and sing heartily for a woman they’ve never met. Seriously, not everyone is this lucky. My friends rock! The recording is available via soundcloud here for anyone else’s benefit. 🙂

Take 1. iPhone on floor of skating rink lobby.

Take 2. Phone on top of trash can in skating rink lobby.

Woman am I, Spirit am I, I am the Infinite within my soul...

Blessingway in a box!

Some goodies for a blessing bracelet/necklace.

You can read about the mother blessing from Molly’s perspective in her post here.

Honoring Miscarriage

When I had my first miscarriage, I vowed several things in the immediate aftermath. One was that I was going to write a book about it so that other women would not have to experience the same total dearth of resources about the physical process of coping with home miscarriage. While I did publish my miscarriage memoir this year, I am still collecting stories and experiences for a different, more comprehensive book on this theme. However, in the time since I made that vow and since I had my miscarriages, a new resource emerged for women: Stillbirthday. This is the website I NEEDED when I was preparing for the birth of my tiny, nonliving baby. While I received emotional support from a variety of sources, I found a void where the physical information I sought should be. That information is skillfully covered in the birth plans section of the Stillbirthday website. I reprinted information from their “early home birth plan” in my Footprints on My Heart memoir, since it was the information I was desperately seeking during my own home miscarriage-birth. I am grateful the information is now available to those who need it.

My second vow was that, if I knew about it, I would never leave another woman to cope with miscarriage alone on her own. My third vow came a little later after more fully processing and thinking about my own experience and that was to always honor and identify miscarriage as a birth event in a woman’s life.

A friend’s loss

In March of 2010, my good friend, who had doula’ed me very gracefully and respectfully and lovingly through my miscarriage-birth postpartum experience and processing, experienced a miscarriage herself. She didn’t call me while she was experiencing it, so I couldn’t go to her as I had imagined I would if needed, but afterwards I went to her with food and small gifts and hugged her tightly, recognizing all too well that hollow, shattered look in her eyes and the defeated and empty stance of her body. Later, I bought her a memorial bracelet. However, I was still in the midst of coping with my own grief and loss process—my second miscarriage having just finally come to a long-drawn out end only a month before and the experience of which having brought another friendship to an almost unsalvageable point—and my dear friend’s own process, her feelings, got lost along the way. She recently wrote about the experience on her own blog and it was harder for me to read than I would have expected. As she noted, I agree that doesn’t matter how little the baby, or baby-start, or baby-potential that is lost-–there is no quantifying loss and no “prize” for the “worst” miscarriage. It is a permanent experience that becomes a part of you forever. Also permanent for me is the empathy and caring showed to me by my friend/doula during my time of loss and sorrow. I regret that I was not able to be that same source of solace, companionship, and understanding to her. I thank her for having held space for me to grieve “out loud” and I’m really sorry that part of the cost of that was the suffocating of her own sadness or minimization of her own experience. While I do feel like I did what I could to acknowledge her miscarriage at the time that it happened I really wish I would have done more, particularly in terms of acknowledging how very long the feelings of emptiness and grief persist. I made a mistake in taking her, “I’m okay” remarks as really meaning it, rather than being part of the story that babyloss mamas often tell themselves in a desperate effort to “get over it” and be “back to normal.”

That said, I also compassionately acknowledge that it can be hard for people to know what it is that we need if we don’t tell them. So, now I’d like to hear from readers. What are your own thoughts on recognizing and acknowledging miscarriage—how do we best hold the space for women to experience, identify, and honor miscarriage as a birth event in their lives?

Charm & book giveaway (**Giveaway is now closed. Veronica was the winner***)

In harmony with my question and associated thoughts, I am hosting a giveaway of a sterling silver footprints on my heart charm exactly like the one I bought for myself after Noah’s birth and that I gave to my husband and my parents afterward (my husband carries his on his keychain). If you win the charm, perhaps it is something that will help you to honor your own miscarriage experience or that you can give to someone else to acknowledge their loss. This giveaway is in concert with the blog contest on Stillbirthday and will end on March 20. Additionally, everyone who enters will receive a free pdf copy of my miscarriage memoir.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment addressing the subject of honoring miscarriage. I am wondering things like:

What did you need after miscarriage?

What did you wish people would do/say to honor your miscarriage experience?

How could people have helped you more?

What do you still wish you could do/say/write/share about your miscarriage experience(s)?

What do you wish you had done for yourself?

What did you want to tell people and what do you wish you had been able to say?

What did you want to do that you didn’t feel as if you had “permission” to do? (personal, social, medical, cultural, whatever type of permission…)

I will share my answers to these questions in a later post, but I do want to mention that one of the things that was most important to me to have acknowledged was that this was REAL. That was one of the first things I said to my parents about it when they came over to help me immediately after Noah was born—this is real.

Water babies

I continue to honor the experience of miscarriage and babyloss in my own life in various ways. Recently, I found a buddhist monk garden statue from Overstock.com that reminded me of the “jizo” sculptures that honor and protect “water babies” in Japan (mizuko is a Japanese word meaning “water baby” and specifically refers to babies lost during pregnancy—the only specialized word that exists). I have a small jizo inside on my living room windowsill, but I’ve wanted one that could weather the outdoors by Noah’s tree.

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I took this one for size perspective, but you can barely see the sculpture in the shadow to Alaina's right.

I believe I may be partially responsible for the widespread usage of the following quote on the internet now with regard to babyloss mamas:

Miscarriages are labor, miscarriages are birth. To consider them less dishonors the woman whose womb has held life, however briefly.” –Kathryn Miller Ridiman

I found it in an issue of Midwifery Today from 1995 and shared it multiple times on Facebook and on my blog. I have since seen it in many locations around the web and I feel happy that I was able to be a conduit for the sentiment and the increased recognition of miscarriage as a birth event.

To participate in the Stillbirthday blog contest/carnival go here. And, make sure to check them out on Facebook too.