Menarche- a Journey into Womanhood
Published in Juno Magazine issue 20, Spring 2010, and an excerpt from the book
‘Menarche a Journey into Womanhood’ by Rachael Hertogs.
Rites of passage have begun to reappear in our society as we recognise the importance of honouring our young people and guiding them gently into adulthood. Ceremonies, vision quests, men’s and women’s lodges, rite of passage courses, festivals and camps are becoming more and more popular!
I have been working with women and their daughters for many years supporting them in celebrating their rite of passage. For girls there is a clear signal that their journey into womanhood has begun- with the start of their periods. The first period is known as Menarche; tribal traditions have celebrated Menarche for thousands of years- some rituals including the whole tribe, others more private among close women friends and family, some quite extreme- including genital mutilation, cutting, scarring and tattooing, other more gentle – being fed, massaged and sung to.
I believe how a young woman is guided through this experience can affect her for the rest of her life! Ask your women friends how they celebrated their first period- sadly for the majority of women it was ignored, shamed, at best explained clinically and ‘gifts’ of huge pads (sometimes huge tampons!) often terrified young girls! The menstrual cycle is a crucial element in the balance of the body, mind, spirit connection for a woman; this needs to be taught from an early age so when her cycle begins (signs can begin as early as 1 year before her blood flow) she can feel proud and excited to begin her journey of power!
I eagerly anticipated my daughters Menarche- I’d been working for a number of years around menstruation and creating pretty cloth pads for the women on my courses and their friends.
My period had started when I was 11- but Tabitha was a different build to me; very petite, so I wasn’t expecting her to start as early as I had. But soon after her 12th birthday I began to notice a ‘cycle’ to her mood swings- even chocolate cravings for a few days each month! Other physical signs were night sweats for a couple of nights, slight cramps as she ovulated (which she presumed was a tummy ache), breaking out in spots….all the usual. She’d have a few days when she felt unattractive, hated all her clothes- they didn’t fit or look right! And she would cry at the slightest thing. After about 6 months of these ‘symptoms’ one morning she came in my room as she had bled in the night and her sheets needed changing and she needed cleaning up! She was happy to have finally started but eager to wash and change.
I ran her a bath with rose bath salts and a sprinkle of lavender oil, re-made her bed while she soaked and prepared her a hot water bottle. She had the day off school and I excitedly gave her a set of pads I had made and mentioned the celebration I had planned; we would invite our girl friends over, dress in red, have red foods and drinks, bless her with gifts, songs and create a special ceremony just for her!
Oh, the look on her face, “Oh no mum!” she really wasn’t up for it!
So I had to put my excitement, my plans, my expectations to one side and listen to what she wanted.
We celebrated quite traditionally; a meal out at her favourite restaurant with her best friend and a gift of a new pair of earrings!
For the next year or so she suffered from very heavy, painful periods- she was lucky that they were very regular from the start so we knew when it would come, but it concerned me that her flow was so heavy as she was still such a slight build of a woman- and vegetarian- so I worried about her iron levels and how draining this heavy loss was making her feel. She was flooding her disposable pads at school and was constantly worried about bleeding on to her clothes. Although she loved her cloth pads- and preferred them to disposables, even finding them better at absorbing her heavy flow- but she wasn’t yet confident enough to use them at school, so we opted for the organic cotton throwaways as a compromise.
We visited a naturopath who recommended a liver cleanse drink to take for a couple of months pre-menstrually. Amazingly this totally balanced her flow (I joined her in the cleanse and felt its positive effects- more energy, clear skin and my periods became lighter! Even now I continue to do the cleanse every 6 months or so.) And her period has been ‘normal’ ever since!
And much to my joy I eventually got my wish to celebrate Tabitha with my community of women when she was 15!
I had been taking part in the Menarche Ceremony preparation at Sacred Arts Camp for a couple of years- running workshops with the young women and their mothers who were taking part; teaching them about charting their cycle, making moon necklaces, decorating red and white candles…
This particular year Tabitha came to camp with her friend who was keen to take part…so Tabi agreed to join her, choosing my best friend Nicho to be her ‘Moon Mother’ and my husband Tom as her ‘Moon Father’.
What I love about this ceremony is that it is open to any woman who hadn’t been celebrated at her menarche- as well as all the girls who have recently begun to bleed.So ages of those taking part can be from 10-40! It also involves the men, the grandmothers, the very young girls- anyone who wants to join in can have a role.
All week women meet in my moon lodge tipi to co-create the ceremony – deciding what songs will be sung, what dances to dance, finding musicians, collecting red and white clothes for the women taking part, choosing who will take which role….
Meanwhile the young women choose a Moon Mother who will attend the ceremony with them holding their hand and reassuring them, bringing them a gift, helping them to get ready, they might share blood stories with them and as part of the ceremony they dream them a ‘moon name’ the night before the ritual.
Many Moon Mother/Moon Daughter relationships continue years after the ceremony- even though girls may choose a woman who they only see once a year at camp! They also choose a Moon Father – someone older who can be another ‘wise father figure’ in their life and who will also make them a crown of leaves and flowers for the ceremony! The Moon Fathers have a powerful role in the ritual- bringing in the male energy.
Other men of the community get involved; they will meet to prepare- perhaps creating a song for the ceremony as well as sharing stories with each other about men’s traditions and honouring women! Their part in the ceremony is to ‘guard’ the sacred ceremonial space by dressing as ‘warriors’ and walking around the outside perimeter whilst drumming and chanting.
Once the Moon Fathers enter (after being challenged by the ‘Grandmothers’ -menopausal women) all the men will join the ceremony.
The ritual begins with the decorating of the big top- draping it in whatever cloths and sheets we have, flowers are placed in vases and jars, an entrance is made from willow and flowers, (the entrance is guarded by the wise grandmothers who welcome the girls in) lighting candles and incense and raising the energy by singing and chanting while we decorate and smudge ourselves with white sage!
All the women dress up- white if you haven’t begun to bleed yet,red if you’re a bleeding woman and black/purple for the menopausal women- although some women prefer just to wear any ‘dressy up’ clothes they have brought!
While this is happening the young women get ready with their moon mums in the moon lodge, being anointed with sacred water and dressing in white with a white ribbon in their hair.
Each year the ceremony is slightly different, this year, watching my daughter take part- and also taking part myself as her best friends Moon Mother was an emotional time for me! I don’t recall too much as I spent the ceremony on ‘auto pilot’ through my tears!
Walking in to a big top filled with 200+ women singing is a powerful experience! They sang and danced for the girls and their Moon Mothers, and then we left to change the girls from white to red-as each one left the space they turned and called out their name symbolizing leaving their ‘girl- child’ part of them self behind.
While we helped them change in the moon lodge, the ceremony continued with the passing of the ‘Yoni Cushion’ as a talking stick – as it passed each woman they spoke 3 words to summarise their bleeding experience- words like ‘connected, pain, loss, renewal and even -I’m not pregnant’!
After that songs and chants are shared until the young women re-enter- dressed in beautiful red clothes. The singing continues in honour of them and then there is the ceremonial hair cutting- once again symbolising the letting go of their childhood- the hair with the white ribbon is cut away and they are anointed with a red ochre crescent moon on their forehead- to remind them of their moon connection and the rhythm and flow of the moon. They drank from the sacred goblet (blackcurrant juice!) and then the Moon Mothers step forward to bless them with gifts and their new ‘moon names’ are whispered to them.
Now is the time for the men to enter! The Grandmothers had been guarding the entrance the whole time and now step back to allow the men in- first they were challenged ‘Do you come in to this space with love and respect for your sisters?’ To which of course they answered yes!
The ‘Moon Fathers’ stepped forward and crowned their Moon Daughters, as the rest of the men sang their gift song they had composed.
In return- our gift to the men for protecting our space was to share with them a blood mystery story- told by one of our amazing storytellers.
After that the musicians played, joined by the drummers and it was time to celebrate and dance the evening away!!
The young women left with their Moon Mums to go back to the moon lodge and have chocolate cake and ground after the ritual. Later that night (it was a full moon) we had a women’s sweat lodge- the perfect ending to a wonderful day!
Tabitha told me afterwards that although she had been really nervous and unsure about taking part, she was really glad she did and loved how ‘special’ she had felt!
Tabitha has been such a joy to me- such an amazing young woman who has embraced supporting me in my work, she has challenged school friends, teachers and colleagues to look at their menstruation differently and use earth and body-friendly sanitary wear. She even accompanied me to the USA to attend the Red Web Conference in 2007!
Tabitha is now 21!
To find out more about Sacred Arts Camp see www.sacredartscamp.org
Supporting the liver has amazing results with menstrual problems!
Below is a Liver Tonic drink:
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 clove of garlic
1 glass of Apple juice
1/8th inch of Ginger
Blend and drink each morning for 3 days, then reduce to 1 morning a week until menstruation. Avoid dairy products pre-menstrually.
The health and vitality of every organ, gland, and cell are dependent upon the liver. Even our intelligence, attitudes, emotions and vitality are largely related to the liver. Our ability to repel disease or recover from disease is very much associated with this incredible organ. The liver, along with the heart and brain, are the most important organs in our bodies. However, even the heart and the brain are dependent on the liver. No one can be healthy without a strong, clean liver.
© 2008 Rachael Hertogs, All Rights Reserved