COMMON THEMES, EAST & WEST:
RITUALS OF PUBERTY
Whiteshell Woman (Changing Woman) rests under a waterfall after her puberty ritual....
Copyright © by Navajo artist, Andy Tsihnahjinnie
[All rights reserved]
Today, Saturday, 25 March 2000, is Lady Day (see my Springtide Greetings page). I awoke from a dream a few hours ago in which I had suddenly decided, out of the blue, to create a new page called either "Rituals of Puberty" or else "Rituals of Puberty & Death." That second title would indicate how intrinsically both are intertwined in the larger weave of life, yet their ritual-modes are so different that I wasn't sure I wished to combine them on the same page. I remained undecided in the dream but knew upon awakening that I'd start simply with puberty, beginning with a lovely Apache link that I'd found a few days ago. At some time in the future, perhaps I'll do a page on rituals of death, but not today, not on Lady Day.
When I think of Lady Day in the Old World, I think of the Virgin Mary's Feast of the Annunciation, which is traditionally celebrated on this day, or I think of the many springtide goddesses of earlier pre-Christian times. When I think of Lady Day in the New World, I think of the Navajo earth-goddess around whose sacred narratives my own studies of puberty rituals have centered: Isanaklehe [there are many variant spellings] -- i.e., Changing Woman, also known as Whiteshell Woman, Turquoise Woman, and Woman Adorned with White Clay. Thus, in honor of Lady Day, this page is for Her and the other Holy Lady Mothers -- but even more, it is for their troubled young human daughters and sons who have such a great need for appropriate celebrations, for rituals empowered to awaken them to their own sacredness, honoring their young yet crucial presence in the vast web-of-life.
This intelligent, thorough, and evocative site is Becoming Woman: Apache Female Puberty Sunrise Ceremony:http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/maria/intro2.htmlThe Apache Sunrise Ceremony or na'ii'ees is an arduous communal four-day ceremony that Apache girls of the past and present experience soon after their first menstruation. Through numerous sacred ceremonies, dances, songs, and enactments, the girls become imbued with the physical and spiritual power of White Painted Woman, and embrace their role as women of the Apache nation....The site offers excellent data on the ceremony's myth, history, and preparation along with a good collection of quotes and photos. There is a fine comparison between the related Apache and Navajo puberty rituals. There is also a great page of links to Apache, Navajo, and other Native American websites, books and videos. (Note: some of the web links are dead -- of the others, I took the five I liked best and annotated them directly below; many more remain, however, if you wish to browse........)
...Most Apache women who have experienced the Sunrise Ceremony say afterwards that it significantly increased their self-esteem and confidence. When it ended, they no longer felt themselves to be a child; they truly experienced themselves as "becoming woman...."
This is "The Children of Changing Woman," a sensitive introduction by Ernestine Cody, a Western Apachean woman and curator of the "Changing Woman Exhibit" at Harvard's Peabody Museum.http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/maria/Sunrisedance.html
Again from Harvard's Peabody Museum comes this excellent, detailed page on the ceremony as well as its underlying sacred narrative:http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/maria/Mandy.html...Changing Woman's power grants longevity. Although she grows old, she is always able to recapture her youth by walking towards the east and turning around counterclockwise four times. This power is transferred to the pubescent girl through songs sung by the diiyin ('one who has power'), the medicine man....There are also B&W photos accompanying the text.
Again from the Peabody comes Mandy Begay's very touching first person account of a friend's puberty ritual in which she too participated:http://www.snail.dircon.co.uk/SCSS/Articles/Blessed.htmEver since I was old enough to understand the meaning of the Sunrise Dance, I was told that it was essential for me as a growing woman to have one. I hated the idea, and I couldn't understand why dancing at sunrise for two days, 63 songs, would make a difference in my life. I felt it was only some stupid ritual. I didn't want to make a fool of myself by dancing in front of the community, and what would I get out of it anyway? Therefore, it came to me as a surprise when I had strong feelings while I participated in one as an assistant for my friend Laura's Sunrise Dance....
...I didn't feel anything . . . I let my body dance to the music, and once that happened, I was gone . . . Everything that was in front of me, I didn't see . . . I was taken by the meaning of the Sunrise Dance. This dance was to help build my endurance, and it would symbolize my womanhood. I started this dance as a child, but I would end it as a woman....
From Denmark comes "Blessed by the Moon: Initiation into Womanhood" by Annette Høst -- a thoughtful, rich account of cross-cultural attitudes towards menstruation and female puberty rituals:http://www.winternet.com/~webpage/adolescencepaper.html...For ten years I have studied and practised shamanism, and for almost just as long I have worked shamanically with the power of menstruation, Moon and Nature's other cycles. The following is a summary of the teachings I have put together from traditional, animistic cultures and from contemporary women's experiences....
This is "The Opportunity of Adolescence" by "Terry M," a well researched paper on the danger and promise of adolescence (the focus is male-oriented, but applies to both genders):Adolescence, the turning point, watershed, in Greek the cairotic moment, after which the future is redirected and confirmed. It would seem reasonable that much thought would be given to how to use this critical period to reinforce the positive self-image so important for growth. Rather, many parents, teachers, and clergy are unprepared to help guide these budding personalities. Ignorant or apathetic, or in dread of this confusing, rebellious stage, techniques are used, to "deal with" teens that usually fail to maximize the tremendous potential adolescence offers....The paper unfolds within psychological and anthropological frameworks.
....More to come....
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Floods & Rainbows: Mythologies & Science
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Rituals of Birthing [forthcoming]
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Rituals of Puberty
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Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
© 2000-2007 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
Page created & published:
Lady Day, 25-26 March 2000
Last updated: 21 March 2002 (misc. menu, etc); 13 November 2002.
7 May 2007: changed crystalline background because it was far too "busy;" changed colors for text, links, etc.