We quite often say that to experience an extreme situation is a "rite of passage" or that when someone has experienced an exceptional circumstance and come out the other side that they've lived through their rite of passage.
But what is it, actually?
A rite is described as an initiation and they can exist for many different reasons and what was once traditional practice is now long forgotten and it's about high time we reintroduced the practice of Women's Mysteries and Blood Rites.
There are 4 distinct phases in a woman's life: maiden, mother, maga, and crone - each of these stages has distinct lessons, strengths, challenges, and experiences attached to them. There are also archetypes and moon phases that we can dive into but that's for another time.
As a woman reaches each of these thresholds in order to fully step into and appreciate her new phase, an initiation is given to help her to prepare for what lay ahead. It helps us to close off one chapter of our lives, integrate what we have learned, and welcome in the new with the realisation and confidence that the new is exciting and full of adventures to be had.
Each of the stages of womanhood has a ceremony that would have been held as part of the Red Tent and when a woman doesn't receive these rites it puts her at risk of depression, over-giving, patriarchal control, reproductive and women's health issues, and disconnection from her feminine aspects and energy. The rites of passage help a woman to understand her place in the world, society, and community, while giving her the tools to harness her feminine energy for good rather than harm.
Much of what we see as shadow aspects of feminine power (competitiveness, bitchiness, gratuitous flirting, sexual promiscuity in lieu of intimacy, lack of self respect, remaining in damaging relationships) can be better understood, and avoided when the appropriate rites of passage are provided. These rites are not all about, "I am here, hear me roar", that aspect exists if you want it but mostly it serves as a way to announce to ourselves that we are ageing gracefully and with self acceptance. It also gives us a community of women to which we belong, with whom we can grow, call on, and know we are accepted without question. For women, having this sisterhood helps us to traverse the very changeable and chaotic landscape that is feminine energy.
The first rite of passage is given once a young girl experiences her first bleed. Commonly called, menarche (pronounced either men-ark or men-arcky) it signals the change from girlhood to maidenhood. Generally speaking, young women would not be allowed into the Red Tent without passing this threshold - it marked her coming of age. When we reinstate this rite of passage we are teaching our young women not to fear their power, their femininity, their blood, and we use this as an opportunity to teach them how to be, safely, in this world. We teach them self honouring practices and provide them with the support they need from women who have been there, made the mistakes and gained valuable experiential wisdom along the way. It's also a way to show them that no matter what choice they make, they have a group of women around them that will not judge, will not chide, and they can call on at any time. It helps to keep our young women safe while they traverse the wild waters of hormones, dating, and relationships both platonic, sexual, and with self.
We see in our western culture many women who indulge in practices that are not self honouring and are harmful to how they are seen in the world and while every woman has a right to personal self expression, we have to be honest and ask, is that behaviour we are witnessing self-honouring? If the answer is no then we have to start to question the reason behind it. When a woman feels secure in herself and understands the shadow aspects of her own wounds and those of the women before her, she is better equipped to identify and heal the lost aspects of her own psyche. Providing young women with these tools helps to establish them in right relationship with themselves so they are able to identify choices and relationships that are damaging. It does not stop a young woman from experiencing challenges or stop experimentation (and neither should it) but it does help her to see the lessons for growth and self development without putting herself in harm's way. And if she does find herself in harm's way, it gives her a group of women she can call on instead of Mum (who may very well freak out).
The second rite takes a maiden into her womanhood. It is generally regarded that between 28-35 a woman, regardless of her choice to have children or not, the possibility, or even timing, moves into the most fertile and fruitful of her years. In a patriarchal system the maiden is valued for her youth and beauty, and a woman for her ability to carry and bear children. Rites of passage help women to see their ageing journey as valuable in all her phases, not just through beauty and usefulness.
It is important to recognise women and their power as more than physical beauty and fertile waters. The mother phase is about the challenges we face, particularly in the realm of finding our inner strength and courage. It is a time to cultivate self reliance, recognising that we are already whole and do not need to be partnered to be "completed". Often women in their mother phase will feel the distance from a sisterhood very strongly if they are not involved in a nurturing community like Red Tent. It is not uncommon for women in this phase to seek out a group that adds depth and support to their lives where they have previously lacked.
For women who are in their mother phase and never received a menarche ceremony we can conduct a ritual that helps to accept and heal the wounds passed down to us from our maternal line and even the shame, guilt, dislike, and resentment we hold towards our monthly bleed while welcoming the wisdom and power that we as women naturally hold.
It is very easy to buy into the overwhelmingly harmful belief that women are only valuable as nurturers. Truth is we are creators, diviners, wisdom keepers, movers, and shakers. We have so much within ourselves when we stop playing small and fearing our own feminine power and the blood rite of a belly blessing honours the power of a woman to create and birth life.
The Maga phase is relatively new, and was not traditionally captured in the Maiden Mother Crone Triple Goddess. As women have aged, gained a second maidenhood, and menopause occurring later for many women, this new cycle must be honoured.
The Maga is a woman who has most likely borne her children, or chosen to focus on other gifts (a career for example), and whose responsibilities to family are less. She still bleeds but is experiencing the onset of moon-pause or peri-menopause. It is generally accepted that this is a woman over 40 but not yet a crone.
A Maga woman is the epitome of "with age comes wisdom" and is being called to take all the experiential wisdom she has gained and apply it to her life now. She is powerful, she often doesn't give a fuck what people think and has usually given up the need to seek approval from those around her. She is reclaiming her wild and you damn well best get out of her way. She values her freedom and her self expression and so it is only fitting that we celebrate that and honour the Maga for the power, wisdom and wholeness she brings.
Our society, as it currently stands, does not value women as they age. By reinstating rites of passage for the Maga and the Crone we are recognising that these women are the keepers of wisdom, must be cherished and often hold secret medicine that is a balm for the younger generations.
The Crone phase is when a woman has stopped bleeding and has entered moon-pause or "menopause" as it was renamed. Often regarded as the keepers of the hearth, Crones are fully realised women who have tended their homes and families and reclaimed themselves. It is a phase where women give thanks to themselves for their wombs and hold their lives and cycles in gratitude. It is a recognition that they have ridden the chaotic waves of life, death, and rebirth and now find themselves enjoying a gentle ebb and flow, rather than tumultuous waves. It is an opportunity for the women around them to thank them for the collective work they have done, having walked the path of womanhood, for the collective wounds they have tended, the love they show, and the wisdom she has gathered throughout her life.
It is a welcoming into her role as an Elderwoman and Spiritual Grandmother. She tends the Red Tent, comforting those that come seeking advice, a listening ear, or a hug. The crone has earned the right to sit in the Black Lodge - a circle specifically designed for the Crones, a marking of their importance as gateways to the wisdom and spirit world beyond. These women now quietly tend, offering the sage comfort of a woman who has seen the world.
Each Rite of Passage has a specific purpose and is a celebration of a new beginning. We need to start restart these rites so that we, not only as women, but as a society, both local and global, recognise the value of every age, face, and phase of women.
Traditional cultures to this day still use blood rites and celebratory rites for women to mark their journey, it is fundamental to how we move forward, honouring both the masculine and feminine in us all.