Ask Your Mama: A Question of Blood Rights
How to create a ritual celebrating a girl’s first menstrual cycle.
by Donna Henes
Dear Mama Donna,
I am anticipating my granddaughter celebrating her first menstrual cycle in the not too distant future. I would like to do something special for her in the way of ritual. I don’t know much about creating that kind of ritual, but I want her day to be a special one that she will remember as bringing her into the fabulous sisterhood of women. Can you help me create such a ritual or tell me where I can learn more about doing such a thing?
Loving Grandma from Florida
How lucky your granddaughter is to have you to help support her spiritually as she passes through this highly charged and profound life change. This is as it should be, as it has long been, and can once again be—the ongoing ages of women welcoming when it is their time, each new generation into our sacred continuum.
Ceremonies of first blood are a powerful binding rite, the sticky blood, which binds each generation to the next: the Ancients, the Ancestors, the Grandmothers, the Matriarchs, the Mothers,the Daughters,the Perpetual Keepers of the Spiral of Life.
This, unfortunately, was not my personal experience. Like so many in my generation, I learned about menstruation from a small sensible pamphlet put out by Modess, an early purveyor of sanitary products. It stressed how simple and ordinary the experience was. How you could live your modern, active life completely unembarrassed and unimpeded by the necessities of your periodic condition.
Being quite well prepared (and a Girl Scout, too), I knew exactly what was happening when I discovered my first droplets of blood while playing at Susie Glassman’s house. When I came out of the bathroom, I proudly made my announcement to Susie and her mom. Suddenly out of nowhere, a fast-moving force bore down on me as Mrs. Glassman inexplicably slapped my incredulous face. She then quickly kissed and embraced me, clucking and fussing like a mother hen.
When I told my mother my momentous news as well as my shocking experience, she was furious that Mrs. Glassman had struck me. She knew all about that Jewish tradition where the mother slaps her daughter to welcome her into the long-suffering sisterhood of women. A rational feminist, she hated that I was subjected to this old-fashioned superstitious and humiliating rite. But if my mother didn’t slap me, she didn’t hug me, either, nor make a sweet congratulatory fuss. She agreed with the book that this was just a normal, if unpleasant, bodily function which she usually referred to as “the curse.” Hardly worth a party.
Of course, first blood also means first egg. I still find it practically impossible to comprehend the enormity of the sheer potential represented by the blood and the egg—the awesome power of the possibility of life. This is not to say that we are locked into a biologic imperative to reproduce, but that we possess the inherent ability to do so—should we choose. Like that car commercial where the drivers are playing motor polo on a field at the edge of a cliff. “Not that you would, but you could if you wanted to.”
No wonder the entire Mbuti society chants “Blessed with the blood!” in celebration of a young girl’s first period. The coming of age ritual for pubescent White Mountain Apache girls is also performed by the entire nation. Each girl wears an eagle feather in her hair for long life, and in the center of her forehead over her third eye, she sports an abalone shell to represent Changing Woman, the Great Creatrix in Her mystical periodicity.
When my fairy goddess daughter came into her first blood, we celebrated with a Red Ritual. We are special, soul-connected karma sisters and have always shared a rich ceremonial life. I conceived and developed the concept of the rosy red ceremony, and we worked together to arrange the details for a very special evening. Each step in the process of preparation suggested a deeper layer of discussion, story telling and understanding. Red = Blood. Blood = Life. Life = Eggs.
We each dressed completely in red, and we both wore bright red lipstick. (One of us was particularly happy about that part.) We sat on rust-colored cushions. A large circular mirror on the floor between us served as our altar decorated with red flowers and candles. We stretched out our legs to create a circle, and painted each other’s finger and toe nails a glossy fire engine red.
We blessed each other with a red oil of my own recipe that I call the Power of Love. This does not refer to couple-type love. This is Love-of-Self love, the power of personal passion, direction, expansion. The power to pursue the dream of one’s own purpose. The power to achieve one’s fullest potential. The courage to be true to one’s vision and convictions. True love.
We blessed the four elements, of which we are part. We tasted each one, taking into ourselves the power of Mother Earth. Drank water with sea salt. Ate a grain of healing earth from Chimayó, New Mexico. Breathed in the fragrant air of burning sage. Rubbed ash collected from the volcanic fire of Mt. Pinatubo, Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. St. Helens. We blessed each other as the dear daughters of Mother Nature. We are strong and beautiful like She is. We swore to use our female powers to protect Mother Earth and all Her creations.
We pinned some of the flowers from the altar into our hair, and sucking on sweet strawberry candies, we told each other our favorite parts of being a girl, of being a woman. We got silly and giggly (the sugar no doubt) and exchanged all sorts of secret dreams and desires, fond memories, and fabulous flights of fantasy. Sort of a New Age Goddess version of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
Danika* took up a tall, unlit crimson candle and talked into it her aspirations, ambitions, goals and intentions for this new stage of her life. She was serious and sincere, and I was touched and honored to be in her presence. When she finished her list, she lit the candle, thus igniting her intentions. In the glow of the flame, she sealed her transformation with a sip of red berry juice and bite of egg hard-boiled in water colored with beets.
Finally, I presented her with a red velvet drawstring purse for her to use as an amulet bag. One by one, I offered her various objects that were symbolic of the power of womanhood and related its significance as she held each in the palm of her hand: a tiny pink rose bud for the blossoming of her true self; a cowry shell, representing the holy yoni through which we bleed, through which we receive pleasure, through which we were all conceived and born; a crystal to draw the energy of the universe toward her; an eye charm to help her to see what it is important for her to see; a rose thorn for protection; a silver bell for joy. Over the years, as she grows into her woman power, she will add her own magical charms to this starter collection.
This Red Ritual is only by way of a suggestion, you understand. Feel free to design an occasion that speaks directly to you and to your granddaughter and which is true to the relationship that you share. Use images, symbols and objects that resonate with you. Trust your woman wisdom and share with her what you know. Welcome her, in the name of all life, into the sacred flow of succession. This is the root of all initiation.
Be “blessed with the blood!”
xx Mama Donna
Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles, and celebrations to Mama Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donna Henes is an internationally renowned urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, award-winning author, popular speaker and workshop leader whose joyful celebrations of celestial events have introduced ancient traditional rituals and contemporary ceremonies to millions of people in more than 100 cities since 1972.