The idea of ceremony and ritual as a vital practice came to me in my thirties when I traveled across country to visit an online friend. Her home was a masterpiece of dedicated observation and ritual. There were candles to light for different times of day, music to set moods, books to be read at dinner, an altar in the dining room that mirrored the seasons of the church year complete with tactile symbols for the children to handle. When I left my friend’s home after a few days, I was changed. Ritual and ceremony, I realized, make the world of the soul tangible, touchable, real. And oh, how we need to be able to grab hold of that soul-world in our materialist, cynical age. We have left so little room for acknowledging mystery and wonder, or the forces that work inside and through us. These are not things we can speak of easily, even among friends and family. But ritual and ceremony can provide a framework for it, giving solidity to things we are at a loss to describe, binding us together by experience, lending us a shared understanding.
Last week, I was invited to join in a very special ceremony for my sweet friend Lesley as she marked her passage into the Rosehip season of her life (the time after menopause). This is such an overlooked time in a woman’s life and I was thrilled to be part of creating a tangible doorway for Lesley, a point that she can look back on, knowing she has entered into a new and vital territory. I believe it is so crucial we honor this landscape ourselves since our culture insists on treating our elder years as a time to delay and avoid, as if we stop being vibrant, living, powerful women because our bodies have moved beyond youth.
Having said that, this was my first time joining other women in such a ceremony (though you can be sure I took notes, because I will definitely be doing this in a few years) and it was such a moving time. Everything was planned with Lesley’s characteristic simplicity and beauty, honoring the earth and her own spirit, as well as ours. We shared food and drink, moving around our host’s home and yard just as if we were traveling through the stages of our lives. At each station we had a special drink (sangria, tea, Greek coffee, wine) that represented the time of life we were remembering, and we sat for hours telling our stories and sharing our experiences. When all the stories had been told and we had completed our circuit through each life stage, we wrapped our friend in hugs and a lovely shawl that represents her new status as a Rosehip, an Elderwoman. (Afterwards we wore our floral crowns out on the town and celebrated with dinner. And here, too, I had something to receive: I was self-conscious about wearing the crown in public, but all the attention we received was joyful smiles and happy questions about what we were celebrating. The whole thing was a lovely, transformative experience.)
There’s something so powerful about women coming together to bear witness for each other, to accept each other’s wisdom, isn’t there? I am full up this week, thinking about how I can honor the femininity and vitality of the women in my own life, how I can stand with them and allow them to stand with me in ways that bring our hidden experiences into the light and lend them solidity.
Some pictures from our time:
Just as I was getting ready to post this, a friend sent me a post on Instagram that fit so perfectly with this, I had to include part of it here:
“While talking to my therapist about why I feel such a need to complete so much so fast I realized that my vision board & 99% of images I see in media are of young successful women. No wonder I felt rushed. In media, if you aren’t successful by 30, it doesn’t count.
Where are the women who have nurtured their craft for years, the women who have stepped into their success with grace and depth and time. Where are the women who have built families and homes and businesses and learned happiness and self love in a different capacity than you could ever have at 30? They are missing. And that is a disservice to all of us.
I will not disappear as I age. I will only shine brighter, love deeper, become wiser, have more to give and be more free. I will be here to show young women you have a lifetime to unfold. Slow down, breathe deep, live fully.”
(Just a note: I don’t believe older women are “missing” because they have hidden themselves, but because we are conditioned not to value and see the women who are before us.)
Tell me, how do you mark your own passages? Have you ever participated in a ceremony like this?
And also, who shines bright for you? Are there elderwomen in your life that are pointing the way? I’d love to hear about them.