Skjold smaller

Initiation into Womanhood


by Annette Høst ©

The first menstruation is Life's own initiation of a young girl, taking her over the threshold into Womanhood, and into living with the moon cycles. This transforming event is much ignored in our time and society, giving the young woman a poor welcome into this new phase of her life. But if we turn to other, tribal cultures, and hear how they  celebrate the girl’s rite of passage, we will find a body of ancient knowledge as well as inspiration to create new, meaningful rites of transition for Western women of today. Transitions that can make us, whether young or mature, feel at home in Nature's cycles of fruitfulness as they dance around and through us.

The story I am going to tell here is a Healing Tale. It will take us through four parts:  The Power of Menstruation,  The Tribal Ways, Changing Woman in a Changing Society, and The Gifts of the13th Fairy. Please receive from it what you can use.

Among the Mbuti people in African Zaire, a girl who has begun to menstruate for the first time is said to be "blessed  by the moon", and she becomes the focus of rejoicing as everyone is told the good news. The first flow is marked by a joyful ritual, the elima, in which the girl enters the "women’s house" together with female relatives and friends.  The girls are taught to be proud of their bodies both sexually and in terms of their ability to bear children. They are taught the arts and crafts of motherhood, they learn the songs of adult women, and people from all around come to pay their respects; also the young men crowd around the elima house. If two girls start menstruating at the same time, it creates a strong bond between them, "they have seen the blood together “(1).

The first menstruation is a rite of passage that doesn't have to be sought for or applied for. It comes to the girl, all by itself. From now on the blood will come every moon, be her companion in all her fertile years, except when she temporarily steps out of the  cycle to bear a child and nurse it. Will she see it as a blessing or a curse?

Modern Western women have, as a rule, had a negative experience of their first period. "Nobody prepared me, I was sure I was going to die"... "When I told my mother, she started crying and told me to say more hail Mary’s daily to protect me from sin." For many the blood was a shameful secret which they  came to terms with after a while, to others just a nuisance which they tried to ignore.

The girl's expectations to and her experience of her first flow mirrors the society's attitude toward menstruation in general. Therefore I would like to begin with an introduction to menstrual power as such.  Seen in the light of how common it is for Western women to have hysterectomies solely because of menstrual pain and misery, it looks like there is plenty of room for improvement in our relationship to menstrual power.

The Power of Menstruation
For as long as I have studied and practised shamanism, I have also worked shamanically with the powers of menstruation, Moon and Nature's other cycles.  The following is a summary of the teachings I have learnt from traditional, animistic cultures, from other contemporary women's experiences, and from my own meetings and dialogues with the powers of Moon, Blood and Earth.

Almost all traditional cultures, present or past, recognise the extraordinary powers of menstruation. They realise that at that time a woman is surrounded by spirits, and the door opens to the other worlds. It is clear to me that the power of menstruation can be an important ally, a spiritual teacher and pathfinder in our life and personal growth,  if we will  listen  to it and let it flow through us. The power comes to us every month, uninvited, and we feel its presence clearly. So the fundamental question is: Do we welcome the power and co-operate with it, or do we fight it and curse it?

Basically, I have found that the attitude that is the key for bringing yourself in harmony with the power of menstruation, is the same that is central for doing shamanic work. It consists of making yourself accessible to the powers and spirits of Nature, and co-operating with them in a conscious way.  To acquire such an attitude is a big challenge, since our Western culture is based on conquering and controlling Nature and its cycles. Added to that, we have all unconsciously inherited the view that the blood is somehow unclean, or at least unmentionable.

It hasn’t always been like that. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, also here in Europe, the blood was held sacred, as was Earth, fertility and sexuality. It is possible for us to realise again, that the cycle of fruitfulness within a woman reflects the greater cycles of Moon and Sun, as well as Earth's wonderful, rhythmic fruitfulness. This will help us to bring healing and  beauty back into our view of menstruation and bleeding women.

Being in harmony with the power
It is my clear impression that the menstrual power has its own distinct "personality" traits. In short it is creative, it is untameable, and it speaks the truth.  It seeks natural expression in creativity, in dreaming and looking inwards, in intuitive or visionary work. And like the power of the Wind and the Sea, it will not be tamed or controlled!  However, just because we cannot control the power doesn't mean that we cannot "ride" its waves and make use of it. We can admit it into our life, give it space and attention, allow it to flow through us, and dare let it express itself according to its nature.

Fighting or denying the power doesn't make it disappear. It will just find another way, expressing itself as pain and dis-ease.  Many women only know the untameable power in this troublesome, defiant aspect.  Most of the month we can put up with a lot, but a few days before the blood shows, we feel strongly when our boundaries are not respected, and we react. Therefore rebellion, pain, depression and anger are well known expressions of the menstrual power. This is what has been labelled PMS, the pre-menstrual syndrome, the horrible monster.

We could also call it "The Moment of Truth"! We could choose to listen to it, co-operate, and make creative use of it. It is a good time to make decisions about boundaries, and finding your direction.  Even though its language can be harsh sometimes, you can trust that it speaks to us from a deep, honest place. This strange power always pushes us to be true to our Selves.

The first step of harmony and co-operation is welcoming, and this can be expressed in a simple ritual. The next step is to pay attention, get curious, and go into a dialogue with the power. I have found that the ancient shamanic ways and ritual methods are perfect for this, but you might also find that other disciplines, like dreamwork, meditation or guided visualisations work well. "Menstruation, as dreams, responds to sincere interest .”(2)

All this points to the importance of making the first meeting with the blood a good one, so it will be a Welcome to the power.

The Tribal Ways
"When I was nearly as tall as my mother, that thing happened to me which happens to all our women though I do not know if it does to the Whites; I never saw any signs. It is called menses." (Maria Chona, of the Tohono O’odham)(3)

Since the rite of the first menstruation has disappeared from our own society, we must turn to more traditional cultures to gather basic information.  Many cultures hold that the first menstruation is a crucially important time. It is a time of magic. The girl is between the worlds, and in this state she is malleable, she can be moulded, or shaped! That means that whatever the girl experiences in those days will be imprinted on her personality, and will have consequences for the rest of her life. Therefore traditional peoples utilise this moulding, shaping quality in a conscious way. Great efforts are taken to ensure that the girl will experience what is considered best for her, or/and what is considered best for society, or the tribe as a whole.

Though the ceremonies and celebrations of different societies vary a lot, they display a common  cluster of features or important elements, that show up consistently even in cultures otherwise very different. It is this cluster of ritual elements which holds the timeless power to trans-form and initiate. Most of the examples I will use here stem from Native North America, simply because I had more reliable source stories from that area. But before we begin, it should be noted that there is no single North American Native way of relating to a girl's first menses or menstrual power in general, just as there is no single "Indian Spiritual Tradition". What is presented to us here is a colourful patchwork, a heritage that calls for our willingness to listen and learn as well as our ability to think for ourselves.

The girl is holy
One of the most prominent features of the girl’s rite is the holiness of the girl. During her initiation she is residing between the worlds, in a sacred space. Therefore she  is holy, she embodies the divine, and has in her the power to heal. In the South West of USA, during the four days of the Navajo puberty rite, the Kinaaldá, as well as during the similar Apache rite called the Sunrise Ceremony,  the girl becomes Changing Woman, a deeply loved goddess or divine being. In this holy state she blesses the herds and the corn, and she "stretches", heals anyone who wants it.

The healing power of this state is widely recognised: A Cibeque Apache explains how a pubescent girl "is just like a medicine man, only with that power she is holy.”(3) Also much further north we find how after the Oglala Sioux rite "...all the people rushed op to her and placed their hands upon her, for now she was a woman, and....there was much holiness in her.”(4) The curing power of the girl's touch or blood is found in many places. In rural Scandinavia, up into the last century, menstrual blood was used for love-magic, and for healing of people and cattle when all else failed. And the blood from a girl's first flow was considered especially potent.

Because of this intensity of her peculiar power, many tribes isolate the girl, often for four days. It is a very widespread view that the menstrual power is sacred and dangerous, and therefore it must be handled with care, much like we handle electricity.  However, there are also other reasons for the girl to "sit apart", as we shall turn to now.

Dreaming, soul searching, vision questing
Questing for a dream or a vision that will point to her path in life, as well as acquiring a guardian spirit are important elements often appearing in a girl’s initiation. These elements relate to the girl's own individual, spiritual needs. To meet the spirits the young girl must be alone and away from others, sometimes fasting as well.

For the Yurok of California, the puberty ritual of their upper class women for example, was more personal than public. It basically includes a period of fasting, dreaming, and isolation for five to ten nights, with daily bathing in a sacred pond. Tela Lake, a Yurok, relates how: "On the tenth night she stands in the middle of the pond and centers herself between the power of the water and the power of the ....full moon. Then she prays to Sky Woman and asks for strength, protection, long life, some kind of special gift, and wealth (i.e. spiritual growth). Afterwards she dives deep into the pond and tries to find a good luck stone. Then she returns to the main house and tells the older women or the medicine women about her dreams, vision, or spirit contact (5)".

In the Seneca nation of the Northeastern woodlands, girls used to retire into the woods on a “mild” vision quest at first menstruation and paid particular attention to their dreams. Through dreams experienced during such a period  the dreamer could be granted orenda, magical power, and a guardian spirit or power animal.

Mountain Wolf Woman, born around 1900, of the Winnebago, remembers such a dream and how she spent her first period at age thirteen in the snow covered wood: “.....Near the water's edge of a big creek, at the rapids of East Fork River, they built a little wigwam [for me]. I was crying. I was crying (meaning both crying and praying) and I was frightened. Four times they made me sleep there. I never ate. There they made me fast. That is what they made me do. After the third time I slept, I dreamed:  There was a big clearing. I came upon it, a big, wide-open field, and I think there was a rise of land there...There in the wide meadow, there were all kinds of horses, all colours. I must have been one who dreamed about horses. I believe that is why they always used to give me horses.”(6)

In some cultures, a dream or vision (some languages do not distinguish between dream, spontaneous vision  and shamanic journey) at menarche might also call the girl to become "doctor", that is medicine woman or shaman. For other tribes or individuals, the call to become a medicine woman does not come until the other end of the fertile years, when the mature woman enters the Age of Transition, leaving motherhood behind her.

However, not all puberty ceremonies for girls have questing and isolation as part of them, far from it. There is for example neither isolation nor questing in the Kinaaldá, and no questing for the Tohono O’odham girl, as Maria Chona tells about below.

Instruction and assistance of an elder
The widely known holy man Black Elk, states in his account of the Seven Rites of the  Oglala Sioux:  "During the first period of a young girl, she was instructed by an older woman in the things a woman should know...This older woman who helped the girl should have been a good and holy person, for at this time her virtues and habits passed into the young girl whom she was purifying.”(4)

It is a very common feature of the girl's transition, that an older woman is chosen to assist and instruct the girl. It is her task to alert the girl to the physical, social and spiritual changes in her. This is the tribe's or culture's clearest attempt to mould or shape the girl to fit into the proper woman's role, as it is seen by that culture. It can have both a very pragmatic side, focusing on the wish for strong, hardworking women, and a more spiritual side, impressing on the girl the mythical origin and divine quality of her new fertility.

Maria Chona, of the Tohono O’odham, formerly known as the Papago in Arizona, related around 1930: "They don't let us sit still and wait for dreams. That is because we are women, too. Women must work...They chose my father's cousin to take care of me. She was the most industrious woman we had....Then that old woman would talk to me: 'Work hard. If you do not work hard now, you will be lazy all your life. Then no one will want to marry you'...I listened to her...I wanted to be a good woman.”(3)

Although the Kinaaldá ceremony also includes strenuous work, the most important task for the elder woman assisting the Kinaaldá girl  is to re-enact the mythical role of Changing Woman's mother, First Woman. Just like First Woman did with young Changing Woman,  the elder woman dresses the Kinaaldá girl in the finest white shell jewellery and clothing, and moulds and massages her to physical perfection while singing the sacred songs.(8) In this way the young girl is reminded, indeed physically shown, how she is going through the very same process as the goddess did at the dawn of time.

Black Elk says about the girls’ puberty rites: “They are important because it is at this time that a young girl becomes a woman, and she must understand the meaning of this change … She should realise that the change which has taken place in her is a sacred thing, for now she will be as Mother Earth and will be able to bear children.”(4)
   It is noteworthy that the elder is never the girl's mother, but rather a kind of god-mother, or wise old woman. And sometimes the initiate is also assisted and supported through the ceremony by a young woman, a few years older than herself.

The moulding magic also makes the girl's own behaviour and actions during her ceremony important. It is a widespread view, that it will shape her attitude toward life, and influence her future mental and physical health. As a modern Chiricahua Apache man says: "It seems to me that it turns out this way. There's my wife. She went through the ceremony very well, obeyed, and was good. You take C., she was mean and balky...Today she's very mean. And now she's cross, has a bad mouth and a high temper. But she's a good looking woman all right!”(3)

As part of this ritual magic the Navajo girl, as well as her Apache cousin, run to meet the rising sun every dawn during the rite, longer and faster for every time. Because Changing Woman taught that the longer a girl runs at her Kinaaldá, the longer she lives a healthy life in beauty.

Divider egeblade

Ritual purifying, bathing and dressing
This part of the ceremony puts much attention on the girl’s body.  Often after the seclusion period, and when she has stepped over the threshold into her new state, the celebration begins with bathing, body-painting, massaging. Much emphasis is on washing and combing, maybe cutting her hair, arranging it grown up style. In the rite of the Aboriginal Australian girl "The bathing is a joyful social gathering of female relatives who splash and dunk the girl in the water while the mother burns the seclusion hut. The girl is then decorated and painted before she returns to the main camp (7)."  In tribes with sweat-lodge traditions, the ritual bathing and purifying might be a sweat-lodge ceremony.  In many cases the girl will also get new or ritual or a grown woman’s clothes. In this way the girl is helped to realise a new body-image, that of a woman, not a child. The change inside her is made visible for all to see and witness.

Sexual initiation
In the Mbuti Elima, "the girls in the hut have the right to rush out from time to time and chase after the young men. Should a boy or man be caught, he has to enter the hut, whereupon he is teased and is under some pressure to give sexual satisfaction to the girls inside.”(1)  This is a very simple form of ritual sexual initiation where young people are introduced to not only the obligations but also the rewards of adult sexual life.

Although this is not a common part of most girl's rites, even in more chaste cultures, the young people sometimes take advantage of the privacy of the prescribed isolation of the initiate, and there are quite a few stories about how she might receive nightly visits in her moon hut.  Most North American peoples also used to see the appearance of the first blood as a sign that the girl was ready to be sexually active, or even marry. The lessons of her "godmother" would then also include the proper sexual education.

And then there was a great feast
The Kinaaldá climaxes with an all night ceremony lead by a "singer" or medicine man, the haatali, in the hogan, now crowded with relatives and guests. A big ceremonial cake is baked in a hole in the earth and served to everybody after the heart of it is given as an offering of thanks to Mother Earth.  And finally after the last racing, massaging and blessings, the girl has "walked into Beauty" as a young woman.

The puberty rite of the Oglala Sioux, a band within the Lakota nation, is called  Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan, literally meaning "Her Alone They Sing Over", and it ends with a feast and a Give Away. Much further south the Hupa and Chilula call their ceremony ”The Flower Dance”. The names give poetic expression to the common attitude of  the tribal rites of passage, so different  from our society's ignore-ance of the event: The girl is the center of attention of her kin and her community. Younger girls  watch her being celebrated, stepping over the threshold, looking forward to their turn.  Maria Chona ends the story of her month-long initiation this way: "And then they danced me. All that month they danced me, until the moon got back to the place where it had been at first. It is a big time when a girl comes of age; a happy time .”(3)

Changing Woman in a Changing Society
In a time where many indigenous peoples are reclaiming their traditions and pride, the puberty rite is a powerful way of transmitting tribal values to the next generation.  But sometimes also contemporary girls of these cultures turn away from going through the rite: "I don't like being Kinaaldá; I get tired of the beads, the running, and having to sit up all night.”(8) said a Navajo girl, trying to escape the prescribed second ceremony by hiding her menstruation.

To most westerners the ceremonies described here contains both practises of great beauty and practises we would consider oppressive.  Some of them serving the spiritual needs of the girl, others putting the social needs of the tribe far before those of the girl. I should note that in my selection I have put emphasis on stories which could have an inspiring or healing effect on our attitude to menstruation. I could also have presented tribal stories and features of a more oppressive character, but really, who needs that? We have enough of that in our own background, and my purpose has been to gather material for healing and positive change.

Obviously the girl's rite reflects the tribe's or culture's view of women, women’s roles and women’s power-  doesn't our own?

Inspiration, not imitation
Native American traditions around menstrual power most often involve two basic components: Menstruating women do not participate in certain ceremonial work, but they "sit apart", go to the moonlodge. If you ask if the women are excluded from the ceremonies or if they choose to go to the moonlodge, you will get very different answers from different tribes. Black Elk expresses a view common for the prairie nations: “…Each month when her period arrives she bears an influence with which she must be careful, for the presence of a woman in this condition may take away the power of a holy man”.(4)  But also within a single tribe you can find different views, as I have seen most clearly  expressed in sources from Yurok society: Whereas Yurok men feared menstrual pollution as driving away wealth (i.e. spiritual attainment), Yurok women understood that it was precisely during their menses that they could most easily attract wealth.  Roughly said " there are two gender-specific views, of which only one- that of the male - has become known through published ethnographies.”(9) And, I would add, through male spiritual teachers working with white New Age students.

Another aspect we must consider to get a balanced picture is that when traditions around menstruation degenerate, the last aspect to be remembered and practised is the exclusion of women from ceremonies. This exclusion, and nothing else, is unfortunately how many Western women interested in shamanism and Native American ways have been introduced to the whole concept of menstrual power. For many it has reactivated old feelings of shame, of being outcast, and sadly, some of the women have concluded that this meant they should not or could not do any shamanic or other spiritual work at all when menstruating. But the "exclusion" is only half of the story, and  it is not a universal truth either. Remembering the “personality traits” of the power of menstruation we can better understand the practice of exclusion for what it is. It means to me simply that certain traditions or controlled ceremonies do not, in their design, have tolerance for the untameable menstrual power. And we do not have to uncritically import that view or that tradition into our own spiritual practice.

This brings us to the big issue of how we can take part of the human heritage stored in tribal ceremonies without falling into the trap of becoming wanna-bees.  Ceremony in itself is only the means, not the goal. Ceremony is the form, power and spirit the content. I see no purpose in imitating a culture specific form, no matter how much I respect that culture. I will rather let myself be inspired by the content, and let that take root and form in my own place and time.

On my workshops on moon cycles and shamanism I have invited grown women to do a special healing journey: To go to their spirit helpers and ask to be led through their first menstruation again, as it should have been celebrated. The opportunity to do this over, to heal old hurts, has been met with enthusiasm, and the journeys often have elements of the "classic" puberty rites, without the journeyers knowing anything about those beforehand. The women come back telling about instructions and tests from an old wise teacher, rituals and dances in a circle of women, bathing in a moonlit pond, having their hair washed and combed, their bodies adorned.

This confirms for me, that the core content of the traditional rites is an ancient human heritage which transcends time and culture, and which speaks to deep spiritual needs, including the spiritual needs of women of today.

Creating new rites of transition
How can we create ceremonies, transitions that fit the needs of young women today in our society? The stories of the traditional rites can be used as a source of inspiration, remembering that some translation is needed.

One great difference between tribal and western cultures is the different view of individuality. Roughly said, in our society we tend to put the needs of the individual’s "freedom" before the needs of community, whether local or global. It has given us great opportunities for un-compromised personal growth and unfolding. We have paid with broken families and networks, loneliness and feelings of separation. Tribal societies on the other hand, can tend to smother the individual for the sake of community's needs, as is hinted in some of the examples above. We should remember that any new ritual or celebration of the first flow must be created in accordance with the girl's needs, on her terms, and not trespassing her boundaries.  Remembering the moulding magic, the purpose is first and foremost to give the girl the best possibilities to enjoy her first meeting with the cycle.  Just as it happens on Native American reservations today, many girls might shrink away from the mere thought of a public celebration, especially one with their extended family. However low key the girl wants the event, I feel it is important that there is some reward or positive change accompanying the first menstruation.

Another difference is that in our society, the first blood comes long before the girl is considered a grown woman, sometimes even before she is a teenager. And that does make it harder for a girl of our society to welcome the blood, because what is it for?  She is now sexually mature, but she is not supposed to be sexually active quite yet. The privileges of true woman- and adulthood seem far away. There are still years ahead of her before it is considered beneficial or acceptable for her to enter a serious love-relationship or use her new ability to bear children.  This makes it even more of a challenge to turn this experience into a meaningful one for the girl.

The gap in time between seeing the first blood and being a grown woman means, that there are probably parts of the traditional transition, that the girl will not appreciate until she herself feels she has come of age. This could for example be her 18th birthday, or finishing secondary school, moving away from her parents, or beginning an education. As a woman exclaimed: "I didn't miss not having my first menstruation celebrated. But I do miss not having been celebrated as a woman."

Preparation and instruction
Remember how in the traditional rites it is never the mother who has the role of the Elder preparing and instructing the initiate. I think this is a great piece of wisdom, worth listening to.  Exactly at that time the relations between mother and daughter can be full of conflicts and ambivalence. At an age where you need to distance yourself from your mother (and her generation), some girls find it much easier to seek advice from somebody their own generation.  As in some of the examples above, the "Elder" can be a young woman, some years older than the girl, whom she can look up to, and find trendy or cool.

A school teacher might also take the role of Elder, preparing the girls. A young Danish woman really appreciated that her female teacher gathered all the girls in the class and shared with them her knowledge of sexuality, birth control and menstruation in the open and intimate atmosphere of a "women's lodge", making it possible for the girls to continue their own talks in the same manner. Black Elk's words: "at this time her virtues and habits passed into the young girl" comes to mind.

Seeking a power-animal or a vision
Big children often readily embrace the idea of meeting or getting a power animal. And a guardian spirit is of great value for a girl to help her through the turbulence of teenagehood. She might recognise a power animal showing itself to her in a dream, or in this reality on a walk in the woods. In any case, one can support the girl in seeking help through her dreams, which tend to be "bigger" around menstruation and full moon. I know a woman whose birthday gift to teenage kids has been to do a journey to find their power-animal (if they wanted). With their curiosity now aroused, she then taught them to journey for themselves.

A vision seeking, or equivalent, milder practises, might feel more appropriate later when the girl is faced with choosing education, finding her path, and other big issues.

Divider egeblade

Celebrating and purifying her body
This element consistently showed up in the "doing it over" journeys, and the sensual quality was much emphasised. Whatever will make the girl feel good about her changing body and sprouting breasts will do. We can translate the tribal traditions to a luxurious bath with favourite scents, a massage, or new clothes which the girl considers grown up or feminine, or a new hairstyle, just to name a few. I know of a family, or clan, where every girl at her first menstruation is given a finger ring, sometimes with a red stone inlaid. The circle of the ring is explained to represent their welcome into the cycle.

Mother and daughter: Who's needs?
A girl's first menstruation is a great step for her mother, who might grasp the consequences and importance more than the girl herself at the time.  The event will confront the mother with her own experience of the first blood, especially if it was traumatic, her own relationship to sex and menstruation, and her own ageing.

It is very important for a mother in this situation to be clear about which are her own needs, so she does not (with the best of intentions) project them onto her daughter causing resistance and embarrassment. More than once I have seen how the mother wants a celebration or a ceremony for her daughter, because she herself never had one.

But it is never too late. A woman who wants to "start all over", like the women on my workshops, can create her own initiation into womanhood, her own rite, and maybe take inspiration from some of the stories in this article. On a full moon night perhaps, or when her menstruation starts, she can do the ritual all by herself, or be assisted by a trusted friend, calling on her own spirit helpers, or, for example, Changing Woman or the moon goddess. The experience can be deepened by a shamanic journey as described above, or by a guided meditation or imagery with the desired elements.

To walk our talk
Even a beautiful ritual welcoming of the menstrual cycle may not do the job on its own, if the constant (unspoken) message of family and/or school through childhood is the opposite. This points to the moulding power of parents, teachers, and other grown-ups, who have children in their daily life.

To be able to transmit values genuinely,  we must live them. We can bring the cycles of nature into our life by celebrating the turning of the seasons with songs, flowers and games,  - by supporting the friendship the child often already has with the moon and spirits of nature, adding knowledge and lore, - by doing our best to be in open harmony with the menstrual cycle our selves,-  showing by our example that Nature's cycles are something to dance with, not something to fight.

The Gifts of the 13th Fairy
I want to end with a gem from our European treasure of fairytales, a story of a girl’s initiation into womanhood.

We all know the story called Sleeping Beauty. You remember how the King and the Queen only had 12 golden plates, and therefore they didn't want to invite the 13th fairy to the party for celebrating their daughter. All the other 12 fairies came and  each of them in turn bestowed her gift, her blessing onto the Princess. But then, to everybody’s embarrassment, the 13th fairy showed up anyway. And because she was not invited, she was angry and she brought a Curse: On the Princess's 15th birthday, (on her coming of age), she would prick herself on a spindle and die! (The dying-part was later softened into "sleeping for a hundred years").

The parents tried to avoid the unavoidable by having all spinning wheels destroyed and being very protective of their daughter. Nevertheless, the day the Princess turned 15, she found herself exploring unknown corners of the castle, all by herself. And furthest up, in a secluded chamber, she met an old woman spinning on a spinning wheel. As foretold, the girl pricked herself on the spindle, and upon seeing the red blood, fell into a deep sleep. Red thorny roses covered the whole castle, but when a hundred years had passed, they opened for the Prince. He woke the Princess with a kiss, and they lived happily ever after.

In fairytale language, the 12 golden plates tell us how the solar principle is well esteemed in our culture.  13 is the number of the moon, unwelcome and seen as a bringer of bad luck in our society, which doesn’t care much for either moon energy or the energy of women's moon cycles. You could even see the 13th fairy as the moon goddess, ruling women's cycles, too.  The fairies are the female spirits or goddesses, who in pagan times were called upon at a child’s birth, to bring blessings, and predict the future. Norns, Fates, Disir or just Fairies, they have many names.  Now, the spindle has a universal sacred meaning too: The Norns are said to spin the unavoidable fate, the life thread. And Navajo legend tells of Spider Woman spinning, creating the web of life.  In the secluded chamber you recognise the persistent theme of the girl's initiation taking place in seclusion, in isolation, often supported by and old, wise woman.

What the 13th fairy brings the Princess then, is menstruation and sexual maturity. Red roses, with thorns.

So you see, for all the King's and Queen's excluding, avoiding and ignoring, they couldn't avoid their little girl growing up into sexual maturity, they could not exclude life's own initiation of her.  They might as well have invited the 13th fairy, because she comes anyway!  That’s the wisdom and the lesson of the story. And if we do invite her and show her the respect she is entitled to, she will arrive in a much better mood, and bring a Blessing, not a Curse!

1) Chris Knight: Blood Relations. Menstruation and the Origins of Culture. (Yale Uni. Press. 1991)
2) Penelope Shuttle & Peter Redgrove: The Wise Wound: Menstruation and Everywoman. (Paladin. Grafton Books. 1986.)
3) Peggy V. Beck, Anna Lee Walters & Nia Francisco: The Sacred. Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life.( Navajo community college press, 1992)
4) Joseph Epes Brown (ed.): The Sacred Pipe. Back Elk's account of the seven rites of the Oglala Sioux. (Penguin, 1971)
5) Medicine Grizzlybear Lake: Native Healer. (The Theosophical Pulishing House. 1991)
6) Nancy Oestreich Lurie.(ed.): Mountain Wolf Woman. (University of Michigan Press. 1961.)
7) Robert Lawlor: Voices of the First Day. Awakening the Aboriginal Dreamtime. (Inner Traditions International. 1991)
8) Shirley M. Begay: Kinaaldá. A Navajo Puberty Ceremony.(Navajo Curriculum Center, Arizona. 1983)
9) Thomas Buckley & Alma Gottlieb: Blood Magic. The Anthropology of Menstruation.(University of California Press. 1988)

Divider egeblade

Please Connect Me to your News