An Initiation into Womanhood
By: Delphyne Jodie Platner
We Begin With a Story
Naila perched on the edge of a sharp cliff overlooking the sea. On this momentous day the sun shone even brighter than usual, causing the water beneath her to sparkle a clear azure blue. During the last moon, Naila’s blood had come down, the fateful sign that it was time for her to become a woman and leave her life as a girl behind.
From then on, she would be permitted to dive with the women and men to provide food and other gifts from the sea for her village. She had looked forward to this day for as long as she could remember. Her people believed that a menstruating woman was at the peak of her power during this time, and the women in her community were especially respected for their magic and their wisdom. Her female elders were skilled in the healing arts, midwifery, and herbal medicine; the women were revered because they bled every month with the cycles of the moon yet did not die. They were revered for their ability to bring both female and male children into the world.
Those who had passed the bleeding years were even wiser, it was said, because they stored the magical blood inside of them instead of releasing it with each moon. As far as Naila knew, her people had always existed in harmony with, and built their lives around, the sacred cycles of the Great Mother Goddess. Today marked the final stage in Naila’s initiation into womanhood, which included the much-anticipated great leap of faith – a test of her strength and endurance, and more importantly, of her ability to move beyond her fear into a trusting of the universe to support her.
All of the women in her village sat around a bonfire, watching from the beach below. Naila knew that when she emerged from the water and stepped upon the shore where the elder women awaited her, she would be welcomed into their fold as a grown woman. There would be much feasting, drumming, dancing, and celebration.
Although she had practiced holding her breath for the past year in preparation for this moment, Naila still felt a twinge of fear and hesitation as she peered over the cliff’s edge. The ocean seemed very far away. She took some deep breaths and went to that place of great strength inside herself, which usually resided in her belly. “Trust yourself and the Goddess,” her mother had told her – just words before – but now, as she flew through the air like a bird, Naila understood them in an entirely different way. As she hit the surface and plunged into the depths, she felt the salty water washing away the traces of the girl she had once been. Her fear was gone and she fell into a peaceful and trance-like state. Time seemed to stand still. She marveled at the idea of her new-found ability to bring forth life into the world through her own body. Suddenly she felt connected to all life, even the fishes she swam past on her way down. As she moved deeper into the belly of the ocean mother, Naila reflected on the whirlwind of the past week.
As soon as she had discovered her first blood, her situation had been entirely in the hands of the female elders. She was not allowed to be in control of her own rite of passage. From that moment up until this morning, Naila had been isolated for what seemed like a long time in a hut some distance from the village. Her golden-brown body had been painted with red ochre to symbolize her initiation into the blood mysteries. It was always dark in the hut, like a womb, so she hadn’t been able to keep track of the days. Though many of the women’s cycles were synchronized so that they bled together, it was important that a young woman spend her first moon time alone. There she had nothing to do but offer her blood back to Mother Earth and embark upon an internal journey. She had been fasting to purify herself and induce visions and dreams which, according to the High Priestess, contained messages from the spirit world for both herself and her community.
Naila came back to her present surroundings as the ocean’s sandy floor drew near. She began to search for a treasure to bring back as an offering for the High Priestess. Her eyes were drawn to a magnificent conch shell. Reaching for it, she gave thanks to the spirit of the ocean for providing such an exquisite gift. With that she put both feet on the bottom and pushed off, kicking as hard as she could towards the light that shone through the surface of the water.
When Naila’s head emerged from the waves, all of the women cheered and sang her praises. She swam to shore. Her heart was racing with the excitement of her accomplishment as she stepped onto the beach, and she felt more alive than ever before. She drew the giant shell to her lips, and triumphantly blew a deep and resonant tune from the ocean’s watery depths before presenting it to the High Priestess. After embracing her warmly, the High Priestess adorned her with a necklace of red flowers, then placed a red cape over her shoulders. “Welcome, brave Naila,” she smiled. “It is an honor to welcome you to the society of women.”