Honouring the rites of passage in motherhood

Through the “Walking the Celtic Wheel” course with Roseleen McNally of the Thirsty Soul, my Reiki teacher and mentor, Shamanic Practitioner & Ceremonialist, I learned that there is power and renewal in taking time to express gratitude for what has been and set soul-centered intentions for what will be. Roseleen supported me with beautiful bespoke ceremonies for some of the most important events in my life. The healing of my birthing story, the start of a new decade, and the celebration of the birth of my son with a wonderful naming ceremony. For each ceremony, I experienced a huge shift in my energy and the capacity to step into a new cycle of life. I felt supported and guided during a powerful time of passage.

“Les Rites de Passage” a book published in France in 1909 by Arnold van Gennep a Dutch–German-French ethnographer and folklorist, introduces the notion that an individual’s life consists of a series of transitions and that these consist of three stages – separation from the old role, a liminal period between roles, and the assumption of the new role.

Van Gennep opens the book by noting the universality of rites of passage in the life course: “The life of an individual, regardless of the type of society, consists in passing successively from one age to another and from one occupation to another. E.g. pregnancy, delivery, birth, childhood, puberty, initiation, engagements and marriage, funerals, etc. Such rites, he argues, are also to be found accompanying the regular passages that take place in time and season: rites of the full moon, festivals celebrating seasonal changes, and New Year’s celebrations.”

In her influential 1966 book, Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas, a British anthropologist, draws out theoretical implications from van Gennep’s concept of the sacred nature of the liminal stage, the merge, giving special attention to the dangerous quality that this state often has. Without a ceremony, or social recognition that the passage deserves, stepping into this new terrain may not feel like a homecoming but more like a death, or a disorienting shift into feeling lost.

“The person who must pass from one state to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time, and then publicly declares his entry to his new status.” Writes Mary Douglas. “The lack of rites of passage leaves individuals in a marginal state.”

“Every ancient culture has rites of passage for pubescent youth, rites which transform girls into women and boys into men. Without it, young people self-initiate. The media tells them how a man or woman should be and our youngsters create their own ways of proving their adulthood through feats, dares, and adventures. They try to appear like adults in what they do and how they look: using clothes, make-up, drink, cigarettes, cars, and sex.”

William Bridges, American author, speaker, and organizational consultant, in his book “The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments” (2001), in which he chronicles his wife’s dying process and his own parallel transition says:

“Whatever its details, an outer loss is best understood as a surrogate for some inner relinquishment that must be made, but one that is difficult to describe. What it is time to let go of is not so much the relationship or the job itself, but rather the hopes, fears, dreams, and beliefs that we’ve attached to them. If you only let go of the job or the relationship, you’ll just find another one and attach the same hopes, fears, dreams, and beliefs to it.

The danger is that the person will fail to grasp the inner message and conclude that the outer change is the whole story. I myself had done that by believing that ‘moving country’ and ‘finding my new career’ were ends to themselves. Fortunately, my struggle took me long enough so that I had time to discover that what I had to let go of had far less to do with vocational activity and geography than with the programming that had carried me through the first forty years of my life.

In the West, we associate development with learning and adding to what is already there – as I realized with my meeting of consultants during the winter after Mondi died. But there is an older (and, I believe, deeper) wisdom that tells us that it is by unlearning and stripping away what is there that we grow”.

Think of your whole motherhood journey and the passages that you have already gone through such as pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-partum, never-pregnant, menopausal, empty-nest…etc. while possibly navigating at the same time other fundamental passages such as weddings, change of job/career/country, separations, losses etc.

Have you taken the time to honor and celebrate these transitions? To deeply connect with yourself and understand how you want to show up in your new identity and phase of your life?

The intention of Mothers Moments, my monthly circles for mothers is to support you during these transitions. A space where you can heal, listen to your inner self, learn from other women’s experiences, and transform.

“Life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and to rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross: the threshold of summer and winter, of season or a year, of a month of a night; the thresholds of birth, adolescence, maturity, and old age; the threshold of death and that of the afterlife, for those who believe in it.” Says Arnold van Gennep.

The alternation of letting go of an old world and beginning a new one is the rhythmic pattern underlying life itself. The heart is nothing more than an organ that does that with our blood. Our lungs do the same thing with the air we breathe. The air does the same thing with blood – leaving it behind when we exhale and reentering it again when we inhale. The earth lets the fallen rain go back into the atmosphere and then reincorporates it after it falls again. There is a time for living and dying, a basic alternating current of the universe that drives the blood, the breath, and the weather.” William Bridges.