Saturday, May 24, 2008

Women, Wisdom & Words

Welcome to another day of Women, Wisdom, and Words, a Blog Tour. I do hope you enjoy my story/excerpt titled Moonlight Midwifery. The experience below has served as inspiration for my next novel, The Making of a Xicana Goddess, a woman's fiction that follows Eva Ramirez, an overachieving corporate executive, Abigail Moreno-Smith, a neurotic artist-mother, and Moonstone O’Grady, their Crone mentor, who uses women’s magic to reveal and heal the childhood traumas that prevent Eva and Abby from obtaining the one thing they truly want: contentment and self-acceptance.

At the bottom of Moonlight Midwifery is a question. Please post your answers here. The winner receives a signed copy of my debut novel. Rogelia’s House of Magic (released June 10), a coming of age story about three very-different 15-year-old girls who learn about friendship and magic under the guidance of a curandera (spiritual healer/wise woman). The winner will be announced on http://bertaplatas.blogspot.com/


Moonlight Midwifery

I came out of my reverie when I heard that we had detoured into Boonville. Seriously, Boonville. We, my cousin Elise and Aunt Judyth, stopped at the Henny Penny for directions and a cup of coffee. We stayed for two pieces of homemade blackberry pie ala mode with a side of whipped cream and a fistful of giggles brought on by those quintessential diner waitresses with the loud laugh and friendly manner that would make anyone feel welcome. I grabbed a couple of creamers for my coffee during our camping trip at the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium – it would be my one decadence and only piece of trash I would create, save for the Vitamin water bottle and broken plate, over the next four days.

Back on track and a few hours later, we drove off Highway 101 onto a bumpy dusty road, over the bridge and the bubbling river tumbling over rocks and moss, bordered by a variety of trees, grasses, and plants and visited by dragonflies, looking suspiciously like faeries. A jack rabbit with his long ears watched us drive by, unperturbed by our presence.

We found a parking spot next to the shuttle stop where we could dump our gear and strong beautiful women would load it into a white pickup truck and haul it into the Black Oak campgrounds. We had arrived. I immediately stripped off my bra – an unnecessary obstruction – the reminder that I should strap up, hold back my femininity, so as to not offend the patriarchy and it’s constituents with my lusty, ill-mannered breasts.

I was joining the sisterhood in a grotto, a meadow, a gathering of women and children. Our freedom, our precociousness, our beauty is revered on these sacred grounds.

The smell of bay fills my nostrils as I register and receive the time of the class that I will be teaching: Elemental Magic and Faeries to young women, ages 11-19. The organizers generously offer me a gift, as they did for all to the teachers, a shirt or bookbag featuring an exquisite lily mysteriously opening to a star-strewn Yoni-verse.

“What do you want to sign up for, Mom?” Elise asks Judyth. Everyone must participate – give back to the community here. I think they chose kitchen duty, I was busy deciding between the tank top and v-neck bamboo cotton t-shirt.

As we walked by, a mama sat in the river with her baby, showing him the water. We passed the Crone’s Corner, silk sarongs painted with images of beautiful, multi-racial, varied aged women wave in the breeze. Next are the Bodywork Area and the Wellness Center with its twinkle lights and the gentle warm hands of our caregivers. Dapple light shined through clumps of birch trees. Dark green moss grew on taller, thicker trees, and on other trees a light sage green moss hung from branches like streamers at a birthday party.

We arrived at a circle of ten or so sixty-foot tall tepees surrounding a grass and dirt circular area with a fire pit in its center. Our friends had secured a wonderful tepee in the shade. I found my chair and sat down for a bit. I've been to this symposium before, but there's always a moment when the chaos of your normal life has a bit of trouble slowing down to the calm of camping with women - no testerone to distract or annoy you - no children or husband - no phone ringing. Just a moment to be yourself.

After dinner and filling my coffee mug with an herbal tea called "Love Your LIfe," I joined the others at the firering, where we had our opening circle. “We are all teachers,” intoned our fearless leaders, Terri and Karen, the organizers of the symposium. “Each one of us has something to offer.”

I looked around me and saw women of every shape and size emanating confidence, whether sitting or walking, almost like a runway model who exhibits self-assurance based on the world’s feedback that she is gorgeous (and rail thin) and so should be admired, put on a pedestal in fact.

These women glowed from a beauty that radiated from their core of self-love, self-acceptance, and a deep connection to the earth and her sisters, with little care or awareness of what others may think of her. This is what I came to learn and perhaps to teach. Drumming and singing followed. The bonding of so many women, some friends for years, some recently introduced, was beginning, as it had over the past eighteen years at this gathering of women.

Later I snuggled into my flannel pajamas, slid into my Ugg boots, wrapped myself in a heavy velvet coat that I had purchased at the last conference from a retired belly dancer, and headed down to the meadow for stargazing. The bright moon made my flashlight obsolete as I meandered the footpath through the woods toward the fields. I passed tents covered with Goddess scarves and prayer flags, listening to the sounds of mamas reading to their children, and friends laughing and sharing stories. The field glowed with a piercing light blue light. My moon shadow fell on tall grasses behind me as I made my way to the group gathered in the center of the meadow.

“The astrological sign of Virgo is represented by the Virgin, as many know,” reported our stargazer teacher. “The word virgin originally meant a woman who was not owned by another. How interesting that we would turn Virgos into a neurotic, anal retentive personality, when it just meant a woman who could take care of herself.” She pointed to a bright star with a laser green flashlight. “There’s my favorite star, Arcturus, the harbinger of the seasons. And here is the Milky Way. Notice how it intersects with the path of the planets at the point of Sagittarius’ arrow. In some cultures the Sagittarius constellation is a teapot. And see how the Milky Way bubbles out of the spout like steam. Now come over here, I’ve set up the telescope to show you Saturn.”

And in spite of that glowing, near-full moon, I could see the rings of Saturn. The following night we would be treated to a view of Jupiter and four of its moons.

The next morning, I put on my triple moon Goddess headband of abalone, and met a group of young women by the fire ring whom I led into the woods for a little privacy for our class. Using a chalkboard propped against a great oak tree and colored chalk I showed them how the four directions relate to the four elements, colors, animals, magical creatures, seasons of nature, seasons of life, and a particular energy. I held eye contact with each girl, telling them how magical they are – how powerfully poised they are as the Enchantress in the south, ruled by fire, orange, red, dragon and horse, salamanders, summer, and the embodiment of will, courage, independence, individuality, and creativity. I taught them that magic is emotion, focus, relationships, serendipity, and intuition – connected, woven together as one.

At the marketplace, mothers came to me, expressing their gratitude for teaching their daughters the truth of their power. Most of my students bought both my teen books (The Teen Spell Book and The Enchanted Diary) and I got the chance to talk to them on a more personal level, which I just reveled in. I traded the remainder of my books for amazing handmade creations, such as raw silk bloomers, knitted gloves, a kiln-fired glass plate, a feathered barrette, a CD of woman/life/love-empowering campfire songs, and more. I loved teh bloomers because the hugely pregnant, dreadlocked lady who sold them to me informed me that when bloomers were introduced it gave women freedoms they never had: like the ability to ride horses or bicycles.

After marketplace, Terri approached me and asked if I would participate in the sacred ceremony that inducts the young women who had recently begun to their menses into the sacred circle of womenhood. I was overcome with joy. Chills raced up my arms, my heart felt lighter than air and the tears glistened in my eyes. Of course, I was willing. My deepest desire is to help young women feel supported and loved. It's my way of being part of what I never got as a young woman.

The drumming begins, a throbbing heartbeat, calling the women to prepare for the parade and ceremony. I dressed in a beautiful purple dress with a black velvet moon and stars on my chest, bell sleeves (think Stevie Nicks), and handkerchief skirt. I brushed my hair and placed the crown headband of abalone moons on my forehead.

At the front of the parade several women wave flags of vibrant colors. Behind them is a twenty foot paper mache Maiden puppet held up by one person standing in the puppet itself and two others on her flanks hoisting poles that move the puppet’s arms. Behind her is the Mother, then the Crone puppet. Beside the puppets are the musicians, shaking rattles, banging drums and singing. The crones, the wise women in our group, shake their bells and brooms they made in a special circle with the High Crone Jill.

We circled around the camp to the far end, passing the line of maidens who had recently started their moon. Many of the young women were dressed in red to symbolize their blood. They look nervous but excited. It just breaks your heart wide open to see them standing proud, waiting for their moment to enter the circle of womanhood, chins held high, eyes straight ahead.
Elise and I break rank from the revelers as we pass the fire ring to get our water bottles. It’s hot and sweaty out, even as the sun begins to set. We join up again just as the last of the group walks into the meadow and forms a large circle of two rows. We find our friends’ daughters and hold hands with them until their mothers reunite with us. We are all related now.

The drummers begin to pound again, solitary rhythmic beats and the chant begins.

Holy Maiden Huntress
Artemis! Artemis!
Maidens… Come to Us…

As we chant, the maidens slowly, slowly walk toward us. We reach out to the woman or child who stands across from us and form an arch by holding hands high in the air. When the High Priestess and the maidens reach the beginning of the tunnel, the entire group of four hundred women and children begin singing.

“We are here to tell you that you’re wonderful and beautiful, we are here to tell you that you’re always whole, we are here to notice that your loving is a miracle, how deeply you’re connected to my soul.”*

Led by the High Priestess, the girls walk through the tunnel (hunched a bit, particularly when trying to pass under the arms of two small children). After the girls pass through, those at the end of the tunnel drop hands and walk under the tunnel. As you catch people’s eyes some women are crying, some look shy, others in awe, others bask in the glory of all this love. And still, we repeat this song over and over again. At the end of the tunnel the crones look at you with such grandmotherly love and gentleness that if you didn’t feel like crying at first you do now.
And they’ll hug you or hold you, telling you with their song and the love in their eyes, its okay. I cried myself to near hysterics my first time through the tunnel.

But this time, I had a duty, a responsibility to take in the love and not withdraw from it. It was time to know my worth, my value. I was more than ready. When I reached the end of the crones, the High Crone Jill grabs my hand and held me. “You stay with me,” she said.

The maidens form a small circle in the middle of our ever widening circle. Lastly the women holding the flags walk through the tunnel. The crones break into four groups and walk to the four cardinal points. Many of them are dressed in the colors that symbolize the directions. The entire group turns to face each direction as the crones welcome the energy, the power, and guides of four directions of east, south, west, and north.

I pick up a tray covered in a red scarf, laden with a white transparent silk, small scissors, a dish of rose water, a rose quartz crystal, ten red ceramic crescent moon necklaces and a red crayon and follow the High Crone Jill out to the circle where her daughter, the High Priestess, stands with the maidens. I enter the inner circle holding the tray out.

The High Priestess addresses the first maiden, “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” is her resounding answer.

The High Priestess covers the maiden’s head with the white silk. The girl looks like a cross between Mother Mary and a young bride. The High Priestess considers the maiden for a moment then in a booming voice declares, “You come to us a maiden,” she pulls off the white cloth. She takes a deeply red velvet cape from the High Crone Jill and wraps it around the maiden’s shoulders. “You will leave us, as a woman. But first you must give up your maidenhood, your childhood. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” says the first maiden happily.

The High Priestess takes the scissors from the tray and finds a thin braid plaited near the maiden’s ear. With a loud snip, she cuts the braid and holds it over her head for everyone to see.
The crowd of women burst into jubilant, primal cheering, howling, wolf whistles, drumming, rattling, clapping fills the air. The very ground seems to tremble with the joyful noise. The young woman only has eyes for that small braid, the symbol of her release and entry into womanhood.

The High Priestess tucks the braid into the young woman’s hand and whispers, “Give this to your Mother, or Mother Earth.” Her first choice as a woman – whether to leave the braid in nature or preserve it with her mother.

The High Priestess then dips her hand into the rose water, “I anoint you in the waters of womanhood.” She dips the crayon into the water and uses it to draw a red circle on the young woman’s forehead. “May you always feel the power, strength, wisdom, and creativity that comes from your blood.” She takes the red moon necklace and holds it up to the young woman’s eye level, “May you always remember WHO is your council,” she says as she puts the necklace on the young woman. She steps aside as High Crone Jill steps forward and takes the cloak off the young woman and gives her a kiss.

Then it is my turn to step forward. This is no longer a girl who stands before me, but a woman. You can see it in her eyes, in the way she holds herself. Most of these young women came to my class and bought my book, meaning I had a connection with them. I kissed her on the cheek and whisper a heartfelt “Congratulations, Welcome.”

And so it went, until each maiden had been inducted into the circle of womanhood. At the end of this ceremony, their mothers were asked to join them and out they rushed from all parts of the circle to hug and kiss their daughters. Some gave an extra present. Most were crying or laughing or just plain beaming with joy and pride.

At this point my friend leans over to her ten-year-old daughter and whispers, “Isn’t it great that Jamie got to be in the ceremony?”

The child turns to her mother with a bemused smile, “We’re all part of the ceremony,” she says.

The young women joined the outer circle and then the crones are asked to form the inner circle. I brought forth a black chair. A Crone of Honor was chosen among them to sit in the chair and bestow a bit of wisdom through her tears of gratitude for the love. The crones were presented with a bowl of cordial, which they passed around. Before taking a draft, each woman pronounced with enthusiasm, “I AM CRONE.”

We broke into dancing, leaving the meadows and filtered toward the fire ring where twenty women drummers pounded out songs to which we danced and danced for hours, while the full moon crossed the starry sky.

Question: Who is the maidens’ council?



Post your answers here. Any answer, I want to see what you come up with!! The winner receives a signed copy of my debut novel. Rogelia’s House of Magic. The winner will be announced on http://bertaplatas.blogspot.com/



*Adapted by Carol Horwitz

6 comments:

Fannie said...

What a beautiful way to bring young people into womanhood. These days, childhood is left behind far too soon. Everyone is in a rush to be adults and miss so much in the long run. I am not sure where I am supposed to answer the question but I think The Crones are the council. But I also think everyone involved is the council. I can't decide but am going with Crones. Everyone have a safe Memorial Day and hugs to all.

Zulmara said...

Great excerpt...I can see your inner spirituality come through in your writng...very powerful...

To me the maiden's council is the group that of Women who welcomes young maiden's into thw womanhood...

ADELANTE!!!

Zulmara

Amanda said...

This was a fun question to consider. When I read this a couple of thoughts came to mind as to who the council is. As I reread I thought it may be that the girls' (new women) are their own council because of the sentence that says “May you always feel the power, strength, wisdom, and creativity that comes from your blood.” They have made the passage from girls to women and they have a lot of inner strength. They can't underestimate themselves. They will have the support of their moms, the Crones, and other important people in their life, but they always have to remember their own strenght and power. Others in their lives can provide insights and suggestions, but they will ultimately know what is best for themselves because of their inner instincts "the council". Part of being a woman means they can do what they think is best for themselves.

Pat Cochran said...

Each young woman is her own council.
They have the support of all the
women at the ceremony, including
Priestesses and Crones, but in essence, each young woman will be her
own ultimate guide or council.

Pat Cochran

Karin said...

I think Amanda said it better than I could - along with Caridad's idea of a strong mother to show the way.

misa ramirez said...

I love the spirituality in your writing, Jamie. I can't wait to read Rogelio's House of Magic!