Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post includes content about rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, violence.
The recent, meaningful discussions on this forum about how so many of us feel broken due to our own personal histories have fortified and inspired me. I’ve marveled as women have spoken up so honestly and even brutally about the effects of trauma, rape, cold and dismissive mothers, abusing fathers and so on.
Some of you know my own story. I am a survivor of my father’s childhood abuse and then a rape at knifepoint in my early twenties. I carry a deep and abiding sense of shame. This feeling has always flummoxed me. Why should I feel shame when I didn’t do anything to create my own abuse? Shouldn’t my father have felt the shame? The rapist? Why did I get saddled with it? I was the victim (and survivor), not the perpetrator. But shame is indeed the feeling I carry and I’m not alone. Why is this feeling so pervasive? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some clues about where to look.
Its been thousands of years since women’s bodies have been honored and respected as sacred by our culture at large. Once upon a time there were Great Goddesses. The Goddesses got demoted and a God took Her place in most religious systems. Why did She give up her power? How did power systems convince people to relinquish our connection to Her? It was done by using the tools of patriarchal systems, those of shame, fear, and guilt with a strong smattering of rape and other violences. Not surprisingly those are the very same emotions that so many of us have integrated into ourselves.
I have two daughters. They are adults now and I had the privilege of seeing them grow from babies into women. It was not smooth sailing. Puberty was a bitch.
I remember looking around at the landscape of young girls 20 years ago. I had read studies about how the self-image of young girls plummets at puberty. I looked around at “period products.” All the product ads proclaimed how wonderful life is when using their pads, tampons, etc . . . No one even needs to know that a girl has her period. At first, I loved this message. Even with our periods, we can be just like men and ignore what’s going on with our bodies. But then I realized that it was the ONLY message out there – and that’s a problem. Talk about a separation between mind, body and spirit!!!!
I remember seeing Cindy Crawford, in her prime, doing an infomercial on some beauty product. As part of her pitch, she was pointing out all of her beauty flaws. I thought that if she has flaws, then what chance do I have? And what about my daughters? And then I got angry. Shame that was OK for me, was not OK for them.
Menstruation seemed like a great teachable moment. In the hopes of counter-acting society’s ugly messages, I designed a ritual called Moontime Celebrations. It is based on a similar concept to the fairy tale Snow White where she is given life-gifts at her birth. I wanted my daughters to have life-gifts at this body-changing, adult-making, revolutionary moment of their lives. I gave them jewelry with symbols representing gifts I wanted them to have. For example, I gave one of my daughters a necklace with a dragon charm. Here are my words: “This will remind you of your inner power. The dragon was an emblem of the ancient Goddess when she showed her inner strength. In an age when women are at risk for abuse, no one will victimize this face of a woman. She has the ability to throw fire where it is appropriate, such as when she needs to protect herself or great wrong is being done. This gift of dragon energy I give to you.”
It was hard for my daughters. After all no other mothers were doing Moontime rituals. They were embarrassed, maybe even shamed.
Before menopause I used cloth pads. I would soak them before washing and use the water to fertilize my vegetable garden. My vegetables did very well. My daughters were mortified. To this day we can’t eat a cucumber without my oldest bringing up how they were once fertilized. In fact, she does a standup comedy routine in which she describes what it was like growing up with her “weird” mother. She ends by revealing a cucumber. At her last performance it was one I gave her from my present-day garden. I no longer have fertilizing blood to contribute. The good news is that she is hilarious. It’s good to laugh.
I once called into Howard Stern’s radio show and explained my use of menstrual blood. He called me disgusting and hung up on me. Really? He can talk about sex from here to eternity, but women’s blood is too icky?
How is it that the most fertile, powerful aspect of our magical female bodies inspires disgust and shame? I can offer some prescriptions for healing: More rituals. More bonding. More connection with the earth. More focusing on the blessings of our bodies rather than our flaws.
I think I did this ceremony as much for myself as for my children. I realize as I write these words how deeply I still need them for myself.
I work daily to let go of my own feelings of shame. As I age, I grow ever more intensely aware of how I need this body to live. And what a gift it is. Yes, my bodily experience has brought me deep seated in-the-gut pain, but it’s also brought me joy and blessings – my three children among them. When I can, I practice mindful eating, playful exercise, joyful movement, sonorous chanting. Sometimes I get too overwhelmed and I can’t. This much I have learned: the more I can be fully in my body with all my senses engaged, the more healing and the less shame that I feel.
Janet Rudolph has written three books on the subject of ancient Biblical Teachings. One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible, When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible, and the just recently released book, When Moses Was a Shaman. For more information visit her website at /www.mysticpagan.com/
Read more: feminismandreligion.com