The most important spiritual events in the lives of all people on earth are the rites of passage. As in nature, rites of passage mark the rhythm of the seasons of human life. Each one signals the beginning of a new stage in life and the evolution of those who benefit from these life-changing experiences. They are powerful catalysts for our harmonious development and give meaning to our lives. They give us the keys to learn how to give the best of ourselves to our families, our friends and our communities. In today’s civilizations, where rites of passage have since a long time been taken over by religions, these rites no longer have any power or meaning. They are often nothing more than dogmas designed to hide the essence of these powerful moments of self-discovery that are the ancient, traditional rites of passage.
These ceremonies, the rites of passage, are tools to facilitate the passage from one season of human life to the next. They give a significant rhythm to our evolution and facilitate the passage. They help people to adapt to change by bringing the whole community together to participate and facilitate the evolution of a person who is experiencing a major event. It is integrating the wisdom of successive generations of wise and enlightened women and men who have put in place ways to help us grow through the inevitable changes of human life: birth, first steps, puberty, marriage and family life, bereavement, illness, old age and death. When these important moments in a person’s life are facilitated with the wisdom of the elders through the transmission of rites of passage, our evolution is greatly enhanced. When these rites are absent, the consequences are disastrous. The resulting confusion and suffering is all the more disturbing and illogical because they are not necessary. Today I am going to describe and explain the rites of passage of puberty among the First Nations of North America.
At puberty, young people prepare to enter the adult world. Among First Nations, the phase that Westerners call the adolescent crisis is an unknown phenomenon. In the Aboriginal tradition, children pass directly from childhood to adulthood, in a few days, with the help of the rite of passage. This phenomenon of civilized societies distorted by religions, the teenage crisis, with its share of drama and revolt, extreme and often violent experiences of teenage boys and the emotional traumas experienced by teenage girls is due to this lack of preparation for adult life. In fact, modern society is characterized by its total lack of traditions where older people accompany younger people in coming to maturity and optimal development. This is disastrous and one of the many reasons why youth suicide in so-called developed Nation societies is much higher than in traditional societies. In fact, in traditional indigenous communities that still live in harmony with nature, youth suicide is non-existent.
These rituals exist in all aboriginal communities and traditional societies around the world. The rites are different in each nation, but they all have in common that they create special circumstances to indelibly imprint into the consciousness of young adults their understandings of what it is to be a man, what it is to be a woman. Thus, at the age when young people have the capacity to bear children, the inherent and very different responsibilities of their genders are passed on to them by the wise and caring adults of their communities.
Here in Indigenous North America, young males of around thirteen and fourteen are taken to a mountain or high place to accomplish their vision quest. Up there, they fast for several days and nights. They deprive themselves of food, water and sleep to harmonize with the spiritual world where these needs do not exist. They face their fears. Being alone on the mountain or high tree with only a blanket as protection against animals, elements and spirits, sometimes makes the fears very present. They are completely alone, sometimes for the first time in their lives, so all the aspects of their personality that need transformation comes out. Their inner demons come out to stare at them and the young people have to look with courage at these aspects of themselves. Relentlessly, throughout their vigil, they call and implore their vision, which is the revelation of their medicine, the meaning of their lives, their purpose on earth and their place in the community.
When they return, these young men are no longer children. They have learned to master their bodies and their basic needs: hunger, thirst and sleep. They’ve faced their fears and have come back victorious. They now know themselves a lot better and understand their role in the community and their more special talents, medicines and totems. They have often received a vision that can give them give special powers. But above all they are now adults. Indeed, living through such an experience with its realizations conveys great maturity. They are well accompanied in this process as this is key for growth. Even if they are alone on the mountain, they know that the men who had accompanied them during their preparations are praying and meditating for them so that they are protected and inspired during their quests.
There is also great wisdom in spending several days alone contemplating nature. Indeed, everything in nature is real and true. There are no lies in the natural world. Only the artificial world of men is full of lies and conditioning that seeks to program beings with false data. But in nature everything is true. So, after several days of seeing nature around us, our conditioning and illusions fall away like leaves in autumn, we begin to vibrate in harmonic resonance with the truth. Our life mission and our place in the universe become clearer. On returning from the quest, the wise elders and the accompanying men, often including the father, listen to the experiences, understandings, visions and revelations of the young adult and thus help him to understand them and thus integrate the world as a new person. Strengthened by this new vision of the world, strengthened by having mastered his body and mind, strengthened by having been accepted as an adult and being able to integrate the world of men, the boy is given a new name which makes a definitive break with his childhood personality. This enables him to become a man in the true sense of the word. This is the genesis of true maturity.
This experience continues in the sharing of wisdom and teachings that are passed on in Men’s circles. From this point on, this young man has specific responsibilities to the community. This may differ according to the nature of the geography of each community, but in general it refers to the protection of the community, the building of shelters, the harvesting of food and tools for the family, specific ceremonies for men, so on and so forth. The techniques, attitudes and skills needed to carry out these responsibilities are passed on and developed within Men’s Circles. These circles and men’s organizations varied greatly from nation to nation, but existed in all nations. Men need to talk to each other to better understand who they are and how to deal with the specific challenges that all men face. The rite of passage of puberty marked the long-awaited moment when the young man can finally enter such a circle.
For the girl, this passage to adulthood was marked by the arrival of the first moon time. In Indigenous culture, menstruation is called the woman’s moon because this biological cycle follows the monthly cycle of the moon. This new stage was a source of great joy for everyone, as it is a guarantee for the future for the community. This young woman now carried the promise of a child. On this occasion, a great celebration was organized to mark the event.
Among the Apaches, the ceremony of Changing Woman, a very important mythological figure in their culture, lasts three days. The moon of the young woman is honored and celebrated with joy and gladness. She is considered a goddess, like Changing Woman herself, during the highlights of this ceremony. To begin with, the grandmothers prepare the young woman for two days by talking to her about her new role in the community, the mysteries of womanhood, what to avoid and what to look for in her future relationships with men, and all the things she needs to learn as a woman. Then her elders would massage her with fragrant oils and dress her in beautiful clothes prepared specifically for the occasion. She was then presented to the community as the living personification of the divinity, the incarnation of Changing Woman. People come from far and wide to have the opportunity to talk to her, to touch her, to be blessed by her presence. The young woman remains for more than twelve hours with her arms outstretched towards the sky, in the traditional posture of the Mother Goddess, patiently receiving this outpouring of benevolent attention. The Apaches used peyote, a sacred plant, so that this could be experienced without fatigue or pain. People came from far and wide to ask the young woman questions, for her voice is that of the goddess. The young woman answers the first thing that comes to her mind and the answers offered are considered messages from the deity.
I use the example of the Apache culture as this is one that was told to me by a woman warrior shaman and elder who experienced it, OhShinnah Fastwolf, and as I find it very beautiful. But similar ceremonies took place in all indigenous nations and not only in America, but on all continents. The truth is the same for everyone in the natural world. So in every indigenous culture, the young woman who has received and experienced her first moon discovered it as something sacred, something great, making her a part of the very nature of the world. It was an extremely rich, profound, powerful, empowering experience that gave the woman a sense of pride, responsibility, and importance. This will instill in her great self-respect. And in fact, every time this monthly moon cycle comes around these same sentiments are reactivated. One’s moon time was experienced as something which inspires and produces an openness and a communion with the highest and most fertile emotions and thoughts a woman can experience.
Women who experience such an event have a very high opinion of their femininity. They understand the importance of the role they have to play as women in the community. They also have an understanding of the mysteries of womanhood, which leads them to respect the sacred nature of their moon even more. They will never allow disrespect to be shown to them and they will know how to say No to men who do not have a just and pure intention towards them.
Women in the Western world have not had this experience with the appearance of their first moons. On the contrary, the first moon is experienced as an inconvenience. Young girls are not prepared by women who have themselves experienced it as an inconvenience. In the Western world, women in their moon period are referred to as “indisposed”, “in the red”, “sick”, all expressions that denigrate this extremely important and rich phase in a woman’s life. This predisposes to disturbances and irregularities in the monthly cycle, fatigue, pain, cramps, premenstrual syndrome, heavy bleeding, etc. that many women experience at the time of their moons in this modern world.
However, by experiencing the ritual that women in indigenous communities have at puberty, honoring their feminity, it is sometimes possible to correct this, as the experience of recent years has shown us. Today we accompany women, from 14 to 65 years old, in this rite to honor their sacred nature and do what should have been done at the right time. It is never too late to do what is right and good. We call this the Rite of the Sacred Nature of Women. Many women would also like to go on vision quests to access the sacredness of their psyche that is linked to their essence and access understandings about their identity, their totem, their mission on Earth. So I have created a space that allows for this, but in a way that respects the nature of women, and this is what I call the moon lodge.
But even without experiencing these rituals, if the woman gives space and respect to her moon time, if she infuses this period of her cycle with a sacred feeling, with beauty, if she knows how to respect herself and rest, chances are she will experience this quite differently.
In most indigenous nations in America, after this initiation, young women can enter the moon lodge, that is to say, go to a special place, open only to women, for these few days which are experienced as sacred moments of communion with their feminine essence. These blessed moments become conducive to the realization of another kind of quest. They often gather together in a place away from the village, in this dwelling called the moon lodge, in a space where they can communicate with each other, recharge their energy, commune with the divine forces of the moon that regulate their cycle. This place is forbidden to men. There, they allow themselves a time of rest, meditation and sharing. In this way, they learn to vibrate in harmony with their cycle and do not have all the problems that women have today. Pain, cramps. PMS, heavy bleeding, etc., did not exist in the past because there was a space in which women could flourish, find rest, inspiration and connection with Mother Earth.
They use this sacred time to offer their blood to the earth. It is no coincidence that in all traditional cultures of the earth women wear skirts and dresses. In this way they can give the flowing blood directly to the earth and are thus in constant connection with Mother Earth. The dreams, dreams and visions they have during their moon are listened to and respected by the community. It is recognized by all that in this sacred space they can be at one with the living forces of nature. They cannot experience such a moment as an inconvenience. What is given to the land is received as a time of vision, meditation, rejuvenation and rest. It was a state of reciprocity.
Today, many women have not received this ceremony to honor their sacred nature as women, and thus this tendency in technocratic societies to demean women. Rather than honoring her femininity, women want to resist this tendency by wanting to be equal to men, wearing trousers and doing men’s work. Instead of sharing the menstrual flow, the sacred blood with mother earth, it is thrown away in the garbage in a conditioning that increases the pollution of nature.
Thus, it is very important today to come again to traditional wisdom, to reactivate the understanding of what is sacred. This is why I have created a form of vision quest that is adapted to the sacred nature of women, allowing them to be in a sacred space for several days, without the rigors and extreme nature of men’s vision quests. A man needs to understand and learn self-control definitively in just a few days. He does not have a cycle that comes back every month that would allow him to reactivate his understanding of what it is to be a man. That is why the extreme nature of the quest is necessary for his development. For a woman, on the other hand, this extreme nature is not necessary. The woman can sleep, dream, relax… It is in fact this ability to relax and open up, to relax, that allows her to flourish.
Once these rites of passage have been experienced, the young man and girl have a much clearer idea of their roles and their place in the community. So there was no need for the identity crises that Western youth experience, the teenage upheavals with all its violence and drama. The teenage crisis exists because young people unconsciously seek initiation. Boys, in some remote corner of their psyches, know that they need an extreme experience to understand their male condition … so all the antics, car accidents, extreme experiences and sports with the many related accidents that are typical of teenagers. Young girls want to understand their femininity, but the guidance of old women is almost non-existent. So, they sometimes seek it in sexuality, often with young teenagers who have no control and no experience, which can be physically painful and emotionally disturbing.
For young adults who have gone through the rite of puberty their identities as individuals within their community, and the identity of that community within the world, is clear. Their path lies before them full of promise. They embark on it with confidence, knowing that they are supported and fully valued. It is possible to recreate this psychic climate of renewal and activation of the life forces within oneself by taking the time to prepare for and fully experience the vision quest and the moon lodge.
We have reactivated these ancient rites and for years many men and women of all ages have come to experience them. It remains for them the most powerful spiritual moment they have experienced in their lives. Many have been given a new name and this is a richness that defines them in their membership to the human community that of a humanity in harmony with life-giving nature, a life that has meaning in the world.
For more information on those who continue these practices in the continuance of my shamanic teachings, go to ancestralwisdomtoday.com.