Table of Contents
Introduction: The Voyage Through Menopause
The First Rite: Summoning the Barge
The Second Rite: Pulling Down the Mists
The Third Rite: The Great Initiation of Perimenopause
The Fourth Rite: The Quest for Holiness
The Fifth Rite: Bathing in the Healing Waters
The Sixth Rite: Holding the Blood Within
The Seventh Rite: The Crowning of the Crone
Postscript: Celebrating the Crowning of the Crone
The Spiritual Dance of the Female Reproductive System
Replenishing Lost Hormones
Symptoms of Menopause
Affirmations for the Seven Rites
My first thoughts were that I was going crazy. I was sure of it. I remember tearfully asking a close friend and neighbor if she would look out for my children in the event that I had a total nervous breakdown. After all, what else could possibly be causing the sudden and unexpected onset of memory lapses, anxiety, depression, night sweats and phobia attacks that had completely turned my life upside down? My initial visits with my internist had turned up nothing, further convincing me that I was losing my mind. Knowing that I was under a great deal of stress, this internist wrote me a prescription for Klonopin and referred me to a psychiatrist. Thankfully, a friend intervened and reminded me of her own difficult passage through menopause. And since my mother had been attributing my nervousness to hormones, I agreed to see the endocrinologist that my friend had recommended. Still, I was sure that at 36 I was much too young to be going through the change. Much to my surprise, however, both my estrogen and progesterone levels came back extremely low—I was in menopause.
Angered by my internist’s misdiagnosis of panic disorder, I armed myself with every manual I could find on this mysterious mid-life passage, and there were plenty. On the shelves of every library and bookstore were a dozen or so books with the word menopause in their title. The anatomical texts, most of which were written by well-meaning health care professionals, offered advice on lessening the physical and emotional ailments that accompany the inevitable hormonal decline. Whether to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or to “tough it out naturally” seemed to be the question of the day for transitioning women.
Although the advice and expertise of the healing community was certainly educational (more than 50 million women will be going through menopause in the year 2005), the information still wasn’t enough to satisfy my need to understand what was happening to me. I kept reading and searching, wanting to find out more. Yes, I knew what it meant to be in perimenopause. I knew that estrogen loss increased the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. I knew also, from personal experience, that it brought on mood swings and a whole host of other emotional and physical problems. But what else was going on? What was really happening to me?
Even as I asked myself that question, I sensed, as every woman does, that menopause wasn’t just about the cessation of a monthly cycle. And it wasn’t about getting old and dry and wrinkly, either. Deep within me I knew that this experience called menopause would somehow turn into a voyage, a journey, a time-consuming pilgrimage that might take years to complete. And it would be a journey that would not only transform my body, but would transform my soul as well.
And so while my endocrinologist began the arduous task of balancing my hormone levels, I, armed with a gut feeling and a large dose of uncertainty, began the arduous task of uncovering what the spiritual journey of menopause encompassed.
I started with the written word. But nothing connecting spirituality with menopause could be found in the two dozen or so books I had faithfully purchased from my local bookstore. In fact, there wasn’t even a short listing in any of the indexes on spirit. I was disappointed but not discouraged. After all, most of the books on menopause were written by medical doctors and physicians were trained to heal the body, not the soul.
My next step was to go straight to the source. I talked with my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, and every other woman over 50 who would tolerate my intrusive questioning. My search eventually led me to internet chat rooms, where, not so surprisingly, I found the reassurance and answers I had been looking for.
These women were not the least bit shy about sharing their spiritual transformation with me. Not only did I receive an enormous amount of information on what to expect over the next few years, I learned a lot about the chutzpah of postmenopausal women who are allowed to share their experiences over the internet without the fear of someone shaming them. And as I corresponded with these women, I also began to document my own journey through menopause. As I did, I learned a few truths about the menopausal spirit.
One of the most enduring lessons I learned was that the menopausal life passage isn’t about a woman’s body fighting to right itself of hormone imbalances at all. It is really about the soul trying to right itself of spiritual imbalances; it is about a woman’s spirit fighting to regain a sense of symmetry in a distorted, asymmetrical world.
Though unbalanced hormones are certainly a symptom of the passage, it is the heart’s cry to once again be absolute, and the spirit’s desire to return to the place where it can exist in its natural state of strength and courage that defines the real journey through menopause.
And I learned that the menopausal pilgrimage was about returning to that place, that sacred land at the core of the soul, called home. And in returning to that home, that inner sanctum, a woman would again find that sense of spiritual strength and wholeness that she craved, and she would once again be filled with the zest and self-reliance that she had before puberty and children and her husband lured her away.
In addition to enlightening me about the spiritual truths behind menopause, these women also gave me a lot of down-to earth advice about the myths and fallacies that surround the physical transformation.
One of the most widespread misconceptions I discovered was that menopause was an event that happens to a woman around the age of 51. Although the average age of completing menopause may be 51, many women begin experiencing symptoms as early as 35. This means that menopause can often take up to ten or more years. And so the process of birthing oneself, which is what a woman does as she moves through menopause, becomes a lengthy one indeed. An obstetrician was once asked how long it takes for a child to be born. He answered “it takes as long as it takes.” And so it is with menopause. It takes as long as it takes. The menopausal quest to retrieve that sense of wholeness is a pilgrimage that cannot be rushed, and it is important for a woman (and her loved ones) to keep in mind that one doesn’t travel to the inner sanctum of the female soul and back overnight.
For the very reason that menopause is such a lengthy transition and not just a threshold, I feel that the journey should not be classified as a solitary rite of passage, but rather as a succession of rites or rituals. These succession of rites mark a woman’s way through mid-life, validating the pain and frustration of her voyage like stepping stones across a rising river. Robert Fulghum wrote in his book From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives that “rituals are one way in which attention is paid.” I have found this to be true for the rituals of menopause. The stepping stones of rites from childbearer to crone draw a woman’s attention to her changing body, and more importantly, they draw attention to her changing spirit.
In chronicling my own lengthy voyage and those of my postmenopausal friends, I have discovered that there are seven distinct rituals, or rites, that a woman may expect to participate in during her menopausal journey. I believe that these rites and the accompanying feelings that occur with them should not be looked at as isolated stages, though. Instead, they should be viewed as a string of connecting rituals that, in some form or another, have been performed by millions of women for, perhaps, millions of years.
Furthermore, I believe that the seven ceremonial milestones that a woman encounters along the way should be viewed as celebrations, not as symptoms of illness or disease. And they should not be treated as silent acts, either. The rites are commemorations of our womanhood, and should be shared and talked about. Like all female rituals, such as childbirth or monthly cramps, the menopausal rites are not meant as a punishment from God or nature, but are a way of waking us up to being truly female. They are part of the invaluable lessons bestowed upon us by our Creator that, from the very beginning, set us apart from men. These sacred rites are also a road map, a sort of diagram to chart our course—a way of understanding where we’ve been and where we are headed. And more importantly, they are a reminder of just how long we stayed away, and just how far we’ve come in finding our way back home.
I would also like to add that although the information I gathered did seem to repeat itself in many places, it was still apparent that this unity of sisterhood wasn’t exactly the same for all women. I have found that as each woman makes her way through these rites, she will find herself on an unprecedented, uncharted course. Some may find the sacraments painful, while others may hardly notice them. The journey of menopause is a highly individualistic passage, for even as all women make the voyage, the currents each chooses to sail on are hers and hers alone.
As I gathered my information and put these truths together, I knew that it was important for me to relate what I had found to other women, who, like me, were searching for a deeper meaning to the transition of menopause. I wanted to present the information in a way that would be meaningful as well as entertaining, and most importantly, I wanted the rites to resonate with the archetypical places that lie deep in the core of the female soul. One of the most renowned sites that came to mind was the land of Camelot.
Like many women, I treasure the legends of King Arthur, not because of the chivalry or stories of love and romance, but because of the tales of Avalon. Avalon, that mystical, magical island that floated in the mists was where “real” women lived. It was a land where women ruled as priestesses and God had a feminine face. It was a place where women were truly whole.
And so, in this book, I have chosen to use that mythical island of Avalon as a point of reference to describe the place where menopausal women go to recover their wholeness. For this purpose, Avalon will represent the sacred island that lies within the mists of a woman’s soul where she can go and retrieve the part of herself that was left behind during her childbearing years.
This sacred voyage isn’t just about travelling to Avalon, though. It’s also about bringing back a piece of the island forever planted in one’s heart. It’s about retrieving that inner sanctum where women are free to draw down the moon or share their gift of sight without fear of being burned at the stake, and bringing it back to the outer world where intuition still falls under the category of occult. In fact, a vital part of the menopausal healing process can only be completed by reclaiming that ancient golden elixir of the crone and bringing back the wisdom from it to share with the rest of the planet. So while this pilgrimage of menopause is about journeying within, it’s also a pilgrimage of journeying out as well.
Although this book is a spiritual guide and not intended to be a substitute for medical care during the menopausal years, I have included some basic information on the female anatomy, along with some helpful hints on making the transition easier. I hope you find the information helpful, and I wish you all the best on your own voyage into the wise-woman years.
-Kristi Meisenbach Boylan
©2000 by Kristi Meisenbach Boylan