Re: JudeoPagans 1
Iyyar: A Menopause Ritual
A time to keep and a time to cast away
This month's ritual has been designed with an awareness of our moth-
ers, grandmother, and great-grandmothers who were earlier inhibited---
even in the community of Jewish women--from marking the cessation of
menstruation, of derech nashim (the way of younger women as in Genesis
31:35) and the release from the physical tasks of childbearing and
childrearing. Now wholly freed, our female ancestors would have been
ready "to give birth" to their personal creativity, to dip into
Miriam's Well without the distractions and responsibilities of family.
We hope to convey a positive tenor to this life cycle event which has
been feared and misunderstood by so many men and women in the past.
Once a woman has reached the age beyond which pregnancy ceases, her
gender identity is often blurred by society. She is in a transitional
state, experienced by those interacting with her as being full of
power and danger. During the tumulous fourteenth century when the
Black Death struck in Europe,those women who managed to survive the
disease and live to old age were thought to be witches.
In interviewing post-menopausal woman to arrive at an appropriate
ritual marking their "change of life", I found unanimous reactions.
All indicated they would forgo any ritual ceremony that emphasized
menopause, fearing a societal backlash which might discriminate
against them as they advanced in age. Most said they did not feel very
different physically after menopause. The aging process itself was
their emphasis; the gradual body changes. These were linked not only
to menopause, but to the entire process of aging. Whether these same
feelings and attitudes will persist when contemporary young women
reach their menopause is now being speculated.
Some women may choose to mark the end of menopause with a "mature age
bat mitzvah" if they have never had one as an adolescent. Setting a
goal such as learning to read and speak Hebrew, to read Torah, to lead
a prayer service, teaching a Jewish text within the forum of a bat
mitzvah, at an age well beyond 12 or 13, is the way many older women
are choosing to reenter the tradition after years of alienation from,
or passive appreciation of, Jewish ritual. Others may wish to invite
friends who experience menopause already or are presently undergoing
it. My own mother has said that she could not imagine participating in
a menopause ritual, but would have liked to get together with her
friends to share experiences of those important years of change.
Bring: The book of Ruth (several copies); a group for the mithbogeret.
(As preparation, read the Book of Ruth.) Setting: Home of the mith-
bogeret, the menopausal or post-menopausal woman, here named Tamar. We
are in a sitting room. Have pictures of the woman as a baby, young
girl, young woman, bride, mother, grandmother. Flowers and greens of
the season decorate the room. Attending are all the female relatives
of the mithbogeret who can be present--sisters, daughters, mother,
aunts--as well as her good friends, including members of the Rosh
Themes of Iyyar
Keeper: Iyyar is a transitional month which falls between two major
holidays--Pesach, in the month of Nisan, and Shavuot, in Sivan. From
the second night of Pesach, we count forty-nine days (seven weeks)
until Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. This period is called the Omer.
When the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, each family would count a
sheaf offering of grain to bring to the Temple on the pilgrimage
festival of Shavuot. The purpose of this may have been partly a way of
blessing the Spring harvest which would also be celebrated on Shavuot.
In the act of counting, the Rabbis saw an opportunity to keep
track of inner harvest of spiritual qualities. Every week of the Omer
was to emphasize a particular attribute of God. Each day of the week
then represented a different permutation of the divine attributes.
In the context of this Rosh Hodesh Iyyar marking Tamar's
hithbagrut, one may think of the counting of years and deeds and
events which make up a woman's life. given are seven distinct stages
of life corresponding to the seven weeks of Omer: conception, pregnan-
cy, birth, childhood, womanhood, motherhood, and maturity.
In the seven-week counting of the Omer, we find the sugges-
tion of seven ritual activities which may be performed during the Rosh
Hodesh celebration for any given month. We take as our impetus the
Rabbis' notion of seven divine attributes to be explored and emulated
for the purpose of healing the ills of the universe. We have desig-
nated these activities:
meditation, ritual immersion, (mikveh), singing, prayer, storytelling
(midrash), text study (talmud torah). eating and drinking.
Omer as Period of Mourning
Keeper of Iyyar: The period of the Omer which includes the entire
Iyyar is considered by observant Jews to be a time of mourning.
ceremonies, hair cutting, and playing music are prohibited. The
reasons for this are unclear, ranging from a plague said to have
killed the disciples of Rabbi Akiba in the early centuries of the
Common Era, to the influence of a Roman superstition which held that
during this time of year, the souls of the dead wander into the land
of the living. We do not view menopause as a time to mourn the "end of
fertility", as have many in the past. Our purpose in coming together
today is, rather, to understand and recognize the meaning of menopause
for women who have experienced it or will soon enter its phases. Today
we have an opportunity to think of new ways for women to mark this
time in future years.
Sign of Iyyar
Keeper of Iyyar: The astrological sign of the month is the Bull,
Shor. Nisan is the month during which seeds are planted. The bull
ploughs the earth, bending its broad neck to the ground, dragging a
heavy load. The bull tends the change from the new Spring growth of
Nisan to the first Spring harvest of Sivan. The rhythms of the earth
reverberate throughtout the strong body of the bull.
Keeper of Iyyar: In some cultures, once a woman has passed the
age of childbearing, she is known as the "Wise Woman" of the com-
munity. In her reside the knowledge and values of her people which she
transmits to the young. Hers is the status of a venerated elder. This
contrasts sharply with the devalued status of the aging female in our
own culture. Today we intend to question this and to learn about the
experience all have had during menopause in order to instill new and
positive expectations in our children and grandchildren. One of the
major misconceptions we need to address has to do with sex and the
older woman. In Judaism, sex has never been linked only to procrea-
tion. On the contrary, in addition to procreation, sex exists for the
sake of pleasure, wellbeing, and harmony in a marriage. Therefore,
when a woman has passed the age of childbearing and even earlier, she
is encouraged by Jewish law to enjoy sex with her partner. Are there
any other kavannot? Each woman voices her own intention for the
Woman: To mark the passing of physical fertility and to rededicate
ourselves to a greater focus on spiritual, intellectual, and artistic
creativity and fertility.
Woman: To say good-bye to the womb, rechem, the center of childbear-
Woman: To praise and give thanks for the cycles of life which pulsate
through our bodies.
Woman: To say good-bye and good riddance to tampoons and sanitary
napkins and pads and foams and jellies and diaphragms and pills and
anything else I've left out--forever!
Tamar, the Mithbogeret: I would like this to be a ritual of transmit-
ting wisdom, hokhmah.
In Greek, the word for "wisdom", sophia, was identified with a female
figure. In Hebrew hokhmah is a word of the feminine gender. The
connection between wisdom of Tekoa and Abel in 11 Samuel 14 and 11
Samuel 20, respectively, are examples of what seemed to be a conven-
tion in Isreal at that time--a woman of the community who knew how to
choose her words wisely and communicate the desired message. She was
perhaps a female counterpart to the Hebrew prophet, God's instrument
of communication with the people of Isreal. More examples are found in
Proverbs 14:1 and in poem recited to the woman of the household on
Sabbath evening, "A Woman of Valor." One of the last lines speaks of
her mouth, which "opens with wisdom."
In fairy tales, the woman with special powers, with the knowledge
of creation and destruction, is either an evil witch or a good fairy
godmother. Both are frequently characterized as older women. In this
hithbagrut ritual, we teach and lead a discussion based on two stories
of mother and daughter figures where the mother passes on her life's
wisdom to her daughter. they are stories of Naomi and Ruth in the
Bible and Demeter and Persephone from Greek mythology.
All should have a copy of he story of Ruth and Naomi, or should
have read the story in preparation. Tamar, the mithbogeret, then tells
the Greek myth in her own words.
Demeter and Persephone
Once there lived a goddess who ruled over the earth. She had power
over agriculture, causing aboundant growth of cereals and grains. In
this way she echoed Naomi and Ruth, women of the land. Demeter had one
lovely daughter, Persephone, as fair as the first flower of Spring.
One day Persephone wandered far from her mother to pick flowers which
beckoned. Steeped in the fragrance of those blooms, she was startled
by Hades, the dark god of the Underworld. He seized her and pulled her
down to his cold, damp kingdom beneath the earth.
Demeter sank into despair when her beloved daughter did not return.
She entered into mourning, forgetting to bring new buds into being.
She grieved for her daughter, even refusing to eat or sleep. Thus, the
earth was allowed to wither.
When at last she sought aid from the gods to find her daughter, she
was told that if Persephone had not eaten food in the Underworld, she
could return unharmed to this world. Though Persephone had not been
tempted by food, Hades was able to break her resolve with a single
ruby seed of a pomegranite. Knowing that if he could induce her to
nourish herself in his domain, he could have her as his wife, he
strove to make her taste food. Because of that one seed, she would now
have to divide her time equally between Hades and Demeter, between the
land of darkness and death and the land of light and life.
That is why the Greeks say that the earth blooms half the year and
withers during the other half. When Persephone descends to her hus-
Hades, Demeter forgets to bring the buds into being.
Tamar describes the link between these stories in which an older woamn
passes down special knowledge to a younger woman, and the onset of
menopause in which the transmission of wisdom amoung the members of a
women's community is crucial. She tells of her own experience of
menopause and asks other women to share theirs. The younger women who
are present share their fears and fantasies of menopause and ask
questions of the older women.
Meditation and Movement
Woman: Since menopause involves a new relationship with one's
body, we now meditate on ending that segment of our live characterized
by an active womb.
This meditation begins with a movement excercise called "Aura-
Brushing." The "aura" is the psychic field arond an individual. This
aura may be affected by fatigue, illness, depression, isolation. The
purpose of "brushing the aura" is to symbolize making a fresh start by
discarding the cobwebs which drain one of energy.
We start by forming groups of threes, one woman standing in the
middle, one on each side of her. Now the woman in the middle should
close her eyes. the other two will begin to whisk the air upward from
her feet as they whisper her name repeatedly. They whisk from her
feet, her legs, her trunk, up to her neck and head, whispering all the
Each woman in the group takes turns standing in the middle while the
other two brush her "aura".
Woman: I composed this meditation especially with you in mind. Tamar,
as you and I have been working together, I know the kind of imagery
you might use for yourself.
It is important to note here that the process just mentioned is a
crucial one for the Rosh Hodesh ritual. As pioneers in new ritual, we
continu to scrutinize our conceptions to create meaningful ceremonies.
In this case, Tamar asked for help in saying good-bye to her once-act-
ive womb. another woman might require a different image journey.
Woman: While we composed the following for Tamar, all may participate,
even those not yet at menopause. But do not feel you must participate.
You may wish to close your eyes sending healing energy to Tamar. Or,
you may wish to start with this visualization and then let your own
imagination take over. Some of you may want to leave the room. How you
decide to participate is your own choice.
Now, begin by finding a comfortable position. Close your eyes and
focus on your breathing deeply in and out...
See yourself carrying your womb in a crystal jar. Look at it care-
fully. take the jar with you to Jerusalem. Carry it carefully up to
the Mount of Olives. Find a spot on the Mount of Olives and begin
digging a hole with your hands.
Dig deeply, and when the hole is deep enough, place the jar containing
your womb deep into the Jerusalem earth. Cover the jar carefully. Know
that your womb is buried safely, forever. Before leaving the spot
where your womb is buried, thank your womb for all that it has given
you. Thank the earth for protecting and housing your womb.
Cover the spot with a smooth, white Jerusalem stone. Walk to a nearby
waterfall. Stand beneath it and feel yourself cleased from within and
without. Retuen home knowing that you will continue to be creative
and productive. Feel yourself strong and in perfect health.
When you are ready open your eyes.
When the mediatation is over, some of the women share what they felt.
Others remain silent, choosing to listen. Tamar is very peaceful,
talking about what this ritual evening has meant to her.
Gift the women present Tamar, the mithbogeret, with a gift, one they
have made or bought. The Keeper of Iyyar invites all to partake of the
food and drink on the table.
Next: Asatru Blot (Lewis Stead)