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          By: Randronoth
          Re: JudeoPagans 1

          Iyyar: A Menopause Ritual
          Penina Adelman

          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
          Hodesh group.


          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
          month of
          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.


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