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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

           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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