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A Rite of Charms: Passage into Young Womanhood

My daughter Vencenza was five years old when I began considering how we would celebrate her menarche. As the only child attending our Sabbats, she enjoyed the attentions of her Auntie Witches, who naturally grew to have an investment in her emerging womanhood. Over the years, we discussed crafting a ritual that would affirm my daughter's positive self-image and offer information and blessings to her from a supportive sisterhood. One of my ideas included the creation of an object to commemorate her rite of passage. I planned to have each woman participating in the ritual bring a bead or charm symbolizing a story from her life or a blessing for Vencenza. As each woman told her story or bestowed her blessing, she would braid her charm into a necklace made from white, red, and black cords, symbolizing the Triple Goddess. As my daughter grew, however, a variation of this idea that was better suited to her unfolded.

Using charms lead to the idea of gifting Vencenza with a charm bracelet. I first rejected this concept, because when I was a girl, charm bracelets had more to do with status and ornamentation than with intent and blessing. As time passed, though, I realized the idea warranted further consideration. White, red, and black cords braided with charms might create a ritual object, but Vencenza might not be able to wear it comfortably in public venues. Some of the most useful and versatile objects of the Craft are common household items, such as a broom, cup, knife, and cooking pot. This lead me to think about a charm bracelet's common place versatility. My daughter could wear a charm bracelet whenever and wherever she chose. It would be an object of power concealed by its common appearance.

Then my mother died unexpectedly. While I had had no menarche ritual when I was young, I remember how joyful my mother was when I got my first period. She had called to my Dad, in a voice singing with excitement, and told him that I was a woman. One week after my mother died, Vencenza began her menarche. This seemed bittersweet and ironic to me. I had always imagined myself calling Mom and announcing, "Venny is a woman!" But instead of singing with celebration when Vencenza told me, I blurted "How wonderful!" and burst into tears. I said, "Grandma would have given anything to be here for this!" I think it was that moment that settled me on using the charm bracelet. I wanted to ensure that any symbol associated with Vencenza's passage into womanhood move easily between the magical and the mundane, so like my mother's love and the love of her Auntie Witches, it could be with her anywhere.

Although Vencenza had her menarche just before Yule, we selected the evening of Spring Equinox for her menarche ritual. On the appointed day and time, we gathered, cleared the space, focused our energies, and stated our intentions. Adrienne blessed Vencenza's womb, then I explained the intent behind gifting her with a charm bracelet. I also pointed out that later Vencenza could add her own stories to the bracelet, thereby mingling them with the stories of other women.

For her first charm, I had "Blessed Be" engraved on one side of a silver apple, with the date of her menarche on the other. I gave her the charm and explained how I appreciated using the apple to commemorate the time of my daughter's rite of womanhood. I explained that after Vencenza's birth I had struggled with infertility. Health care professionals had repeatedly asked me when I had had my first period, but I could not remember. I tried to determine which grade I was in at the time, in order to estimate my age, but this did not help. When I was a child, my menarche did not seem important enough to remember, but when I was later faced with infertility, the time that I had transitioned into womanhood took on greater meaning. It seemed like something that I should have remembered, because it was about my own body. I wanted to ensure that Vencenza knew that her menarche was significant, and was worth commemorating and remembering.

The other women and I had not prearranged what charms we would bring or what we would say. Spontaneously, though, the stories and blessings addressed common themes. First women shared what they valued about being a woman. Sheila said, "One of the happiest things I learned to do as a woman was how to cook. As I perfected my cooking skills people would come to my kitchen, tell me stories and talk to me. Because my food was good, they believed that I must also be good. Cooking has brought me friendship, creativity, and joy." She gave Vencenza a small silver cauldron. Adrienne gave Vencenza a triple spiral and stated, "Many of the good things I have learned, I learned from my womb. I learned to know myself, to trust myself, to have a sense of the things that bothered me and the things that did not. I think of the womb as the internal version of the great cauldron. It nourishes, it is a source of creativity, centering, and definition." I gave Vencenza a small silver image of Kwan Yin and sang a song about the Goddess that I created for her when she was five. As I began to sing, she sang with me, "There's a light inside of you. Look at me, I'm a woman too. And I'm here to say to you; There's a light inside of you."

Stories and blessings for transition, support, love, and friendship were offered. Monika, Maria, and Sara gave Vencenza a gold claddagh, the Irish symbol in which hands are holding a crowned heart. Monika spoke, "My first period was a new experience and brought new emotions. Since they were new to me, I was alone with them. Things seemed insurmountable, because I didn't have the experience to know my strengths. I selected this charm because to me the heart symbolizes you and the hands symbolize our hands holding you as you go through your adolescence. As you experience what you are not familiar with, remember us, and remember that we are all here for you." Ofra gave Vencenza a silver heart, saying, "This charm is symbolic of life and love, to remind you of this stage of life and the family and friends who love you." Andrea brought a flower charm with a moonstone at its center, symbolizing blossoming womanhood, and told the story of her first menarche.

I told my daughter that when she was born, my mother had bought a round charm with a baby shoe in the middle, engraved with the date of Vencenza's birth. I had not yet given it to her, but now it could become part of her magical bracelet. I said, "Grandma Mary was very close to you. Because of your close relationship with her, you have a role model for being a joyful Crone and Grandmother. Not everyone gets that gift."

Adrienne, Andrea, and Marni spoke about power, self-determination, and self-ownership. Adrienne gave Vencenza a second charm stating, "I saw this little canoe and its tiny ore. The reason I wanted to give it to you is for you to remember that you are the rower of your own boat. No one else, just you. Only you can figure out where you are going. It's your right and it's your way." I gave Vencenza a piano charm. I told her about the things members of my family had wanted to do, including play the piano, and the reasons that they did not follow their heart's desire. Although some of them had faced genuine limitations, some of the limitations were also self-imposed. I told her, "Don't wait for your dreams, make them. Create them. Own them. Manifest them. Give them to yourself as a gift and they will bring joy into your life." Marni reminded her, "Your body is yours. I hope you always feel like it is yours. It will tell you things. Listen to yourself and your heart." Andrea presented Vencenza with a flute and said, "I play the clarinet and the piano. When I was growing up, sometimes I'd have intense emotions and feelings I could not define. I felt out of control. Music helped ground me, dissipating those feelings and helping me feel in control. I'm glad that music is part of your life too. When you have creativity and outlets that nourish you, you can find your way and manage your emotions and body."

Then we gave her information on caring for her body, including our experiences and tips about the use of available feminine products. Marni gave practical advice, such as wearing an extra long jacket to school when you have your period. Adrienne presented Vencenza with herbs that could relieve cramps and facilitate menstrual flow. Sheila, a mother of three sons, spoke briefly about the viewpoints of adolescent boys at this age.

We also told stories about our menarches that included misconceptions, fears, self-doubt, joy, and mystery. This progressed to expressing our experiences of the magic of our womb and the power of our moontime and our blood. Marni said, "I forget I am going to get my period. Then one day I get this flash of anger or I feel as if I am going to cry. It feels hot, like it is running through my veins. Then I get cramps, and the day after that, I start to bleed. I think of it as three days, because first I get hot flashes, then cramps, then a burst of creativity. It is a blessing and a joy." Up to this point the ritual had addressed bleeding, but now I spoke about the other parts of the cycle, stating, "I personally love being fertile. I love the juices of my womb and the heightened sensuality it brings. I enjoy the energy flow as my womb changes throughout the month." This led to a discussion of the magic of being fertile, ripe, and receptive, and the menstrual cycle's relationship to the Moon.

Lastly, Sheila acknowledged our celebration. "When I was a girl, menarche was a secret, it was not celebrated. It was a great big mystery better left unsaid. Women spoke about it in a whisper. It is important to me to be here with you celebrating being a woman and to be here to see you do this differently than I did. Thank you for having a party!"

We passed around the charms, admiring and charging them with the stories, blessings, and intentions they were meant to symbolize. Then we ended our rite.

At first, Vencenza was a little shy about wearing the bracelet, but as she has grown comfortable with her body, she has become comfortable with the bracelet. She wears it to rituals, as well as on ordinary days. She says she is always aware that it is a blessing that was given to her and that it is a comfort to her because it feels good. I am aware that she has a seemingly mundane object that is, instead, a group of charms given to her by magical women, all of whom acknowledged their own power and their own passages when they gathered to celebrate Vencenza's womanhood.

Patricia Lutjic

Pinole, California