The first menstruation in a girl’s life is something special. The menarche is a unique moment that requires a gesture. Big or small, symbolic or just plain. Every girl is different after all. Author and celebrant Carla Rosseels recalls her own entry into womanhood. After experiencing the power of rituals and ceremonies to mark unique life transitions, this became one of her core themes.
– BY CARLA ROSSEELS –
Born in 1966 in a small Flemish village, I was raised Roman-Catholic, but at the age of 16, I turned my back on the Church. I told my parents I didn’t want to attend mass anymore as I was disgusted by the women-unfriendly attitude and the violence the Church committed over the ages. My father wasn’t very happy, but he accepted that I was old enough to make my own decisions. My mother was fine with it, as she was a feminist, questioning a lot of society’s rules and traditions.
Nevertheless, looking back, I had some pivotal moments happening in church. When I was 12 years old, while going through the Ritual of Confirmation, for the first time ever, my Calling spoke. While kneeling in front of the Dean in my long, white dress, waiting for his oil blessing, my mum standing behind me with one hand on my shoulder, the Dean asked: ‘What do you want to be when you’ve grown up?’ To their surprise, I answered: ‘I want to be a journalist, a writer’. From then on, this vision became the guiding principle in my young life.
‘One Saturday, I noticed I was bleeding for the first time’
A couple of years later, when I was 14, another remarkable thing happened. One Saturday, I noticed I was bleeding for the first time. I didn’t tell anyone and helped myself to a pad out of my mum’s drawer. That evening, while sitting in church, with the priest performing his solitary rituals far away in the front, I slightly bent sideways and whispered my secret into my mum’s ear. It seemed I needed the womb-like nave of the building, the muted atmosphere, the lateral positioning, close but not overly direct, to open up and to be able to reveal my entry into womanhood.
These occurrences show that our inner stirrings, changes and initiations, if not addressed properly with rites and myths, will find other ways to come through, in dreams and surprising statements for instance, or they will seek for similar settings. Having had those experiences early on, is one of the reasons I got so captivated by the power of rituals and ceremonies later in life, and it became one of my core themes, as a journalist, a writer, an educator, a psychotherapist and ultimately, as a celebrant.
Imagine how potent these transitions would be if we were able to guide more people, young or old, through them with empowering rituals that connect the personal and the collective, allowing us to be vulnerable and strong at the same time, and enabling us to touch upon the deeper mystery of creation while living our ordinary but nevertheless sacred lives.
‘The menarche is a unique moment that requires a gesture’
The first menstruation in a girl’s life is something special. The menarche is a unique moment that requires a gesture. Big or small, symbolic or just plain. Every girl is different after all. The important thing is that we don’t just let this pass and reinforce it as a positive event: with a dinner, a gift, a ritual. Certainly, menstruating has unpleasant sides, but at the same time that first menstruation is a unique life transition that allows the female creative cycle to blossom. Something to celebrate!
Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
- Bake a cake and celebrate.
- Prepare the girl’s favourite dinner, maybe even three courses.
- Give her a special gift: a piece of jewellery, a scarf, a beautiful box to store her menstrual supplies.
- A pamper gift basket full of ‘luxury’ items: a nice soap or perfume, massage oil, a book or magazine, some sweets, et cetera.
- Prepare her a bath with aromatic herbs. Massage her hands, feet, back or if you are very close and she’s comfortable with it, give her a whole-body massage.
You can add some extra symbolism, to let her know and feel that she’s supported by you and a wider network:
- Give her a special teacup and tell her that whenever she brings that cup to the table, you’ll understand that she needs some quality-time or a good talk about ‘women issues’.
- Give her a piece of jewellery with extra meaning: a circular jewel that symbolises her joining the circle of all the women who have gone before her; a jewel with a red stone or moon stone, referring to the menstrual cycle.
- Use roses to convey the special meaning of this transition: give her the same amount of white roses as her age minus one and add one red rose. Or be creative and use white, pink or red roses to tell a story about the beauty and the ‘pain’ of this transition, as there are no roses without thorns.
If your girl is open to ceremony and ritual, albeit a bit shy (that’s okay), you can design a bigger ceremony or ritual to symbolise and process this initiation. A mother I once interviewed, spoke about the ‘13-fairy ritual’ she organised for her daughter, inspired by the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Thirteen women supported, celebrated and initiated the girl into womanhood with special gestures and stories. Another mother gathered with friends in a circle in nature next to a creek. This circle of women offered the girl their wishes and blessings, lifting her up and rocking her. Afterwards they showered her with colourful soap bubbles.
How to create enriching rituals
Since we’ve lost so much of this language in our modern society, it isn’t always easy to get started again and often we are not comfortable anymore with ritual and symbolical acts. That’s why I wrote my books on rituals, why I’m presenting webinars on creating rituals, and that’s why I’m offering ritual coaching to help people create meaningful ceremonies and rituals. To give you an idea and to help you get started again with creating enriching rituals for yourself, your family, or your community, I wrote a practical guide: The Ritual Blueprint – A practical miniguide. How to create enriching rituals for yourself, your family and your community? You can download it here for free: payhip.com/b/wQgt0.
About the author
Carla Rosseels (Belgium) is an author, educator, psychotherapist and celebrant specialised in rituals and celebrations. She has published several books in Dutch about this topic, such as Rituelen Vandaag, Afscheid en Natuurrituelen. She also has e-books available in Dutch and English. Currently she is living in Northland, New-Zealand, where she’s a trained celebrant for weddings and other ceremonies in English, French, German, Spanish and Dutch. More info? Check out carlarosseels.com and carlarosseelstherapist.com.
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Need some inspiration?
Menstrual education for toddlers, because why not?, by Yayeri van Baarsen
Let’s teach everyone about menstruation, by Maggie di Sanza
Not so divine secrets of the Bullwinkle Sisterhood, by Mary Novaria
A ritual for mothers and daughters, by Tessa Custers
A time for celebration, by Robyn Jones
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Photo above: Shutterstock. Portrait: Carla Rosseels.