The Sacred Initiation of a Young Woman

In most modern societies there is no celebration, not even acknowledgment, of a girl moving into womanhood. For the most part, young girls are given little help understanding the changes they experience as they go through this transition. Each girl’s unique, individual qualities as a beautiful young woman are certainly not publicly lauded.

The matriarchal Kuna people (or Tule as they call themselves, meaning “people”), however, who have long lived in regions of Panama and Columbia and are one of the largest indigenous groups in Central America to have retained their indigenous culture, show us a wonderful example of a much different experience.

The passage below, from Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s book “Matriarchal Societies”, describes their initiation ceremony for young women. I invite you to contrast this account with your own cultural experience. If you are a woman, put yourself in the place of the young girl in the initiation ceremony, and imagine how it would have made you feel as a young woman. Notice that the celebration is not just for family or close friends; it is enthusiastically participated in by all the men, women and children in the village.

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The most sacred Kuna Festival is “Diwe Inna,” the girls’ initiation into womanhood. For boys, there is no ceremony for the passage into adulthood, and no other Kuna ceremony has as much meaning as this one does. The Diwe Inna festival takes place one year after the puberty ceremony celebrating menarche (which used to be a purely female rite), and constitutes the girl’s initiation into adult womanhood. This is not the wedding ceremony; in fact, that ceremony—quite a simple one—comes later, and includes, among other things, the group game known as “Catch the Groom.” In contrast, the Diwe Inna ceremony is much more significant, and the entire village participates. The girl receives her woman’s name, becomes a full member of the mother clan and of the nation, and learns the matriarchal mythology that undergirds the cosmology of the Kuna.

The symbolism of the Diwe Inna ceremony is directly based on religious belief in the Great Mother Earth. The goddess is the mystery at the beginning of all of life, and the girl in the process of maturating into a young woman corresponds to her. The young woman is now physically, as well as socially, in a position to participate in the continuing creation of life, just like the goddess does; this gives her a share in the renewal of life of the clan, the community, and the world.

In a special closed room, in the presence of twelve other women including her mother, she will be initiated into the most sacred songs, sung by a “kandule,” or song healer. Here she learns that it is not the stag from the rainforest or the dolphin from the sea who brings children; rather, they come from the fusion of female and male eroticism, which is modeled on the example of Mother Earth and her Son-Lover, the sun. The song healer symbolically embodies Ibelele, the sun god, playing on his long, phallic flute. The twelve women accompany him with gourd rattles, the quintessential women’s instrument, because the gourd shape suggests a pregnant belly with its navel, or the female breast with its nipple.

Next, the life story of the young woman is recounted, beginning with her conception, in elaborate song, dance and pantomime. Her “new birth” from the goddess is celebrated, and at the high point of the days-long feast, she receives a newly woven marriage-hammock. It should be noted that at this point in her life her long, maiden’s hair has already been cut by an “iyedule”—a highly respected ceremonial priestess—at the “Disle Inna” festival held when the child is 5 or 6 years old. In this process, locks of her hair fly away like “soul birds” into the Otherworld, perhaps to let the dead know that here is a little girl who will one day grow up into woman, giving them another opportunity for rebirth through her. And even when the hair-cut does not take place until she is older, short hair and the nose ring are the signs of a married woman. Now, at the Diwe Inna, her face and hands are painted with the juice of the sabdur fruit, which is colorless at first but quickly turns black when it dries at the air. She receives her sacred, secret woman-name and is initiated into the secret knowledge of women: menstruation, fertility cycles, pregnancy and childbirth. The male song healer, at this point, is already absent, because the secret knowledge of women is taboo for men. It is connected with knowledge of women’s medicine, and is handed down exclusively from woman to woman; from mother to daughter, or from female healer to her apprentice. There is no comparable secret knowledge for men. Therefore, as the ceremony develops, it is an all women’s ceremony, of which the main role is performed by the iyedule, the priestess, in a dance symbolic of midwifery. After the completion of the spiritual “new birth” the young woman is brought out into the public festivities, and greeted by the crowd with joyful dancing.

In the meantime, the public has not been idle. Each clan is obliged, on the occasion of one of its daughters’ Diwe Inna ceremony, to feed the entire village and to get them drunk on chicha, a type of maize beer. Everything must be available in abundance, to be handed out in the large ceremonial house. Vessels for serving food and drink embody the uterus of the goddess, from whom all abundance comes; the alcoholic beverage is equivalent to her amniotic fluid, from which the spiritually newborn initiate has emerged. It is therefore considered a sacred duty for everyone to drink as much of the “water of life” as possible, in order to take part in the initiate’s rebirth out of the goddess. At the start of the festivities, the initiate will have distributed the first beverage cups, and everyone will have taken their first sip directly from her hand.

In Kuna belief, at the time of the creation of the world, the oceans were made from the amniotic fluid of Mother Earth. So at this celebration, after the first sip from the hand of the initiate, and after much subsequent drinking, dancing and tobacco-smoking to make the sacred ceremonies invisible to evil spirits, there is a great deal of bathing in the sea, in direct contact with the amniotic oceanic fluid of the earth goddess. Afterwards, the participants, dressed in new clothes, continue to dance and drink until the “longed-for child,” the initiate herself, is finally brought into the circle of the celebrating villagers at the end of her ceremony. The feast ends as it began, with dancing, exhilaration and intoxication.

In matriarchal societies, as exemplified by the Kuna, the girl’s initiation is the most important celebration, because by renewing the fertility through the young woman, hopes are fostered for the continuation of life on earth. Every female youth embodies the renewed, life-giving goddess herself. Additionally, the initiate is the embodiment of one of her female clan ancestors, reborn in her, who will now be able to carry forth the life of the clan. Matriarchal societies honor women’s fertility not only because it makes giving birth possible, but primarily because it can give rebirth; that is, it is the ability to transform death into life. It is this spiritual context that gives women their sacredness.

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How did that make you feel? What thoughts arose? Our civilization, characterized by separation, ownership and a rush to modernization and profit, has suffered many losses. It is, however, good to read passages like this with our intuition engaged, feeling into the intrinsic value of honoring the feminine. We CAN reclaim what has been lost.

Above all, this is also an honoring of sexuality, not a hiding or shaming of it. And it celebrates the essence of feminine beauty, rather than reducing beauty to body image. Interestingly, the Kuna only began wearing the bright, ornate molas through missionary influence. Originally, the beautiful designs were worn directly on their skin, sometimes covered with a simple cloth wrap.

The traditional Kuna matriarchal culture, practiced for millennia, continues today in the bush villages of mainland Panama and Columbia and on many islands. The women own the land, handle the economy and the social order is matrilineal and matrilocal.

Stop… and Be

Mindfulness can be summed up in one word.

Stop.

Come to a halt, rest, breathe – even if you are still moving.

Stop, and notice how the smells of a flower, or the damp earth, or various types of food, or the ocean... resonate with your soul.

Listen to how the wind whispers sounds of love, or how the birds make music, or how the thunder rumbles inside you... stirring you.

Your mind will send a constant stream of thoughts to distract you from this practice. But they are thoughts only, having no present truth. One after another, see your thoughts as transient creations of your neurology without resisting them, then release them and let them pass through. Stop and be still inside. You can’t stop your thoughts, but you can stop giving them your attention.

Instead, notice how the warmth of the sun invigorates you, or how the coolness of the rain washes and cleanses your soul, or how another heart beating against you creates a blissful, loving vibration.

Notice the resonant crunch of someone walking on gravel, or how a song stirs you to move, or to sway, or to hum or drum. Hear how the energy of an engine resonates with the energy inside you. Feel the solidity of rock, or the softness of moss, or the smoothness of a fine, silk sheet.

And while you allow your senses to guide you in the present moment, smile at the amazing capacity of your mind to create thoughts worthy of the best fiction writer in the world. Let each story about you, or anyone else – each stream of words – pass on... into nothingness. Be aware of your mind’s creativity, but don’t buy in.

Notice, instead, the rich smell of your lover’s skin, or the taste and texture of a held kiss. Feel the press of their body against yours and how the energy between you circulates without boundary.

Stop... and feel how your loving arousal matches an ocean wave, or a billowing cloud, or the cascade of a waterfall, or the buzz of a hummingbird’s wing. The world loves you and you love the world, even if your fictional mind tells you otherwise. Let each random thought pass.

Notice how your lover’s breath mixes with yours. Breathe them in... and out. Feel the heat of their body, like the heat of the sun. Feel the heat in you. Feel the life-giving, loving sexual energy inside you. Thoughts will still enter and clutch at you, telling you who you are or aren’t – or who you should be – or who you want to be, in the present moment. Stop. Free your thoughts to be just thoughts, not what is... and let them go. 

Feel. Move. Enjoy. Be.

What Would You Look Like if You Were 100% Sexual?

What would you look like if you were to let 100% of your sexual energy flow through you, right now?

Perhaps an image comes to mind that makes you smile. You wouldn’t be alone if you imagine a writhing, screaming, thrusting porn star, which may not be ‘appropriate’ if you are reading this at work.

But I want you to go deeper with that thought. Feel your sexual energy—that strong, connecting, fertile, confidant, hormone-releasing, loving energy—rising out of the center of your body, filling you. You know intuitively how much is deep inside you. What would it feel like and look like if you were to open the doors wide and let your entire being fill with that energy?

Most of the time we massively restrain the sexual energy inside us, to our detriment. But that isn’t surprising in our present day culture. All our social myths and constraints act to limit the amount of sexual energy we allow ourselves to feel—and express.

Even behind closed doors we rarely, if ever, allow FULL, 100% sexual energy out. 

If the thought of letting 100% of your sexual energy flow out through your mind and body makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone.

But sexual energy is life energy. It is the root creative power of all life. It is divinely connected and tremendously fertile in every way. It is good for us. It is ‘food’ for us. It is healing and joy-inducing. It has the power to create lovely, positive, confidant shifts in our ‘wiring’. And when embraced in a way that is honoring of others, it is always positive.

How much sexual energy is flowing out of you at this moment? 

When Willow and I first asked this question of each other we both went blank for a moment, then, after feeling into it, had to admit it wasn’t much higher than 10%.

We, like most people, were not trained to tap into this energy. Or to allow it to flow more freely.

So we challenged each other to express 100% of our sexual energy, right then. 

A warning if you try to do this with a partner: it may induce laughter! 

But a good kind of laughter. 

Like anything, it is productive at first to exaggerate all actions, sounds, expressions, etc, that want to come out. There is no ‘right’ expression, of course. It may evoke a powerful stillness. What comes through you will be as unique as the person you are. Just let it flow! Play with it! 

As humorous as our expression began, the process was extremely instructive and liberating for us.

Two points to make from this.

One, feeling into (being mindful of) our sexual energy allows us to release more of this energy within us during the ‘routine’ moments of every day. The energy will make us more confident, connected and creative at all times. 

Two, exploring what 100% sexual energy flow looks and feels like with a trusted partner helps us experience the full potential of this divinely-gifted power inside us.

Willow and I still have lots to learn about releasing all that powerful, positive energy.

So we encourage ourselves, along with you, to... let ‘er rip

We Are Stuck in a Sexual Catch 22

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The other day a good friend suggested that sexual desire and sexual urges are from our ‘lower’ or ‘base’ nature.

Or sometimes we hear it described as our ‘animal’ nature.

I think this is a pretty common view in our culture.

We hear constantly about “our obsession with sex”. The word ‘obsession’ delivers the same message, that sex is a human urge out of control. It sends the negative message that we have let our lower nature overpower our higher nature. And most people seem to agree this is true, based on the proliferation of porn online, the popularity of behaviors like ‘sexting’ and sending naked ‘selfies’, the use of sexual imagery in almost every form of advertising and entertainment and the constant stories of sexual crimes in the media.

Welcome to the human ‘Catch 22’.

On the one hand we are constantly told, in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that our sexual energy is a low, base, animalistic urge that must be controlled, yet on the other hand we are born with a built in ‘furnace’ of sexual desires—urges that want to be expressed and fully experienced.

Kim Anami, noted life and sexuality coach, describes it as our bipolar attitude towards sex. I like that analogy. We fluctuate between engaging willingly in sexual energy and then attempting to transcend it, riding the rollercoaster of opening up, then shutting down, opening up, shutting down, etc.

Even if we find a sexual partner with whom we are able to experience true sexual bliss—a partner who has given the space and safety to allow us to be fully open and vulnerable—we often subtly censor, or ‘make private’ that experience, as if it is something special we can’t share. This censoring more accurately reflects a learned discomfort about revealing that we have given in to our animalistic nature; knowing such behavior within our culture of ‘transcendence’ will almost surely lower other people’s view of us.

So how do we escape this sexual energy ‘Catch 22’?

In any process of inquiry, I love flipping things upside down to see if the reverse view holds a revealing perspective.

The common cultural view is that we must elevate ourselves from ‘unconscious’, animal body urges and desires into a state of spiritual consciousness, free from the physical world.

The reverse view would be this: we must elevate ourselves from ‘unconscious’ spiritual urges and desires into a state of body consciousness, free from the spiritual world.

Does this statement make sense to you, on any level? It may sound odd, on first reading, but if we dig into it a bit, I think it does make sense. Profound sense, actually.

First, we are definitely part of the physical world. We share energy within the physical system we call planet Earth. When we die, the energy that comprises our physical human body gets returned into the system.

Second, because of our ability to be conscious of our actions, thoughts and emotions, we almost intrinsically ‘elevate’ ourselves above the rest of our energy system (including all other living beings). We also naturally question everything. We wonder about the how and why of our existence. So we have this unconscious, intrinsic urge to be spiritual.

Third, many people on their path of enlightenment say the moment they “landed in their body” was significant. Truly landing in, accepting and rejoicing in our body, and its connection with everything else, seems consistent with the reverse view; that we need to elevate ourselves into a state of higher body consciousness.

Fourth, one of the reasons we use the word “lower” for sexual urges is because we consider our genitals (or root chakra) to be physically below our brain (or crown chakra). But I have no problem considering the reverse. If you think about it, there is no up or down in the universe. We tend to think up is into the sky and out into space. But the Earth, which we are part of, could just as easily be up. Our planet is round, so there is no empirical up or down. We are simply attached to the Earth. Who is to say our genitals don’t actually reside in a physically higher position, in relation to our source?

Fifth, the last phrase, about us becoming “free from the spiritual world”, is for me a truism in the sense that we need to be freed from the notion of transcending the physical.

So, perhaps our way to escape our human Catch 22 is to understand that we have things backwards.

What we call our lower nature is actually our higher nature. Instead of transcending FROM our lower selves to achieve a closer ‘walk with God’, we need to elevate our consciousness INTO our higher, creative, sexually-energized selves—the physical world—where ‘God’ actually resides.

Sexual energy is life energy, after all. There would be no life without it. Sexual energy is creative, generative ‘God’ or ‘Source’ energy, right inside us, and in all living things. Sexual energy is what makes us, and all facets of the beautiful planet we live on, tick.

And once we understand this, an ironic transformation takes place. Elevating ourselves into body and Earth consciousness actually elevates us into spiritual consciousness—the very thing we unconsciously desired in the first place. We don’t need to transcend our lower nature to achieve spirituality. Instead, we need to transcend into it, to embrace our true spiritual connection to the Universe—to God, Mother God, Source, or however you refer to the Creator of all things.

Truly understanding that sexual energy, and the love that it generates, is spiritual, causes us to honor our sexuality, instead of hiding and shaming it. We would honor one another—and our whole planetary system—much more deeply with this perception firmly embedded in our consciousness. In this respect, there would be no need to control or constrain sexual energy or our bodies. We would not be afraid of sharing sexual energy freely as a way of deeply loving and honoring ourselves and others.

What a joy it is to know that we can openly embrace and stoke the furnace of sexual desire inside us, surrendering ourselves to the total bliss of divine, healing, creative, loving sexual energy.