A few weeks ago I was hiking up Silvermine Nature Reserve with my friend InK when she asked me to hold ceremony for her, to mark a big transition she was walking through. She expressed a readiness to surrender that which didn’t serve her any longer, in order to step into a version of Self she’d only caught brief glimpses of, but one she knew had been lying in wait. This was her pilgrimage to Self.
I noticed that the tone of her request was perfunctory, maybe shy even, as if she wasn’t certain whether she was allowed to claim herself thus. When I contacted her a week or so later to discuss her request, she acted surprised. I think she was hoping that I’d forgotten about it.
I hadn’t. I’d heard the fear behind her request, the fear of being seen. This I had recognised even in myself. In fact my 50th birthday celebration was beautiful but excruciating, since I kept thinking that people were thinking that I’m such an attention seeker. So I understood her anxiety, with my determination becomimg even more fervent to help her walk through it, to the Self she had been called to.
I had advised her to invite some withnesses to her ceremony, as support, but also as a way of affirming her declaration and new commitment to Self. It felt important to invite her to show up to herSelf in front of others. As I was sharing this vision with her, she shared a recent dream she’d had, where she had been placed in the centre of a big circle comprising a group of people. She couldn’t recall the rest of the dream, but understood that the ceremony would be no solo event.
To help contain her anxiety, she’d elected to invite only a handful of women, seven in fact, but was concerned that her very shy husband would be the only male present. So she asked her female friends to bring their partners (all of whom happened to be male), and the next thing we knew, there were 20 of us invited to the ceremony!
Hm… This, what she had been called to, was no small matter at all, but was clearly abstruse… profound, and she knew it too. A few times in the period leading up to her ceremony she would text me, asking me what I thought people would think. I didn’t know, I told her, being careful not to get involved in the story she was telling herself. I also deliberately didn’t dispel her fear, electing rather to help her sit in it. Interestingly, the longer she sat in her anxiety about the depth of her ceremony, the more her commitment to it strengthened.
When InK had first asked me to do this with and for her I’d performed rituals and had said prayers to bega, or announce the request, as a way of asking for guidance from Divinity and Badimo, our ancestors, but also so that I made it clear that it did not belong to me.
A week leading to the ceremony I gave her a lot of self-reflection and journaling homework, to help cultivate an inner space within which the meeting between self and Self would occur. Soon thereafter, my intuitive sense opened up even more, allowing for guidance to start landing in me, in dream time and meditations, mostly as flashes of images and unknown knowingness.
One morning I was guided to ask her to make ash for the ceremony. I questioned this, taking my time in asking her since I had received no further clarification as to the purpose of the ash. But the push to ask her became so unbearable that I eventually relented and asked her, and she surprised me by not inquiring about the peculiarity of the request. She simply proceeded to make a small ceremonial fire, gathered the required ash, and said prayers into it.
InK later revealed that last year, just before she got married, her mother had given her a jar filled with ash which her male relatives had prayed over, to use around the period of her wedding. To me that explained the request for the ash- it was already part of the family’s ritual narrative.
There were many other inexplicable but synchronistic events that took place around this rite of passage, another being where I was intuitively “asked” to take her up a mountain for predawn prayers. I didn’t really want to, but of course was compelled, and so I asked her to feel which mountain she felt drawn to, in our area. She identified one, and in the early hours of her ceremony day I very reluctantly got out of bed just after 4 am to take this young woman up her chosen mountain, to meet herSelf.
We hiked up the mountain above Muizenberg in the semi dark, with me following her closely behind, in silence, as I’d been instructed. A sudden, startling loud bird call that sounded like an alarm, somehow announcing our arrival, pierced through the pristine silence. I took note of the greeting, but dismissed it to chance. However, I could not dismiss the 5 crows that circled a mere few meters above our heads as we got on our knees under a canopy of trees, on a tiny bridge running over a small singing stream, for the invocation I was about to perform. Mother Nature had sent a welcoming party, it seemed.
(An aside, the following night, just before drifting off to sleep, I followed a Crow Guided Meditation on my Insight Timer App. The teacher guiding the meditation shared that the crow represents transformation and change, letting go of what does not serve one any longer, and work in community. Clearly the appearance of those crows was no accident).
Back on our knees on the bridge on the mountain, I offered snuff, announcing our intention to Divinity, and calling in our ancestors and Kali-Ma. I called Kali Ma in particular for her Divine task as the destroyer of untruth. I asked for help and support that we be stripped of old, untrue stories about self, so as to make space for the generative and fuller versions of self, in order to be who we really Are.
At the end of my invocations InK offered her own prayers. I continued praying with her, and without warning, in the middle of this, I slipped away. I must have gone into trance- certainly I had lost all conscious awareness, finding myself in infinite spaciousness within. I cannot say how long I was gone for.
I had been transported to this expansive realm before- at my last Vipasanna retreat in 2015; earlier this year during my journey with marijuana, and when I bent and twisted a spoon using my mind. When it happened again on the bridge, I immediately recognised it.
I came back to this realm to find myself rubbing my palms together as InK was finishing with her prayers. I don’t think she had noticed what had happened with me, and since we were still in silence, I didn’t share.
We gathered our things and went off to a cave-like formation on another part of the mountain to perform the rest of our rituals, and offer libations. As the sun rose, InK made a song offering to it. We were one with one another, with those that had come before us, and with all there was around us. It felt blissful, somehow.
As we walked down the mountains, a light breeze shook a tree we happened to walk past. It had what looked like dry pea pods for fruit, and they delighted us to no end as they rattled the sweetest sound in the breeze. We had the silliest smiles on our faces as we shook those pods, feeling sure that the Goddess of music was well pleased with our prayers.
Later that evening I led us through the proper ceremony, with 7 men and 13 women present. I had expected especially the men to squirm their way through it, but they surprised me by participating fully in all activities. InK received blessings from them as they came forth one by one, representing the sacred masculine, to rub that holy ash which her mother had given her for her wedding, onto her hands and feet. This was her marriage to Self, after all.
We, the women, then left the men behind, drumming, and went off to another part of the garden, for our own sacred feminine ritual. We created a loose tent with cloth to shield her naked body, and woman came forward and offered her a blessing, focusing on a specific part of her body, which they rubbed with the ash I had asked her to make.
She was then bathed and massaged all over with ointment mixed with the remaining ash. We dressed her in new clothing, and when done, she went over a threshold, out of the old self, and stepped with bold intention, into her next phase of life. Her husband was there at the threshold to receive her with praise and a crown made out of white roses, which he placed upon her head as we all ullillated.
At the end of the ceremony we feasted as we sat around the fire, exchanging many stories well into the late hours of the night.
It was a lovely event of stepping into Self, surrounded and supported by community. Since the ceremony, InK has had revealing dreams that feel prophetic in some ways. There have been other experiences too that seem to validate the purpose and meaning of our time together. It’s almost as if a heavy veil is being lifted off the illusion of self, preparing her for a reveal of her Real Self.
This afternoon, just as she was about to board a plane for abroad to go spend time with her parents, she called me to tell that when she left home a little earlier, a snake had crossed her path, and had waited there, watching her and her husband make their way to their car. She said she felt as if the the snake sighting was significant, and was an omen, possibly. I think a snake in the path as one leaves home for a good number of months speaks of the letting go of the old, to return renewed.
And yet, throughout our journey, we were riddled with doubt and insecurity, as if we were insane to even be contemplating the ceremony. Yet she and I knew that this was not a satisfying of a personal desire on her part- far from it. This was a passage that had to be walked, and one that had been prepared for her long before it presented itself as a very good idea to her.
It is possible to receive guidance from a realm that is not visible to us, only if we would listen.
Rites of passage are critical to sense-making and offer imsightful guidance on how to navigate this thing called human life. Rites of passage can help us know how to be human, and how to thrive as humans.
Calling all healers, medicine humans, teachers, priestesses, elders, Gurus, Dingaka, Sangomas, Shamans and you know yourselves- Please, we, your students await your wise counsel. We want to remember please.