A few weeks ago I was lying in bed when I saw my phone light up with a text message. “Hey, it’s Bella” flashed onto the screen. I’m not gonna lie, my first response was an inner groan. It was almost 9pm and I was ready to be done with my day. But I asked her, “what’s up?”
Bella is my friend Lizzy’s daughter. We met when she was about about 4 years old. I remember her as a wide-eyed, pixie-fairy of a little girl. She had a predisposition for magic. She made offerings out of cookies placed on small saucers surrounded by flower petals. Sometimes the offerings really were for fairies, and she would leave them outside under a tree. Other times, she would offer her sweet gifts as treats for me and the the grown up “sisters and sibs” who had come to do ritual and ceremony together. Having a mom who identifies as a witch is great when you are a little person who is clearly drawn to such things. Bella was always lurking around the edges of our group, wanting to join. In my heart...and out loud to Lizzy, I promised that when Bella was old enough, we’d start a Diana Circle.
When I’m trying to explain Diana Circle to strangers, I call it “goddess girl scouts” or “the red tent.” It’s a group that meets twice a month to talk about topics like social justice, changing bodies, goddess mythology and healthy relationships. The group was started by my teacher and mentor, ShuNahSii Rose, back in the 90’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was part of the first cohort of girls to participate. Starting a chapter of my own has pretty much been a life dream ever since.
So really, I owed it to Bella as my original Diana Circle partner in crime, to answer that text. Because without her and Lizzy, it might have taken a lot longer to get Diana Circle up and running here in Philadelphia. Now, thanks in large part to them, we’re in our third year. There’s a small group of girls who have grown to love and trust each other. In that relatively short span of years, they’ve grown from 8 year old kids to 11-year-old pre-teens.
This year, I have seen the difference it makes to have a group like ours. All of a sudden, their bodies are CHANGING. Like, whoa. They come to group with what feels to me like a burning urgency to ask about periods in agonizing detail. Mostly they’ve wanted to know the signs and what to expect. We’ve talked about this endlessly from a medical/biological perspective, and from a feminist, nature-based, goddess perspective. After three years, they are as comfortable as 11 year olds can be with the awkwardness of these conversations. They’ve learned from slow, persistent, engagement that it’s worth it to feel vulnerable and embarrassed with me and each other, because they’ll end up with good information. And, they’ll end up feeling more trust and connection flowing between us.
And yet, I was totally surprised at Bella’s text that said “I got my period.”
Laying there in the dark, a huge grin spread across my face. I was SO happy for her, and I said so. I told her how proud I was to witness what an amazing person she is growing up to be. I told her we’d celebrate in Diana Circle...which of course, she already knew we would.
Celebrating menarche - a first menstrual period- is a restoration of something ancient and sacred. Menstruation connects us to the great cycles of the earth and moon. Menstruation is a source of magic and power. The reverence for women’s bodies is as old as human culture; it is the foundation of the oldest religions of the earth.
Celebrating menarche is something that I believe takes us leaps and bounds in the direction of dismantling the patriarchy. Which I’m all about.
AND, celebrating menarche radically changes the way girls experience their bodies. A girl who CELEBRATES her period is healing a cultural norm of shame and embarrassment. A girl who celebrates her period is less likely to think of her body as “gross” or dirty. And so celebrating menarche is central to what we learn about and do together in Diana Circle.
In the days after Bella’s text, Lizzy and I- and occasionally Bella- planned her celebration. And as we did, Lizzy and I had moments of crying together on the phone - it’s a life passage for all of us, honestly, and it’s emotional. Bella just wanted to ask that I try not to make it TOO awkward for her. If possible. Please.
Nine girls, aged 8-11, sat in a circle on a living room floor. I was there, along with Lizzy and her mom - Bella’s grandma - Nancy. It was a tight fit, but it felt cozy. Lizzy had made paper garlands of red hearts and a moon phase cycle. The Diana Circle girls were eager and attentive. Lizzy sat on the couch, and Bella sat on the floor near her legs. From my position across the circle, it was a perfect picture of a girl who is poised between childhood and growing up. She still wanted the shelter of her mama, but she was taking her place in the circle at the same time.
I can tell you a little bit about the ceremony. We sang songs. We did a healing circle where Bella laid in the center of a blanket. We gathered around and placed hands on her arms and legs, and sang to her some more. The purpose was for her to feel our love and support, while she did a meditation that we have practiced many times over the years. After, we had a short speak-round where everyone got to share something that they felt while Bella had been in the center of the circle.
I was really proud of the Diana Circle girls during this portion. They were all serious and kind. Some were a little shy, but they all shared. This is deep stuff. And even though it flew by in just a few minutes, a lot of meaningful experiences were happening. I could see it. Ceremony and ritual are not things that kids in the United States have a lot of experience with. It requires focus, opening your heart, engaging your imagination and connecting with others. As you do, feelings unlock that awaken understanding, intuition and insight. Watching them “get it” is the coolest thing.
Two short rituals centered Bella, her mom and grandma. They shared a sip of red wine from a single glass passed from Nancy, to Lizzy, to Bella. This was a sort of toast to crossing the threshold into womanhood (or, at least, out of childhood). The other ritual I created last year, when our first Diana Circle girl got her period (which is another sweet story that helped set the stage for this one). In this ritual, Lizzy and Nancy held the end of a tail of loose red ribbons while Bella braided them. The rest of us sang and witnessed. This was an ancestral lineage ritual. It recognizes that Bella is taking her place in a long line of ancestors, weaving back to the beginning of time. She will keep this braid...hopefully forever...as protection and blessing on her path.
And then, we partied. We had some soup and some treats. The girls danced around the cleared-out dining room. It was fun and silly and joyful.
The whole thing was a two-hour affair. Short and sweet. I think as we keep going with this tradition, there may be a day where we do more. Maybe we’ll go all night. Maybe we’ll invite more community into the experience. But for now, this feels pretty perfect.
As we stood in the kitchen, Lizzy and I said again the thing we’ve felt many times since Diana Circle started. It’s one thing to have a mom who thinks periods are cool. It’s a whole other thing to have a group of girls who think periods are cool. I mean. THIS is what they’ll remember. And not just, you know...when they’re much older. This is what they’ll remember next month and in the months to come when all the dumb lying messages about girls bodies come bombarding into their lives. They’ll remember that they have friends to celebrate with, and that they KNOW, somewhere deep within, that they are goddesses.
What we are doing together in Diana Circle gives me hope. When I’m with them, I feel the patriarchy becoming obsolete. A thing of the past like an old castle ruin. In its place, a thriving and healthy community is rising.
This is a song that Bella wrote herself with one of the other girls from group. It says so much about who she is, who she always been, and who is growing up to be:
We are strong
We are powerful
We are warriors
And we are magical
We bless the earth
And mend the world
Love always wins
If you'd like to learn more about Diana Circle and how to create a rites of passage approach to menarche/periods for girls in your life- sign up for our FREE online workshop: "Parents talk PERIODS" on March 26th, 2019. You can find out more and register here.