Woman Am I: A Blessingway Night
Author’s note: October 25, 2019. Over the last decade, I’ve learned a lot about cultural appropriation. Blessingway is a Navajo term, and given that I’m a white person living in a state and a country that has abused this nation and appropriated its customs, I now regret appropriating this ceremony. I have since attended other mother’s rituals and mother’s blessings that are careful not to be appropriative, and I am constantly looking to learn about and increase my respectfulness to minority cultures, and especially to listen to minority voices. When we know better, we do better. There are options to create rituals and meaning without being culturally appropriative. I apologize to the Navajo people whose practice I appropriated.
Woman am I
Spirit am I
I am the infinite within my soul
I have no beginning, and I have no end
All this I am
We sat in a circle and sang this song three times before focusing on our intentions and blowing out the candles. At that point, my Blessingway came to an end.
I had read about Blessingways, or Mother Blessings, on Feminist Mormon Housewives, and my doula told me her personal experiences with this women’s ceremony for new mothers based on Navajo traditions. When I heard of them, I realized that this is what I desired as I take my first step into motherhood. I have previously had a mixed relationship with religious or spiritual ritual, favoring the intimate nature of Priesthood blessings offered by my husband to the more public and time-specified rituals of baptism or endowment. I was ready to find out more about ritual and ceremony and what I could learn from these outward actions that represent internal transitions.
After reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd during my first trimester, I had been craving ceremony in communion with other women. While I don’t believe Kidd mentioned Blessingways, her book awakened me to the power of ceremony, which I define as any action we attach special meaning to. Because I had waited eight years of my marriage before taking this plunge into pregnancy, I felt that I wanted to enter motherhood with deliberate intentions of how this experience would lead to more self-knowledge and discovery of my divine nature, and how as a mother I would grow in taking care of the needs of another human being.
I also felt a longing to have a ceremony that would manifest the support I have from the women around me as I take on these new responsibilities, and I hoped that in the process all of the women attending my ceremony would feel some awakening of their divine nature as well. All in all, we were nine women, most (but not all) with an LDS background, and most participating in our first feminine ritual together that night.
The ceremony consisted of two halves, marked clearly by two quilts we laid on my living room floor. After a brief blessing by D’Arcy on my home, we sat entirely on the first quilt, which represented the past, and connected to our maternal ancestry by telling the names of our mothers and grandmothers. As we did so, we each wrapped a piece of yarn around our wrists, connecting ourselves to each other as well as to the women of our past. After each woman created an intention of love and support, we cut the yarn and tied a piece around our wrists to remind us of the connection to each other. After meditating on our intentions, each woman crossed over from the quilt representing the past to the one representing the future. I was the last one to cross over, and with that action I mentally crossed the boundary and symbolically declared my intentions for entering motherhood.
On the quilt representing the future, each woman presented a bead she had selected for a necklace that I’ll wear during labor and a blessing that she wanted me to have. My first friend presented me with three beads: one large turquoise bead with a balance of dark and light color, to remind me of the dark and light found in motherhood; the second bead was a small acorn charm to remind me of the little seed that is my growing baby; and the third bead was a bear, to give me the fierce strength I’ll need to draw on during labor. The next friend presented me with a blue and white bead resembling the ocean and sand, to remind me of Iemanja, the powerful goddess of the ocean.
One bead and blessing represented the simple gift of a child to his mother, and one was made of recycled glass by African women and paired with the poem “Pied Beauty” to remind me of the beauty of imperfections that I will discover in myself during motherhood. Another was a wooden bead, a toy used by the giver’s children. Other beads were given and shared in the context of the giver’s sacred experience with her Heavenly Mother and inviting me to reflect on my future as an imperfect mother while accepting my divine potential and nature to endure and to bless the life of my child in the way our Mother in Heaven would mother us.
What amazed me about each blessing was that it came from the unique gifts and insights of each woman present. There was no pressure or judgment on the beads or blessings offered, but each blessing stood out and represented the beauty of the giver and her connection to what is divine inside of her. In that safe space, I gained an enormous appreciation for the uniqueness of women, and the divinity of such individuality.
Some of us who were there that night are single, some of us are married, some have children, and others do not. Each of us is at a different spot in our religious journey. But that night I felt we are all goddesses, drawing on the gifts and blessings that we each have been given and are willing to give. While I have so often experienced the pressure of women in religious settings to conform to each other, to compete with each other, or to desperately suppress their imperfections, on this evening stood my friends, each so different from the next, offering her gift and blessing without shame or apology while she represented the best she had. I wish that we as women could always be like that – our unashamed unique selves – when we come together spiritually.