A Way of Blessing
By Georgina Kelly
The blessingway ceremony has its roots in the traditions of the Navajo Hoshooji in North America (Kitzinger 2002). Their celebration was of the feminine rite of passage – inducting women into new and venerated phases of their lives. Customarily, the blessingway ceremony went on for nine days, involving chanting, the use of herbs, grooming rituals, visualisation practices and telling of the story of the deity Changing Woman – her birth, puberty, and the birth of her twin sons. A Navajo woman ripe with child was sung over in blessing by her people to prepare her in surrendering to the enigmatic power of birth, and to honour her potency and the magnificence of her creative powers. She cradled Life within her womb, and her people celebrated this.
Many other indigenous cultures held ceremonies or rituals to prepare the woman for birth, and to commemorate her transition into Motherhood. In our western culture, with our medicalised view of pregnancy and birth, we have lost the rituals from our past. We no longer experiend the community gathered around women on the cusp of birthing, and offering her support in practical and emotional ways through ceremony. At present the “Baby Shower” is commonplace however, it is sadly diluted of any spiritual substance. It typically concentrates on the baby, rather than the woman, and manifests in the giving of material presents, rather than nourishing the woman soon to birth. Fortunately, the blessingway ceremony of the Navajo people has inspired women in our contemporary Western culture to reclaim birthing rituals. This shift encourages women to trust the birth process and themselves. The woman’s circle of women gather around her to tell her birth stories of inspiration, give gifts to remind her of women’s power through birthing, and to bless her in her journey to motherhood. The giving of blessings is purposeful in replacing any fear with affirmation of the woman’s “sacredness as the gateway for new life” (Davis, 2000). In the circle, Womanhood is celebrated.
The Navajo have a saying that “whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed.” Jeannine Parvati Baker (2002) writes that this is the principle of a blessingway ceremony. It is to actualise the “dream” or vision of the women gathering, that the mother-to-be will have an empowering birth experience. She further asserts that the ceremony is a “template for childbirth.” This is demonstrated in the gathering’s support of the woman. The woman has to be receptive to the intensity and focus of the group, and be open to receiving gifts, and blessings. Many of us find this difficult. We are not used to asking for help or for being the recipient of gifts or such loving attention – it is we, the women, who are the givers. The ritual involved in the blessingway prepares her to graciously accept help when the baby is born and the gift of the birth force whilst in labour. She learns that to give birth, she needs to open, receive, and surrender with thankfulness.
One aspect of the blessingway ceremony is to prepare the group in welcoming and accepting a new person, the baby, into their midst. The ties of the community are bound together through the woman being celebrated, and through this new being soon to be born. When we hold a blessingway ceremony, we are connecting together with each other as women and connecting with all women who have gone before us. Sheila Kitzinger (1992:17) describes this as an integrative function which also “links the human with the divine, and earth with heaven.” The ceremony reminds us that pregnancy and birth are not simply physiological events, but are bardos – windows of opportunities for liberation or enlightenment; highly charged with potential for transformation. There is an acknowledgement that the woman is being impelled into a new realm of life.
There are no set rules to contemporary blessingways. The personality of the woman soon to birth will determine the design of the celebration, and it will be moulded by those who are present. Invitations should be sent to women who are close to the woman, who have positive perspectives of birth. However the blessingway ceremony is performed – the woman should feel loved and blessed by her community, and confident and ready to embrace birth with a spirit of affirmation.
Davis, E. (2000) Women’s Sexual Passages. Hunter House: California.
Parvati Baker, J. (2002) The Blessingway Ceremony. In: The Mother. Issue One, Spring 2002.
Kitzinger, S. (2000) Rediscovering Birth. Little, Brown and Co: London.
Kitzinger, S. (1992) Ourselves as Mothers. Doubleday: London.