Five years ago, I wrote an essay for Feminism and Religion musing about rituals for our sons. I wondered aloud how we welcome sons in manhood, how we create rituals of celebrations and rites of passages for our boys as well as our daughters. I have been steeped in women’s ceremony and ritual since I was a girl myself, watching the women wash my mother’s feet and crown her with flowers at her mother blessing ceremony as she prepared to give birth to my little brother when I was nine years old. Her circle of friends honored us too, crowning their daughters with flowers and loosely binding their wrists with ribbon to their mothers as they crossed the threshold into first menstruation.
At 24, I then helped plan the rite of passage for my youngest sister, then 13, as she and her friends gathered into a wide living room, flowers on their heads and anticipation in their eyes as we spoke to them of women’s wisdom and the strength of, and celebration of, being maiden girls on their way to adulthood. I knew then that I would have a ritual for my own daughter, yet unconceived, one day. I birthed two sons and lost another son in my second trimester. I led a circle of mothers and daughters through a series of nine classes culminating in a flower-becked coming of age ceremony while newly pregnant with the rainbow baby who would become my own daughter.
Meanwhile, my sons grew and I gave birth to one more son. I held family rituals for every season, watching these boys of mine anoint one another’s heads with oil and sing under the moon hand in hand. After holding seasonal women’s retreats for seven years, I moved into facilitating Red Tents for the local women every month. My friends’ daughters began to cross their own thresholds and I stood in circle with them, their heads crowned with flowers, to welcome them into the circle of women with drumbeat, ceremony, and song.
In my prior essay, I wrote about how I was then asked to hold a ritual for a friend’s teenage son and balked at the task, uncertain of my own role, responsibility, or qualification for welcoming a boy into manhood. After feeling bad for several years about what felt like a broken promise to this boy, we then did hold the ritual for him on his 18th birthday, the ritual that had been just the seed of an idea when I wrote my prior essay for FAR, but that had crystalizing into an understanding: rituals of celebration for our children need not be gendered or reserved only for daughters; ceremonies honoring the significant life moments of those we love are made from the very stuff of relationship and love. After reading many pagan rituals in the format of, “boy is faux-kidnapped from mother and left alone to fend for himself,” I rejected any formula that to my eyes reinforces patriarchy and diminishes or “others” the feminine.
As I wrote then:
When I was reading books, looking for ideas for my friend’s son, I noticed that most pagan rituals described for boys include the element of the son being “kidnapped” from the mother, women, and girls and being taken away by the men and left alone. I hate these rituals. Every time I read one like it, my heart screams, “NO, we want more than that for our sons.” Despite being promoted as part of an alternative spiritual framework, how does this type of ceremony support and honor the type of world we wish our children to grow up in? Why do boys need to be kidnapped from their mothers and left alone in order to be men? Isn’t that the very root of patriarchy on this earth? No thank you.
I finally decided I would create a ceremony for this boy to speak to everything I know to be true about what humans need: the warmth of connection, the strength of community, eyes of understanding, words of affirmation, hands to reach out to them if they fall. As we gathered in circle on a late summer afternoon, I told my friend’s son the story about the ritual we are not doing today. The ritual in which we throw our stones of wisdom into the darkness and tell him to go find them for himself. I told him what I think all people need to hear: You are strong. You are brave. You are capable. You are loved. You can do anything! And, we’ve got your back. We are your community. We are people who will build houses with you and share stories with you and eat dinner with you and sing by the river with you.
I may not be a man, but I do know some things about life, and I know that people who will lend you hammers and talk about different types of wood grain with you and who will help you to identify plants and mushrooms, are much better people to hang out with than those who would throw rocks into the woods and make you crawl after them. You do not have crawl in the darkness alone looking for wisdom, because we’re here. You are not alone.
And now, in the blink of an eye, my own oldest son is 18. I almost asked him first if he would like a ceremony for his birthday, like the one I’d held for my friend’s son, but then I decided to have one without asking first. If I would create one for my friend’s son, why not for my own.
And so, on his eighteenth birthday, on the fall equinox, we gathered once more, hand in hand. I read a poem aloud to him and described how in the early morning hours with him nestled in my arms as a newborn, I would lay my hand on the back of his soft head and cry the quiet, hot tears of early motherhood as my mind drifted into the future worrying that this tiny, soft person would someday become a “bad teenager.” Now we are here, somehow, the years unspooled as years do, on time’s ribbon, and there is no bad teenager, only this boy become man, the one I held so close to my heart, kind and creative, easygoing and smiling. I asked him if I could put my hand on the back of his head like I used to do when he was a baby. I reached my hands up to him, now six feet tall instead of 21 inches, and laid my hand on the back of his rough hair. And this time I cried because we are here and life holds so very much we can’t expect and it has been so good to be a part of his world. With my hand on his head, I told him how much we all love him, we’re here, you’re not alone.
After speaking to him in circle on by one, he then stood in the center and we read aloud a community blessing with alternating voices. I had asked each person to write an affirmation for him and we formed a human tunnel with our upraised hands and invited him to walk through the tunnel as we all repeated our affirmations to him. He emerged from our upraised hands smiling and once more joined his hands with ours, a ritual of passage complete, and a place in the circle held, always, for him.
That night before we went to bed, he came to kiss my forehead and tell me goodnight. Thanks for my ritual mom, he said, it was really special.
May you walk through
your life with heart
you are loved,
you are capable,
you are needed,
and you are strong.
Molly Remer, MSW, D.Min, is a priestess facilitating women’s circles, seasonal rituals, and family ceremonies in central Missouri. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of nine books, including Walking with Persephone, Whole and Holy, Womanrunes, and the Goddess Devotional. She is the creator of the devotional experience #30DaysofGoddess and she loves savoring small magic and everyday enchantment.
Categories: Children, Family, Feminism and Religion, Goddess feminism, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Motherhood, Narrative Essay, parenting, Priestessing, Relationships, Spirituality, Women and Community