maenadic dance embodying the sacrifice


Transformation Ritual: Movement and Fire.

In its first moments out of a chrysalis the butterfly voids a drop of excreta that has been accumulating during pupation. The drop is frequently red and sometimes voided during flight. Consequently, a shower of butterflies may produce a shower of blood, a phenomenon that released terror and suspicion in earlier cultures, sometimes resulting in massacres. Symbolically, if we are to release our own butterfly, we too will sacrifice a drop of blood, let the past go, embrace the future and by ‘being’, turn towards the unknown.

Why are we so afraid of change? Why, when we are so desperate for change, do we become more desperate when transformation begins? Insecurity lies at the heart of the fear of change. When society deliberately programmes itself to a set of norms that has very little to do with instinct, love, madness or privacy, then people who set out to uncover the angel of their being, trusting in the dignity of their own soul and the creativity of their imagination, have good reason to be afraid. Without recognized rites, boys who have never been separated from their mothers and are fearful of their fathers cannot make the step into adult manhood. Girls who have lived in the service of their driving masculine energies are not going to forsake prestige, power, fame and fortune for a sense of harmony with the cosmos. Arriving at middle age is agony for those who cannot accept the mature beauty of autumn. They see their wrinkles hardening into lines, and new liver spots appearing every day, without the compensating mellowing in their soul. Without the rites of elders, they cannot look forward to holding a position of honour, nor in most cases will they treasure their own wisdom. For some, even the dignity of death dare not be contemplated.

Rather than changing one’s status, initiation changes our fundamental being. We do not become more powerful or authoritative, but more creative, more alive, more ontologically real. Ritual does not change the way a person lives per se but gives meaning to life, life’s direction flowering from there. By means of ritual, relationship to the unchanging, eternal aspects of existence are affirmed and renewed. It makes a clear demarcation between the sacred and the profane, between what is us and not us. Through ritual, human activity is connected to the divine. By experiencing oneself as both the sacrificer and the sacrifice, we experience a magnification of our own souls.

We leave the ritual circle with enhanced meaning, with a profound sense of belonging to the cosmos and to a community that respects that cosmos.

Once we lived by cycles and seasons year after year, and they lived in us. They calmed us, danced us, shook us, reassured us, made us learn creaturally. They were part of our soul skins – a pelt that enveloped us and the wild, natural world. We were then told that there were really only four seasons to a year and that a man and woman themselves really only had three seasons – childhood, adulthood and old age. And that was supposed to be that. But we cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk wrapped in that flimsy and unobservant fabrication, for it causes folk to deviate from their natural and soulful cycles and therefore to suffer dryness, tiredness and homesickness. It is far better to us to return to our unique and soulful cycles regularly, all of them, any of them. The seal skin, the fish tail, represents the return home, the wild home, the soul home.

This shift in being is accomplished by gradually endowing the initiand with symbolic items. These items can be concrete such as clothing or adornment, or they can be nonmaterial in nature, such as songs chanted for the person to be, myths repeated in their presence, and scars or painting placed upon the body.

This scarification is meant to provide an experience of intense pain and an enduring record of that pain. The person is rendered unique. Through this magnification, one “steps into the cosmic arena: they are given the water of life, with which they nourish the cosmic tree.”

A life being truly lived is constantly burning away the veils of illusion, gradually revealing the essence of the individual. Inspired by the butterfly, many sacrifice the security of their familiar condition, make their own chrysalis and commit to the agony of the transformation that goes on to find their own wings.

Hear these words as you begin breathing and moving, take them into yourself and surrender into the dance, give in with everything you have.

The vigorous, rhythmically induced ecstasy is mimetic of love-making. A maenad in orgasmic posture is not making an orderly sacrifice to the God. She is the sacrifice in that she is totally given over to the body electric as if charged by friction, the brilliant electricus of silk-rubbed amber, the shimmering, resinous, hardened essential sap of Dionysus. Ecstatically drawn – neck stretched, toes stretched – roused, reaching, running, and just as suddenly dropping. She is intoxicated. Licked by fire.

original text and adaptation by sb: ref. marion woodman, the pregnant virgin & nor hall, those women