I smiled when I heard the radio announcer declaring on March 1: ‘Today is the first day of autumn.’ When March began the sun was blazing and it felt as if summer had just rediscovered itself after an uncertain February.
You and I know that the start of any season is not like cutting a new piece of cloth. It’s not clean and defined. It’s more likely to be raggedy, a bit of the new and a bit of the old, and a dance, or even a tussle between the two.
The dance of change
Tribal people have always danced to welcome in the seasons and embody the rhythm of change. Such rhythms still throb inside us, carrying the beat of ancient memory while feet pound the earth to the rattle of the maracas, the beat of the drum, the chanting of voices, the call of the pipes, or the click of the castanets.
The Maori of New Zealand/Aotearoa are famous for the haka (as anyone who has watched the All Blacks will know). Although the haka is best known as a war dance, haka (literally, ‘the breath of fire’) applies to a wide range of dances and had its place in the seasons. Matariki, marking a significant transition into winter, saw the performing of joyful dances to greet the returning stars and with them, the ancestors.
The haka of Tane-rore signifies the heat shimmer of Hine-Raumati as the sun god Ra shifts allegiance to her, the summer wife. Dancers express that shimmering energy in the wiriwiri, the trembling of their outstretched hands.
A modern Maori dance group performing He Taura Whakapapa figures four men dancing under moving ropes, held firmly by a fifth. While the title means ‘A rope of genealogy’, it is also powerfully evocative of the dance of the seasons, and the sure-footedness that is necessary to deal with constant change.
The Homowo Festival of Ghana was created to celebrate the return of plenty after a deadly famine that occurred long ago. The joy of the harvest is danced out exuberantly in the Homowo, which means ‘making fun of hunger’.
Throughout India, different communities dance to welcome or farewell the seasons. In ancient China, visiting dance troupes gathered at huge temple fairs to celebrate every season, and every ethnic group developed its own dances. They have names like ‘Double Flying Swallows’, ‘Happy Farmer’ (timed for when it was time to plant), and ‘Gate of Planting Seedlings’.
Europe also has a strong tradition of folk dances. In the Greek dance Enas Mythos, everyone links arms in a circle, taking one step forward, bounce, bounce; one step back; a step to the left, bounce bounce. In others, there might be a step to the right; two steps forward, one step back, sweep into the centre just to know that we are together; then turn around and reorient; and back to the centre again for reassurance.
This is how the seasons change. This is how transitions happen.
Crossing the threshold
Dancing and rituals. They have long been a key to crossing the thresholds of change. Shiva Rea, in her new book Tending the Heart Fire, says ‘With any transition there is a natural fluctuation, a healthy chaos, a variation to the flow, a change in the fire.’
Transitions, says Shiva Rea, create vulnerability. They must be attended to, so that they don’t disrupt the flow of our life force.
To this I add:
Rituals are the sacred holders of your times of transition.
Sometimes help is needed
I still remember the day when I created my first group ritual. It was 1982, and I sat in a circle of women in an Auckland Art Gallery. For several weeks this group, artists and non-artists alike, had been attending my course on collaborative art making. Together we had created an art environment called Lifescape. Constructed out of fabric & fibre, plastic pipes, netting, bamboo, and bits and pieces of furniture, the Lifescape had filled the Gallery with a meandering passage through the whole of women’s lives. After a week of opening to the public, it was now time for it to be dismantled.
The women were anxious. How could they possibly take down such beautiful work? How could they destroy this creation?
Resistance hung in the air like a heavy cloud. It is impossible to cross a threshold when clinging to the past. Everyone was paralysed.
Then inspiration struck. I unrolled a wide sheet of white paper, and asked each of the women to draw a circle in front of her. We sat around the paper, as if it were a tablecloth and we were about to dine.
With scissors in hand, we moved in silence through the Lifescape, snipping and breaking off whatever small fragments could be removed, to capture the essence of what this work meant to us. Finally we arranged the fragments inside our circles.
Within twenty minutes the empty circles had turned into magic circles. They were beautiful, sparking with life energy. After each woman shared what her circle signified, we took photos of each one. Then we returned to the task of dismantling the art.
It happened really fast! The essence had been integrated and no one was holding on to the old form. It was possible to move forward.
The Sacred Art of Ritual
In my new online course, The Sacred Art of Ritual, you will learn about the three elements of a transition ritual. You will discover how to use ritual to ease the transitions in your life, from small to big. This is knowledge you can share with your family and communities. The result of drawing on ritual at such potentially disruptive times is to create bonding and closeness between group members. Meeting in sacred space creates profound intimacy.
I’m having an enthusiastic response to this course, so if you are drawn to be part of a wonderful group, I encourage you to act now. Numbers will be limited and the Early Bird discount ends on March 31.
Click this link to register or to find out more.
Books to support The Sacred Art of Ritual
(Click on the images to purchase or see more details)
Power From Within was my very first book. In it you can read about many rituals I’ve done, both solo and with groups, and see a photo of the magic circles.
Ritual of Welcome
A carefully created ritual can be both deeply stirring and reassuring. To read how an Auckland Steiner school handled the transition from kindergarten to school for its young pupils, click here.