by Imelda Almqvist, 18 March 2015
My dear friend Judith Bogner has asked me to write a piece for her beautiful new website. And of course I can’t say no to such a great honour!
After some reflection I have decided to write about a matter I feel passionate about: Rites of Passage and Initiation.
Last week I was teaching Component 5 of my Sacred Art Practitioner Training here in London. The current group exists of women only. During this component we were connecting with Ursa Major (the Great She Bear in the night sky) and the goddess Artemis.
Artemis is the goddess of the Moon and the Hunt and the goddess of wild places but she is also a goddess of childbirth and girls making a safe passage from childhood through puberty into adolescence.
In ancient Greece there was a temple dedicated to Artemis (in Brauron) where a Festival was celebrated where young girls “danced the She Bear”. The classical Greek word for ‘bears’ is “arktoi” and this Festival was called Arkteia or Brauronia . During this Festival girls would wear saffron robes, walk in a procession and then “dance the bear” The high priestess may well have worn a bear mask, going on depictions on vases from that period.
And somehow this mysterious dance was related to Ursa Major. Here we must ‘bear in mind’ (pun intended!) that the whole night sky seems to rotate (viewed from Earth) around a fixed point: Polaris or The Pole Star. And that Polaris is the ‘tip of the handle’ of the Little Dipper (or Ursa Minor, the Little Bear). Ursa Major is very close and one of the most distinct constellations in the night sky (the other one, I guess, would be Orion, or the Great Hunter, who lives in a different segment of the night sky from both bears).
As the night sky ‘rotates’ (obviously it is really Planet Earth spinning on her axis!) Ursa Major makes her way around The Pole Star. She rears up on her hind legs, then she walks on all fours, next she makes her way down again to her den or lair. Some indigenous people see the constellation Corona Borealis, (or Northern Crown) as her den. Mother bears have cubs in winter, during hibernation. Other indigenous people say that The Big Bear is hunted and dismembered by the hunters (lying on her back, her paws sticking up) before being magically re-membered and starting the great annual cycle all over again.
So this Eternal Dance, of Ursa Major around The Pole Star, may well have been the blueprint for the Arkteia. Last week I had my students connect with the concept and doing shamanic journeys to Artemis, to the Great Bear Spirit, to The Pole Star. And they all received instructions (from Spirit) to Dance the Bear in a highly individual way that represented a transition they needed to make in their lives.
In the run up to this we also did some other ceremonies, connecting with our Crone Selves (the Wise Women we will be one day) and reclaiming our “virgin territories”. (In this context the word ‘virgin’ means “complete in her self, and that may well mean sexually active). All students had made themselves a bear suit!
For me being a sacred witness (and sacred drummer!) holding space for my students Dancing The Bear was an experience of immense beauty. It was profoundly moving and made me realise just whyI love being a teacher of shamanism and sacred art so much!!
One of my great passions is delving deeply into the material taught in ancient mystery schools and using a creative marriage of art and shamanism (the path of direct revelation from Spirit) to breathe new life into ancient teachings and ceremony. In that way we can put the great mystery that is Divinity, Spirit at the heart of people’s lives and our communities again.
The powerful Bear Dance last week made me realise how much we have lost and how “lost we become” without ritual, ceremony and powerful rites of passage. In indigenous societies older women would support younger women through experiences of initiation, just as older men would take young boys away from the community and initiate them, so they would leave their village as boys and return as young men, ready to shoulder responsibilities.
Today we do not offer young people such Rites of Passage or initiations hosted by elders in the community. So young people (unwittingly) start creating their own rites of passage (thrill seeking behaviour, experimenting with drugs, joy driving, alcohol etc.) and not always in a safe way.
So I wanted to respond to Judith’s wonderful request by writing a piece about Rites of Passage. And although I have mostly written about rites of passage for women in this piece, (last week being so fresh in memory!) I would like to make the point that boys and young men need ceremony and Rites of Passage every bit as much as girls and women.
I have a webpage about a shamanic group for young people I run, called The Time Travellers, where I write more about rites of passage for young people. Visit the Time Travellers webpage here.
For more information about the courses in sacred art I teach, please visit my webpage Sacred Art Trainings here.
Imelda Almqvist is a shamanic practitioner, teacher and painter based in London, United Kingdom. To find about more about her and her work please visit her websites:
Background to Imelda’s paintings shown above:
The Great Cosmic Womb is the great primordial Egyptian goddess Nut. The Milky Way was seen (from Earth) as her celestial body. When her figure is superimposed on the Milky Way, her womb is in a dark area called “ the Great Rift” near the star constellation Cygnus (the Swan). Imagine looking up at the night sky to see the Womb of the Goddess where we all came forth from!
The Divine Child is the offspring of Heaven and Earth, the marriage of Sun and Moon – so it represent our spiritual gift to the world, what we give birth to when we step into all we are spiritually speaking. In the context of this Solar Eclipse it represents the alchemical sacred mar