Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – One

Ceremonies are a collective healing response to the elemental and existential experiences of being human. As we dance, pray, chant, make offerings, surrender, and feel heard and witnessed by one another and the great mystery of which all spirits, all gods, and all that is divine are a part, our shared humanity becomes visible, and our place within this great weave of life is affirmed. Ceremony is healing and an enactment of wholeness.

The Sacred Centa: Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Last March I joined a group of nearly 30 women who traveled from across the country and overseas to the Central Desert to be in ceremony with local Aboriginal women. We spent four nights and five days camping out at a sacred women’s site about 20 minutes away from Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). Uluru is the most sacred site to the Aboriginal people of that area and over the years Uluru has become the most dominant symbol of the Central Desert as well as a tourist destination for many travelers. However, for most outsiders the area is only accessible by flying into the small airport close to Uluru and via the town of Alice Springs, which is a good 4-hour driving distance away with a population of about 25,000 people.

The natural phenomenon of Uluru is breathtaking. This beautiful smooth curvy rock rises straight up from its flat surroundings. It’s red orange sandstone changes its glow and vibrancy as the sun and clouds slowly move across the sky.  Above are two photographs of Uluru. I took the one to the left during sunset and the other one during the afternoon on another day. You can find several more photos of the area in the blog’s ‘Glimpses’ to the right. There is also a picture of Kata Tuya, another large rock formation and sacred site which is visible from Uluru.

The Women

About 30 Aboriginal women and women elders came for the ceremony from various small communities as far as 150 kilometres away. Some of these elders grew up in the Bush before they had contact with white colonizers and still know the old ceremonies. Bringing non-aboriginal and Aboriginal women together to do ceremony began with a collaboration between a White Australian woman who through her spiritual and geo-mystical journey had become a very close friend to an Aboriginal elder women and who became her co-organizer for this undertaking.

The Camps and the Red Desert

When we arrived at the sacred site in several 4-wheel drive vehicles, we set up two camps. One site was for the visiting women and the other for the local Aboriginal women. The sites were a stones-throw apart and separated by some trees and brush. There was, of course, no running water or bathing facilities and I learned that baby wipes could go a long way to take care of basic hygienic needs. We had to bring along our own drinking water. During the day we took care of camp chores such as cooking meals, going for slow bush walks, resting and surrendering and protecting ourselves from the heat, which during the day hovered around 35 °C/95°F in the shade—a temperature that is not uncommon for the fall season here. The actual heat in the sun and the hot sand is much higher. The only shade comes from scanty looking trees and brush and from some tarps we hung between them. Drinking enough water and resting was essential. We were advised that 10 liters would be sufficient and many of us brought a few extra liters to be on the safe side since it had been so hot. While, on one hand, the ceaseless heat was difficult, on another it helped us yield to the much slower pace of the desert and become more attuned to the energetics of the natural environment. It was as though the stillness and silence of the desert could penetrate any busy mind, dense body or troubled heart. Sleeping in swags on the red earth under the brilliance of the southern sky I felt simultaneously fully connected to the fabric of life and completely alone. Being in this sparse but vibrant red desert alone changed me. Now at 45 years of age I was at the center of a country that is furthest away from the country, Germany, I was born in, and that could not be any more different. I mused at the fact that now, no matter which direction I continued my life’s journey, either geographically or developmentally, I would be heading home. This recognition was strangely amusing as well as confirming of the inner work I had come here to do.

Being with the Aboriginal Women

During the days we were in the desert we also gave some assistance to the Aboriginal women, brought them food and tea and participated in the making of their art. Many laughs, a few stories and tentative encounters between them and us were shared and the Aboriginal women sold us some of the art, which they were either producing there or had completed somewhere else. On one occasion we had a fabulous experience hunting for honey ants with three younger Aboriginal women a little ways away from our camps. In the late afternoon and at night we spent time in ceremony. Almost all of our interactions with the Aboriginal women and all of the ceremonies took place in their camp. The separation of the camps gave some space to acclimatize to being in the desert and to become familiar with the way that Aboriginal women camp out in the desert. For me this separation was very helpful. By being able to return to our camp and the area where I was sleeping helped me to modulate the intensity of the experience.

In Part 2 I will share more about women’s business, commitments, intentions, revelations and the ever present Snakes.

This post was originally published in my blog Liminal Songlines. The intention of that blog was to help capture my initial understanding of the spiritual healing traditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia while I lived in Australia from 2009 to 2012. Much of what I learned there is relevant to my continuing explorations of rites of passages in indigenous and contemporary cultures, the concept of liminality, and working with change in our turbulent times.

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