Red Riding Hood – A Rites-of-Passage Initiation Story…
I’ve long been interested in rites of passage, and the detrimental effect on our society of no longer holding to these.
When we think of rites of passage we tend to imagine tribal cultures and the rituals and challenges that turn a boy into a man. Perhaps less widely known, for various reasons, are the rites of womanhood. It’s something I’d like to explore further – what ceremonies and rituals are/were used to mark the passage of a female life? But I’d also argue that perhaps there’s less cause for a community to develop elaborate challenges to signal the arrival of womanhood. The changes happen naturally, internally, silently.
In the lives of most women, there are five critical transition points: birth (entering the world); menstruation (entering Maidenhood); childbirth (entering Motherhood); menopause (entering Cronehood); death (entering the Beyond). At every stage of a woman’s life, these transitions need to be marked, honoured and traversed with due care, guidance and wisdom.
But I wonder, how much wisdom and care is currently held around these vital transition times for modern women? There are many symptoms of an incomplete or stalled transition, including co-dependence, negative or destructive relationships with others, loss of a sense of self, inability to recognise or follow one’s own path in life…
Traditionally, stories have been used as part of the initiation process at these crucial and deep transition points in life. Red Riding Hood is one such story that bears the marks of this wisdom, and speaks to a woman at different levels along the way.
Associated symbols and meanings: Red – the arrival of menstrual blood, passions, desires, strong and deep emotions (perceived as both positive and negative);The Woods walking one’s own path – moving from a co-dependent relationship with the mother towards independence; The Wolf – entering the darkness and learning to be unafraid.
Red Riding Hood sets out in her cloak of red – symbolising her entry into womanhood via menstruation. Red is a colour widely associated with adolescence in folk and fairy tales. She walks her own path alone through the woods. She learns to overcome the darkness by entering the belly of the wolf and she grows through the arrival of her own life-giving blood into an independent, integrated, powerful maiden.
But what does this mean for us?
The transition into menstruation has long been overlooked in our society. Girls are taught about the functions of the body (a “discharge of the blood”) and often given pills to control them which can bring about a disconnection from the natural cycle and flow. Without that connection to the deeper mysteries of menstruation, women suffer feelings of depression and dissatisfaction, but seem unable to understand their root. We have been taught about pain and punishment, of apples and snakes, and learn to see our own bodies as enemies to be subdued – like the wolf.
It seems to me that this transition is not being held wisely at all. And it’s a transition that’s becoming increasingly incomplete.
A quick search of the internet this morning for the term “amenorrhea in teenagers” yielded ten pages of results in 0.22 seconds. Amenorrhea is the absence of periods in a woman of menstrual age. The number of results in my search would suggest that this is a fairly prevalent condition. Its causes include stress, obesity, excessive weight loss, hormonal imbalance and the use of the contraceptive pill. Amenorrhea can be linked to infertility, osteoporosis, uterine cancer, heart disease and diabetes, whereas use of the pill can also be associated with depression and mood swings.
This set of symptoms may pretty well define what’s considered “normal” for teenagers and young women nowadays. But I’m not so sure it’s natural.
Maybe Red Riding Hood can show us the way to walk boldly in our own blood. To embody our own menstrual cycles without blocking them. To enter the darkness of the wolf and arise brighter, wiser and full of creative feminine power.
A girl who has made the successful transition into womanhood is much more likely to encounter smoother transitions at every step along the way. Including childbirth, motherhood, menopause and cronehood. Common methods associated with childbirth and menopause in modern society may often serve to further disconnect us from ourselves and our bodies, reducing the flow of our own creative, feminine energy and resulting in higher incidences of co-dependence, depression and disease.
Red Riding Hood’s mother is unusual within the fairy tale genre in that she’s caring and protective but not overbearing. She warns Red of the dangers of stepping off the path, but trusts her to walk alone and choose her own direction. Most mother-figures in fairy tales show us the dangers of co-dependence or emotional neglect. Both are symptoms of a stalled transition into motherhood and an unwillingness to let go of the child from whom the mother begins to feed her own despair.
We see that Red Riding Hood’s mother guides her into her maidenhood, and then realises she must step back. To do anything else would put her into the position of “Wicked Stepmother” so frequently seen – who will stop at nothing to halt the flow of nature, desperately trying to prevent the rise of her daughter as the rightful maiden thus avoiding her own descent into cronehood.
Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is not a frail old granny. She’s the embodiment of crone energy – fully within her own power, married to her own wolf, and wisened by the experiences of her life.
She’s the first to descend into the belly of the wolf and survive the darkness intact; she’s “tough” and “weathered”, which makes her unpalatable and indigestible – unable to be broken down.
Death is not the end for Granny. It’s a doorway through which she will pass and emerge again unharmed. In stepping from the wolf she is letting go, shedding skin. She can be seen as the wise one who teaches Red not to be afraid and how to finally slay the wolf.
Red Riding Hood, for me, is a vital tale about transition – both from winter into spring and from childhood to womanhood to cronehood. The girl who is given the gift of this story and the guidance to embody her own menstrual cycles effectively is blessed indeed in today’s world.
Let her carry that wisdom as a light in the darkness.
- Red Riding Hood Collage (sallyshaktiwillow.wordpress.com)
- Red and The Wolf (sallyshaktiwillow.wordpress.com)
- Into the Woods With Wolves (The Enchanted Mirror)