Like any rite of passage, birth is a time of profound physical, emotional and spiritual transformation in a woman’s life. It is a time during which, if supported appropriately, a birthing woman is capable of entering an altered state, ushering in a new, elevated consciousness that will serve her for the rest of her life. In this piece, shamanic midwife Jane Hardwicke Collings reminds us of the sacredness of this time, how it impacts our culture, and what we can do to honor and nurture it in our work.
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I first met the term Shamanic Midwifery in Texas in 1990, when I attended a MANA pre-conference workshop by that name, given by Jeannine Parvati Baker, and it changed my life! I sat in circle that day with Jeannine and about 50 other women and had one of those experiences when two previously unconnected parts of yourself unite. I was a practicing homebirth midwife with young children living in Australia and a student and practitioner of shamanic ways and these two passions came together, the physical and the spiritual and I felt like everything made sense! At last! Ahhhhh!
Birth is a shamanic experience. If the other people there leave enough space and quiet for it to be that way, its the blueprint. The hormones present, the intense physical experience or pain the mother feels, and the way her brain and nervous system work in labour can serve as a gateway to an altered, or shamanic state of consciousness. And that’s what we call ecstatic birth, from its original meaning – to stand outside oneself, in other words, in an altered state of consciousness. Its what wants to happen, and unfortunately in our modern birthing world, it doesn’t happen very often, mostly due to fear.
Our lives are full of shamanic experiences: those times of transformation that take us into the void and out again, teaching us what we need to know in preparation for the next. Our rites of passage, known also as the Women’s Mysteries or the Blood Mysteries – birth, menarche (first menstrual cycle), childbirth, menopause and death are all shamanic experiences. This is not a new concept, but rather an ancient one we are reclaiming. How our rites of passage unfold, what ever happens within and around the experiences, informs us on a deep, subconscious level about how our culture values the next role or stage we are entering (for example – womanhood, motherhood or wisewomanhood) and therefore how to behave.
Culture is created and reinforced through our rites of passage, on the inside and the outside. Culture on the inside is the mindset, the beliefs, attitudes and fears that our experiences teach and give us, as well as what we inherit from our carers – parents, teachers, and also the media and pop culture. When rites of passage, these shamanic altars of transformation, are met with the respect many ancient cultures gave them, and many modern folk are too, then we can consciously create culture on the inside and the outside – the healed version. This healed culture empowers women through their transformation – helping, guiding, assisting, but not taking over or implying they can’t do it without them. However in our patriarchal culture and it’s inherent cult of the expert (Jeannine’s words) we’ve forgotten that we own these experiences, that we are in fact all shamans and each have access to the shamanic realms whenever we choose. We don’t need a specialist to do it for us. Yet that’s what we think. And we think that because of the way our rites of passage are managed, reinforcing fear and the need for experts to take, charge, control and responsibility.
To me, shamanic midwifery is the art and practice of raising consciousness, of midwifing the soul, and helping to awaken in oneself and others our innate wisdom. Awake to this, we can feel and live, trust in life. A shamanic midwife is a teacher and practitioner of the Women’s Mysteries. Birth is one of these mysteries, not an isolated, medical event, as our culture’s practices may have us think.
Childbirth, as an altar of transformation, is the culmination of one’s life so far. We have the birth we need to have in order to teach us what we need to learn about ourselves and the way of things. It is to take us to the next place on our soul’s journey to wholeness, this life time. The shamanic midwife is a priestess at all the altars of feminine transformation, our rites of passage – birth, menarche, childbirth, menopause and death. The shamanic perspective brings so much soul-crafting potential to our rites of passage, they are the portals to our soul’s story this lifetime, they are the altars, the places and spaces where healing can happen, healing for the Red Thread, and for all our relations. Conscious midwifery at the transformational altars of menarche, birth and menopause can heal wounds from past lifetimes, heal ancestral threads, and change culture.
As a midwife I came to see this big picture perspective and the shamanic dimensions. I saw the links between a woman’s own experience of being born, and her experience of menarche and then how she gave birth, with what she brought with her to the birth altar. And I saw the impact of our rites of passage on who we become, and how we live out our new role, with the fears, and beliefs that our experience ‘taught’ us.
Seeing the interconnectedness of everything from a shamanic perspective helped me understand the statistics for intervention at birth that we see in our modern western countries. Where our culture conveys that most women ‘can’t’ give birth without intervention, or that birth doesn’t work, or that women are somehow unable, this is in fact untrue. Is is the impact the experience has on shaping that belief, and how it continues down the line until someone wakes up and dares to take responsibility for themselves, dares to trust their body or dares to trust the process of life as a journey – a shamanic journey.
As the School of Shamanic Midwifery Four Seasons Journey and its derivatives teach – healer heal thyself. If we are to be helpful from a soul-crafting, selfless, shamanic midwifery perspective then first we must do this work on ourselves.
Blessed Be and Blessed Do (to quote Jeannine)
Jane Harwicke Collings is an independent midwife from Australia, who has been attending homebirths since 1984. She is herself a homebirth mother of four, a grandmother and a teacher of the Women’s Mysteries. She gives workshops, writes books and has founded The School of Shamanic Midwifery. Jane has trained in Shamanic practices with James M Harvey, aka Blackbear and has had many wonderful teachers including Midwife Maggie Lecky Thompson, Birthkeeper Jeannine Parvati Baker and Teacher and Author Cedar Barstow. Jane lives in the country of NSW with her husband, some of her children and many animal friends. As Jane says, she’s working for the Goddess.