Accessing the Ancient Wisdom of Women
An Interview with Sobonfu Somé
By Randy Peyser
Recognized by the village elders of her tribe as possessing special gifts from birth, Sobonfu Somé shares the wisdom of her people, the Dagara of Western Africa, as she empowers women of the Western world to reclaim the sacred in their lives through the practice of ancient rituals.
Traveling throughoutand , she conducts workshops on spirituality, ritual, the sacred and intimacy. Acknowledged as one of the foremost voices in African spirituality, her work has moved African spiritual practices from the realm of anthropology to a place alongside the world’s great spiritual traditions.
Somé is the author of many inspirational works, including “The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships”, “Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community”, “Falling Out of Grace: Meditations on Loss, Healing and Wisdom”, and others. She is also devoted to giving the waters of life to the Dagara people through a project called, “Walking for Water”. For more information, please visit www.sobonfu.com or www.walkingforwater.org
Randy Peyser: I understand that your name means “Keeper of the Rituals”. How did you come to be named?
Sobonfu Somé: In the Dagara tradition, there are all kinds of rituals surrounding the mother-to-be and the father-to-be — from cleansing before conception, to acknowledging the entrance of the baby-to-be, to finding out who this person is and why they are coming to this particular community at this time. There is a ritual we do called, “The Hearing Ritual”, which is a ritual where a mother-to-be is put in a trancelike state. Then they listen and ask questions of the baby who takes over the mother’s voice and answers back to the community. The information they gather from that is what helps give someone their name. That is how my mother received my name.
Randy: As the Keeper of Rituals, how do you help women to reclaim the sacred in their lives?
Sobonfu: The number one rule of women is that we need a women’s circle; we need to create trust between women. One of the most heartbreaking things for me is to realize, that in the West, we don’t have trust. In Africa, when I was growing up, it was a given that you were always honest and truthful with other women. When I went to another woman and said, “between women”, that meant you were not allowed to cheat or to lie; you could only say things the way they were.
The understanding is that women work with the web of life. As a result, if someone comes to you and says, “between women” and you lie, then you are shooting lies into that web of life, and impacting all women around the world.
The backbone of society depends on women. In order to have a healthy community,
you have to have healthy women. In the Da–
gara tradition, they say the best way to destroy a culture is to destroy the women first.
My suggestion is that we work on ourselves and on each other in bettering our relationship with the feminine. As we work on our relationship, we can have a stronger relationship with other women creating a balance and the kind of powers which enable us to carry out a healthy relationship with men. Remember, to be a woman is an honor. Learning to harness the power of the feminine will help us get to our purpose.
Randy: What are some of the ways in which we can learn how to harness the power of the feminine?
Sobonfu: It is important for women to support each other if we are going to be able to bring out our gifts. In the Dagara tradition that process involves self-respect. By respecting yourself and respecting the sacred, you can create this energy that enables you to welcome people.
Randy: How does that apply in the United States? We don’t really welcome people in our culture.
Sobonfu: That’s true. There isn’t any place for welcoming in the West, and that is why people seem to be broken, secluded or isolated. Let’s start with our menses. How do we welcome that? Most people think of menses as something negative. How do we welcome motherhood?
We are the ones who are the women. We cannot expect men to honor us or wait to be welcomed by other people. When we wait, we wait our entire lives and it doesn’t happen. So many women have a hard time being women. I would suggest that we get into groups and begin to create rituals. Let’s welcome each other into being women. Let’s create a ritual to celebrate the fact that we have menses and include those women who have stopped menstruating.
Celebrating something in others that you did not have yourself helps heal a part of us that was not welcomed into womanhood. For instance, creating a ritual for girls who have just started their first menses will help bridge that gap between the young people and the adult women. It will also teach them about what it is like to be a woman in the world.
Young girls who are welcomed in this way will be proud of being women. A lot of the young women for whom I have done this ritual have a better outlook on life than the young people who have not been welcomed. They look differently at their menses, and are not bummed out about it like their friends are.
In the Dagara tradition, menstruation is a time of extreme clarity and sensitivity where you pick up things (intuitively) that are in your world and in other people’s worlds. These are things that you might not have been sensitive to during the rest of the month. This is part of the reason people are afraid of women who are menstruating because they can read what a person is saying and call them on it. This is also the time when women can really tune into the healing energy of the world to bring back healing.
Randy: How are you able to tune into that?
Sobonfu: It is a natural practice. It is not something you have to be taught. The energy draws you into it.
Randy: Can you share a ritual that women might do during their menses?
Sobonfu: In my tradition, we call the menses, “the red haired baby”. Therefore, we place red things on a special shrine — like red flowers or red fabric. We also include things that help us focus our intentions on what we would like to see accomplished. Then we call the spirit of the Divine Feminine to come forward and to allow us to hear whatever messages are to be given. Sometimes a message might pertain to someone who is sick, and we will be shown how to harness our energy to help them. You can take a vow or make a wish around your menses and ask to be shown how you can help better the world.
But first, ask permission of the land to create a shrine. Then create the shrine and place your red objects and intentions upon it. Next, say a prayer in which you call Divine Feminine to come forward to charge it up. Then state your intentions and speak about what you would like to see happen in the world or for yourself.
Another very important ritual that we do is to offer our menses to the moon. It is said in the Dagara tradition that women have originally come from the moon. As we celebrate and affirm our connection to the moon, we offer the moon our “moonblood”.
Randy: Do you physically do something?
Sobonfu: Yes. You take your moonblood outside to the shrine first, and say a prayer, then offer it to a big tree or a plant if there is no tree around. Some women in thehave menstruation cups which they let themselves bleed into for this purpose.
It is important to like your own blood. That is another thing women judge as being negative — their own blood. There is a song we sing to the moon as we offer our blood. It says: “Smile, big, big, big, powerful moon. Align us. Connect us. And bring that alignment between women.”
Randy: Are their any special rituals involved around a marriage?
Sobonfu: Marriages involve a series of rituals, which start by the couple recognizing where they are — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They both ask themselves, “Is there a place where I am wounded that I need to address before I step into this relationship?”
Then there is a ritual of claiming yourself, your energy, your power. If you do not claim yourself or your power, it is very easy to give your power away or to forget yourself as you begin to dance with someone. So it is one of our requirements.
At the wedding, there will be three circles. Each person stands in one of the circles. In one circle, each will be asked to claim and name their strengths and weaknesses. In the other circle, each will be asked to claim their power, and claim who they are. After they have each done that, they are asked to step forward into the middle circle where they will take their vows with each other.
That way, they are two people who are whole. When they come together, each one knows where their power sits and where their strengths and weaknesses sit. Now they can begin to dance together without losing that sense of who they are.
Randy: What is the role of spirit in a marriage or relationship?
Sobonfu: Spirit is actually the instigator of every relationship. In the Dagara tradition, they say “intimacy is the call of spirit”. Anytime two people come together it is because spirit has sent out a song. The two have been brought together by spirit because they have something to do together. Therefore, they acknowledge the presence of the Divine in their relationship and ask for support and guidance from the Divine, knowing they have a connection to all of the goddesses, the gods, the ancestors and spirits that surround them. And it doesn’t matter whether that relationship is for a short time or a long time, it still applies.
Randy: Does spirit also arrange for those relationships that turn out to be very painful?
Sobonfu: Yes. In those instances there is something you needed to do, or that you needed to look at in order to be able to move forward. Sometimes a couple is chosen to bring a message to the community. So whatever pain is expressed may not be the pain of the couple. They just might be the messenger for the entire community.
When the pain arises, you are supposed to go to spirit and share what happened. Ask spirit, “Why was this person placed in my life? Why am I having this experience at this time?” Tell spirit how painful the experience was. Ask, “What were you thinking? Did you really mean for this to happen?” After you do this process, things will unfold differently in front of you.
Randy: How do we have better relationships with men?
Sobonfu: By first having better relationships with women. When the feminine spirit within us is down, it is very difficult for us to make our relationships with men better because men become our scapegoat. Men cannot be our sisters. All you have to do is try to have a deep conversation at night with a man and he will fall asleep on you. But with a sister, you can talk and there is a nice, flowing kind of energy. Just like the feminine, it flows and meanders, it circles, comes back and takes different shapes.
Randy: And what about romance?
Sobonfu: I say romance is an illusion because, in the West, people are not going to disclose their weaknesses to a new person when they first meet them. They will change themselves and try to become someone else so they will be accepted by that person. After the paper has been signed, they will go on their honeymoon where they isolate themselves from their community, and tell each other all kinds of lies. When they return, they hope that things are going to work. One day, the illusion falls apart and you see who the person really is. Then you have to decide what you are going to do about it.
When I first came to America, I didn’t know why all my friends would get nervous or depressed before they went out on dates. If someone invited me out, I would show up in whatever shape and space I was in. If they could not accept whatever shape and space I was in, then obviously we would not have much to do together.
Randy: How can we prepare a ritual space for intimacy?
Sobonfu: Intimacy is seen as a sacred act and must be treated as such; it must happen within a sacred context. Intimacy is not just about pleasure. It is also about creating a healing energy from which the world can benefit — or from which you and your family can benefit.
In the Dagara tradition, we do a ritual called the “Ash Circle”. Take some ashes and say some prayers for what you would like to have happen in your intimate space. After making this circle, call on all spirits who can help you keep your intentions clear. Prepare this space so it truly may be a healing space. Then create a shrine and invite your partner to see it.
Randy: So this would be a separate shrine from others?
Sobonfu: Yes. Some people in the West just put the ashes around their bed.
Randy: What kind of ashes do you use?
Sobonfu: You can use any ashes you have taken with respect from nature and that you have made prayers over. It could be from a piece of wood you have burned for another positive purpose.
Randy: Any final thoughts?
Sobonfu: Women have to pay attention to their bodies. For a lot of women, the throat chakra and the womb chakra are those places where we especially store negative information that we have received from the outside world. That is why a lot of women have throat or womb problems. It is important for us to claim those areas and do a cleansing ritual to rid any negativity from those areas. We need to have healthy throats so we don’t become silent.
To be a woman is absolutely precious. Learning to share your wisdom with others,
with care and with love, is one of the ways we are going to heal ourselves and
Randy Peyser is the creator of “The Write-A-Book Program”. She also offers book editing and help finding agents and publishers, www.AuthorOneStop.com
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