:Other Writing

Third Gender Mysteries Ritual

(Special thanks to G. Faulk)

People needed:

  • A leader - the person who will lead the initiates into the land of the dead and conduct them safely to rebirth.
  • Four people to portray the ancestors. 
  • A drummer - someone to keep a rhythm as the leader and participants move in and out of the land of the dead.  They will stand with the "living" (ritual attendants who are not taking part in the journey).
  • A "plant."  This person has been pre-selected to go only partway to the land of the dead; they begin with the other participants, leave, and later return to speak to the group.  Magically speaking, this is a tricky role to take on, and the plant and the leader should take time to prepare for how this will be handled; it may be helpful if this person has already gone through this ritual, so their experience of the Mysteries isn't damaged.  It's important for the plant's confrontation with the leader to be dramatic and believable; take time to rehearse.

Only third gender people being introduced to their Mysteries will be going through the ritual proper, but hopefully other people wish to attend as well.  Everyone else remains in the land of the living to welcome the initiates back to life.  Seven people are needed for the ritual, though it could be done with fewer if someone is willing to take on multiple roles.  Ideally the leader and the people acting as the ancestors should identify as some stripe of transgender, or willing to play with gender in such a way that they become so for the purposes of the ritual.

Items needed:

  • Four altars decorated with items pertaining to each ancestor that will be encountered: Artist, Magician, Shaman, and Warrior.  Props or masks should be available for each ancestor.  These altars can also incorporate elemental imagery appropriate to the cross-quarters represented.
  • Fine graveyard dirt
  • A long white cord
  • A drum
  • Tokens given by the four ancestors.  These can be necklaces, bracelets, a series of charms, pictures, or anything else that represents the gifts given by the ancestors.  The tokens should be easily held because the dead have to hold the white cord with one hand.
  • A costume, mask, or props for the plant to return with. 
  • Several red cloths or blankets, one per participant
  • A variety of noisemakers

Ritual set-up
Four altars are arranged in north-east, south-east, south-west, and north-west orientations; these altars are decorated appropriate to Warrior, Magician, Artist, and Shaman respectively.  If desired, a counterclockwise spiral can be marked out on the floor/ground leading to the center of the ritual space, in the middle of where the altars are set.

Everyone gathers to the side of the main ritual space, in the land of the living.  The ritual space can be prepared according to taste.

Statement of purpose
The leader addresses the initiates:
This is a journey through death into rebirth.  You will leave behind the person you were, and be reborn with the knowledge of what you can become.  To accomplish this, we will pass into the land of the dead.  Those who have gone before us carry the heritage of third gender magic and will be there to speak to us.  Their stories are our history, and it's time to remember who we are, and who we will be.   

Blessing of the gods
The leader addresses the gods:
We are not forgotten!  We healed Ishtar and danced with Dionysus.  We sacrificed to Cybele and Freyr.  We were charmed by Coyote and blessed by Aphrodite. As we enter the land of the dead, may we be led through discovery, and safely again through rebirth. Today we remember ourselves as the gods in our hearts know us to be.  

The leader approaches each participant and daubs a thumbprint of graveyard dirt on their foreheads, saying "you are dead." When each initiate is so marked, the leader hands them a section of the white cord so that everyone (including the leader) is holding onto it.

Leader: This white cord keeps us connected as we travel to the land of the dead.  You must hold onto the rope; if you let go, you'll be lost and can't go back.

To the accompaniment of a slow drumbeat, the group begins a counterclockwise spiral procession towards the center of the ritual space.

Partway through the journey, the plant begins to protest; they are scared and having second thoughts, they aren't ready to go through this after all.  The leader confronts the plant, saying that they can't abandon the process and must not let go of the rope.  The plant becomes more agitated until they finally let go of the rope and flee across the spiral path; instead of returning to the living, they leave the ritual space to acquire the items they will later use. 

The group continues and the drumming resumes.  When they reach the center of the ritual space, the leader announces, "We have arrived in the land of the dead."

Leader (Approaching the Artist's altar): Who comes from the south-east, from the realm of air and fire?

Artist: I am an Artist, and I created the tools of civilization.

Leader: What is your story?

Artist: I was of no use.  Because I was strong, I was taught to hunt, but I had no interest in killing, not even for the food we all needed.  Because I was patient, I was set to cooking over the fire, but my assistance wasn't needed.  I was in the way, no matter what I tried to do.  After another failure, I sat close to the fire and flung the clinging mud into the flames in frustration.

The next day I was sent to clean the firepit.  As I raked the still-hot ashes, I found clumps of the mud, now dried from baking in the fire's heat.  Instead of crumbling between my angry fingers, the mud was hard and solid.  The fire had transformed something useless and aggravating into something strong.  The clay had been transformed, and so had I.  If I had been what others wanted me to be and had excelled at the things everyone else did, I would never have discovered this secret.  I found my own way to be useful.

Leader: What is your gift to your descendants?

Artist: I give you the power of creativity. (The Artist gives each person a small token to represent creativity, then steps back to their altar.)

Leader (Approaching the Magician's altar): Who comes from the south-west, from the realm of fire and water?

Magician: I am a Magician, and I learned the secrets of connection.

Leader: What is your story?

Magician: When a man and a woman lie together, a child is born.  Thus, we must have both woman and man in us.  We eat the plants, we eat the animals, so we must contain these things in us, too.  We are strengthened and we gain power this way.  Everywhere I looked I saw the whole world contained in each separate part.  I told others how we are connected and that we have many powers inside us, but they said I was crazy.  We are not plant, we are not fire and wind and man and woman all in one; we are only ourselves, nothing more.  But I knew I was right. 

I decided I would learn about the myriad of selves contained in me and by doing so I would learn who I truly was.  So I left my family and withdrew from my friends; I ignored their confusion.  In solitude I discovered the language of stars, and I discerned all the parts of myself.  By separating everything I am, I slowly became whole.

Leader: What is your gift to your descendants?

Magician: I give you the power of insight. (The Magician gives each person a small token to represent insight, then steps back to their altar.)

Leader (Approaching the Shaman's altar): Who comes from the north-west, from the ream of water and earth?

Shaman: I am a Shaman, and I walk between worlds.

Leader: What is your story?

Shaman: When I was barely out of my youth the spirits came to me and the gods told me I was theirs.  I was to serve others and by serving them, I served my gods.  The spirits began to teach me, and I began to change.  Soon my friends didn't recognize me.  I dressed differently and did strange things; my family called me crazy, but I was not allowed to stop.  Finally my life reached its lowest point.  I was lost, and I became empty.  Then I slowly began to get better.  The strange things I did gave me a new power and being apart from other people allowed me to see things they could not.  Because I was empty, I could transform and become something new.  Then the people came to me.  I helped them because for all my power I couldn't use it for myself; everything I was, I was for them.  I spoke to their spirits, and I learned to listen to myself.  I healed them, and I learned to heal myself.  I helped them die, and I learned to live again. 

Leader: What is your gift to your descendants?

Shaman: I give you the power of transformation. (The Shaman gives each person a small token to represent transformation, then steps back to their altar.)

Leader (Approaching the Warrior's altar): Who comes from the north-east, from the realm of earth and air?

Warrior: I am a Warrior, and I was brave when others held back.

Leader: What is your story?

Warrior: I was scared.  Everyone around me expected me to be something that I wasn't; they looked at me and they didn't see who I really was.  I tried to talk to them and tell them about my true self, but they never really heard me.  I was scared - what if they left me, what if they hated me?  Finally I couldn't pay attention to what they wanted anymore; I had to live my life for myself, no matter what my family or friends said.  I stood up to them.  I was scared, but I stood up for myself anyway.  And later, I stood up against strangers who challenged me.  I always did this for myself, because I needed to live the way I wanted to; then others came to me and told me that seeing me being brave helped them.  I started standing up for others when they couldn't help themselves.  Again and again I was scared, and I finally learned that being brave didn't mean that I couldn't be scared.  I was scared, but I was also brave.

Leader: What is your gift to your descendants?

Warrior: I give you the power of bravery. (The Warrior gives each person a small token to represent bravery, then steps back to their altar.)

The leader begins to address the group, but is interrupted by the reappearance of the plant.  The plant is now a caricature of a crossdresser, perhaps divided down the center as if caught between extremes.  They are still as fearful and distraught as they were in the beginning of the ritual; their emotions have eaten them until only anger and mistrust remain.

Plant: I can't do it.  I can't live this life, I can't let anyone down.  They'll hate me forever, I know they will.  I'm a freak.  I'm broken.  I hate myself.  No one will ever love me, no one wants to be near me.  No one understands me.

Leader: (speaking to the plant): You don't understand yourself.  You gave up too soon; you can't return to being ignorant of your nature but until you accept yourself you won't acceptance anywhere else. 

Plant: Everyone gives up on me.

Leader: Your ancestors know your pain and they'll help you if you accept their assistance. 

The four ancestors step forward to gently escort the plant out of the ritual space.

Leader (Addressing the group): You've heard the stories of your ancestors, and you know their challenges and strengths.  They have offered you their gifts of creativity, insight, transformation, and bravery; you have seen what happens when you don't use those gifts.  Above all, you have the power to choose what life you want, and these gifts will help you.  All these things are inside you, but to be reborn into your full strength, you must sacrifice something from your former life.

Leader approaches the first person on the cord and asks, "What do you sacrifice?"

They reply.

Leader: What do you want to achieve?

They reply.

Leader: Step forward and take my hand.

When the initiate has released the cord, the leader guides them in a clockwise spiral from the center of the space back to the place where they began; this journey can be accompanied by steady drumming.  The initiate is seated on the floor and the leader covers them with a red cloth.  The leader returns to the land of the dead, then repeats the sequence until each person has been brought back to the land of the living to await rebirth. 

When everyone has returned and been covered, the leader says, "You are reborn.  Rise, and live again in wholeness."

The living welcome the participants back to life with cheering and noise.

Thanking the gods
The leader addresses the gods:
We are reborn! We healed Ishtar and she remembers us. We danced with Dionysus and he remembers us. Cybele receives us and Freyr embraces us. We laugh with Coyote and we love with Aphrodite.  Alive again, we know who we are and we remember ourselves. With the blessings of the gods in our hearts, we are reborn.


Suggested Reading:
- Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk (Edward Carpenter)
- Shamanism in Siberia (M. A. Czaplicka)
- Bums in Brigantia: Sacred Gender-Variance in Ancient Germanic and Celtic Cultures (Phil Hine)
- Hermaphrodeities (Raven Kaldera)
- Fire in the Belly (Sam Keen)
- Emerging from the Chrysalis: Women's Initiation Rituals (Bruce Lincoln)
- The Woman in the Shaman's Body (Barbara Tedlock)


© Silence Maestas, 2006