The Apache Sunrise Ceremony

The Apache Sunrise Ceremony – a communal four-day ceremony that Apache girls of the past and present experience soon after their first menstruation.  For most of the four days and nights, to songs and prayers, they dance, as well as run toward the four directions “four stages of life”. During this time, they also participate in and conduct sacred rituals, receiving and giving both gifts and blessings, and experiencing their own capacity to heal.   The Sunrise Ceremony involves extensive preparation and teaching, often lasting six months or more before the ritual begins. Much of the preparation, such as creating the girl’s highly symbolic costume, and building the lodge, requires following complex procedures and rituals; another facet of preparation is a physical regime oriented toward strengthening the girl’s physical endurance. Her family also is engaged in extensive food preparation, since throughout the ceremony, they will be providing food and gifts to all participants and visitors.  Other features of the ceremony include:  re-enacting Changing Woman’s story, the massaging  the girl’s body by her sponsor so that she is “molded” into Changing Woman, singing, chanting and praying throughout most of the night, the nightly dances of the Ga’an or Mountain Spirits and accompanying clown, and the throwing of buckskin blankets toward the four directions.  The girl is also painted (actually covered) with a sacred mixture of cornmeal and clay, which she must not wash off throughout the entire ceremony. During the last day, she blesses her people with pollen, as well as “heals” all members of her tribe who seek her healing touch and blessing; she also receives many gifts from her people.

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