THE RETURN TO SHE
On Women’s Rites, Sacred Womanhood
And learning to Love Again
LADY DANE FIGUEROA EDIDI
What made a ghetto Trans girl from Baltimore City raised by an evangelist mother, and with occasional interaction with a Muslim immigrant father, begin to learn the ancient mysteries of women? What moved her to indoctrinate into the Goddess Way and Return to She? I can tell you, although the Sacred Feminine held sway in many of the rituals and folklores in my family, my mother and her sibling’s indoctrination into Christianity was assured by my converted Cuban grandfather. But, even they, holding fast to the imaginary hem of Jesus’s garment, could not deny that our ancestor traditions played active roles in our lives. They often shared stories of miracles crafted from ritual and ways to heal manifested by herb; they would dare not call it this, but something within me always knew to call it magic.
Growing up I was offered a great contradiction: while being allowed into certain woman’s rituals, I was barred from embracing my womanhood. Some of my aunts while pinning many hopes and dreams into the fabric of my destiny, shamed me for my connection to womanhood. Their ire was assured because they were unable to deny the truth that men’s rites were never for me. My mother, the youngest and most timid, never shamed me for my femininity. She offered me powerful tools for engaging my gifts while also indoctrinating me with lessons every woman in my family received: I am not to sway my hips, I should never look a man in his eyes, I must keep the violence inflicted on me secret, even when black men harm me or are completely inept, I should refer to them if they are around, I should work hard to ensure the safety of black men even at the cost of my own. I watched as the women were told to excel, that failure was not an option, but the men were given free reign to terrorize their girlfriends and break their mother’s hearts. I watched as powerful women, women with deep spiritual roots worked tirelessly for the men in their lives and suffered endlessly at their hands.
I, myself suffered as well. My brother molested me at age five, physically abused me until I was about thirteen and verbally abused me till I was in my twenties. My father abandoned me and my mother and returned demanding a position in my life although he did nothing to deserve it. I, at a young age knew who I was, but it seemed mostly everyone around me wanted to rob me of my own self-awareness. My mother raised me from her trauma and my brother from her guilt. She blamed herself for leaving his father who abused her nearly daily. And as my brother abused me and no one in my family came to my defense, I grew to resent my mother and vowed when I grew up I would never be a woman like her.
But I did grow up and in some ways continued reliving the same cycles so many of the women in my family had. I had love affair after love affair with faceless men, whose names are etched from my memory but who were as villainous as the next. I surrendered my senses to addiction and my heart to stone. Bouts of fury became my armor and my body became the currency I spent to obtain hints of what I thought was romantic love.
My Aunt Elizabeth, one of my aunties who never treated me mean, assured my love of ancestor and history from a very young age. Although, I read about countless queens and priestesses, it was not until I was in my early teens when I began to read about the Goddeses who they served. This was the beginning of my Return to She, To my continued indoctrination into the Goddess Way. As I journeyed to the past, names begun to emerge, not simply cis ancestors, but those we would consider trans today. I discovered a world of Sacred Womanhood and the rites that honored them. I learned about things I had only had remnants of as a child.
Contrary to what Hotepism, misogyny, white supremacy, colonization and anti-trans perpetrators of violence would have us to believe, people like me were there and essential to the maintaining of spiritual and ephemeral order to indigenous societies. I was in Nations in Africa, I was in Sumer, I was in Rome, In Asia, I was on this very soil in countless Indigenous Nations. And, I am still here.
One day the skies opened and Oya and all her Divine Sisters spoke my name. And I began my journey of being reborn. As I learned about Goddesses from across the world I learned about me. I too am an embodiment of the Scared Fem. As I learned, I toiled to be as honorable a vessel as possible and as I toiled, I healed; and as I healed, I began to finally experience my mother in new ways. I resented her for her timid nature as a child but learned to love her for her deep devotion and compassion as an adult. I resented her for not standing up for herself, but learned to love her for the fact she always instilled in me to stand up for myself. She was clever, my mother, raising the type of woman she had always hoped to be. She reminds me every day just how proud she is that I did not lose me although so much in my life attempted to make me forget.
The Goddess Way, The Return to She, allowed me to name what had always been. I had inherited the scared rites of womanhood, and the means to break the cycles of trauma and violence found so commonly amongst us. My father and I have reconciled, and I am now able to leave relationships and situations that cause me harm. I no longer bash myself for making mistakes, I simply learn from them. I am a Healer, and in the spirit of renewal I am healing every day.
On this Return to She I have found great family of spirit and strengthened relationships with many of my family of blood. I learned to love myself and in turn learned to love the women who shaped me. I look through the dirt of trauma to find the precious stones and realize each of them gave me a gift, just as now, I give them a model for what it can look like to tell your story, to tell the truth, to be held accountable and hold others accountable too; just as I teach despite any choice you have made, you can always learn to love yourself again.
Dubbed the Ancient Jazz Priestess of Mother Africa, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi is a Nigerian, Cuban, Indigenous, American Performance Artist, Author (Yemaya’s Daughters, Brew, Baltimore: A Love Letter, Wither, Remains: A Gathering of Bones, and Keeper), Teacher, Choreographer, Oracular Consultant, Priestess, Advocate, A Founding Member of Force Collision, Curator of La Ti Do’s annual Celebration of Trans Artist and Capturing Fire’s Alchemy. She is the Director of Global Initiatives for The Trans Women of Color Collective.
She is A 2016 Helen Hayes Nominee, the first Trans Woman of Color in DC to publish a work of Fiction in D.C as well as the first TWOC Playwright to be chosen for Theater Alliance’s Hothouse Festival, having her play Absalom read at the Kenney Center’s Prelude Festival. From Baltimore Maryland, and growing up singing jazz, she has been utilizing art as a tool for healing, revolution and liberation since she was a child.