Butter, Toads, and Miracles
Modern society seems to have lost the ability to respond coherently to childbearing crises. “There’s little acknowledgment in Western culture of miscarriage, no ritual to cleanse the grief” (Orenstein 2002, p.38). For today’s families, the lack of meaningful rituals to mark the loss leaves an emotional vacuum.
Throughout my exploration of healing through the arts, I wondered how other cultures, both past and present, responded to pregnancy loss. What kinds of rituals did they develop? What sculptures did they carve? What songs of grief did they sing? I imagined that present-day artists might be reinventing (with a modern twist) the practices of our ancestors. Are the new rituals and images being developed by artists, clergy, and counselors filling the void once held by these lost traditions? Are, as many authors have theorized, today’s creative arts therapists filling the role of yesterday’s shaman?
To uncover the answers, I started reading. I tracked down out-of-print books in order to research how people once understood and coped with pregnancy loss and what, if anything, these practices have to do with today’s art-making and rituals. Many of these rituals were collected in the books Mothers of Thyme (Sha 1990) and The Anthropology of Miscarriage (Cecil 1996). I have included rituals related to both infertility and pregnancy loss because in many customs these two issues are woven together and become inseparable.
Traditional rites and symbols help us place the work of contemporary artists and healers within a meaningful context. Art therapist Linda Gantt advises, “through careful study of other cultures we can learn the general forms such ceremonies take and thus can help our clients in devising their own” (1991,