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HENNA IN RITUAL PRACTICE

The dried leaves of the henna plant have been used for centuries as a tool in rituals. The deep red stains that are left on the skin by a paste of henna powder and a variety of acidic liquids are most commonly associated with Indian weddings and bridal celebration. The bride's hands and feet are liberally embellished with lacy and intricate designs that fade over the weeks following the wedding. Traditionally, this practice is intended to draw the attention and the blessings of the gods to the bride and groom.

In the United States today, most people also associate henna with pop stars such as Madonna and Gwen Stefani. These performers and others wore henna designs on their hands, feet and faces at many public appearances in the late 1990s and popularized the practice for a few short years. Unfortunately many people have once again lost the idea of henna as a beautiful and rich adornment technique as the fad passed and American trends moved in different directions.

Henna art (also called Mehndi) is a very useful and easily integrated tool to modern ritual. The ingredients of the paste used to make your designs each have ritual meanings of their own and can be further modified to fit your particular ritual needs. For example, a basic mehndi paste consists of sifted henna powder, some liquid and a small amount of essential oil. The henna powder itself is a healing agent. The oils added to it to accelerate the staining process are also healing and protective in nature. Among these are tea tree, eucalyptus and clove oils. By using citrus juices like lemon and lime as your liquid, you not only activate the dye in the paste, but you also add the associative element of creative energy to your blend.

Other ingredients can be used to emphasize the specific focus of your ritual as well as manipulating the effectiveness of the mehndi paste. Adding pomegranate juice will darken the reddish color of the stain on your skin, but it is also associated with fertility. A drop or two of cinnamon oil will help your skin set the stain, but it also useful in prosperity spells. A little rose water will help attract love while it imparts a pleasant scent to your paste. (Reminder: before you add anything to your mehndi paste, please consult your herbalist to insure your health and safety).

A ritual using mehndi art is a two-step process. First you blend your paste and allow the ink (and the intention) to develop and then the next day you apply it to your skin. Begin as you would with any ritual: cleanse yourself and your environment and prepare your mind through breathing exercises and meditation. While you blend your paste ingredients, focus on your intention or need. Stir clockwise or counter-clockwise as is suggested by the type of ritual you are performing. Once you have a very smooth, thick paste, cover it and leave it alone overnight. The next day put your paste in a Jacquard batik dye bottle - the ideal tool for application.

When you are ready to apply your paste, you will want to have your ritual design in mind. A small amount of research will reveal many traditional designs for protection, attraction and repulsion, but you may find that these designs are challenging to replicate on your skin. Remember that, as in all ritual, your focus and intention are what is most important, so create a design of your own which you are comfortable replicating, or ask a friend to help you apply your design. Simple swirls and geometric patterns are easy and beautiful designs and carry as much magickal power as you invest in them. Just remember to concentrate on your goal while applying the paste just as you did while mixing it.

Should you experience any burning or discomfort, remove the mehndi paste at once.

After applying the paste you will need to apply some heat and allow it to dry. This is an excellent time to meditate and concentrate on your goal. Light a candle, place some appropriate incense on a hot charcoal and hold your design near enough to allow the heat to penetrate but not close enough to burn yourself. Visualize your intention, imagining that as the henna dries it carries your focus into your being, and as the design eventually fades your intention is carried out again into the universe for use.

After 30-45 mintues you should be ready to go about your business. Close the ritual as you would close any ritual and trust that your intention has been expressed. The henna paste will dry and flake off, but try to keep it on as long as possible. The longer the paste is allowed to remain, the darker your stain will be. After the paste has flaked away, keep the area well moisturized and the design should last for at least 7-10 days.

By adding mehndi art to your rituals you make an already deeply personal experience that much more individual to you. You also integrate thousands of years of tradition and spiritual expression into your private ceremonies as women have done in many cultures over many continents. Don't be afraid to try it: the experience is fulfilling and effective!