For some time now I have been struggling with the phase of life I am in. My spiritual tradition identifies a triplicity in the stages of a woman’s life as well as the faces of the Goddess; these are of course, Maiden, Mother and Crone.
I accepted this model whole heartedly for over two decades. It was a sacred and beautiful celebration of the Divine Feminine, for me. And then one day, I hit fifty. Moving out of the Mother phase and finding myself, abruptly, disorientingly, and to be honest quite unfittingly, in the “Crone” phase.
But I look at myself both physically and emotionally and I do not see Cronehood dawning – not for a long, long time. I wonder how many other women find the same?
Life as we live it, not the storybook version, often means that many women are sidetracked through their “Mother” years, from finding or doing what their soul most calls out for. It’s lovely when an individual knows their Path from an early moment and is able to follow that purpose . I – and many others I know – flirted with herbalism, dabbled in herbalism, but strayed and wandered about, finding myself in academic studies, in the Mystery work, in my enormous love of dogs (and all animals). Intensive and purpose-filled study of Herbalism came later but with a joyful sense of homecoming; many aspects of what I have studied in years past support the work I do now. I am not withering, or withdrawing – as the term Crone implies. I am not yet the wizened Wisewoman of the village, tending my fires and helping those in need. I am in blossom, in the fullness of life. Everything I have worked on in the years before now, has begun to coalesce into a powerful Whole. I work with animals, I work with people, I create and I can help you heal. This is not Cronehood. This is….well, what should we call it?
I cannot for the life of me recall where I read that a fourth stage of life for women, this stage – 20, even 30 years! could be honoured and modernized with the name “Guardian”. I do like that. I’m not sure that’s *the* name, the one that will walk with me the next leg of the journey – but it’s good. Before I go on I wold love to hear from other women, of any age! about this.
And please be clear I am in no way dismissing or reacting negatively to the “Crone” title. Of course it is an honourable and beautiful stage, much undervalued in modern society. I hope to grow gracefully into my old age – some day. But this is not the Middle Ages, and I am 54… not a Crone, not by a long shot.
So, then as we humans enjoy longer and healthier lives, how can we empower women of midlife, past child bearing, to flourish? Naming us with something more appropriate seems an important start, to my mind anyway.
I am looking into all the areas of my life, learning and gnosis, to find that answer.
For me, The Silver Swan is the Red Tent of the post-menopausal woman. Emerging into the fullness of our beauty, inner and out – and much left to do in the world – perhaps even, the best years yet to come.
What do you say about a very old oak tree who was chopped down in cold blood, for firewood of all things, and how do you say it to a world that sees such things as trees, simply as resources?
And in the magical glow of a summer morning looks like this:
but today, suitably I think, it looks like this.
Because today I am in mourning for the loss of a tree. And not to say that all the many maples, beeches, birches and assorted evergreens that came down this year are less important; but to note that this was one of those old old Spirits, a Guardian, and a tree so radiant with magic and spirit I would not have believed even the most dis-connected of humans could fail to feel it.
Evidently, I was wrong.
A couple of days ago, the farmer who owns the land just came and chopped my Grandfather down. And I never once got a picture of the magnificent old Oak in his full summer glory… now I never will.
This act of destruction and disrespect cut me too, right to the core, and I have had to take some time to think deeply on the meaning of these acts and where my heart must take me now.
I spent a good chunk of time this morning in a state of inwardness and contemplation, of standing like the Temperance card, one foot on earth and the other somewhere else, lost in the river of heart and soul, feeling the water of sadness pour through me. I spent my time pondering what to bring as offering for my grand old friend. I wanted the physical offering to function as sacrament, an outward and visible sign of my inner sorrow and gratitude, of remembrance, apology for my species idiocy and alienation, and of love. I wanted whatever I brought to be ultimately invisible, as in honey poured on the ground, bread left to represent nourishment but which would undoubtedly be gone by the next morning – incense to waft on the air and bring the message of love into the Otherworld, then vanish without a material trace.
I wanted, too, to place something from my home near the stump, like a wreath, signifying all these sentiments and more. But nothing felt right. Eventually, I took juniper and cedar from my yard, bundled them with a braid of red, black and white yarn, added three sprigs of fresh rosemary from the plant I keep in my bedroom window, a feather from a fallen eagle I found last summer -and headed out to the forest.
I knew it would hurt. Strangely, the stump was anti-climactic – as though I had done my deepest grieving already and was steeled now for the next stage; remembrance, and action. Perhaps what remained was simply so far away from the magnificent shade and energy I remembered I could not quite connect it with my tree. Or perhaps I expected blood on the snow and angry howling spirits swirling round – but the outer landscape seemed quite normal – ordinary even, save for the sudden outbursts of wind…it blew wildly from time to time, and I took a few pictures to remember always what had been done.
My first view:
and closer up:
I made a small prayer to the four directions and offered tobacco to the Spirit of the Place. Words felt inadequate. At the back of the great trunk I placed my offering; bread, the cedar bundle, a vial of last summer’s rose petal elixir, for healing sweetness and love.
Danny played while I located many sturdy branches in the farmer’s pile; enough for a staff, a stang, 3 wands and several sets of runes. I stashed the heavy stang (a perfectly shaped Y on the end) beside a cedar some distance from the scene of the crime, and carried the rest home. We will work magic with these woods. Some will stay here, others will work as gifts for our loved ones. All will carry the great spirit of my wonderful tree deep within.
Turning homeward, the setting sun brought beauty to my eyes once again. I had not known what to bring, but I had to laugh now. I had brought Grandfather my heart. And eventually, it would heal, as the forest takes care of its own.
Eventually, things will come right in the world again.
Winter is the time for introspection, and our Canadian ones are long indeed. With Yule behind us and a few weeks left before planting seeds for summer, I’m enjoying the quiet reflective time. And something that comes clear to me, as I peruse Facebook and other parts of the internet, is this phenomenon of incessant striving for novelty seems to be growing. It is never good enough to have a lovely gingerbread recipe, one must make it with powdered macadamia nuts harvested at the New Moon by a 9th Level Master of the Gingerbread Mysteries or something. It has to feature the right kind of (local, imported, organic, sacred) ginger and be baked in pan made by faeries, in a wood stove oven FOUND in an abandoned log cabin and blessed by Forest spirits. Or else, it’s just plain old boring…gingerbread.
Well, I have to say, I like some of that stuff.
New, esoteric, creative things always spark my curiosity and oftentimes I will find myself making list upon list of things to try – new takes on old recipes, or scintillating new ideas altogether – acorn flour, evergreen shortbread, beet cake. I hope I never become so cynical I close down to exciting new concepts in food, living, anything. But there is also – for me at least – a saturation point. After a while, the intriguing new ideas start to put me in mind of a Roman feast , complete with the tongues of 300 larks served in aspic, and a busy vomitorium. It all gets excessive. It all gets a little… precious. As I grow older, I seek balance, which means novelty is fine, innovation is good, but it should be balanced with the love of ordinary things, of tradition and of simplicity.
I recently went through a little stage where it struck me that my life is, perhaps, just a little bit boring. Not that I find it boring, mind, but that others would look upon my routines and daily habits and think – well, boring. I walk my dog, feed all my animals, meditate in temple, work at my day job, clean house and study, all at pretty regular times. I flop on the couch and watch things like Farscape and The Secret of Roan Inish and yes, Coronation street, because after 14 hours online or in research I simply cannot read (or hold a book, even). I look forward to weekends and to experimentation with herbal medicine making and to time to spend with my birds and my horse. I bake a little. I garden. I do ritual. Really, much as I love this life, it’s not very exotic.
but then, after a while, I realized it’s silly to feel like that. I’m living a life many of my city friends deeply envy. I’ve chosen to rescue unwanted animals so there is bound to be a lot of work. I consider that work Service in every way. I am blessed to be active and relatively healthy and very keen to keep growing and studying. I have a garden and a temple devoted to the Goddess as I understand Her, and I enjoy the benefit of self employment – eg, setting my own hours at least to some extent. With all that I have, it’s like an insult to those with less if I focus on such trivial matters. In fact, I believe it is time to celebrate “ordinariness”. and to that end, I’m offering some of my favorite bits of the ordinary – recipes – simple and wonderful – for medicines, salves and ointments, baked goods, vegetarian dishes and more. Stories from this life of living intimately connected to the wild, to the spirits of the land and the gods of Old as well as those still waiting to be born. And any other ode to simplicity that occurs to me.
Because more than anything, we need to scale down, and to re-connect with life in it’s natural form, the real life of the world, our spiritual development and reclaiming our birthright to clean water and air, connectedness to all life, to becoming the stewards of the earth we know we are in our Souls. Animals teach us simplicity; they teach us to be still, tune in, pay attention and live authentically. All of this and more leads me to a simpler life. All of this brings freedom from the chains of so-called sophistication.
So. Tonight my list of simple pleasures will start with: lying down, surrounded by my beloved animal family and dozing off while watching The Secret of Kells. Tomorrow, it will probably be walking in the woods with Daniel and experimenting with body lotion recipes, making them up as I go. Yes, I did not start this way in life but I have come to it – I’m a simple woman. I love dogs, music, the forest, fresh simple foods, the green world around me, the stars, reading, sleeping late on Sunday, animals and birds of every description, cartooning, meditation, baking, cold beer and hot coffee, and sleep.
And occasionally – just once in a while – I make a macadamia nut/ starfruit/ wild ginger parfait…washed down with some pomegranate and rowan berry mead, and served in a bowl made by faeries.
Imbolc this year was a lowkey affair – I always make Noodle Kugel with cream cheese, sour cream and butter; leave a generous serving outside for Bridie and her cow, and do a simple meditation in circle at some point. The altar here is set in the centre of the house; I have seeds to bless for the garden, my mortar and pestle to symbolize my work as a healer, a small woven Goddess Eye with Bridie’s colours; a corn kernel necklace made at Lammas, simple birch wand and several fire symbols. My grandmother’s cream and sugar vessels hearken back to simpler times, sprigs of mugwort symbolize the moon while a bowl of calendula from last year’s harvest represent the waxing Sun.
As we call the Sun and plan the year ahead, let Brigid’s fire inspire us all to heal, create and travel this Path with love and hope for a better future for us all.
To inaugurate this blog, started between the deep magic of Samhain and the glorious rebirth of the Sun at Yule, I can think of nothing lovelier than this Blessing for Beginnings from John O’Donohue. For those who aren’t familiar with him, John was “an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his books, including Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘soul friend,’ and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God.” Once described as a “poetic priest with the soul of a Pagan”, John was probably best known for the best-selling and deeply beautiful Anam Cara; his other works, especially Eternal Echoes helped me through some very painful passages in my own life, as only a handful of writings were able to do. His works cross boundaries of spiritual difference and carry the reader into a place of universal human longing and experience. It was a great dream of my life to travel one day to Ireland and attend one of his retreats. he died tragically in 2008, at only 52, but left a wealth of spiritual treasure behind. Here is an example of the power and poetry in John’s works:
“Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, that place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.”
A passage like this transcends our self-imposed boundaries and barriers; regardless of how we configure the eternal….don’t we all “dream of a state of wholeness”, seek it in our daily lives, our work, loves and inner questioning? Often the search for wholeness encompasses an entire lifetime, whether we call it that or not. I am Pagan, and have been probably all my life, as I understand the word – but writers of all spiritual persuasion have always spoken to me, and a few of them are Light-bringers that illuminate my way and steady me through difficulty, deeply nourishing my soul’s longing for understanding and peace. Because John is one such writer, and because this poem is so fitting for the new site, I thought to share it with you. It is such a mistake to think that at any time in our lives, at any moment and no matter what has wounded us and held us down, we cannot start again. Dream, sing, paint, laugh, love your way to wholeness, and stand strong in the shelter of community when the darkness comes, as invariably it does. And give thanks for that which steadies your way! I am grateful today, for John’s words and grace in my life…the shelter his words have given me, the moments of radiant spiritual joy and beauty I have received from his works.
For my beginings and your own..Blessed Be.
For A New Beginning
(c) John O’Donohue. All rights reserved. Used by permission. http://www.johnodonohue.com
This morning I begin a journey through the misty Otherworld of imagination and dream, working magic as I go – making strands of connection that slip through starlit, secret places and gently wind around the hearts of those I touch, hoping to bring healing, exploration and empowerment to those who join me on this odyssey. Throughout my life I have danced back and forth between working with animals, working with magic and self-discovery, and long periods of study and contemplation, not focused, but always building the Dream. In latter years I’ve worked so much within the confines of science that I often felt like two separate people – not such a difficult task for a double Gemini, but, ultimately, a wearying one. It seemed to me that the magical life I live in my heart and the professional world I was bound to were always at odds, the one always finding fault with the other – but I see little disconnection between them- save for that which we ourselves impose. If the work I do with herbs and food is medicine for the healing of a dog, surely then it heals the human heart as well? If the guidance of a Tarot reading brings someone closer to their own Mystery, to finding the deep path that has evaded them in life, surely that heals as much as any diet? My own Medicine is made of many things – food, plant healing, Touch (and T-Touch) laughter, beauty, music and song, and always the foray into the Otherworld, that place of light and shadow where much is to be learned and more is to be gained than can be realized without taking that first fateful step. I know the value of both science and mystery, art and magic, precision and intuition – and want to share them all. In a consultation setting, I may just as easily advise an herbal tea, a change in diet or a quiet, personal ritual to strengthen and illuminate your way, as I will report what my own visions have told me. Healing, whether it be of heart or body, always operates on all the levels; food heals, art heals, plants heal – love heals.
It was with great love I received the message of the Silver Swan, how to go forward in my own life, seemingly caught between the twin pillars of artist, Taroist, mystic and priestess on the one hand, and scientist, clinician, nutritionist and educator on the other… it was the Silver Swan who came to me and showed me that all the schism I perceived was false, and that I need not contain one set of skills in order that the other shine forth. Dogs have been my teachers, my allies, my family, pack, guides and best of all possible friends, and my work with them will never end. But other animals have given me so much – the Mysteries I have studied all my life have given me so much – it is with great excitement I embark on a path that allows me to share all of this with whomever should come forward and ask. – without compartmentalizing, without second-guessing what is needed, without fear of being dismissed as un-scientific…without hesitation of any kind.
The unexamined life is not worth living, to me, and as we journey through the Mysteries, one threshold after another, the portals become both harder and more beautiful, so I will sing my way through in a voice of the Heart. I invite you to come along with me, through your own magical journey, to whatever awaits you on the islands you will find.
In singing together, our voices grow strong, and our stories are never forgotten.