Sisterhood of the Antlers

Stories of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland from folk magic and the wise women who honored them. Rooted in the Bean Feasa (Wise Woman) tradition.

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Carrier of the Stream

“Wise Woman’ By Jane Brideson. 
Used with permission

She sits on the windowsill above my altar in a gold frame. The image is entitled ‘Wise Woman’ painted by Irish painter Jane Brideson entitled. The Wise Woman is sitting by her kitchen table burning something in a small copper cauldron from which the smoke swirls and wafts up and around her.

There are images in the smoke, a hare under a waxing moon, a croft with a thatched roof, smoke trailing out of the chimney. The cottage has two windows on its whitewashed front which I want to peer through, the paint of the front door is probably peeling in several places, to reveal a rainbow of colors which span decades. I imagine what it might look like inside, maybe like the Irish croft my Great Aunt Mary lived in, a wise woman herself who never married and worked the farm alone and traded for most of what she needed. The third swirl of smoke holds the scene of a cauldron pot over a fire, next to a large kettle.

The woman of the hearth is probably in her 60’s, her grey hair sweeps up and over reminding me of wind-whipped waves from which kelpies arch and leap.

I can see we might have things in common such as walking a beloved familiar (in the form of a dog) as we traveled a lane flanked by hedgerows picking berries and leaves as we watch the familiar life of the hedgerow – a startled blackbird, perhaps a wren jumping through the branches and if either one of us was lucky – the little snout of a hedgehog. 

Menopause

As I stare into the frame I see my own reflection in the glass, I am becoming her. My hair isn’t grey but I have just walked my own initiation of turning 50. I had no expectations of 50 but felt it was a definite marker like no other birthday has been. It came with a woo-shhhh-iiii-ng and a rippppp-liiiing. Waves of hot flushes and an unexpected cold that followed the heat, mirroring the Spring Equinox in which it was taking place and the weather of my birth – hot, cold, cold, hot, hot, cold, cold, cold. Undulating anxiety followed, consuming me, leaving me feeling like I was drowning. 

“Have you noticed?” whispers Grandmother Growth. “Your hot flashes and menstrual irregularities disrupt your normal patterns, make openings for you buried fears to emerge. Welcome these fears; they bring memories. Memories of childhood, memories of other lives. Often these memories find easiest access to you consciousness through fear. If you reject your fear, it will immobilize you, shorten your breathe, leave you speechless, and dim your full delight in life. Approach with curiosity; let your fear bring you gifts of self-awareness. (note how dilate the pupils become in fear: anxious eyes take in everything.) Hold my hand. Say ‘I’m afraid.’ And take a step forward.” Susan Weed

I love this face in the painting, she reminds me of several women I know and several others I project onto her – aunts and other relatives I have never known. I am grateful for the women in my life I am grateful for my women’s circle – we meet in the dark of the year, bringing our baskets with all manner of hopes and fears and dreams – all the things we wish to drawn into small and powerful gestures of ritual and bring into sacredness. We unpack beloved well-worn cloths, stones and bones – CDs of music and whispered songs, pots of tea or whatever prompts we need to outline our ritual. Spring Equinox is the great return as the ancient she-bear returns from the dead of winter and brings life back to the land. As our circle returns back into the world I walked the labyrinth. My walk to center was walking through my five decades, symbolically gathering the insights and the synchronicities that were woven. I stopped at the center and sat to acknowledge life and this most wondrous gift of living. Then I began my walk back out, symbolically receiving the gifts of what I plan to receive, the work I wish to complete, grateful for those I walk with. 

Living on the Threshold

I am deeply tied to the land I was born on and yet I was born on a threshold. I am Scottish and grew up in the area around Loch Lomond – there was only 6 of my family in Scotland with an uncountable number of my dad’s family in Galway, Ireland. I grew up being half Irish, half Scottish. While I was rooted in a place I didn’t know the aunt and uncles and cousins as my Scottish friends did. But I am a woman of place and familiar hills and trees, lochs, creatures and birds were family. Personal circumstances brought me wider still as I’m currently living in the foothills of the Appalachians. They say distance makes the heart stronger and yet distance also gives us perspective. I constantly project familiar scenes of Scotland onto this Appalachian landscape. The way the light caresses a tree or a raincloud about to envelop a hill transports me home so it feels like I have one foot on this land and another on home turf. I somehow exist in both places, in both worlds.  

All my life I naturally gravitated towards the thresholds, some call them ‘thin places’ the places where this world and the other world overlap. Out walking the hills of home above Loch Lomond you can step into one of these places, like a small bubble which exists in the here and now but somehow exists throughout all time. I know these places, I carry a map of them. Once I encountered such a place while out walking with friends. It was interesting – we all just stopped, not a word was said, we all just stood still in this place between places.  

And yet here on another continent, my life is moving over a threshold which menopause is ushering in. I live in a culture which doesn’t honor this threshold, in fact, it offers chemicals and surgeries to help us deal and manage that problem of being female. Yet many of us celebrate it, mark the passing of one stage of life transitioning to another. I welcome yet another initiation into another threshold.

Emerging from the Loch

An Ancient Calling

‘We’re passing the highest point in the middle of Eigg. It’s just before the road drops down through the hazel wood. I’m crouched on the floor, uncomfortably, bouncing along in the back, and I start to become aware that a river is flowing into me. A river! It feels like all the ancient blocked-up wells and springs have broken free. They’re merging and melding and the confluence is a torrential, silvery stream of light. I’m bathed, soothed, inwardly illuminated'. McIntosh, Pg 185

It’s only now, I can look back and recognize that this journey into menopause began several years ago. Three years ago I was called in a vision gained from an otherworldly journey to visit the little island whose Gaelic name translates as ‘the Isle of the Big Women’. I had been there a few times before but this trip found me climbing the heights to visit the Loch of the Big Women as the sun began to set and the long lingering summer twilight began. Twilight is a time which paints the land in its true colors – faces appear in the hillside and on cliffs – which only makes sense as twilight draws us between the worlds – we are half in the everyday world and half in the otherworld. I laughed to myself as I walked alone thinking some people choose to go on holiday to sun themselves on European beaches and here’s me heading up to a small loch guided by an Old Antlered being I encountered in trance! On arriving at the loch it suddenly dawned on me as if I was instructed by the figures of women lined up on the loch banks – that I had to fully submerge myself under the water. So I did! It was truly an initiation as the seconds I was under the water I could hear the whispering of ancestral voices and had I kept my eyes open I know I would have seen faces smiling and looking into mine.

I walk the path of the Ancestral Mothers, picking up the threads that weave me back into the whole, weave me back into my own culture. My ancestors and these ancient wise women are my guides. I reclaim my Bean Feasa lineage. I may not use the same tools as them yet we have a familiar practice in walking between worlds. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_sunset-edited.jpg

Twilight - the Gloaming

The quote above are the words of a teacher of mine yet these words and experience have become mine. My experience was handed down through a lineage of women. While I’ve had glimmers and dreams of this great flow of voices, for the last two years at Spring Equinox as we emerge with bear from the winter cave this stream has bubbled up from the deep. The initiation of menopause has submerged me fully into the stream. I took the photo above after my emergence from the loch – I felt different, I felt called, I felt fierce, I felt every bone and every cell committed. More than that I was infused with their voices for unknowingly the role was to become a carrier, a carrier of those ancient voices, a carrier of the stream. 

While I have spent most of my life on the edges, the thresholds it makes sense as it’s only the edges of the town and wild that are the places where you can ‘feel’ that older primordial world figures like the Cailleach. It’s only on islands off the west coast of Scotland, the very edge, the fringe of the Celtic world that the feeling between this world and the other is so very tangible. It’s only on home ground that I hear this old hag’s voice so clearly as if she is shouting into my ear. 

And yet I know my ancestor’s connection to their world, their everyday connection is something I crave more than anything. For theirs was a far different world from ours. It’s a world the birds and four-leggeds and the trees and insects still live in only that humans created a psychological disconnection. Sadly I was born into this disconnected world, a warmongering dis-eased world. That’s why I seek out those thresholds places, the places you can still hear and feel the heart beat of a far older world. The highest peaks in my life have been the ones, the brief moments where I’ve stepped into that old world.

For that old world is the true nature of this planet, it’s our birthright – our original relationship. So I pick up my tools of art, ritual and imagination guided by the voices of the stream – I am a Cultural Activist – rooted in the Bean Feasa tradition as I create acts of resistance against this power-hungry monster of patriarchy and clear the path back to the Ancestral Mothers rebirthing Her way in this world, weaving us back into the whole, weaving us back to Her, telling stories through actions that take us home.

____

References:

McIntosh, Alastair. 2001. Soil and Soul. People Versus Corporate Power. Aurum Press Ltd, UK. 

Weed, Susan. 1992.Menopausal Years. The Wise Woman Way. Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90. Ash Tree Publishing, USA.

Links:

You can view the art of Jane Brideson here: http://theeverlivingones.blogspot.com/

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I am descended from a long line of wise women – for I too am a shapeshifter, a mythmaker, a woman who has always had one ear to the ground and a foot in the other world. I am a listener to old bones and a collector of stories that I gather from the shorelines, deep in forests or atop mountains. Sometimes my shadow shows my other selves sometimes crow sometimes bear, I am She Who Wears Antlers.

I am a radical doll maker, taking this tradition back to its roots and the hands of my foremothers. They remind us of our sacred connection to this world, the otherworld and our ancestors. I am a collector of stories, carrying old ones and those one who need retelling.

I am of the Bean Feasa tradition , a wise woman tradition that stretches back past pre-Celtic generations. People sought the wisdom of the wise woman in times of personal crisis and today this tradition can help us face this deepening global crisis.

I am a cultural activist working from the Bean Fesa tradition rooted in pre-patriarchy which honors imagination and creativity and provides us with tools which can help us overcome the psychological effects of patriarchy.

Visit my website for details of online courses, in person workshops and our annual pilgrimage to the lands of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland.

www.sisterhoodoftheantlers.com

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