Sisterhood of the Antlers

Walking the path of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland with stories, art, and ritual

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The Rebirth of Grief


Swimming With Tahlequah

Last night under a dark moon Tahlequah said her final goodbye to her calf. In her closing gesture, she let go. Maybe she glanced down as that little body disappeared into the dark depths. To us humans, the dark depths of the sea hold so many secrets, hold so many fears and unspoken experiences, things we shove away to the dark recesses. How do orca view the dark deep of the ocean for they cannot reach those depths.

Like them, we are emotional creatures, moved by the pull and release of the moon and go through our own emotional tides. All life came from the oceans and before that the stars. Last night in the final gesture of her ritual meteors rained down from a dark sky. Perhaps this great mother looked up or saw the falling light reflected on the water's surface.

She carried her calf one day for every month that it had grown inside her. She carried her calf for 17 months as it grew, for seventeen months she sang to this little one. For seventeen months she carried the hope of her pod, each of them knowing each calf born in the last three years has died.

She Who Holds the Wheel (with the spirals of Newgrange overlaid)

She wasn't alone in these 19 days as her family around her supported her. They took turns in holding her calf afloat and brought her food. These days carrying her calf was an act of love, an act of holding on, it was an act of ritual. This is why I called on people to make art, to offer a gesture of ritual. Ritual, art, ceremony these are the things that keep us sane, these are the things that help us see how things really are. What are Newgrange, Loughcrew, the Clava Cairns and Callanish if not our ancestor's way of honoring, of making sense of coming together to honor the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown.


Letting Go

Brighid is our midwife, she helps souls to be born into this world and she helps them on in their journey leaving this world and into the otherworld. On this dark moon night, Tahlequah allowed her calf to be reborn as she too was reborn as we in our shared grief with her. Rebirth is a powerful ritual. It is the turning around of despair and apathy, it is a need to do something, to make something matter and not let it be forgotten.

Last night I swam in dark waters, rolling on my back to watch meteors fall above. There were many others there in spirit in whale form. We helped her in the last stage of her ritual, we supported her in her letting go. Her grief speaks to outwardly spiraling circles, it is reborn in many ways. Through us it gives voices to the mama pig stuck in a gestation crate (magical creatures who like to sing to the moon), through us it gives voice to the mama cow whose udder is aching and full and her heart is breaking at the sound of her calf crying who has been taken away from her. Our everyday lives cause unmeasurable suffering, nearly all species are in decline apart from humans.

'We are the most compassionate, the most violent, we are the most creative and we are the most destructive creatures ever to appear on this planet'.  Carl Safina

But my point isn't to lecture, we know these truths, my point is that art and ritual can allow our unspoken grief to be reborn. Weren't we grieving for ourselves as we grieved for Tahlequah?  Didn't she give us an invitation to release so many things we just can't give voice to? My point is that we can turn around those feelings and do something to help the plight of so many animals who are suffering.

Click on the painting to view Arlene's website  © 2018 Arlene Bailey

Yesterday a dear friend invited me to use the Dark Moon to ritualize the grief felt by Tahlequah, the orca whale with her dead child. I was lost in my own grief around my husband's health and, though my heart ached for this dear, sweet being-ness, I didn't think I could respond. As it was, I was stuck and immobile. However, the more I thought of this beautiful whale and her child, the more my heart cracked open and so I went to the canvas. As an artist, it is my go to when I need to move energy.

I felt I was to paint water... waves of emotion... so with only 2 colors and my fingers I began to work. Then I felt led to add a touch of the Kintsugi concept of filling our cracks/wounds and grief with gold. The flower of life stencil also kept calling, but I wasn't sure it "fit". Then words began to flow - not in the raw, visceral way of most of my writing, but rather more hopeful.

On the surface, a simple little painting, but as with life if one looks below the surface there is soooo much there, so much more visible if only we look.

...a deep, primordial soulful offering to Tahlequah and indeed all of us in this time.


Click on the image above to watch A mother Pilot whale grieve over her dead calf narrated by David Attenborough  



Click on the TED talk logo above to watch Carl Safina's present  'What animals are thinking and feeling, and why it should matter'

I'll be posting more about gestures of ritual and overturning our grief (not erasing, not pretending it isn't there) but inspiring us into action. Sometimes 'activist' is a word that shames us - we're not doing enough, we aren't doing anything. I totally get, for I speak for myself, in sometimes being completely overwhelmed.

This Samhain I'll be launching an Ancestral Mothers Wheel of the Year - some of those 'mothers' are ancient wise women who I know from the land in Scotland. We engage with their ancient stories with art and ritual. There is Breejah, a priestess of Brighid, who honors Brighid in her bear form, Cee-al who is connected to the legends of the Selkies, there are Scottish Amazons, stories of the Gathers, sacred maps, ancient descent stories as we journey into hibernation with bear. Women such as the bird shapeshifting Taliesker, the great crone the Cailleach and the priestesses of the great antlered one, the women who run with the herds of reindeer.

If you're not already on the mailing list sign up by clicking the above logo. Please send me any stories of your ritual with Tahlequah or stories of your connection - I'd love to feature them on the blog.

Send via the Sisterhood of the Antlers facebook page (click the antlered woman logo) or email me - judelally (at)





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Jude Lally is a forager of stories. You’ll find her out wandering the hills around Loch Lomond, reading the signs that guide her to stories in the land.

As a Cultural Activist, she draws upon the inspiration from old traditions to meet current needs.
She uses keening as a grief ritual, a cathartic ritual to express anger, fear, and despair for all that is unfolding within the great unraveling.
As a doll maker, she views this practice as one that stretches back to the first dolls which may have been fashioned from bones and stones and ancient stone figurines such as the Woman of Willendorf. She uses dolls as a way of holding and exploring our own story, and relationship to the land as well as ancestral figures.

She gained her MSc Masters Degree in Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland) and lives on the West Coast of Scotland on the banks of the River Clyde, near Loch Lomond. She is currently writing her first book, Path of the Ancestral Mothers.



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