Scottish Amazon Women Rising!

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Cailleach Doll by the shores of Loch nam Ban Mora

I don’t have to tell you that right now we are in dark times. Each day seems to unleash new unbelievable moves in what seems like a game where no one is playing by the rules. I feel overwhelmed and have to balance this madness by unplugging. Unplugging from the world of social media, from being online, from human interaction and reach down into my roots which connect me to an ancient lineage of women.

The Scottish Island of the Big Women?

There is a little island off the west coast of Scotland who for me is rooted in an ancient female power, its name is the Island of the Big Women. There are several legends of big women both on and around the island – from the original Big Women said to be a mythological race of giant women, big enough that they could easily enough step across the small islands to their dwelling in the centre of Loch nam Ban Mora (Loch of the Big Women). One island over on the Isle of Skye is the home to Scathach, the Shadowy One – who trained the very best celtic warriors and then there is the story of the female warriors of the Pictish Queen Moidart. The stories of the original Big Women and the female warriors seems to have become so fused together it’s impossible to untangle them and say which belongs to which.

 

qPictish Queen by artist Leonie Gibbs

The story of the female warriors sets place in the 7th century CE when a Christian monk called Donnan arrived on the island on a mission to convert Pagans into the new faith of Christianity but as Dressler (1989) explains the religious annuls recorded that the establishment of a monastery on Eigg was not welcomed by the ruler of the island, the Pictish Queen of Moidart in whose territory Eigg was included and which was reported by Columban chroniclers as keeping such pagan practices  as observing Beltane rather than Easter and worshipping serpents.

‘Legend tells that from her dun in Glenuig, the Queen of Moidart ordered the monks to be killed: ‘I am keeping herdsman to herd my milking cattle on the face of the Corravein, not to be herded themselves by a monk’. When the newly converted islanders reused to obey her orders, she flew into a red-hot rage and sent her own warrior women over to Eigg. They came upon Donnan and his monks as they were singing mass in their oratory on 17th April 617, but the saint beseeched them to wait until they had finished their prayers. As they left the church, Donnan and his monks were beheaded one after the other, their bodies piled up and burnt’ (Dressler, 1989).

cailleach-with-lightsThe Cailleach by Loch nam Ban Mora and the Magical Lights

The Story Behind the Story

But the story did not end there and it is said that unearthly voices were heard chanting bewitching the warrior women who found themselves compelled to follow the lights as they were lead up towards the Loch. The lights rested above the little island in the middle of the Loch and the warrior women it is said entered the water with their eyes fixed on the lights each of them drowning below the surface (Dressler, 1989).

As the saying goes history is written by the victors and in this story the monks got the last word. I can’t help but feel this wonderful story of the lights appearing which bewitched the female warriors to their death is perhaps a story borrowed from the Big Women. Is what we are reading something the monks borrowed in a way to invert the story on its head as the did with so many Pagan tales?

Who were the Big Women,  big is another way of saying respected, looked up to or important. Maybe they were human women with special skills such as prophecy or healing. Maybe they were mythological beings much like the oldest crone of Scotland the Cailleach.  As an artist I am drawn to the story of the lights and the bewitching elements as in Celtic belief water held the sacredness of the Goddess. Was the Loch throughout generations a sacred place – it is high up in the middle of the island and it’s quite a climb to get there but when you do take that pilgrimage you feel your entering into another realm.

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Views from around the Loch

While some people take holidays to Spain and sun themselves on beaches, I find myself scaling mountains answering an ancient calling.  May 2016 found me back on Eigg, again in one of the hottest days of summer. May is always a good time to visit anywhere in Scotland even although the beginning of the month may bring snow the midges haven’t arrived yet! This trip may turned out to be HOT and while I’d brought many layers I cursed quietly for not bringing a sun hat.  There are times when I see a snapshot of myself – i’m not lying on a beach in Spain but heading up to a mountain loch with the extra layer i’d packed now wrapped around my head as an attempt at shading myself from the sun. Finally after several visits over the years I’m making this trip alone and there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there is  barely a cloud in the sky.

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In the waters of the Loch of the Big Women – a perfect swirl of water between my feet

I’m not quite sure what this pilgrimage has in store but I’m following the call. I reach the loch and the sun is shining straight ahead of me as the water surface glitters in thousands of bright lights dancing on the surface. I sit and just be in this place soaking the silence and the sun then suddenly feel I’m being watched. I look around but can’t see anyone and then I realize it’s not folks from this world who are watching me its folks from the other world! I feel I’m being watched by women – maybe it’s the generations gone who honored the mythical Big Women or maybe it’s the Big Women themselves? Big I remind myself is another word for respect or look up to and maybe that’s who the Big WOmen were – seer’s or wise women who people traveled to in a time of personal crisis.

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Daughter of the North WInd

Then slowly is dawns on me what this pilgrimage requires and I’m a little taken back at the idea of submerging myself under the loch waters,  yet when the old ones beckon who am I to resist! And so gingerly I take off layers and while I’m surprised that the water is warm (it’s relatively shallow and has been warmed by the sun all day) the bottom of the Loch is covered in very small extremely sharp stones. I have visions of a brave me diving in under the surface of the water down into the depths of the middle of the loch but in actuality I’m terrified of water with dark peaty depths and so I gingerly step out to waist height water, take a deep breath and fully submerge myself under the surface. I look back on that split minute in my head with slow motion as if there were otherworldly eyes on the shore watching me and in the water with my as I submerged myself. I felt radiant when I emerged – as if I really had swam into the middle of the loch dove down and reclaimed some ancient treasure. I had reclaimed something – I had reclaimed a sense of purpose and deepened my connection and relationship with these old ones for in dark political times like these we need to create new ways of working and being in this world that are rooted in an ancient spiritual bedrock to keep us anchored and fed.

Join Us on a Journey to the Lands of the Big Women

Without roots we are lost and so this May a circle of women are taking a very special spiritual journey. A journey that will require some to cross an ocean and for all of us to take a train journey, one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world – the West Highland Way and travel through the heart of Scotland’s wilderness. Then we will leave mainland Scotland by ferry and cross the waters over to this little island where we will tap into the stories of the land and work with these ancient female forces so we can come back into the world replenished and inspired for the work that lies ahead.

In Part two of Scottish Amazon Women Rising we will be traveling as the crow flies its roughly ten miles to Tarskavaig on the Isle of Skye to the ruins of Dun Sgathaich Castle (Castle of Shadows) and once home to renowned Celtic warrior Scathach.

 

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Join Jude on her Ancient Mothers of Scotland Retreat which includes a visit to the Loch of the Big Women where there is an optional submergence ritual under the water which is a significant ritual in reclaiming lost parts of ourselves, in particular embracing our wild self and is an initiation, or a rededication to our own and unique ancestral soul path we take in this world.

 

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Article resources:

Dressler, Camille. (1998). Eigg The Story of an Island. Polygon, Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

Welcoming Breejah

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While i’m a long way from home (currently living in the Appalachians) I left out my Bhrat – my piece of cloth for Brighid to bless as she returned to the world on Imbolc eve. The fabric is Harris tweed from an Island of the Hebrides – known as Brighid’s Isles. How beautiful to see the dew form as crystals on the cloth. I think of tweed as the interviewing of prayers and honoring of the land it came from – the colors and the stories.

I was lucky enough to be given a wonderful supply of Harris tweed on my last trip home which I have been saving to create my own mantle, such as the protective mantle Brighid encompasses.

This weekend I’m looking forward to our Imbolc retreat exploring brighid and the psychology of the season and how we can take those traditions of Imbolc and doll making and stone medicine to support our journey around the wheel of the year.

Brighid’s stories and traditions are vast for they encompass a Goddess, a Saint and the figure of mary of the Gael – the true essence of the Goddess Brighid incorporated into the new religion of Christainity in a very different form of Celtic Christianity – where the beliefs of both worlds were practiced side by side.

I have always been drawn to the tales of Brighid that somehow are a little hidden or on the threshold and the theory of Brighid as Bear energy as honored by the earliest of peoples (and proposed by irish scholar Seamus Ó Cathain) is one which certainly fires my imagination.

Click below to read my essay The Great Bear Mother: A Journey with Brigit to the Ancient Dawn of Imbolc which was published in the anthology ‘Brigid: Sun of Womanhood’ by patricia Monaghan.

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Guided Meditation & Shamanic Journey

Take a journey between the worlds with this guided meditation & shamanic journey…Take some time, create sacred space and journey with Breejah!

Click on the image below, the file is hosted on Soundcloud

bear-woman-and_the_dream_child1995Image: Bear Woman and the Dream Child by Susan Seddon Boulet

Brighid Art in the Shop….

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Brighid ‘Brideog’ Doll – Click on image to view in shop

 

 

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Brighid Altar Wall Hanging – Featuring protective Brighid’s wheel/cross and pocket for offerings – Click on image to view in shop

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Brighid Altar Wall Hanging – With pocket for offerings & Brighid’s wheel/cross which offers protection to the house for the coming year. Click on the image to view in shop


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Flame Haired Brighid in Red Velvet – with Brighid’s cross/wheel

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Deer Priestess – click to view in shop

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Crow Wolf Priestess – click to view in shop

Brighid’s Wheels, Ritual and Snakes

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‘From the sacrificial fires of patriarchy, we must shift toward the burning fires within. From the burning fires of the Inquisitions, we must now turn towards authentic sources of empowerment by committing ourselves once again to becoming, daughters of Brigit’  

Mary Condren, Brigit SoulSmith for the New Millenium. 

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In this Celtic Soul School feature: 

The Psychology of Imbolc

Brighid’s Wheel – Ancient Symbol

Making a Paper Wheel

Using the Wheel in Ritual

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Goddess of the Threshold

Brighid’s Wheels, also called Brighid’s Crosses, are symbols of protection. They are traditionally placed above thresholds of the house, such as doorways and windows, to offer protection to those living in the house as well as offering protection to the physical structure of the house. Among her many attributes, Brighid is a goddess of thresholds, with tales of her mother giving birth at the threshold of the house.

Wheels are traditionally made on Imbolc eve using rushes or straw. At each Imbolc a new wheel was often hung in the rafters of the kitchen offering protection throughout the year. The old Wheel was either left in its place or taken outside and buried or burnt. Sean O Duinn explains it wasn’t unusual to come across houses with around 50 wheels in the rafters.

3-crosssnake-2-editThe Psychology of the Season

Imbolc, 1st February is Brighid’s festival and has numerous traditions of inviting Brighid into our homes and lives. Many rites took place over the threshold of the house where those outside would knock and ask if she was welcome, the reply being ‘she is welcome, she is welcome, she is welcome’. Each year my Imbolc ritual involves inviting Brighid in with her representing the light and life itself. Imbolc is a time in which many women take their vows,  their dedication to the wheel and of saying ‘yes’ to another year another cycle around the wheel. While we welcome Brighid in embodied by light yet if you live in the northern hemisphere at northern latitudes Imbolc can often feel as your plunged into a deeper darkness. This is the time of year that many old people who have survived the winter choose to die and let go.

The psychology of Imbolc can be one of worry and unease. I feel we have the hundreds of generations of ancestors feelings of Imbolc knitted into our bones – old worries if the sparse food resources would last much longer. Imbolc is the promise of new light but it is not yet spring as in my opinion the two snows we can be pretty much be guaranteed are in early November and early march. We too can be haunted with worries over ill friends, worries about paying the heating bill and maybe of lining up regular work. In our current political, environmental climate it seems we are in a permanent state of Imbolc, the worry and the unease being constant.

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An Ancient Symbol

Mary Condren, an Irish theologian, explains that it is likely that Brighid’s Wheel does not actually originate from Ireland but rather has an international ancestry. One main reason for her conclusion is that there are no instances of her symbol being etched on early pottery or stone.

   

In the middle of the Wheel (above), the central pattern forms a lozenge or diamond. Sean O Duinn notes that his shape is very similar to the symbol found on hundreds of early goddess figurines of Old Europe unearthed by Maria Gimbutas. Gimbutas concluded that the lozenge symbolized the sown field and the a dot or dash in its centre or in the corners was a symbolic invocation to secure fertility of the crops. Many ancient figurines are inscribed with this symbol, with some impressed with real grain. The symbol most similar to Brighid’s wheel is the lozenge within the lozenge, so Brighid’s wheel could go back as far as the Neolithic.

Lozenge and seed motif on Neolithic ceramic female figurine Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, ca. 5500-2750 BCE, Piatra Neamt Museum, Romania.

Types of Wheels

There are many types of Brighid’s Wheel, Sean O Duinn describes that different regions had their own style of Brighid’s Wheel, while some developed as ornate designs that were brought as decorations to church. Styles vary from the four or three armed or ‘swastika’ type to the diamond or lozenge type to a whole host of sheaf crosses.

The Wheel is similar to the swastika with four protruding arms which suggests the symbol is in motion. The Sanskrit meaning behind the swastika is symbol good fortune or well being. Variations on this sacred symbol can be found in many cultures, possibly originating in the Neolithic and found within Mayan, Native American, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainism, and Norse belief.

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A triple Goddess Brighid doll (Brighid and her two sisters) with wheel made from corn husk

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Making and Using Brighid’s Wheels

We can still make Brighid’s wheels and place them above the thresholds of the house for evoking Brighid’s protection over the coming year. They don’t have to be made from traditional rush or straw although I often use corn husks. Wheels can be made from paper, yarn, corn husks (as shown on the triple Brighid doll above), pipe-cleaners or wool.

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I like to use the paper ones for recording my own personal psychology at this time of the year. Using the paper ones to record what feeling of worries or general unease arise. Writing them down helps to acknowledge them and a better basis for beginning to work with them.

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I also like to make them from black card and then instead of writing you can use symbols and colors. There is no ‘right’ way to use wheels but as an artist and ritualist I like to explore ways of bringing these practices into my life. Wheels weren’t just for Imbolc as they were often given throughout the year in celebration given to a friend or to help them in hard times. You can explore using wheels from colors and shapes to varying materials. rom feelings of unease they can also be used to record what you wish to give life to in this coming year.

How to Make a Paper Wheel

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Step 1. Cut a rectangle shaped piece of paper into four equal lengths and then fold each strip in half

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Step 2. Lay our your first folded strip with the fold facing rightdsc_0036Step 3. Add the second strip feeding it through the first – fold facing downwards. When making a wheel you create it clockwise in the direction of the sun. dsc_0037Step 4. Add the third strip feeding it through the second – fold facing leftdsc_0038
Step 5. Add the forth strip feeding it through the third so it loops over the first
dsc_0041Step 6. Pull each of the ends in turn to tighten up your wheel

Personal Ritual

Where ever we are on the wheel I can often only make sense of things through ritual. Ritual doesn’t need to be some big grand organized affair, which can put many folks off, as it can be as simple as a silent gesture or some words around an action or intention. Ritual is my language, my way of making sense of things, they way to weave myself into the world and out onto the great invisible web that connects all things. From my breath and the stone I hold in my hand out to the furthest nebula exploding in the most beautiful colors ritual is my way of weaving it all together and making space for mystery.

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Quartz crystal, quartz stone and snake bones

In personal ritual I like to work with stones and natural objects and seeing it is Imbolc Brighid’s wheel can be a focus for lying all those things out into a representation of a gratitude, a prayer or request.

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Saint Brighid’s Cathedral is found in Kildare, Ireland where there are records of several orders of priestesses – we can’t say for sure that these priestesses (or nuns) at Kildare performed the same role at the Roman priestesses but as so much of the symbolism overlaps it does provide  light on the role of some of the possible rituals and features that may have been practised at Kildare. A perpetual lame used to burn there which was extinguished in the middle ages with the dissolution of the monasteries, but the flame was relit by the Brigidine Sisters in 1993.

The snake has always been associated with Brighid and there are theories that Kildare also may have been a cult centre for the serpent which it was thought were imported into Ireland as while popular myth says St Patick banished all the snakes (which was actually a metaphor for Pagans) snakes hadn’t existed in Ireland since the last ice age.

My Brighid’s wheel pictured above is adorned with snake bones.


screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-4-58-59-pmClick on the Etsy image to visit our shop for Brighid dolls and altars

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Click above to check out my online Brighid course exploring several traditions which involve invoking Brighid’s protection

Next week’s Imbolc post will explore the tradition of the ‘Bhrat Bhrighde’ which is laying out cloth on Imbolc eve for Brighid to bless as well as the tradition of the Brideog doll with instructions on how to make your own Brideog doll.
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For those in the Asheville, NC area check out out Imbolc weekend retreat – click on the image above

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Click on the logo above to join the school for free and keep up to date with workshops, courses and retreats as well as regular features as we travel the wheel of the year.

Resources referenced:

Condren, Mary. 1989. The Serpent and the Goddess. Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland. Harper Row, San Francisco, USA.

Condron, Mary. Mary Condren. Brigit SoulSmith for the New Millenium. Available via Academia.edu (you will have to register for a free account).

Gimbutus, Marija. 1982. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. University of California Press, USA.

Gimbutus, Marija. 1989. The Language of the Goddess. Thames and Hudson, USA.

O Duinn, Sean. 2004. The Rites of Brighid. Goddess and Saint. The Columba Press, Blackrock, Dublin, Ireland.

Weaving the Protection of Brighid – an online course

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This week long Goddess Activation course introduces several traditional ways of invoking Brighid’s protection, from creating a Brighid’s Wheels to casting the Caim. You will explore each of the six aspects, learning the history and then adapting and integrating them into your daily life. Each lesson is a journey in building and deepening your relationship with the Goddess Brighid through study, altars, guided meditation and personal rituals.

This is a go at your own pace course.

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Lesson 1

First we look at Brighid’s wheel (or cross). We explore its history and the different types of wheel. There are suggestions on what materials to use in the making of your own cross and some journal prompts to explore your relationship to the wheel.

Lesson 2

Our second lesson explores ‘smooring the fire’ prayers spoken softly as the fire was banked, keeping coal alive for the morning kindling. You’ll find suggestions in writing your own smooring and ways to fit it into your evening routine by crating a ceremony.

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Lesson 3

Next we’ll look at the Caim a protective prayer and outline how to cast the Caim, which then becomes a prayer/blessings.

Lesson 4

Here we explore Charms and how they were used by the Wise Women. Prompts encourage you to write your own.

Lesson 5

A guided meditation takes you back to the ancient grandmothers, the ones we are all related to. This begins with a”weave of the cave” ritual and then some drumming to send you out on your journey.

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Lesson 6

Here we explore the different types of Augury and in particular a type of Augury associated with Brighid.

Lesson 7

We cover clooties (often called Celtic prayer flags) how they are used and where they occur. You will learn a little history about the priestess of the well and ideas on creating your own clootie tree which you could incorporate into personal ritual.

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The Ancestral Soul Path

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Dancing with the Grandmothers. Deep in the Cave

The snow began falling yesterday afternoon here in the foothills of the Appalachians. All throughout the night it fell steadily and soundlessly. I got up before dawn and went outside for my morning ritual of whispering into the threshold that time when it’s not quite night yet not quite day. I feel those deep heart gratitudes and prayers leaving me and travelling out onto the shimmering strands of the great wide web, into the weaving hands of the ancient foremothers.

Deep in the Cave

This winter I have followed the lulling song of the energies of the plants and trees as they took their energy down deep into their roots. I too have burrowed deep into my cave and tended to my roots. Some days I sit by the fire and stare into the flames, other days I paint pictures of the bear grandmothers on the walls and watch them dance and sway when the flickering flames reflect on them. Other days I draw all the insights gathered from dream fragments, of whispers and those that fall with the glittering showers of snow, sometimes I stitch and sew and create wise women who wish to be born. It is is a rich time indeed if you can mange to stay undisturbed and nestled in the thick layers of darkness.
There is a path, an ancient path that walks the strands of the great cosmic web. It is the Ancestral Soul Path, one which thousands of generations of women have walked, danced, sung and woven deep magic into. It’s a path that walks the thresholds as it weaves in and out of this world and into the otherworld.

 

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The Ancient Mothers of Scotland Retreat

This May you are invited to join a tribe of like minded women and travel the Ancestral Soul Path on a spiritual journey to the Ancient Mothers of Scotland. This journey takes you on one of the top 3 spectacular train journeys in the world – the West Highland Way weaves through the beautiful wilderness of Scotland, framed by mountains, a journey where you often spot deer from the train. This journey takes you from the bustling city of Glasgow up to the coast at Mallaig where a short ferry ride takes you over to the Isle of Eigg.

Eigg’s Gaelic name is ‘Eilean nam Ban Mora’, which means Isle of the Big Women and it’s the magical realm of these myths and stories that forms the hearth for our time together. From tales of Amazon warriors and Pictish Queens to the Cailleach and Brighid, from hints of Holy Women, Brighid and the great Deer Goddess whose bones form the bedrock of these small isles.

Ritual & ceremony provide women with the opportunity to explore their personal intentions while engaging in shamanic arts such as doll making, singing and nature art and mapping our journeys fosters an exploration of insights and experiences.

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The Stone Planting Ritual

Employing programs such as Joanna Macy’s ‘Work That Reconnects’ participants have the opportunity to express their joy of living on this planet as well as the grief in what’s happening in this world and then through shamanic journeying ask future beings for their guidance and then commit to the work they already bring, or wish to bring to this world.

As we walk this path the land is our ever present companion in this process as we synchronize to her rhythms and ever changing faces. The central focus of the Ancestral Soul Path is to sit in circle as we gesture, tell stories within personal ritual as each women speaks her story into sacredness. This path is walks on ancient spiritual bedrock and offers a deeply transformative process – that blooms a unique bloom within every woman unique to her and her path in this world.

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There are days set aside for personal reflection – walking on the beaches or with art


 me in a mythcal landscape

Mapping our journeys on the Ancestral Soul Path

Our retreat itinerary covers:

Blessing by the Well of the Holy Women

Storytelling of the Ancient Mothers & the Big Women of Eigg

Honoring our Wild Self

Initiation to your own Ancestral Soul Path at the Loch of the Big Women

Joanna Macy’s program of the Spiral of Reconnection

Shamanic art – Doll Making, art in nature, mapping our journey

Walks to local sacred sites

Visit to a local working Croft and the Crofting Museum

Meet up with local women and an evening joining their singing group

Stone planting ritual

Ritual, ceremony and a Celtic Need Fire

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You can sign up for retreat updates – just click below for full details and for details of our evening talk on the retreat 2/16.

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