I have been following the Wheel of the Year for almost 30 years. Within those years I have viewed the wheel very differently which reflects many of the changes I myself have gone through. While I grew up with the Celtic wheel the inspiration of my wheel is the four Celtic festivals and the four pre-Celtic festivals. I weave in the inspiration of my relationship to the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland, the foremothers of my own lineage – the mtDNA Xenia Clan, a descendent from Mitochondrial Eve (Sykes 2001) and the lineage of both sides of my family are from Western Ireland and the lineage of the megalithic builders, descendants of the hunter-gatherers of Europe.
I think of the wheel as a great path, one which holds the stories, myths and a deep inspiration of the season. As a doll maker, these creations hold that vision and inspiration for they are vessels which hold the ancestral connection, the story of my foremothers.
The Cailleach – Needle felted doll by Jude Lally
I have probably changed my favorite point on the wheel as many times as I have traveled around the wheel. When I was younger I was all about the wild Beltane festival and in the last few years, I enjoy the stillness of Winter Solstice and the Equinoxes which mark our descent and emergence from the dark of the year. At each equinox, the morning sun shines into Carin T at Loughcrew, Ireland – known as the Hill of the Witch or the Cailleach. This cairn is connected to the great Hag – the Cailleach, the great horned kerbstone is said to be her ancient seat. It is she who marks this imaginary still point, a balance point as we begin our descent into the dark. It is if the great hag herself marks the thresholds in and out of the dark of the year through an imaginary balance point a still point which we could view as our own invitation to consider what do we want to walk with for the rest of the year. What did we work with throughout the dark of the year through our rituals and dreams and what have we worked with that we are actually now able to leave behind.
In the dark of the year, we retreat to our caves, the cave of the sleeping she-bear. It is a place that many women come to throughout the dark as they dream with the great bear and come to be with the wise woman – those most ancient foremothers of the bear.
The Green of the World and the Bear
I begin the descent into the dark with a ritual in which I line a great black clay cauldron and put in a small green doll. She represents the green vitality of the world which returns back to its roots over the dark months. Alongside the green doll, I place a bear, who at this time is preparing to enter into hibernation. While the bear only walks the land in spirit in Scotland this gesture is to honor all the women who honored her. She holds a most ancient spark of the Goddess Brighid – and so my bear is marked with gold, fiery swirls. If you had come across a sleeping bear hibernating she might have appeared dead for her breathing and heart rate was slowed to almost undiscernable levels. To ancient peoples, it would have been an act of deep magic that not only did she come back to live in the spring, but she often would have cubs with her. As she emerged with new life it may have seemed that her emergence brought new life back to the land (Lally 2013).
Emerging From the Cave
Now at Spring Equinox, it is time to take out the great cauldron. In a gesture of ritual, I look over the writings and drawings and the art made in the dark of the year this way I see what it is I can finally leave behind and what ideas were planted deep in the darkness and are stirring towards the light. I take out the bear and the little green doll – which represents the green vitality returning to the land as me myself emerges from the dark and returns to the outward life.
Grandmother Dolls – A place to hold the intentions of working with the energies of Spring Equinox
A Reminder of the Dark
Through the business of the warmer months, the heat and the so-much-to-do days I like to have a symbol of my time in the cave and a reminder that I can return there any time to visit the ancient Grandmothers and ask for their insight and wisdom – so at Spring Equinox I make a Grandmother doll. This doll is my reminder of my connection to my foremothers and they hold all manner of charms and talismans and little glass jars with small scrolls of paper on which I’ve written things that are only between myself and the Grandmothers. They adorn a wall or sometimes hang outside under a full or dark moon.
Celtic Soul Crat is about to undergo a big transformation. We are changing our name, our website and relaunching this fall. We will be offering a year-long Wheel of the Year online course which is woven with the folklore, stories, inspiration and creativity of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland – and all the dolls, stories and insights mentioned in this article.
Click on the logo to join our mailing list to keep up to date with our changes. While we’ll be pretty quiet over the summer we will be posting a series of Travel Stories from our time home in Scotland with the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland annual retreat on the Isle of Eigg.
Sykes, Bryan. 2001. The Seven Daughters of Eve. The Science that Reveals our Genetic Ancestry. W.W. Norton & Company, USA.
Lally, Jude. 2013. The Great Bear Mother: A Journey with Brighid to the Ancient Dawn of Imbolc. Contained in: Monaghan, P and McDermott, M, (Eds), Brighid: Sun of Womanhood. Goddess Ink, USA. Pgs 10-16. You can read this essay here