Your Invitation to a May Monday

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It’s monday. Imagine a monday this may looking out to this view. Picture yourself on a beautiful Scottish Island – one with a rich mythology rooted in legends of ancient powerful women.

 

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Feel the cool crystalline clear waters that have bubbled up from the depths into the Well of the Holy Women as it touches your forehead as you receive a welcome to the island and a personal blessing for your time here

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For your time on this island your role is simply to just be, to listen to the stories of the land and engage with these ancient energies through ritual and ceremony


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and switching off the head grab art materials as you get into that zone that seems outside of everyday time…


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Imagine a day when your only agenda was to walk along pristine sands, maybe a spot of beachcombing and peer at the curious creatures of rockpools

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Watch as twilight paints the land in very different colors. Enjoy a twilight that lasts until 11pm, hours after the sun went down which really feels as if it’s bringing you into a world between worlds.

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Leave this place renewed, rejuvinated, inspired and knowing that wherever you are in the world your roots stretch down and are fed by the bedrock of these Ancient Mothers.

If you’d like to join our Ancient Mothers of Scotland retreat this week is the time to book your place and secure it with a deposit.

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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.

 

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


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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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Doll Making on the Ancient Mother’s of Scotland Retreat

AM collageThe Ancient Mothers/Ancestral Mother dolls – Deer Goddess, Clutha, cailleach, Brighid. 

I hated dolls as a child. I found them eerie and to be truthful I didn’t know what to do with them. Fast forward a good few decades across an ocean to another continent – how did I end up a doll maker? I remember a distant aunt once giving me a doll – I didn’t know what to do with it. I did the only thing I could think of I cut off her hair and as I waited for it to grow back she received a set of full body tattoos. I loved playing with toy animals and their stable, I even had an invisible dog but I just didn’t understand dolls.

When I first arrived in Asheville (NC) seven years ago I went to volunteer with a local group called Our Voice a non profit supporting survivors of sexual abuse. While I practically couldn’t be a volunteer I ended up running a series of workshops. Now here’s a bit of syncronicity – many years ago before I could even point to NC on a map I met a woman via a photography site. It was several years before we met in person and guess where she lives – Western North Carolina. I signed her up for a doll making workshop then when she wasn’t able to run the class I learned doll making from her to run the class myself. I headed up to her town on the Tennessee border in the sweltering summer and there we created magic with wool.

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Breejah – My first doll

Breejah (pictured above) is my first doll and when she emerged from the wool she announced her name was Brighid. Hmmm – the Brighid I asked? Yes she replied with her dark skin and dreadlocks. I was expecting Brighid to have pale porcelain Irish hue and the flaming red hair. Breejah and I have travelled a lot and she has guided me to many places and shown and taught me many things.

Doll making is my exploration with different deities, they almost call out from the wool to be made. My relationship is in the making, in the co-creating. I’m curious about this place we interact with, is it the ultimate source? (however you wish to name it?). Dolls are powerful tools and I see our ancient foremothers as doll makers with figures like the woman of Willendorf. I love to think of the intentions and rituals as the ancient made their dolls.

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My Cailleach doll by the Loch of the Big Women on the Isle of Eigg

On the Ancient Mother’s of Scotland retreat we will be making a doll. I hope to get some local wool we can use. Our dolls will be born of our own intentions, gratitudes and prayers. They might be adorned with special shells, hold small little glass vials with sand or holy water. They might have the wild hair o the Cailleach, antlers of the Deer Goddess, hold vials of sacred water or ashes of our sacred fire. Dolls are sacred vessels, they can be our focus for our relationship with the ancient mothers. They are altars for offerings and gratitudes for requests and intentions.

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Click on the doll image above to read my essay Radical Doll Making From Willendorf to Today: The Relevance of an Ancient Tradition 

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Click on the image of the book above to learn more about the anthology my essay is published in as well as reviews and ordering information. 

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Click on the above image to view the retreat itinerary

The Mother of all Retreats!

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Do you ever feel a deep longing – one your soul yearns to answer?
Come join us on a shamanic journey with the Ancient Mothers.
Pack your antlers, your drum, your passion, your grief …

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An altar to the Ancient Mother’s

Under skies of magical twilight we will shape-shift each night into our true selves – the ones who are fluent in magic and ritual and understand the language of the landscape, the birds, the four leggeds and all those we share our spaces with. We will come together in circle like generations of our foremothers did and stretch our roots down where we meet the Ancient Mothers. With stone and claw and water and antler we will dance between the worlds to the song of the universe – and renew each and every cell.
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We will fill our baskets with that magic, let it inspire and shape us. Let that creative force move through us – through our souls and our hands.

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With song and art, insight and silence we will let the Ancient Mothers talk, sit with them in circle and let them kindle our fires.

 

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The Deer Goddess Cometh

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The drum became a heartbeat, drawing me deeper into the earth. Down past peaty layers, past ancestor bones, down, down, down. I emerged in a tunnel, deep with the mountain. Huge rib bones formed the curvature of the tunnel, I walk stretching out my arms to feel the walls, feet gingerly and slowly following each other.

I emerged into darkness , yet sensing a vastness. Slowly my feet begin to dance, a dance to bring all of the world into being, a dance to birth the world into being. As I danced I became skeletal, with tall antlers, wrapped in a black cloak whose layers are infinite. I am aware of both ‘me’ existing within this ancient creature.

 I am dancing,  like a conductor commanding the sun to rise, guiding it up across its pathway until it sinks in the west. As the sun dips and we enter into twilight I look up to the stars but they aren’t familiar – and so I dance, with sweeping movements until they are in their right positions. She danced for the moon to rise again plotting its course out across the sky, leading it towards setting. Days and nights flashed by, the sunlight marked like a stobelight before darkness came, impossibly fast. She continued to dance this bone mother, as I waved my  skeletal hands, conducting the path of the sun, moon and stars over the seasons – creating their sky routes.

The she stepped back, as if observing her work, turning her attention to the land. With one swoop of her hand the land was in winter’s grip, white and frozen. Stretching out her long skeletal fingers, she ushered a thaw and a green emerged from the great melt. The green then intensified, then slowly died back into a burst of orange and browns before the white took over again. The came ice ages, impossibly fast – covering this land in ice miles thick, then a great melting. She danced a dance of color, over and over as if well rehearsing the seasons, ensuring each happened at their right sequence. At times I was merged with her, in her eternal dance, dancing to bring fish to the loch, she danced to bring in great clouds from the west, who released their rain when they met the great mountain. Water trickled down the mountainside in small tributaries, gathering in streams until they poured into the loch. It was there in the peaty darkness of the loch waters I really saw my reflection, long curved antlers above an elongated deer skull. I knew this was simply a form she was wearing, for she is formless and has existed before time.

Suddenly she bounded off from the top of the mountain and in a few leaps landed on the islands off the west coast of Scotland. I lost sight of her but could see her leap high from island to island. I felt bored, alone and wondered why, realizing as there was no-one else, this was a time before ancestors, no people had yet stood anywhere on the planet. This deer goddess is a creatrix, she was weaving life, creating the patterns, weaving the luminous strands out over the land.

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Then people came, these were the people who followed the reindeer. They wove their own stories to the land, following the luminous strands the great goddess had embedded in the earth.

Among these reindeer people were the women who wear the deer skins, adorning themselves with reindeer antlers, around fire they give thanks and present their offerings to the creatrix. They are the deer priestesses, the ones who can still feel the presence of the old one. The ones who on moonlit nights climb in pilgrimage to the top of Ben Lomond and dance her ancient dance under the full moon. Their steps following her steps – steps that take them between the worlds, and in that dance they dance their intention into the star patterns, and down into the luminous strands which carry out throughout the network out over the earth.

The deer goddess watches, she is old, oh so old and tired. As she lays down, her bones sink into the great mountain. She dissolves into the luminous stands and is aware of every living thing. Her rib bones form the walls of a tunnel – a sacred place where others will travel in order to talk to this most ancient deity.

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