Singing for the Ghosts – Medicine Dolls for the Outcast Dead

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How many of our own ancestors have been labelled as outcast? How many of us feel this label even now? Not too long ago, it was very easy for a woman to be made outcast and the energy and fear of being outcast for women even now, is huge. Very often all you have to do is rebel against the conventions of society to be labelled as a threat. It is especially strong when we break society’s rules around sexuality – the ultimate ‘original sin’ for women.

All of this is presented to me daily in my work with swan blessing as I work with clients to bring healing and acknowledgement to their lineage and at the same time become aware of and clear old beliefs of the pas. But then all I have to do is turn on the television to see all of these old beliefs and shaming ways are still presented to us as normal by our media and governments. I won’t lie, it troubles me. Sometimes it depresses me. But over the years I have found a way that helps me to make peace with the present and the past – to make offerings to the outcast dead. I often leave medicine dolls at natural places of great beauty – mountains and springs. But I have also begun leaving and sending dolls to places where ugly things have happened in the past. I believe that by sending our love and healing to these dark places we can re-enchant the earth and the bones of our ancestors.

In Melbourne, Australia I focussed much of this work on trying to heal and acknowledge the spirits of the women and children who were incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries for being wild and ‘fallen women’ (usually meaning pregnant). A girl could find herself in this institution just for being too free-thinking, running away from home or even because she was simply already an orphan – can you imagine being punished again for being without family?  Those girls were locked up until until they were women and made to work in the laundries without pay. This was done to women over a century ago and was continued right up until the 1970’s.

And so I am writing not only about the dead but about the many, many women who are still living with the memories of these institutions RIGHT NOW. I for one could have very easily have found myself in a similar place. I was just lucky enough to be born a little later, not much later but enough to have left home as a teenager and been left alone to make my own way. I believe the story of these incarcerations for being ‘fallen women’ are all our stories. We are all touched by them in some way or another – they live in us too.

I have been very moved and educated about the truth behind these practices by a talented and incredibly brave Australian artist, Rachael Romero  who was incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries at the Covent of the Good Shepherd in South Australia in the 1970s. Her work rips at my heart and makes me cry but inevitable tells me the truth and this helps me to be stronger. To stand up and want to do something about it.

I have worked with living survivors but most of all I work with the spirits of these women and children. I am very passionate about letting those spirits know that they are not worthless or unloved or unwelcome as they had been told. I wanted them to know that we remember them, that we love them and that they have ancestors waiting for them too. I shared this work in a public way finally in 2013. It took all my courage to stop doing this work silently and I’m so glad I did because many of my sisters with such beautiful big medicine came to assist me. You can read more about this work I called Femmina Unbound at the Magdalene Laundries here in Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.

I have always had a desire to help find and bring home the lost. Lost spirits and lost parts of our own spirits. The doll you see below is called BirdGirl of the Shetland Islands and she has the spirit of an owl – a night-time creature known for her wisdom and insight, and she is dressed in fibres from the Shetland Islands that beautiful wild Scottish land and pure Australian merino wool. She has a hand blown glass bone that sits over her heart and a quartz crystal with blood red inclusions over her womb. And so now I come full circle back to work with the spirits of the Outcast Dead. She was created for the women and children, the wild ‘Geese’ of the Crossbones Graveyard in London. I became aware of this graveyard 3 years ago as I was preparing to hold the ceremony for the girls of the Magdalene Laundries. The spirits of the Geese were speaking to me within the same group of the Magdalenes.

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And recently I was contacted by one of the amazing founders of the Cross Bones Graveyard, writer, poet and all round magical woman, Jacqueline Woodward-Smith. She found me through my writing on Deer medicine and the Antlered Women (I love the weaving!). Three years ago I wrote this piece below for our blog when I discovered the Cross Bones graveyard:

RIP the Outcast Dead
Re-Enchanting The Crossbones Graveyard

Sometimes, when Tony is asked to come out to do a clearing on someone or to clear spirit attachment from their home, it is not the person or building that is ‘haunted’ or unhappy, it is the land itself. The land carries histories of human life beyond what we can see with our eyes and much further back in time than the current residents can remember. This is when Tony is called to speak with the spirits of the earth and to clear and honour the traumatic events that have happened there so that the current tenants can live in harmony and peace. In our current culture we have not been taught to understand that we are residing on a living organism – the body of the Earth. Just as we carry emotional and physical scars long after a traumatic event, the spirit of the land also carries energetic wounds. We have found that very often what is required is an honouring of the event and the souls that were involved, quite simply, what is needed is for us to acknowledge and remember.
An example of this honouring can be found at what is known as The Cross Bones Graveyard in London. In operation at around 1598, it was a graveyard that the church would not consecrate because it was for the hundreds of young prostitutes known as the Winchester Geese. Ironically and terribly they were known as the Winchester Geese because they were actually licensed by the Bishop of Winchester as the church held so much power in London at the time. So they were in effect, licensed and managed by a church that would not bless the ground that they were buried in – damned in life and damned in death. In the victorian era it was known as a pauper’s graveyard and at the time of closing in 1853 it was ‘completely overcharged with the dead’. Long since forgotten and neglected, it was only during excavations in 1991 that it was rediscovered.What you see in the image below are the honourings and blessings for the forgotten Winchester Geese. And this was all made possible by the work of playwright, John Constable who together with a small informal local group, Friends of Cross Bones, fought to save it from redevelopment and to honour it for the very first time as a sacred space. In the image below you see many names on ribbons, naming the women and children buried here. John Constable has also written The Southwark Mysteries, a cycle of poems and mystery plays inspired directly by the spirit of a ‘Winchester Goose’.Now this site is open for visitors to pay their respects and to finally remember the Outcast Dead and because of it, this sacred site has been re-enchanted and become a place of positivity and healing. Just as your own spirit yearns for re-enchantment, for the honouring of it’s sacred essence, so does the land that we live on. She needs your love too.Here is a link to the full post with photos and videos
I am over the moon to find a sister like Jacqueline – in the first photo I ever saw of her she was holding a Swan smudging fan outside the gates of the Cross Bones Graveyard – I really couldn’t believe it – so many synchronicities between us.  Sometimes we can feel so alone in our work, like we are scrambling around in the dark and then you find a sister on the other side of the world doing very similar work. I’d love to see a similar permanent place of honouring and love at the gates of the Magdalene Laundries where we can come and leave tributes and remember and sing for them too.I am sending the BirdGirl to a dear friend who will meet with Jacqueline to sing as she gifts the doll to the spirits of the wild Geese and sing over the bones of the graveyard. In a way she will be a part of me there until I can make it in person later this year. I am excited to be doing this work and planning a new ancestral trip with Tony to visit Scotland and England. We hope to share Swan Blessing work with our sisters and brothers across the ocean and also hold medicine doll workshops too.  A singing over the bones journey to our ancestors or the ‘caves and graves tour’ as I keep telling Tony.Here is a link to the Cross Bones Facebook page where you can join in vigils and events and if you are in London you should pop in.

I share this today to hopefully inspire you to make small acts of your own, offerings of love and acknowledgement to our ancestors especially those who were told they were outcast. In our small ways we can call them back into the circle of our lineage. The healing is for us all.

Sacred Familiar new moon offering

Soulskin Poetry for the Magdalenes

Photo: Kylie ‘Ma Bower’








Fragments of Light Returning

Such a gentle and holy reclamation
of power and birthright,
so exquisitely feminine and encompassing,
allowing the deep grief to gently swell and fall
knowing the futility of drowning in the depths
of the horror of withheld love,
only humbly touching the edges
of that unfathomable pain
of lives lived in such shadow.
So gently we danced,
like fragments of light
upon the surface of the well,
summoning that which longed to move
from that place beneath,
from the deep waters.
As we summoned our strength
from the wellsprings of memory,
through  the dappled sunlight of ancient green
forests of the heart,
seeking the seer,
reclaiming the word,
reforming the container,
stronger now and more true.
A radiant gathering of pilgrims we were,
with brimming hearts and a myriad of colours
displayed in our feathers,
in the twinkling eye 
and the joy of our togetherness,
the sweetness of it a flame 
so artfully tended
by that Lady of the Swan,
she of the water and the word,
awakening.
We journeyed deep, deep into the past
and returned ancient and wise
and more free than we had been when we left,
we returned with animal companions,
a wild menagerie in our midst,
and with us the wise ones of our blood-lines,
all gathering, strong and open,
to aid the passage of the women and children
of the Magdalene Laundries.
With a raucous reverence we walked,
we drummed and we rattled,
we danced and we sang.
Beloved sister the beacon 
and shepherd of our song.
Our bejeweled feet thumping their love
through the foundations
to caress the bones that lay below.
Gathering into the heart of our mighty sound
the lost and the silent,
the trapped and forgotten ones,
the ululation of our feelingness
enlivening the air
awakening the unseen
and calling them to return
as we wind our way back now,
to the ancient river, sparkling.
The trees bending close to hear,
swaying and dancing with the glistening sunlight,
their celebration and resonance
with this timely passage of freedom.
Our voices still entwining,
weaving the warp and the weft of the basket
that would be their boat.
And by the waters edge,
our taproots entwining with the roots
of that vast and ancient tree of life
in the heart of the Earth, our Mother.
Silent now, deep in the medicine of this mystery,
the sole voice, so intimately sweet,
the song resounding from she
who is so strong to be so soft and still be heard.
And we feel them finding their own way now,
the one’s that would come,
the Magdalenes, the forgotten ones,
home to the Waiting One’s,
the air alive with the subtle vibrations of their release,
the bindings falling free,
the light returning to that which has dwelt
so long in the shadow.
Wordless now and feeling the fine filaments of love,
entraining the universe,
as though there was suddenly more room
for sunlight and love,
more room for forgiveness
and fearless becoming.

Lucy Pierce © 201
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Lucy is the artisan who created the sculptures of mother and child in the centre of our medicine circle at the convent. You can see more of her living sculptures (to me they look like they are almost breathing), exquisite poetry and artisan treasures at Soulskinmusings and www.lucypierce.com.

‘Together’ by Lucy Pierce 

Spiral of Women’s Medicine in the Magdalene Laundry

At the centre – sculptures by Lucy Pierce
Photos by Kylie ‘Ma Bower’

On sunday, the first day of Spring I sat in a medicine circle with sisters from all over Australia who had been called to come and assist the spirits of the women and children of the Magdalene Laundries at Abbotsford Convent here in Melbourne. It was a day I will never forget, a day when we saw right in front of our eyes, the power and healing magic of Women’s Medicine.

I believe this is the new way for the Medicine Women. This new medicine way is not concerned with complicated ritual, hierarchy and authority outside of our spirit. Instead, we simply asked for permission. Permission from the Aboriginal ancestors of the land, permission from the Magdalenes themselves and permission from the Grandmothers who we were there to assist the young girls and children home. The new medicine way is actually the ancient medicine way of lovingly bringing intention, focus and simple action to what is in need of love and change. These simple and small drops of love from each of the medicine women given without ego flowed into the large blessing bowl that our gathering created. And this blessing bowl, created by the flesh of our own bodies as we sat in circle became filled with water, a pool of love stronger than any memory of history or binding beliefs.  
There were so many radiant moments on this day but I will never forget the gift of song from all my sisters and the songs that were channeled and gifted especially for this day by Lisa Mitchell and Kaggi Valentine. Lisa opened the circle with her song ‘Thank You for Being Here’ and I felt it created an opening of all of our hearts – a reminder that we are all innocent and tender at the heart. Kaggi brought the fire into our opened hearts as we stepped into the cold cement building of the actual Magdalene Laundry. And in this space of such previous pain, imprisonment and enforced silence a spontaneous chant began to burst forward leading to drumming and dancing, loud singing. We danced our own freedom dance for the Magdalenes, we sang for the silenced ones, we brought our fire to light that dark place. Here Kaggi began her chant received for the Magdalenes from the ancient women who came from a time way before the distorted beliefs and restrictions that bind the Sacred Feminine in our world now.
Ancient shadows of women spiraling
through the coils of time,
we are part of those women spiraling…
with the song of the land,
and the dance of the moon inside.
Chant received and sung by Kaggi Valentine 
Singing this chant, we proceeded to move down through the convent grounds, we drummed and singing out loud to honour the memory of the Magdelenes publicly to let them know that they did not belong in the shadow and to sing for them in the open sunshine. This beautiful line of singing medicine women snaked through the gardens and the weekend visitors to move through the trees and down to the Yarra River. At this ancient water source, we began our final work of the day – calling from the convent buildings and surroundings any spirits who had stayed too long, who were afraid, who had been forgotten. We called them down to the River, down to the Water, to be embraced by the Grandmothers and guided Home. 
My deepest thanks and gratitude to all of the women who joined us both in body and spirit at this collective healing. What did we do? We did our best. My heart is full to see your radiant return Wise Medicine WOmen.

For all of our sisters living in Queensland I will be opening a new Femmina Unbound dreaming circle for the return of the Medicine WOmen beside the sacred springs of Grail Haven on Mt Tamborine on Saturday 12th October.

Femmina Unbound – Return of the Medicine Women on Mt Tamborine QLD

Lisa Mitchell gifting her song 

‘Going Home’ by sculptor, Pauline Clayton outside the convent gates
“A tribute to the young women and children/ who have made epic journeys/ to return to home and country.”

There is a light on in the Magdalene Laundries

In the last 2 months, Tony and I have been making journeys to the Magdalene Laundries preparing the dreaming well for Femmina Unbound at the Convent. And every time we visit we see something that seems to be signaling that we are not alone in our wish to heal this site and the spirits of the women and children here. On one visit we discovered beautiful light sculptures inside the laundries themselves as part of an exhibition called Globelight. As we viewed them in silence I felt it was a powerful metaphor that an exhibition bringing light to this place was scheduled right before the workshop. Some powerful symbology here of the spiral, the spider-web and the wooden pyre crowned with a halo.

Femmina Unbound – Medicine Women Return

We are all Medicine Women and we will gather at Femmina Unbound to do a conscious collective release of generational binding on our wisdom at the site of the Magdalene Laundries. If you are feeling the pull to join us but are feeling afraid, I urge you to step through your fear. This day will be a gentle shamanic release of vows and beliefs that are anchored in the past. This workshop may be already bringing up a lot of old fears and memories from both present and past lives as well as lineage of memory from our grandmothers and their grandmothers. On this day we will focus on clearing the binding of fear from not only our own spirits, but those of our ancestors and the spirits of the land. Reclaiming Ancestral Medicine. We Are Free. 
Book your ticket here.

Sinead O’Connor – Response to the Magdelene Laundries Report


SINGER Sinead O’Connor has sent the following letter to The Irish Post. It is her response to the apology by The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity concerning the treatment of women in their care. “I have written the below open letter to The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in response to their published apology upon release of the Magdalene Laundries report,” said Sinead, who as a teenager spent time in a Catholic institution for shoplifting and truancy.
Dear Sisters,
I am one of the very few who can say with my hand on my heart that the time spent time in your institution at High Park in Drumcondra, saved my life.
It was named An Grianan, and is named so in The Residential Institutions Redress Act, where An Grianan is listed first, should there be any doubt as to whether or not An Grianan (the house of the rising sun) was a residential institution.
It was the very place indeed which gave the name ‘Magdalene Laundries’ when sometime after I left in 1984 the land was sold and some builders digging up the ground found many graves, all marked only ‘Magdalene’.
During the time I spent there the girls used to say they saw a ghostly white lady crossing the garden. I laughed and mocked them. Until the day I heard about the graves.
Sister Margaret who was in charge during the time I was there was the number one greatest thing that had up until that time ever happened to me in my life. She loved me as if I was own daughter.
Specifically she loved me because I was rebellious. She knew I had a good heart. Now that I have grown I think she saw in me the girl that she would like to have been had she not been herself a slave of the theocracy. the epilogue to the Magdalene story will be how much in fact some of you ladies were as much slaves of the theocracy as the girls were. Your stories have yet to be told.
Sister Margaret bought me my first guitar and saw music would save my life and told me to go from my dreams and to know that God was always with me and she even bought me a parka coat like all the punk rockers had, from a punk rock shop in Dublin called No Romance. The woman was an angel.
However I must state that while my experience in your institution was good for me I saw something absolutely appalling happen there to someone else and I felt very sad last night when I saw the wording of the apology you published in response to The McAleese Report on The Magdalene Laundries.
You said: “It is with deep regret that we acknowledge that there are women who did not experience our refuge as a place of protection and care.”
What I saw happen to a girl I loved in your institution deserves a much more specific response. Not least because her experience is not an isolated case. She is one of many girls who had similar experience in institutions all over the land.
The McAleese report is incorrect when it states that there is no evidence to support that women ever had babies in institutions.
Indeed on the night the report was published a woman who was born in an institution and taken from her mother a told her story.
In the Irish Times of Wednesday, February 6, 2013 On page four, there is an interview with a lady named Patricia Burke Brogan. She states she was a novice with the Sisters of Mercy in the Galway laundry. She left because she could not stand to see the women being locked up
She states: “When I asked the superior why they weren’t let out she said ‘oh if you let them out they’ll be back here in no time pregnant again’. AGAIN is the key word here.
In fact babies were often born in institutions and laundries. And often they were taken from their mothers against their mothers will.
I witnessed this happen to my friend in your specific institution. I really feel she deserves something better than you regret she didn’t experience your refuge as a place of protection and care.
My friend was 17 years old. She was pregnant and we all were with her and she was happy and so were we. My friend is the only woman that I ever met in my life that I could justifiably call a true lady.
She became pregnant whilst under the care of your institution in fact. and went joyously through the pregnancy with us there. I am not the only witness to these events.
She had a baby boy. Black hair and skin so white he shimmered palest blue, like a little Krishna.
She adored him she minded him and loved him and fussed over him and was the best mother I have ever seen in her precise ways of caring for his every possible comfort. He was her lamb. Her Christ. The light of her life. And he was also and remains a little tiny light of mine. Which is why I am writing This letter.
One morning I woke to hear my friend screaming. And I ran out of my cubicle I saw her surrounded by two or three nuns. I can’t quite remember how many. They tore my friends baby from her arms. She struggled, I tried to help as did others. Her desperate beggings and pleadings and screams were ignored. She was physically overpowered as was I and the other girls and the baby was gone. With no trace of where he went.
Again I state for the record I am only one of several witnesses to this event.
If there is true regret on your part that your institution was not a place of refuge could you please compose a more suitable response to this particular incident.
I am certain that my friend will have been gutted by the composition of the ‘apology’. Which flicks a flaccid wrist, frankly at her experience.as if it isn’t of consequence .
If you are regretful. Produce the man who was that baby. And if the Church generally is regretful. Let ye produce all the stolen babies.
And if Enda Kenny means it when he says the state intends to fully support these women for the rest of their lives and is regretful himself. Let him produce my friend’s son. And records of all the stolen children and where they went and where their children are now.
Yes the state should say sorry. But they were the dirty worker for the Church. And the Church thinks it looks like the good guy now with these so called apologies. No. It doesn’t wash. You need to go back to whomever authority composes these apologies and ask they specifically respond to this case please.
Yes you can say ‘the law was you couldn’t keep your baby if you were unmarried and under 18′. But it is for the police to enforce laws. Not the clergy. And police never tore babies from their mothers arms. Indeed they never had the power to when they should have had it, while Irish children were being savaged by clergy and theocracy.
Answer this.. Why were the nuns and not the police enforcing the laws of the land ?
I regret to say I have several friends who were never in an institution yet had their babies stolen by clergy at hospitals when they went for a shower. None of my friends that this happened to were given any choice in the matter. Indeed they were not even informed of what was to take place until after it had taken place.
Enda Kenny I admire you greatly. I hope you don’t let me down. What do you have to say about the state’s Compulsory removal of the children of un-married mothers under the age of 18? Please explain to me why the police were not the ones enforcing this law.
It is highly important the state acknowledge that it in plain terms. And apologise for that.
Sinead O’Connor

Medicine Women Return for the Magdalenes

Tonight I have opened this shamanic dreaming pool for the girls, the women, and the babies of the Magdalene Laundries / Asylum at Abbotsford Convent I have been asked by so many women if this workshop is open to everyone. YES! We are all worthy to be called Medicine Women. Each of us carries a sacred essence that is unique to our spirit, wise and powerful. Together we can perform such a deep collective healing at this site of previous female suffering. With our love and our voices, we will sing this site into a place to honour Feminine Wisdom.

Return Medicine Women – bring your love here.