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

Into the ForestWild – Medicine Doll for the Magdalenes

Wildgirl Shadow healer medicine doll by Sacred Familiar

Sometimes people ask me what to do with their medicine dolls once they receive them and that’s a hard question to answer because the relationship you have with your own doll is so personal and really the way of working with your doll is limited only by your imagination. So today I thought I would share a story of a particular doll that I call WildGirl and how she helped me to let go of fear.

Over my time of making dolls I have made a few for my own personal use. It only happens rarely and I’m often surprised when they make themselves known. I created WildGirl at a dollmaking workshop that I held at Winter Solstice last year in the forest. When I teach I begin a doll to show the early steps to creating her head and her body, really very basic. I then leave everyone to weave their dolls in their own way. WildGirl was this ‘example’ doll. When I got home I was unhappy with WildGirl because she just didn’t seem to be looking ‘right’. Right? She didn’t look the way I wanted her to look and strangely she rarely wanted to be seen. I kept her in a basket with my dolls that I was making for others and forgot about her.

One of my oldest childhood friends, Chris, came to visit and he looked at my dolls and noticed WildGirl and asked who’s this? He was fascinated. I told him that I didn’t know what to do with her. She just didn’t seem to work somehow. As I held her in my hands and turned her around Chris said stop! She had her back to us and he said that’s how she wants to be seen from behind. And he was right. She was much happier not showing her face, she was wild and didn’t like to be looked at. That helped me to connect and feel more understanding of her spirit and I kept her with my personal dolls and didn’t think too much about it.

Wildgirl Shadow healer medicine doll by Sacred Familiar

medicine doll by sacred familiar

A couple of months later I was preparing to hold a ceremony at the site of the Magdalene Laundries at the Abbotsford Convent here in Melbourne and I was feeling a lot of deep emotions not only about the spirits of the women and children who had been held there but also about my own ability to be able to help them with our ceremony. The Magdalene Laundries were terrible places set up to house and incarcerate young women and girls who were deemed to be too wild, who were orphans, or sometimes simply unwanted. They were termed ‘fallen girls’ and I had been feeling the stories and spirits of these women for years. I knew that if I had lived in those times, I could have easily ended up in one of these places. In fact, many of us would have been doomed to the same plight simply by having a strong spirit, different spiritual views or simply for being regarded as a ‘temptation’. Hard to believe, isn’t it? And so last year I realised that I couldn’t ignore these voices any longer and in a small way, I wished to gather with lots of other sisters to somehow let the women know that they had never done anything wrong, that they were loved and that there was a home for them in the spirit world.

I booked The Linen Room in the Convent for the first day of Spring for this ceremony and as the day approached I felt more and more fear – was I actually allowed to do this? Could I hold this kind of energy and process of grieving that would come? It shows just how deep the control of authority has been experienced in this lifetime and the past doesn’t it, that deep unconscious fear of being stopped or even arrested for speaking out and organising our own way of healing history? Six weeks before the ceremony I decided that I didn’t want to be controlled by my fear and that to hold this space for the other women I needed to be as strong as I could. I thought about how I had felt afraid of the forest when I’d moved here three months before. When I arrived in the forest I would look at the enormous Mountain Ash trees whose branches alone could crush a house and at night I would listen to the noises of the forest at my bedroom window and I felt embarrassed but I was afraid – could the forest kill me? I’m glad to say that I soon realised that this was a programmed fear after living in the city for too long and not my own. And within months of moving to the forest I came to realise that Mother Nature is all I needed! I now know the Mountain Ash trees to be forest guardians and protectors. Learning this helped me to create a medicine doll ritual to deal with my fear of authority.

I chose WildGirl to be this doll to help me face my fears of the unknown and to speak out for women who had not been allowed to speak in their own lifetimes. When the women and children entered the Magdalene Laundries that were even stripped of their own names. I took WildGirl to a part of the forest that was most sacred and magical to me. It is by Sassafrass Creek and I call it the faerie dell. It is filled with a strange light that is often very hard to photograph. Here I took photos of WildGirl and you can see that her face was very hard to capture. I took her to an old tree that had naturally fallen years ago and in it’s exposed roots, I buried the medicine doll deep inside. I prayed to the spirit of the tree and to the forest to take care of WildGirl and me. I asked to be taught how to be more wild in my life and particularly to have strength and trust speaking out. I was asking the trees to heal me through the doll.

Shadow medicine doll by Sacred Familiar

I visited WildGirl often over the next 6 weeks and every time I saw her she would look more and more feral! She began to gather sticks and mud and leaves and each time I took her out of the tree she looked happier and more and more beautiful. On the morning of the ceremony I went into the forest with a dear sister, Talulah, a Shamanic Midwife of Making Sacred, Talulah, who had travelled from Sydney to support me and our ceremony and I took WildGirl out of her tree home for the last time. At the base of the tree I found a Rosella feather, a bird I see as a messenger for friendship, and when I looked at the doll she now had 2 black eyes made from mud. She looked straight at me –  she was happy to not only see but to be seen!

WildGirl joined us in our ceremony at site of the Magdalene Laundries, she carried with her the ancestral memory of the forest and the wild and natural land that still lay beneath the buildings and had been there forever. And that is what our ceremony for the Magdalenes became – a remembering or re-embering as my  my sister Kaggi Valentine of 13 Moons Blood Mysteries, calls it. Kaggi sang with wild fire her own chant for the Magdelenes in the actual laundry itself that day leading us to sing and dance for those that couldn’t in the place that had been their prison. We remembered the Aboriginal girls who had also been in the laundries and the tribes that had known this sacred land beside the Yarra River for thousands of years before these modern laws and judgements. So many sisters gave the gift of their love and voices that day to sing the spirits of the Magdalenes home including beautiful songstress, Lisa Mitchell, who shared her own new songs written at the time of our gathering. I played these songs again yesterday and they are are like celestial devotionals, ancient songs to open the veil. We saw and felt some amazing things that day and I am grateful to everyone who helped weave that heart-opening ceremony especially the women who came who had family and friends in the laundries and orphanage. And to my sister, Bec RainboWalker, who is always walking beside and is a Death Doula – I know how much her spirit anchored the whole process.

Friends. That’s what helped the ceremony to be as powerful as it was. Friendship helped me to speak when I was afraid. I saw that we truly can do anything, face any fear when we do it together. And that is the gift of the medicine doll. She is a Friend. She will be beside you. WildGirl is still by my side, were are great friends now. I see her in all her strange and wild beauty and she sees me.

Wildgirl Shadow healer medicine doll by Sacred Familiar