StoryKeepers – Medicine Dolls for Our Ancestors and Lost Ones

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It is a curious thing that the more medicine dolls I create, the more I learn about myself and the more I want to learn about the stories of my ancestors.  These stories of our lineage are important – every life matters. I am especially drawn to the lives of those who were treated as if they didn’t matter – what if a small woollen doll can help to change that somehow? Perhaps just in acknowledgement or speaking their name we can begin to uncover and connect, see them as they truly are again. We can become the Storykeepers, the TruthTellers of our own history and the histories of others. Most importantly we can give these forgotten and ghosted people a small gift – a doll to comfort them or to sit with them. This, somehow gives me comfort too.

There is a growing interest and passion for ancestral medicine and uncovering ancestry. I see that this is the work of StoryKeepers in the family. My sister Belinda is one too and she has been doing a huge amount of research into our family tree. I think it’s important to tend carefully to the bones of our ancestors and to give them privacy when they ask too – not every book wants to be opened. In these times I just send love. I don’t need to know the whole story. But even the saddest stories in our families can be a source of strength when we acknowledge the level of hardship they lived through and the resilience and humour with which they faced it! That spirit is very needed by us right now.

In difficult times it’s important to engage in something practical and real that can give you a sense of purpose amid the chaos of life. For me, it has been making medicine dolls for the lost, the ghosted, the persecuted. At the moment I am weaving dolls that will be left at sites in England, Scotland and Ireland when I visit to pay my respects and in a small way provide some love and acknowledgement of injustice.

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The doll above was created as an offering to the women persecuted as witches in Scotland. She will be left in a small fishing town Pittenweem, another doll will be left at the Witches Well at Edinburgh Castle and I will also leave a doll for my own ancestor, Janet Inglis, a spinner and weaver in Ayreshire. I will also be leaving dolls in Ireland to honour my ancestors and to acknowledge the medicine women there – many who had to go underground to survive. I see all of these dolls as weaving connection and memory and in a way singing a song across the lands and across oceans. Some dolls for the lost and some dolls for family who were never able to afford to return back to their homelands. I see this as a way of rebuilding ancestral trackways, starways, horse tracks…ways to find myself when I am lost and ways for my ancestors to communicate with me when it is needed.

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This medicine doll, She Who Wears Antlers will be gifted to the women of Dublin to honour the girls that were shamed and blamed and incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries. She will be given to them in a combined Swan Weaver Ceremony – a meeting of the Black and White Swan medicines to be held with Karen Ward of Sli An Chroi, in Dublin on 15th October. I urge you to check out Karen’s amazing work teaching and sharing the mysteries of the indigenous shamanic tradition of Ireland. As I also have ancestors from the city of Dublin this will be such a personal and joyful return. It shows me that we can bring beauty to areas of pain and difficulty and injustice with small, simple acts that hold love and intention. It also helps me to keep connected to stories that are happening everywhere and to remember that we are all in this together.

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You might remember the Bird Girl doll that I made for the women and children of the Crossbones Graveyard in London. This is the site of a recently discovered medieval pauper’s graveyard for the women and children, many of them prostitutes known as the Winchester Geese deemed not worthy of a consecrated burial. Amazing and resilient local people fought to save and honour the site as a place to come and pay respects to the outcast dead and alive. A place for the different, the difficult, and yes the wild.

Last week our dear friend and singer, Lisa Mitchell delivered Bird Girl personally to Crossbones and sang the medicine doll into the site – you can just see Bird Girl tucked in on the left side of the statue of the Mother looking after the graveyard. Lisa also sang for us when we held our ceremony for the Magdalene Laundry girls here in Melbourne and recently I found out that the Crossbones we also known as a Magdalene grave. I was so happy to see and hear Lisa sing the doll into her new land and new family of Geese girls with an old bush ballad from Australia written in the 1800s called The Colonial Widow to honour the courageous women who traveled so far to create new lives here. I love that this song is both sad and cheeky! You can hear Kate and Ruth’s version of The Colonial Widow here.

Thank you Lisa! What a gift you are and what a voice to be sung home on. Here is one of my favourite of Lisa’s songs, The Land Beyond the Front Door, sun at the Abbotsford Convent, site of the Magdalene Laundry here in Melbourne.

If you would like to make a medicine doll for your ancestors, yourself or to an area in need of healing our next doll workshop will be : Winter Solstice: The Sleeping Trees, Medicine Dolls made of 9 Sacred Trees to be held at Tree of Life in Kew, Melbourne on Saturday 25th June. Book with Julia.

Medicine Doll Tales from their Finders and Keepers

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I have been receiving so many beautiful stories from medicine doll keepers and I thought I would share some today. Often the real magic and mystery of a particular medicine doll isn’t known to me until I hear back from their new mama’s and keepers. Sometimes the doll only really wakes up and makes sense when she is finally in their home and their hands.

Above is a photo taken by the mother of these two faerie sisters who made a decision to take a wild adventure up to the natural spring at the top of Mt Donna Buang at dusk! on a school night! after their bath! and making them late for their dinner! Good adventures always take at least a little courage and rule-breaking don’t they? I love the image of the little girls in the twilight at the spring and seeing the Grandmother doll peeking out through the ferns.

“I was truly blessed a few weeks ago. After viewing a post on Instagram by @sacredfamiliar saying she had collected water that day from the pure natural springs up at Mt Donna Buang and in gratitude had left a Grandmother medicine doll as a gift to whom ever found her. Before reading those words on her post, I was first struck by the photo of the Grandmother doll…my heart opened with flooding warmth and a very strong instant connection developed with the medicine doll. As I continued on with my duties of preparing dinner that early evening, I just couldn’t get this beautiful connection off my mind,my strong intuition kept telling me to drive the 35kms up to Mt Donna Buang to see if the Grandmother medicine doll was waiting..So that’s what I did,after telling my girls what Julia had done and how I was feeling, we set off for a evening faerie adventure with no expectation.
The pure magical excitement on our arrival to the Springs was heart overflowing when we walked over and the Grandmother doll was waiting…waiting for us✨

Since speaking with Julia after receiving Grandmother Forest, she has told me of the story of her making and how she needed to be gifted and now I understand why my strong instinct to go and seek was so powerful and she has brought myself and my girls so much magical happiness.” Tania

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“We received a glorious package in the mail today. Just over 17 years ago, we suffered a miscarriage, during my first pregnancy. Our Baby M. We did not allow ourselves to mourn, we shut away the feelings, emotions, pain. We did not know how to mourn him. In our society, the loss of unborn babies, stillborn babies, & infants who pass are topics we tend to shun. We don’t discuss, we don’t say their names, all too often our babies & their memories are swept under the carpet. For us, it became all too clear to us that we needed to honor Baby M. A dear friend Julia happens to create these mystical, magical, love, medicine, & intention filled needle felted medicine dolls. This beautiful doll is named Star Grandmother. She represents the loving universal Grandmother holding our much loved Baby M in her arms, protecting & caring for him in the stars until we will be together again.” Dawn

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“Wild Child Companion… This beauty-full Grandmother Medicine Doll came to me unexpectedly from the hands of @sacredfamiliar two years ago upon the birth of a new moon… She found me swimming in a crocodile river in East Arnhem Land where I was practicing Indigenous Ecology with Ramingining Elders. I remember the moment so vividly… the delicious enveloping cool of the water after unrelenting body-softening heat, filtered sunlight dancing upon the ripples as I moved, the laughter of the children from the outstation, hand-lit fire running happily along the banks as we swam (to keep the crocs at bay!). She carries the wisdom of integrating Indigenous and Western knowings. A perfect synchronicity. She delights, enchants, and comforts the Wild Child in me, and has kindly agreed to be my companion on many rough bush adventures. My heart full of gratitude.

My dear Grandma was a true soul companion for my Wild Child self when I was little…I was not surprised when She decided to be the same…Such a wise playfulness present in Her (in the calm Old Wild way). She is a blessing.” Nymh

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And sometimes I receive a request for a medicine doll that feels so big and unknown to me personally but my heart wants to try and help and so I ask the Grandmothers to guide my hands and show me what to do. Last month I created a doll for a young man who has been self-harming, cutting himself. While I don’t understand all of the feelings that create this illness I do remember very well the confusion and pain of being a teenager and how hard it was to express myself. I have also experienced this same illness in a family member close to me – while I have no words or advice for something I don’t understand personally, this is where I feel a doll can come in and be a bridge between the adults and the child – a comfort and strength when words don’t really help anyway.

The medicine bundle included snakeskin, ancient fossils of sea flowers, sacred mapacho tobacco from ceremony and mountain ash resin – blood red resin from the tallest and strongest trees in Sherbrooke Forest. And finally the bundle called for moss and I thought about how moss was used not too long ago in many medicine practices to stem the flow of blood, to soothe, to soften… I also heard lots of music as I worked on the Grandfather doll. Guitars – loud! I knew that I had to include a guitar pick somewhere on the doll. When I asked the boy’s mother if he had a guitar and pick she could send she was surprised – she said that he used to love the guitar but had packed everything away when another boy had told me he couldn’t play well. I went to a guitar shop and bought a new pick for him but when I got home I couldn’t find it anywhere and Tony gifted one of his old picks – it had a red back spider on the front of it – the red worn off the spider from so much enjoyment in playing so many songs. I placed the spider pick on the back of the doll under his long hair.

When I sent the doll to the young boy’s mother she wrote to say how amazed she was – all these things were so significant and personal to him: the beloved guitar given away and being called back, moss that he had been excited to grow as a child and a piece of moss from they have kept from a trip to the mountains a few years ago before this time of difficulty and that one of his fears was of spiders and that having the spider with him would make him even stronger to face the rest of his fears.

Perhaps the spider is his shadow totem – an animal that we fear the most often has the biggest teachings for us in facing our fears and reconnecting to courage. When we embrace the shadow totem we actually call back elements and parts of spirit that are needed and this totem becomes a source of power.

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Each doll I make brings me so much joy. Even when the story is heavy, the doll is not and I love that we are beginning to talk about and share our stories – this is how we heal and remember that we are not alone. Each story is our story as a community and I’m grateful to Tania, Dawn, Nymh and this young man’s mother for sharing their stories and their hearts.

 

Medicine Doll Circle: April 9th – Singing Home the Ghosted Sisters

Adelina’s Mariposa – Dia de los Muertos

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Late last year I received a request from a beautiful Mexican family to create a medicine to hold the ashes of their beloved mother and grandmother, Adelina. I was very happy to create this doll for Daisy, Adelina’s daughter who I had come to know through her sister-in-law, Dawn, another beautiful soul who has gifted us with many beaded Huichol treasures for our dolls over the last year. And so I knew that Daisy’s dear mother was dying and how much this was a sacred time for her, how she took on the role as carer and wise guardian to walk her mother through the threshold of death and rebirth of her spirit. I was also honoured to be invited into this family and their beautiful Mexican ancestry and wisdom in honouring of the dead.

Yesterday it was my birthday and today in America where Daisy lives and Mexico where Adelina was born it is still February 15th. The link between birth and death is so strong, if felt like the right time to write this story.

I knew that one day, I would be asked to make a doll to such as this. But when it finally arrived I began to get nervous – what if this was too big a job for my skills? Could I really do this? I took this request on with love but also a lot of deep breathing. I don’t have anyone around me to teach me to do this, I thought but then I’ve always felt the presence of my own grandmother and ancient grandmother spirits when I work and so I just had to trust that they would show me the way.

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I wrapped the small parcel of ashes in softest merino wool and created a little altar with special blessed treasure that Daisy had sent to me. And still I waited to begin. I was waiting to feel really ready and strong to do this work that was so important to Adelina’s family. The realisation of this importance made it even harder for me to begin. I kept making excuses and I had to admit that I was becoming less confident in my ability to do this well enough for her family. I was also finding it confronting to have someone’s ashes, the remnants of their physical body sitting on my doll table. And I waited and waited…

One night I had a dream of running a little store selling all kinds of medicine tools and talismans. At the end of the day it was time to close up and as I was busy rushing around a small group of men dressed in white with embroidery on their shirts began to come and sit in a small circle in the middle of my shop. But I was busy, I had so many things to remember to do to make the shop run well and to close up properly. The men began to chant in a language that I didn’t recognise. They began to sing medicine songs. Under a table I noticed a small package of bones. I was so drawn to what the medicine singers were doing and singing but I kept thinking that I didn’t have time to stop, I had to lock up the shop.

When I woke up the next morning I knew that these men where either Adelina’s ancestors or spirit singers guarding and watching over her and that they were getting frustrated with me for making myself busy with all of my other jobs and avoiding the deep medicine work of creating this doll for Adelina’s family. I felt ashamed because they were right! I should have sat with them and listened to their songs, I realised the bones in the dream were a symbol of the sacred ashes I held on my table. I realised I could wait any longer to be ready or know more to begin – I just had to stop running around and start!

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I began by making a medicine shawl from a piece of felt gifted to me that was hand dyed with seaweed. I started to see stars and cosmic spirals. I used fibres that were dyed with flowers and I started to feel more and more confident about my own role in being the hands for the grandmothers to do their work. Each night I kept seeing the vastness of the cosmos and I remembered a boulder opal that reminded me of this feeling that I had been keeping for a special doll. At the same time I received hand blown glass bones adorned with flowers and the doll began to form very quickly.

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As she was forming in front of my eyes I began to feel such affection and love for Adelina and for her daughter Daisy for all of her trust. One night I worked very late until it was almost dawn. As I worked I felt the air become thick around me and I felt airy movements near my shoulders and arms and it felt like butterflies flying all around the room, all around me. I also heard a strong and clear message to ‘look at the date’. I felt it was a message to look at the date of when Adelina had passed from this world and I looked and found a remembrance photo posted by Daisy. When I looked at this photo I couldn’t believe it – Adelina and I shared the same birthday. She too had been born on February 15th. It was not the date of death that she wanted remembered by the date of birth. Rebirth! It felt like a big hug, like we were connected in this small way.

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Each day I felt Adelina’s urgency now to have this doll completed to be a source of comfort to her daughter. The last element was a Monarch butterfly placed on the doll’s hand to honour the late night visitors to my doll workshop and perhaps one of Adelina’s spirit animals. When I mentioned this to Dawn she said this was significant and that in Spanish the word for butterfly is Mariposa. I knew the medicine had her name now: Adelina’s Mariposa – a light spirit to hold the ashes of this beloved mother and grandmother and guardian to watch over and guide her family through their grief and eventually to a place of peace.

After I had sent the doll carrying the sacred ashes across the oceans to be with Daisy where she belonged, I found a photo of Daisy taken beside the altars in Mexico celebrating ancestors on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I was stunned and happy to see that Daisy was wearing a Monarch Mariposa in her crown of flowers.

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There really are no accidents. So many more weavings and synchronicities occurred during the making of this most sacred of medicine dolls, Adelina’s Mariposa. I was changed after making this doll. I realised that this work is very precious to me and that I could do this work more. I also found that I was dedicating myself in a deeper way now to the practice of medicine doll making and to never forget that the ancestors are always watching, helping and if needed singing in our dreams.

Death is one of our biggest teachers. We cannot turn away or hide from this great mystery and yes it is confronting but also incredibly beautiful. I believe that death teaches us about what is truly important and how to love even more deeply. I send the deepest love and respect to Daisy and Dawn and their combined families. May this precious doll be an anchor to hold you through your grief and give you wings to lift your heart to love again. I thank Daisy for this honour and permission to share her story and for sharing the gentle and beautiful spirit of your mother, Adelina with us all. Happy birthday Adelina.

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Swan Blessing Story – Healer’s Vow to go Unseen

Imogen Cunningham

“No longer tarry in the in-between. In order to heal, you must be seen.” 

Today I share Lori’s Swan story of the healer who vowed to go unseen. It’s a story that I feel is a tale of remembering how innocent we all really are and how we were born this way. We have an ancient memory of women being punished for using ancestral medicine and healing. A memory and vow such as this can create a fear of our work being misunderstood and so we will find ways to only share our work between friends, only trusting those near and dear to us. We may find it very difficult to advertise our work or put it out in a public way. I find this very sad as it means many artists and healers don’t share their gifts with the world. Under the name Swurlygirl, Lori shares the ancient medicine of the wool worker. I have had the pleasure of receiving some of Lori’s hand-crafted woollen creations and these talismans are filled with such loving intention. Here is Lori’s story of the how she opened the door to share her spirit-filled creations with others again.

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Swan Blessing Story

“In 2007 I had been reunited, in a way, with the shamanic path. In all my studies and work, however, I’d always felt a deep fear that kept me closer to the edges of the path rather than walking confidently down the middle. This fear usually made itself known whenever I got closer or deeper into knowing myself – whenever there was talk of “knowing your medicine.”  I pushed onwards and tried to work through the fear. I became the assistant to a shamanic practitioner & teacher ~  however this fear was particularly strong and kept me from stepping any further in. In September 2012, during a shamanic journey to seek healing, I heard these words spoken to me:

“No longer tarry in the in-between. In order to heal, you must be seen.”

This gave me comfort and also terrified me at the same time.  I didn’t really know what to do next, so I kept the words inside, to unpack their medicine another day. That day came in July 2015, with the support of Julia & her Swan Blessing work.

As I listened to Julia’s voice gently directing me,  I came to a forest.  I recognized the land I was walking on ~ every tree and every blade of grass here. I had long golden hair and a long white dress on.  As I moved deeper into the forest, a deeper familiarity came to me as I saw the well and the waterfall.  I knew this place.

When I looked into the well, I saw Baba Yaga – An Cailleach, the wise crone looking back at me. As I looked into her eyes I could see all the faces of her – Her eyes were filled with warmth, looking into mine and I felt sadness and shame.  She took my hand in hers and told me she loved me and that she has always loved me.  Then she took me to where she lived – it was in a craggy paddock that I recognized from a shamanic journey I had done some years ago ~ hilly with bare stone showing through the grass in some parts.  There was a grove of trees beside us.  It was a warm, sunny day and a soft breeze was blowing.

She led me to a big black cauldron with a fire burning beneath it.  She was slowly stirring the cauldron and as she did so, she looked so powerful ~ like the embodiment of wisdom.  I looked into the cauldron and saw she was stirring a thick, dark liquid – like a resin of some kind – an amber coloured resin.  When I asked what the resin did, I felt a heaviness in my belly.  I then saw a woman coming up the hill to see the old crone ~ as she came closer into view, I saw that she was heavily pregnant and was wearing no clothing.  The woman came closer to the cauldron. She was afraid and kept looking over her shoulder that no one should see her there.  The crone took a cup, ladled some of the amber liquid into it and gave it to the woman to drink.  I then saw the woman was no longer pregnant and was a different person living an entirely different life.  Another woman came up the hill – an older woman this time and the amber liquid made her young again. I was shown where the crone slept and lived –  in a small room in a cottage in that forest.  Her bedroom was sparse with a cot, a small dresser and a window that looked out to the forest.  She lived there completely alone ~ no animals, no people, completely quiet.

I then saw the crone as a little girl of 5, with white-blond hair— in a similar woods ~ chasing after butterflies, laughing as she ran.  The animals in the forest – birds, deer ~ all playing with her.  She felt connected to everything and felt known to everything around her. There was no fear.  She understood the language of the world around her and the world understood her.  She  was so deeply happy and innocent.  She lived in a  little house made of stone & timber – she lived there with her grandparents.  When she ran into the house, both her grandfather & grandmother greeted her warmly.  The grandfather was standing at the big wooden table in the kitchen and was preparing vegetables and plants.  The grandmother was sitting across from the table in a big wooden armchair.  She was working some fine handwork embroidery into linen.  They both felt familiar to me – when I looked into their faces I recognized them as the people who had been my Baba & Geja (grandmother & grandfather) in my present lifetime.  My grandmother taught me the handwork and my grandfather taught me the plant work – together they made a talisman from the plants and the embroidered cloth.

The girl’s parents were not here.   I was then shown who they were.  I didn’t recognize the man who was the father, but when I looked into the eyes of the woman who was the mother,  I recognized them to be the eyes of someone I had known in my present lifetime, but am no longer in contact with.  The girl was being raised by her grandparents and taught their ways.

I was then shown the girl at 16.   It was night time in the forest and she was all alone.  She was dressed in black  and standing in the middle of the forest.  She was scared and alert. I could feel her heart beating so strong & fast.  It was dark, but she could see her way in the dark – I couldn’t hear anyone coming, but she knew they would be.  It was the townspeople that would be coming for her.

She showed me that, earlier that day, a very pregnant woman had come to her  seeking some kind of help – and that the girl did what she has been instructed to do to help the woman, however somehow, something appeared to go wrong and the woman, instead, became violently ill.  The girl tried to do what she could, but knew, if the woman’s people came for her, the girl could never explain what happened and that they would not understand if she did try to explain.  She consoled the woman the best she could, kept stroking her face and hair and telling her she was so sorry ~ she kissed the woman on the forehead and then ran into the forest. She could hear them coming and she began to run into the darkness and shape-shifted into a crow.  All I could see then, was a dark void.

I was then shown what had happened to the girl before this night.  She had been cast out of her family, by her people, specifically her mother, for being different from the rest of them.  Her mother, who was very pious in her outlook, did not approve of her daughter &  was afraid of her.  The girl was 15 years old.

I was then shown the young girl, maybe a few years later.  She was in a dirty night dress that looked like it had once been white.  She was inside a stone turret – a prison – alone, with irons on her wrists and her feet.  Her hair had been hacked off and I could hear people outside this place calling her a witch and a killer.  In this place I heard her say “ I will never show myself ever again.  I will never allow myself to seen ever again. “  I felt her cries inside and the deepest sadness.  I was then beside her as she was inside the fire being burned as a witch.  I saw the flames engulf her and she was completely silent.  She then turned into the brightest light and shot upwards to the stars.  She was free.

When I returned to the well, I held the Crone in front of me and breathed the deepest, strongest love into her – I felt all her sorrow melt away and she became bright and beautiful and free.

As she became free, I became bound – bound up so tightly with reams and reams of barbed wire from my ankles to my neck.  The binding was the tightest from my torso to my throat – binding my arms so tightly that I couldn’t move them.  I was given a tool by a Daughter of the Well that would cut the binding.  I managed to cut the first bit of binding, then more and more became loosened until my whole body was freed and the bindings disintegrated.

When I received the blessings of the Grandmothers –  I felt all the love of all of my ancestors ~ of all the medicine-keepers of my lineages ~ I felt light and free and full of love, truth and wisdom.  And I felt the peace of my ancestral name, Peace Carrier, so deeply, almost for the very first time.  I felt the words push through my heart:  I am truth.  I am love.  I am wisdom.

That feeling of peace and freedom stayed with me for days after the blessing. There were so many parts of my swan blessing story that I could connect to my present life – situations, things that I have lived through in this life that echo back to the past.  I was amazed at how many things connected to my present day. I was remembering, more clearly, all the time I spent with my maternal grandparents, the ones that I’d recognized in the Swan Blessing.  In this lifetime, my Baba taught me to work with wool and  how to craft with words.  My Geja worked with the earth, among many other things, he was a gardener and a man of plants.  We spent many mornings and afternoons exploring the land and forests around our summer cottage when I was younger.  He taught me about the earth and how to tend a garden.

In this lifetime, my grandparents taught me about the magic that is inherent in life.

The strongest affirmation and most magical thing, however, came shortly after the blessing.  Where I live now is a bit like where the young girl and the crone lived in my swan blessing.  I live on the ground floor of a house on the edge of a forest with many, many ferns, moss, towering cedars, pines and a roaring creek behind me, in the mountains on the west coast of Canada. Above me, lives a family with 2 young boys, aged 4 & 6.  The boys are friendly and whenever we happen to see each other, they like to tell me about their their toys or their mountain-biking adventures.  Usually, in the summertime, they are mostly running around with water guns, dropping water balloons or playing on their trampoline.  As I was writing to Julia a day or two after the blessing, there was a knock on my door.  It was the 6-yr old boy and he asked if he could show me a spell / potion that he was working on and if I could help him. I paused for a long moment because he had NEVER asked me this before, nor had I ever seen him engaged with the plants and the earth like this.  He was very insistent that I knew how to help him.  I broke into a big smile, remembering the Swan Blessing, and nodded my head that I could help him.  He said that it was an exploding spell.  And then he made another one to show me, which was a healing potion and then one potion that would do whatever was needed by what it touched.  That one, he put on the ferns and said that it would now affect ALL the ferns in the whole world AND that we had to program it  – he wanted to program some quite violent things, being a 6-year-old boy – but I convinced him towards a gentler approach ~ much to the relief of the dear ferns.  A few moments later, his mum was calling him in for dinner that was waiting for him, and he ran into the house.  I remained outside for a while ~ staring at the ferns and the forest, that seemed, now,  to be glowing with the most vibrant green life.  This was the work of the Swan Blessing.  I took a moment to say thank you again, to the Swan and the grandmothers, who, through Julia, brought me back to the love, truth and wisdom that I had been parted from so long ago.  And a word of gratitude to the spirit helper who whispered to me years before, “No longer tarry in the in-between. In order to heal, you must be seen.”

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I learned, many years ago, that it’s important for our healing, to be able to find something or some way to bring this “otherworldly” medicine into our mundane world.  So a few days after the blessing, I crafted a talisman to honour the work, my story and to help the blessing settle into my bones and ground into my everyday world, a guidepost to hold it all.  Whenever I may feel in doubt or filled with grief,  I sit with this talisman, the tangible reminder of the Swan and her blessing.

This blessing work truly shone a light on the seed of the fear that I have felt for most of my life.   It has been a sometimes slow, but steady process to sweep away so many cobwebs, however, since the Swan Blessing, I have felt a space open up inside of me that continues to grow.  I feel a far greater freedom  and confidence in my wool work – to incorporate word & plant medicine more openly into the creatures I weave, felt, knit, crochet, and stitch. I have also felt less fear in sharing this wool work with others.
Some days, the fire that was rekindled within me with the Swan Blessing burns bold and bright and on other days, it’s a little glimmer of a flame in the dark and an inner knowing that I am part of a great, deep flowing magic that I will never be parted from.

Infinities of love & gratitude, Swurlygirl 2016

I’m thrilled that Lori is sharing her gifts as wool worker more and more and setting up a space for herself online where people will be able to see what she does and request their own pieces of Swurlygirl magic. And I’m so happy that Lori knows that every time she creates she is honouring and even visiting with her grandparents again to thank them for all the ancestral medicine they shared with her as a child. Look at these new creations – the child and healer are now one – playing and showing herself again.

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Book a personal Swan Blessing ancestral medicine session with Julia.

Singing Home the Ghosted Sister – Swan Blessing ceremony and medicine doll workshop.

Image credit: Imogen Cunningham

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

The Butterfly, the Black Swan and the Dreamers

Sacred Familiar

MoonMedicine for this month is Butterfly Medicine.

As I dreamt with the butterfly medicine I became aware of how much we are living from our minds instead of letting the mind be guided by our soul or psyche (Butterfly). And let me say, I really love the MIND! I really do. I just think we use it for everything, including our dreaming and that changes the dreaming to planning or wanting or worrying. To dream and really dream we must feel free and open and expansive. This is why our sleep is so important – very often it’s the only time the mind is resting. I believe the mind is best used as a powerful tool to research and plan with once the dream is known.

Is your dream known to you? My guess would be that at this point in time, especially after the very big shakeup we have been given astrologically over the last 3 years, you will have a sense of what you wish for yourself, your community and Mother Earth. Sometimes trying to hold a dream for the earth can feel really hard and so I always come back to the ‘little’ because the medicine dolls have taught me: ‘the little is the big’. When we hold a new dream for ourselves of becoming whole, this ripples out and affects everything and everyone around us and that ripples out and ripples out… Even if the insight into the new dream has been gained by seeing events we don’t want to create playing out in our present, this too is a gift. Sometimes it’s very helpful to know what we don’t want, to create the new dream. The key is to let go of the fears once we understand what the new dream is and wants from us. Hmmmm and this is where it gets tricky doesn’t it?

I want to share two powerful examples of butterfly medicine here that have helped me so much over the last couple of weeks. The first is channeled wisdom from Lena Stevens shared on the Mystic Mamma website about the energy of this time creating stress and pressure that cracks the butterfly’s chrysalis and most importantly why this is happening – because your dreams are working! And the second jewel was passed along to me by our dear friends in Ireland, Karen and John from Sli An Chroi . It is one of the most amazing performances I’ve witnessed in a long time. I felt it in every cell. I love it so much! Irish poet, Venus CuMara has dedicated her life to She, to the Mother of all Mothers and in this earth shattering piece delivers a loving and unstoppable message from Kali to the Butterfly. Whoah! It’s all coming through the poets at the moment isn’t it? I feel like we are finally listening to the poets again and I’m so happy and to have Venus CuMara’s golden voice in my medicine bag as I step out of the cracked cocoon.

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I feel like so much of what we are experiencing right now is already preparing us for next year and beyond. I get a sense that Butterfly will be with us for much longer than this month, perhaps it will be a totem for the whole of next year, an embodiment of the spirit of New Dreams and New Wings. But how do the new wings form? What dreams are building your new wings? What do you have to leave before you can try them out?

On the morning of the Full Moon last week I walked to the post office to pick up a parcel from my Dad. Inside was the enormous smokey quartz crystal you see above found on his friend’s farm in Tasmania. They were digging a new track when this dark beauty was brought to light. Smokey quartz found in Tasmania is often very very dark but like all dark things when it’s held to the light, you can see it is filled with chambers of brightness and caverns of colour. At the top corner of the stone you can see a yellow cavern – it is holding pieces of gold. Down the centre is a large cut where the stone was first hit – the cracking of the cocoon.

My cocoon is cracking too. I am awake and now cannot stay as I have been for the last 3 years in the forest. I had begun to presume that this was now my life – I would be a dollmaker living in the forest. I loved the simplicity and the unhurried feel to that dream. I liked the idea of being left alone to create for hours and hours and hours…and hours and hours and hours. This cocoon of creativity and very little contact with people in the outside world was beautiful and needed – for a time.

What I’m being shown in the new dream is that it’s time to integrate the work of dollmaking with the Swan. There is a calling to travel and create medicine dolls with different plants in different lands and to experience the ancestral spirit there. I am very excited about this already dreaming dolls to be created in the Redwoods again next year, Scotland and Cornwall…and the ceremonies that will be held for the ancestral tracks and migration lines between Britain and Europe and Australia. I have been shown how these tracks are in need of love and tending and that by doing this work we will be bringing more peace to our ancestors and indigenous tribes of the land. My ancestry like many Australians is made up of Aboriginal, Irish, Scottish and English grandmothers and grandfathers. I would personally like to bring peace to this ancestral weaving and I am passionate about providing circle and ceremony for others to do this work in their own family constellations.

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Black Swan
Fairy GodMother

In fairytales there is often a point when a magical person like the fairy godmother arrives and everything begins to shift and change – to dream. When I was young I loved to listen to recorded fairytales on little vinyl records that I would play over and over. I remember this moment of arrival of the fairy godmother or the witch or the wise sage was heralded by the sound of a bell or a harp. Just that sound told me that change and transformation was near. I believe that this repetitive and yes obsessive listening and engagement with oral storytelling was my wise child self practicing the art of active dreaming, vision-making and journeying. I have no doubt that the power of storytelling and significantly oral storytelling developed my mind’s eye – I was tending to the ancestral track of the ancient dreamers and they in return shared their gifts.

Very soon I could dream awake – look into trees, rock pools, oceans and begin to ‘see’. It is how I see a medicine doll before she is made.  I thought everyone saw like this but soon found I was wrong. I realised that many of the people around me had no access to vision, were either afraid to open their third eye or chose not to believe in it at all. The Swan, particularly the Black Swan, the bird of the land of my birth, is like a fairy godmother. She heralds the dreaming, the magical threshold, she acts as a trusted guide or psychopomp to the realms of the ancestors.

This is not my medicine but our medicine. We are dreamers. We all have our own individual way of dreaming and also our own totems that assist us in our journeys but we are dreamers in a huge weaving – we are dreaming as a collective. And so even though I resisted leaving my forest hermitage at first! I now understand how important it is to be gathering together to dream in community and to share those dreams. When I sit in a dream circle I am aware that each dream is all our dream. That the lessons and teachings are a gift for us all. And the Black Swan wants to bring more of the dreaming of our faraway brothers and sisters together. We will be opening the first of the Swan Blessing ceremonies in Melbourne in February, and travelling with the swan to return to Spirit Weavers Gathering in the Redwoods in California in June 2016 and also returning to Scotland, Ireland and to England in October 2016.

Hiraeth

Three years ago at Seven Sisters Festival I shared Swan Blessing and spoke to the women before we journeyed about the Welsh word ‘Hiraeth’. This ancient word has no exact English match but when I explained it as a sadness, a homesickness for ancestors and ancestral lands and even times that no longer exist there was a huge surge of energy in the crowd. This Welsh word was describing what so many of us were carrying in our hearts – a longing for a time of connectedness through ritual and ceremony and communication with our ancestors.

I believe that dreaming is the key to unlocking our own sense of hiraeth. By actively dreaming and developing practice of dreaming at night whilst sleeping as well as active dreaming in journeying circles with community we are rebuilding and tending to the ancestral trackways. The more we engage, believe in and then act on the messages and visions we receive in our dreaming the more these trackways will become whole and strong again. There is no need for us to feel so lonely and adrift from our ancestral medicine – it is right there waiting for us to return, retrieve and use in our world now. Dreaming is our birthright.

Knowing that the Swan was waiting for me to journey with her again I travelled back to our old home in Williamstown and the swan sanctuary at Shelley Beach where the medicine of Swan Blessing was first passed to me. The black swans were there in a shallow lagoon and my hope was that I would find just 2 swan feathers – even that can be very difficult to achieve. That day the tide was right out and Tony and I stepped onto a beach covered in swan feathers. Last week on the full moon I returned to the swans again and this time was greeted by 3 swans who made a beeline for me. One swan came right up out of the water to display all of his feathers, including the white feathers underneath his wings (you can see him in the image below).

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How many times do we live and die and live again in this life? I think it is a constant cycle of living, resting in the cocoon until the new dream forms and leaving the cracked cocoon when it is time to live again. And so I encourage you to have faith in your dream and and your new wings and if you need an extra push just listen to Venus CuMara and her enchanting call to the wild and the free. I am so excited to sit with my sisters and brothers and hear the stories of their own dreaming.

I would offer one piece of advice – commit to your dreaming. As soon as I committed to the new dream to travel with the Swan I began to hear from other Swan Sisters from all around the world. I was surprised to discover we share so much similar medicine and dreaming after feeling like I was holding my own dream in the forest. We are many! If I had known this could happen in such a short time I would not have believed it, but that is the magic that awaits when we commit to opening the wings that we have been so lovingly growing. We are awake.

Mugwort Faerie Queen

Medicine Doll Story – RavenKeeper of Secrets

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A handblown glass vessel to catch tears. RavenKeeper of Secrets travels with her mama, a healer working with women & children in shelters and halfway houses. She is doll for them to tell their stories to when they are not ready or able to speak to anyone else.

In May this year I travelled to the Redwoods in California to share medicine dollmaking at Spirit Weavers Gathering. It was a beautiful experience to sit with sisters so far from my home in Australia and humbling too when I heard their stories about the deep and passionate work they are committed to doing. I especially loved catching up with sisters that previously I’d only spoken to online. Once of these women was Heidi Lafinier who I knew as Pura Vida Living and I was so happy when she sat beside me in one of our medicine doll circles. As we began Heidi mentioned that she had noticed how many of my dolls had braided hair and I told her it wasn’t conscious it just felt right. She told me that in her Native American Cree tradition, braiding your hair was a way to preserve energy for yourself. To keep it strong and pure. She said just putting a small braid in your hair can help you from being affected by the energy of others – keeping your spirit close so you can work with other people who may be in pain and trauma and not have their energy affect you so much. I was very grateful to learn this and it really seemed to speak to the similar medicine of wool as an insulator, incubator, a holder of energy. Wool also is one of the few fibres that does not easily take in water –  just like our hair.

Fire Elemental Sacred Familiar

After I returned to Australia I made the Fire elemental medicine doll you see above and Heidi felt called to be her keeper. This doll told Heidi her name was Bold and she began to go everywhere with Heidi in her work with women and children in shelters and halfway houses. As a healer and grandmother herself, Heidi’s passion is working with the Crone. Soon I received another request from Heidi for a new doll, a special doll and when I asked why, this is the story that Heidi shared with us to call in the spirit of RavenKeeper of Secrets:

“I have volunteered at the battered women’s shelter and a halfway house for women just released from prison to perform Reiki.  I always take Bold and keep her with me, but on one occasion at the women’s shelter a red haired little girl asked if she could hold Bold while I gave her mom Reiki, I saw no harm in this.  As her mom and I walked back into the room we overheard this: “And that’s really how my arm was broken, thanks Bold I will tell the Police the truth now.  I love you too!”   She gave me Bold and we went home.
Bold didn’t talk to me on the way home or at work the next day but I was busy and let it go, but after work we were off to the halfway house. These women are very hard or hardened.  I offered Reiki to one woman and another asked about the doll I kind of explained her and tried to hurry on, every red flag in my body said keep moving, she was someone I’d been warned about (hard, mean, hateful, violent etc.). But she said “I would like to talk to that doll while you do hanky panky to her” and she pointed to the other women.  I really did not want to give Bold to her, but Bold still wasn’t really talking to me, so I handed Bold to her and I finished Reiki and rushed out to get Bold and it was like a different lady handed me back my doll.  And these are her exact words: “That is some doll, first person who ever believed me, and I have been telling the truth for 35 years”  and she turned around and walked away.  I stood there like an idiot.  On the way home Bold still didn’t talk but that night I decided I should sage and cleanse her, but she spoke loudly then and said maybe you should meditate with me first!  Then she didn’t betray any confidences but she let me see that she was not made to be a ‘Keeper of Secrets’  she was there for me and she would always help me, but it was hard on her to take the pain of those she did not know, pain that was so indescribable she could not share with me.  Because she was my keeper.  So I helped cleanse her and we are whole again.
So I now Know, I need a medicine doll whose sole purpose is to be strong as steel, who can be the ‘KEEPER OF SECRETS’.  This is something I believe I will come in contact with many times as I begin working with the Crones.  There are two very wise spirit animals that are considered Keepers of the Secrets.  One is the Lynx and one is the Raven.  The Owl is also related to secrets or the darkness of things.  None of these are bad as Creator only created good things for us.”

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I felt such strong emotions reading Heidi’s story and request. It’s stories like these that remind me of the power of the doll. How many times have we seen children talking with focus and emotion with their dolls? It is no wonder that many therapists and counsellors work with dolls when healing trauma. I felt a big responsibility to make her such a powerful vessel to hold all of these shadow stories but more than anything else I felt excited and very focussed.

The first question I asked the doll was who walked with her and it was clear – it was Raven. I began to lay out the silky black feathers. I thought about the doll’s body and how strong she had to be – an anchor. I prepared a medicine bundle filled it with mugwort, fern roots, hawthorn flowers and peridot crystals from the Australian desert. I placed a drop of water gathered from the natural spring at the Equinox in the centre of the bundle. Everything about RavenKeeper of Secrets asked for the best. A medicine doll that was being requested so selflessly and who would be in service to so many received the finest fibres of angora, cashmere, merino and silk. Her hair is woven with Camel fibres and dyed with walnuts.

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And then I remembered a beautiful glass bottle from my own personal medicine bag that held the sacred waters from the Chalice Well at Glastonbury. To these waters I added an oil blend gifted to me by a Crone medicine woman here in Australia for protection and healing  and saw that this was a vessel to catch the tears as the stories were shared with the doll. And that she would hold the story for them until they felt strong enough to share it with someone who could be trusted.

And finally I decorated RavenKeeper’s heart with silk rays of blue light around a labradorite that I only realised much later was in the shape of a tear that looked like it was falling into the glass bottle. This stone was also one of the finest in my possession and had been gifted to me.

In 6 months time I will journey again across the ocean to gather with my sisters under the redwood trees at Spirit Weavers Gathering. I look forward to hugging Heidi again and thanking her for honouring me with the opportunity to weave such a sacred doll. I look forward to holding RavenKeeper of Secrets again too and feeling how huge her heart has grown holding all those stories.

Medicine dolls at Spirit Weavers Gathering 2016: I will be holding medicine dollmaking circles at the Moon Session.

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She Wears the Crown – Deer Medicine and Antlered Women

StagWoman by Alice Savage StagWoman by Alice Savage

The Wood Witch by Nadia Turner

The Wood Witch by Nadia Turner

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I recently wrote about the healing medicine of Deer in our monthly MoonMedicine letter to subscribers. I’ve had lots of beautiful feedback many others who have also experienced encounters with this queen of the forest and thought I would share these writings here. You can subscribe to receive medicine offerings at each full moon.

“Originally Artemis herself was a deer, and she is the goddess who kills deer; the two are dual aspects of the same being. Life is killing life all the time, and so the goddess kills herself in the sacrifice of her own animal.” 

Joseph Campbell

Sometimes we consciously track the sightings of our animal totems and sometimes they track us. I believe we have a family of animal guardians that make their presence known to us in many different ways. For myself, it is often in dreams but today as I prepared to write this letter as dedication to the medicine of Deer, I was amazed to realise just how much help and assistance Deer has been giving me all these years. I believe there is no right or wrong perception of an animal’s medicine or message – it is very personal for each of us and so I can only share how the Deer shows up in my life and perhaps this will resonate for you too. I also want to share the medicine workings of 2 beautiful weavers who are working constantly with the spirit of Deer: Helena Ambrosia and Lindsy Richards. I feel that together we can find a common thread.

The first words that come to me when I think of Deer medicine are strength, grounding, intuition and sensitivity. Deer has taught me more than another animal that I need to be grounded to do intuitive work. It assisted me in creating my work and supporting myself financially through my art but only after I learnt the toughest lesson of just how dangerous it is for me to be in work environments that are damaging to my spirit. For me to talk honestly about this medicine and I understand now that Deer requires me to be truthful is to acknowledge the shadow. Recently someone commented that they hoped I was alright after reading one of our MoonMedicine letters. I kind of had a little chuckle to myself – I am ok but if I just projected one side of my life where everything was light and easy that wouldn’t be the truth and it wouldn’t be natural. If I inspire or encourage anyone to embrace a creative life, I need to do it honestly and talk about the pitfalls as well as the heights. I think our society and media especially are interested in only presenting the light. But is it light if it is false? The cycle of nature that we get to observe so closely in the forest is always a balance between life and death. The Deer is one of the only animals where the females also grow antlers but these antlers are grown and then shed every year.

The biggest lessons I have learnt from Deer is the balance between freedom and discipline (limitation) and  independence and responsibility – when in balance beauty is created. So this medicine more than any other for me is about maturity and being healthy as I stand with one foot in the mundane world and one in the spirit world. When I do this it’s as if my spirit grows antlers and I can then use them like antennae to receive messages and dreaming.

When I spoke to Helena and Lindsy there were many threads connecting us in our work but I was surprised to learn that the deepest thread was that the Deer and antlered women had come to us all after a period of illness and breakdown – a kind of psychic and emotional rupture that made it impossible for us to keep trying to live in a way that wasn’t truthful and authentic.

Artemis brooch Sacred Familiar

In my mid thirties I was burnt out. I had spent most of my life in fight or flight mode and working in environments that were way too harsh for me and making me very unhappy. But I thought this is just what you did – you had to survive and support yourself right? Well my body soon told me who was really in charge. I got very sick and everything I was trying to hold onto and keep together fell apart – much like the Tower card in the Tarot. But something interesting happens when you hit rock bottom – you lose your ego and realise there’s nothing left to lose so why not do what you love? I had to find my joy again and when I thought of where it lay it was always with reading the Tarot.

I began to dream up Sacred Familiar – a name in dedication to our beloved animal companions and so it is not really surprising that it was Artemis who began to show herself to me – the guardian of animals, women and children. I began to surround myself with imagery of Artemis and the Deer and for the first time in m life began to create my own work doing what I loved. At the same time as working purely in an intuitive field, I was managing a business, doing my own accounts and administration for courses. I have no doubt that it was the medicine of Deer that was helping me to navigate and create balance between these feminine and masculine traits. And I began to thrive.

My first ever physical encounter with a deer was when I leading a morning meditation walk at my first retreat in Warburton, Victoria back in 2009. I had chosen this area seemingly at random – little did I know I would be returning every month in the future to draw water from the natural spring. This was the first retreat I had ever held and a week before it was to begin, my father had a life threatening stroke and almost died. I had to fly to Tasmania to now be his voice as he had lost his power of speech and mobility. Suddenly I was the adult and was filling out and signing forms I could barely understand. I flew back to Melbourne and the next day I began the retreat. I was in a daze but felt strangely calm.

On the second day we woke early and went for a walk in the mist along the Yarra River. We heard an unfamiliar sound and looked up to see a stag and doe running through the front yards of houses along the street. It was a surreal moment to say the least especially as we had been talking about the Empress and the Emperor in the Tarot and now here they were presenting themselves. Just as quickly they disappeared from sight. To see these mythical creatures, not native to Australia, in the daylight, jumping the fences of suburban homes had a strange effect – it was at once magical and at the same time very, very familiar. That whole retreat was a graceful and easy experience and one I will never forget.

My next encounter with deer was soon after we moved to Sherbrooke Forest 3 years ago. The forest called and we answered but living here was another matter entirely. We soon began to hear stories from the locals of the wild deer and stag being sighted in the winter evenings. I felt that strange tug again in my tummy – a memory that I couldn’t quite catch… At night I was beginning what would become my medicine doll apprenticeship and one of the very first dolls I made was a doll I called StagWoman. You can see her in the photo below and at the top of this post you will see the incredible drawing of StagWoman by Alice Savage who is now the doll’s keeper.

StagWoman by Sacred Familiar

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I made the first StagWoman (who actually lives inside Alice’s StagWoman – a doll within a doll!) for myself to help me get used to living in the forest after living in cities for more than half my life. At night I would feel the heavy darkness and the movement of the animals and I felt the forest like a wild creature – Stag at my window. I was feeling old fears that I couldn’t even believe I had – they felt somewhat medieval. My fear was of leaving the city or town and the ‘tribe’ – I worried about how to fend for myself, how to work for myself and how to survive when all of my clients lived in the city. As I was making this doll, a huge mountain ash tree fell a few metres from our home with a ground shaking explosion, sounding exactly like a car crash in the middle of the night. The next day I went and stood near the upturned roots of this fallen giant trying to come to terms with all this uncontrollable wildness – it all felt so dangerous.

As the doll grew I kept seeing antlers like the Stag growing through her hair. I was confused at first, was she male or female? She told me she was female but wore antlers. She was embodying both male and female and I let her be just that. She became an important talisman to help me find my own balance and to trust the wild that was not only all around us but also waking up inside me. Little by little I lost my fear of the forest and realised it wasn’t actually even my fear but something like a bad spell or brainwashing put upon us to convince us that we need the city to survive or others to provide for us. I had to develop totally new habits and ways of working and as I did, the requests for medicine dolls grew. I now felt the spirit of the forest as a soft and caring presence who nurtured me but also confronted me when I was not being aware of nature and she would remind me to always live with nature instead of beside it or hidden inside my so called ‘safe’ home. I learnt that the forest is safety. The medicine dolls soon become my main source of work – work that I love and adore. And StagWoman keeps making herself known to me constantly through various different medicine doll incarnations. You can see some of them here.

Deer medicine is teaching me. And it keeps returning when I need reminding – like it’s time to grow a new set of antlers. The lessons are about independence, freedom, living closer to nature and supporting myself to be here. The significance of the StagWoman is to clear and remove old beliefs around gender and what it means to be a woman living in this time now – how to be remain wild and at the same time take proper care of ourselves – to be free and responsible for ourselves at the same time.

staghorn Sacred Familiar

Helena Ambrosia Deer Medicine

Deer Medicine Woman: Helena Ambrosia

What you see above is a ‘healed antler’ made by artist and medicine woman, Helena Ambrosia to heal the ancestral line of her mother’s family in the Ukraine. Recently I was the blessed recipient of one of Helena’s deer medicine talismans (the one you see on the tapestry). She told me that this was one of the oldest antlers she has found in the forest near her home in Tasmania but it is also the very first antler that forms when the deer is growing their first horns. It is worn by the forest and moss and I love that it looks like a very ancient bird when I hold it in a certain way. I know that Helena has been on a huge journey with the ancestral medicine of Deer for years and I wanted to ask her about her understanding of it and the significance of antlered women.

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Helena: “The deer medicine had come to me several times over the years but I never really resonated with it or even had the sensitivity to engage it.  It wasn’t until I had the deer appear very strongly in a Swan Blessing medicine session that I really took notice of what it was trying to say to me.  After that the antlers started coming into my life.  Mostly broken and damaged ones that I felt compelled to “heal” or restore by attaching crystals to the missing tips and bringing them back to a healed state. I also started making antler jewellery and found myself diving more and more deeply into the energy of the deer.  She started appearing in visions and meditation consistently guiding and teaching me.

Up until now this has been a very private journey for me as my experience of deer medicine was quite different to what I was reading in books.  It wasn’t until I read about the medicine of deer being aligned to those who have chosen to heal and awaken through sacrifice that things started making sense to me. The deer I realized is one of the most widely hunted creatures on this planet. It has therefore developed and evolved a highly sensitive nervous system that operates constantly in flight fight mode.  Here was the healing medicine I needed to receive.  At the time I was in recovery from severe anxiety, stress burn out and a hyper vigilant nervous system that was exhausting me and making life very hard to be in. The deer started teaching me about my nervous system and how to use my hyper vigilance as a blessing rather than living in despair. Gradually I got a grip on the debilitating aspect of it and am owning my sensitivity and perceptiveness as a gift.  The deer shows me immediately when something is “off” I feel it coursing through my being and in an instance I know when it’s time to either camouflage myself or to leave a situation entirely. Through the deer I have honed my instinctual self and harnessed its ability to see. I am aware of the gentle beautiful aspects of this medicine but also the wild fierce aspects also.  Right now I am delving deeply into the stag energy, the energy of the king of the forest.  These are not at all passive, non-aggressive beings.  They are powerful and courageous beings with immense spirit and medicine that man has worked with for ever.  The deer has always been here with us.

Deer woman came in as part of my exploration of my ancestry.  I am of Ukrainian heritage first generation born in Australia.  I wanted to understand my heritage more deeply and begun an exploration of the female blood line I wanted to understand the medicine of these women.  I knew that I had a journey to restore the feminine medicine in my blood line, that there was some energetic archaeology to be done.  The deer was guiding me and I knew it was related.  Further and further and further back I journeyed in my visions and experiences, answering a call from this shamanic woman from a time and place I cannot even name, the time of the tribes, way back to when the world was a very different place and humans knew their place in the web of nature. Finally she revealed herself as an antler wearing woman of medicine.  She started guiding me to make a headdress with antlers, she has guided me in the creation of energetic healing tools and has now started guiding me through ceremonies to restore the balance in the world soul and the web of life and so I have made myself available to this journey and am working to bring it back. It appears her energy from then needs to come back now. I am now making her complete ceremonial outfit and am really looking forward to “meeting her in all her” when finally I can see her in myself and do ceremony in her form. All of this has been quite strange and largely a journey in solitude. I’m not really even sure how to name what I am experiencing. The closest thing I can come up with is that I am doing some kind of ancient soul retrieval and integration with her.

Having this connection and experience in my life has opened up my inner world and my spiritual journey in ways I cannot describe, It brings healing to me in the deepest most profound ways, it has restored my sense of purpose and authenticity. I am no longer trying to be anyone else I am really happy to just be me and to do this work….whether it makes sense or not.”

So I see the antlered woman in two ways.

She was of the time when women were honoured as the bringers and healers of life. When women were highly respected for their medicine and their connection to the living web of life. When they were completely in touch with their instinctual selves and were the true essence of feminine power.  She represents the shamanic woman who was held in power and esteem within the social and tribal context.  The antler wearing woman is the woman who was free in her medicine before the shift of medicinal power into the masculine realm.

Secondly in a more modern context I see the antlered women as the balancer between the archetypal symbols of goddess and stag.  In Celtic myth the stag has been for a long time held as symbol for masculine so I see the woman wearing stag antlers as the woman who dares to restore the balance between the energy of genders.  I see her as the one who owns the strength of the masculine within herself and has the courage to face the destructive masculine within herself to restore the healing and balance in the world.  She is the woman who through healing the damaged power seeking masculine and the disempowered feminine within herself restores the true essence of the instinctual, medicinal feminine within herself and thusly in the entire web of life.  She frees men and women from the destructive aspects of power and brings them back to their natural and beautiful and free state.”

This is the first time that Helena has spoken about this long healing journey with the medicine of Deer and we are honoured to share it here. I look forward to seeing where the Deer is leading Helena in her creation of Deer Medicine Woman ceremonial dress and antlers. I feel a beautiful ceremony helping other women embrace this medicine and ancestral healing is coming. You can see more of Helena’s artwork and get in touch with her here.

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Deer Medicine Woman: Lindsy Richards

I met Lindsy when she attended one of my medicine doll circles at Spirit Weavers in the Redwoods this year. I remember her so well because she made the most amazing Marie Antoinette medicine doll complete with gown and white cotton candy wig. When I returned home to Australia Lindsy and I connected through instagram and when I saw the images of what she creates I was blown away. Through her work with Illuminating Archetypes, Lindsy is the creator of the most captivating and fascinating headdresses – many of them antlered. She told me how it was seeing one of my antlered medicine dolls that made her want to make her own medicine doll. We have since had a couple of discussions weaving the threads that connect our work and our own healing, discovering that it was the antlered women and Artemis that helped us to heal and grow forward.

I felt I truly understood Lindsy best when I read her story The Artist Mother – A Tale of a ‘Wild Woman Archetype’ on her website. It’s such a strong Deer medicine and Artemis tale!

Lindsy RIchards

Lindsy: “Artemis is the resistance to domestication. Her twin brother Apollo (her opposite) represents the intellect and the culture, while she stands for the power of Nature and the Wild Self. She is the Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the moon, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls. This Virgin Goddess symbolizes autonomy, the ability to belong to herself. She is an archetype of the self empowered woman. “Artemis comes to sanctify solitude, natural, and primitive living to which we may all return whenever we find it necessary to belong only to ourselves.” ~Ginette Paris

All the animals of the forest are under Artemis’s protection.  She is in such intimate relationship with them, she knows their rhythms, cycles, and habits. Yet as the huntress she must engage the primordial dance of kill and be killed. Artemis imagery is most often depicted with the deer/stag. She is a death/rebirth goddess. One who holds the mysteries of regeneration and cycles.

Artemis and Deer Wisdom: Be still and silent in developing your intuition. Trust your instincts and move swiftly. Approach your challenges with grace and determination.”

I urge you to have a deeper look at Lindsy’s work at Illuminating Archetypes to be taken to the realm of Deer medicine and I look forward to weaving more with Lindsy in the future!

Lindsy Deer Medicine

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Medicine dolls awaiting keepers.

Elementals Online Medicine DollMarket

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Hello, we have been very quiet here of late due to large number of custom orders over winter but we have also been creating a tribe of medicine dolls inspired by the elements, sacred geometry and plant friends of the Forest and they will be available very soon at our next online DollMarket.

This little doll community will be available to carry on their magical workings with their new keepers on Sunday, 2nd August (Australian time zone). The market will take place as a Facebook event  beginning at 1pm (Melbourne time) and finishing 2 hours later. Here is a link to the event page.
The Elemental Medicine Dolls have all been handcrafted by the fire here in deep winter in Sherbrooke Forest. We will also be sharing dolls wearing the medicine of Huichol beading blessed and gifted from an ancestral family from Mexico. All medicine dolls are made by hand with love and intention with hand dyed artisan wool and fibres and fossicked plant and mineral medicines.

The dollmarkets are a great place to have a chat with us about our dollmaking process and ask any questions you may have. You’ll also get to meet a lot of lovely people and have a chance to win a custom medicine doll.

Below are some of the Elemental sisters who will be available, we can’t wait to share them all with you very soon!

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Winter Solstice – the Dreaming Egg

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Last night was the Solstice. Here in Australia it is Winter and we experienced the darkest night of the year. I recently wrote about this in our latest MoonMedicine Letter and thought I would share some of this here today. Emu is the largest bird in Australia and I had the honour of holding an Emu egg  last week when I was told it was the first of the season. As the egg is incubated and cared for, it turns from green to blue to deepest purple. I had only ever held an empty emu egg before this and I was fascinated with the heavy weight of this egg. When I held it in my hand I also felt a comfort in my heart. I felt the strength of the shell holding and incubating the softness inside. Everything about this emu egg reminded me of wholeness. And magic too! Could there be a dragon inside?

Emu’s breed in early June and the egg is incubated for around 8 weeks and so they are truly winter babies. They have lived all of their dreaming and incubation in the winter months and are born in early spring. I love that it is actually the males that incubate the eggs and also take care of the very young babies too. It’s definitely a combined effort. When I feel called to add emu feathers to a medicine doll it’s usually a medicine of strength and protection. Emu’s can be very territorial and strong in protecting their families. The day after I wrote this a package arrived with Emu feathers inside – such a huge bird and yet such delicate and elegant feathers.. I had a doll that was half-made, she had camel fibres woven into her hair and shawl and it felt perfect that she would be wearing Emu feathers in her hair too. I called her She Dreams of the Desert.

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Sitting here on the darkest night of the year I am looking at the Emu egg and I am reminded of what Winter is meant to be – a time of slowing down, feeling warm and nourished and incubating new dreams. Dreaming is very important to me and I have always had very clear and magical dreams that I have written down in notebooks ever since I was a child. Many of them contain messages and hints of what was to come – even years down the track. That’s the tricky part about dreams, they are not bound to linear time and so we are often baffled at first and find it hard to reach the meaning. Writing down our dreams and then returning to them later on can be a really affirming experience of your intuition and knowing.

It can help when we can allow ourselves to flow naturally with the seasons and perhaps instead of seeing the long dark months of Winter as a time of being cut off from the world, we can see it as Mother Earth’s dreaming gift. She has given us a great gift, this beautiful big egg full of promise and wish. But to see it grow into it’s promise, we must be gentle with it, warm it and incubate it. Let the curtain come down softly on the world. We have been invited to journey deeper into the dreamtime.

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Today I am also remembering Vali Myers and how she loved the cold months and for much of her life she loved to live between two countries always. One to dream in and one to be out in the world in. For a time, Vali’s personal notebooks and journals lived in my home and they were so full of energy, magic and wisdom that I found it very hard to sleep with them so close. Today I remembered finding this dedication that Vali wrote to herself in her earliest surviving journal from Paris in 1957. It is a dedication honouring the dreamworld – a land that the artist must visit regularly to create. And so today I am imagining Winter to be a different country that I have moved to and I’m looking at changes I can make to live more comfortably in this slower, dreaming land.

The first change is that I have received a dream telling me it is time to open up Swan Blessing ancestral medicine sessions again. These sessions will be available from July by phone and Skype and you read Swan Stories from people speaking in their own words about their medicine and the journey taken to claim it back. It has been 4 years since the blessing was passed to me by my Grandmother and it has deepened and changed. I’m excited about sharing this again.

Winter is the time of the Grandmother and when I wanted to ask her for some good, solid guidance for this season. I thought of the Emu egg and how it is a perfect vessel to hold the Cosmic (inner) Child.  I created the tarot spread below 8 months ago to help me to listen to the Grandmother and the Child. I am using it today to prepare for this dreaming time and I’m sharing it here for anyone who wishes to do the same. For all our Northern family who are dancing in the Sun today the only difference in using this spread is that it is not advice for incubation (feminine) but a way to access advice for what needs to be done and put out into the world (masculine) right now. I ‘d love to hear how you go with it x

 

GrandMother’s Gift to the Cosmic Child (with The Wild Unknown Tarot)

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Tarot Spread Positions :

1. What Is

2. What the Cosmic Child Wants

3. What the Cosmic Child Needs

4. How you are currently mothering the Cosmic Child – is this connected to your own childhood

5. Behaviours & Beliefs to be Released

6. Behaviours & Beliefs to Embrace

7. GrandMother’s Gift (Dreaming Egg) for the Cosmic Child

8. Your new journey (after Winter) with the Cosmic Child

 

You can read the latest MoonMedicine letter here in full and you can subscribe to receive it each New Moon. 

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