Spring 2013

It felt like a long winter this year and as the Wood Sisters gathered for Imbolc, some of us were longing for light and new beginnings, while others needed more time still to rest in the dark time of the circling year. Sam and family were preparing to leave their home at the Vicarage and, as it turned out, Imbolc was to be the last Wood Sisters Day there after two and a half years of regular meetings.

And it did feel like a special day. Brigid herself joined us in the form of a giant puppet from the Wood Sisters Winter Festival and towered over us quietly at the dining table for several days. It’s quite an experience to share a meal or a cup of tea with a Goddess! She and feline Wood Sister, Serenity, were soon firm friends.

A highlight of the morning was a shared telling of the story of Bride and Cailleach. In their storytelling Ronnie, Sue & Sam marked the endless dance of the year from dark to light, from cold to warmth, from rest to growth (and back again) in telling together the tale of the old, cold hag of winter, the Cailleach, as she tests and tempers and finally gives ground to the youthful Spring maiden, Bride. At the heart of their story lies the ‘Dance of the Mill Dust’ where the great mill stones of life keep turning and these great Goddesses each take their turn to dance and rest, just as they take their turn in the natural world as cold earth starts to come to a new life with the snowdrops at this Imbolc time.

In the afternoon we made our Bridie dolls in honour of the Winter Hag and the Spring Maiden, weaving together old and new in the form of dead twigs and leaves and fresh greenery with bright coloured ribbons and threads… and then the Wood Sisters themselves danced out into the garden with our giant Brigid, to the music of drum and harp. Through simple ceremony we enjoyed a taste of oatmeal and new, local milk. The word Imbolc apparently may come from the Old Irish meaning ‘in the belly’ referring to pregnant ewes or to the Anglo Saxon ‘oimelc’, meaning ewe’s milk as the new Spring lambs start to arrive at this time of the year. Finally we warmed the ground by making and lighting earth candles, which then burned on into the night…

Both Sue and Sam had major changes unfolding with the Spring, Together we embraced both aspects of the eternal dance as Sue’s family lost a grandmother and matriarch and Sam’s family moved to a new home. Each experience was so full that we had to cancel our Wood Sisters Spring Equinox this year and just concentrate on how the balance of light and dark was happening in our own lives.

But come Beltane, we were ready to re group with our sisters and enjoy another new beginning, with our first gathering at Green Dragon Barn, Sue’s newly (almost!) completed eco home near Blackawton. What a wonderful new sanctuary for the Wood Sisters, where we can sit back against great oak posts that hold up this beautiful old barn and warm ourselves by the fire on its stone hearth.

In true Beltane style this was a lively, feisty gathering focussed around stories of the Ancient Greek Virgin Goddesses Artemis, Atlanta and Hestia told by Lisa, Sue and Sam. Hestia, keeper of the sacred fires of hearth and community led our imaginations back to the earliest Goddesses and their full bodied stone figures found in ancient caves, long before she was worshipped as Hestia in the homes and cities of Ancient Greece (and as Vesta by the Romans). Artemis drew our hearts from cave and hearth and home and out into the wild woods. Even as a young girl she knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t hesitate to ask for some wonderful gifts including female companionship, to remain her own woman (virgin), free and equipped to pursue her own goals (the hunt) and all in a tunic short enough to run in! And finally Atalanta, a mortal woman, faced with a deep choice between winning or loving as she paused to pick up the golden apples thrown by a suitor rather than be the first to cross the finish line, which certainly got us thinking about what our golden apples might be and what we would choose…

After a particularly resplendent Bring & Share Feast, we wandered out into nature to make May crowns or stayed close to the hearth weaving paper heart baskets to be filled with Spring flowers as gifts for friends, neighbours or loved ones. This may be an expression of ‘here we go gathering nuts in May’ or rather ‘knots in May’ meaning small spring posies… after all there has to be some excuse for having spent the night out in the greenwood…

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