Wood Sisters celebrated the Celtic New Year with a deep, soulful Samhain Gathering last Saturday. The cauldron crew had prepared a central Autumn Mandala and the day began with Sam and Sue speaking a little of their experience of the festival itself. Sam mentioned the bringing in from pasture of the cattle in the Scottish crofts where she used to live and Sue spoke of the goddess as crone and the Jack o’ Lantern originally being set out to light the way of the spirits of the ancestors back to our houses, where, as Sam said, a place was laid at table for them.
This was followed by a heartfelt sharing of the seasons of our lives around the Wisdom Pot and then Sam took us into a trance telling of the Handless Maiden – a Grimm’s Old Forest story which has a central female character who goes on a long and non-linear journey of initiation which cycles from the mill to the forest, to the orchard and the palace and back to the forest again before a final return to the palace. And we feel certain that her life will contain yet more cycles…. this is the foundation story of the Wood Sisters, containing as it does women dressed in green and brown who help and shelter the Handless Maiden in the forest. These Wood Sisters and Wood Brothers did exist as hermits in the forests of Europe who offered an Inn to travellers who found their way into the depths of the wood.
There was a rich a sharing of thoughts from all of us who heard the story. Beth wrote afterwards: “My first Samhain – the beginning of the Celtic year and the beginning of my journey with the Celtic 8-fold calendar – it was a very special day indeed. The story of the Handless Maiden continues to stir in me both inwardly in spirit and outwardly in hands crafted from salt dough. They hold a reminder of the growth from no hands to child’s hands to the hands of a woman and a wood sister.”
And indeed, after a splendid Samhain feast, which included the traditional Irish Colcannon with Samhain oracles for each of us, which this year drew from the inspiration of the Celtic tree ogham, we turned to crafting with our hands – working with salt dough on some of the images in the story or from the autumn season. Sarah, who has been to many Gatherings, wrote afterwards: “I relished the opportunity to hunker down with other women for Samhain. The warmth and sharing was rich and heartening. The Handless Maiden speaks again soulfully of the woman’s journey-not heroic but spiralingly brave and enduring. Thankfully I send love and many blessings upon your abilities to gather and hold the group so that each can do what they do to contribute to the fire of community.”
Later in the afternoon, we sat in meditation, going deep into the cave of the crone to receive her wisdom and returning for a ceremony of lighting candles to invite the ancestors in – each naming our four grandparents, symbolic of our lineage, our tribe; which struck a deep chord for me in our often rootless culture.
Jewelled seeds were planted in the dark earth for those things we would like to grow deep down in the soil ready for emergence next spring. Finally each women had a chance to share poetry and song, thoughts and experience, whilst planting a sprig of rosemary in remembrance of people who have passed to the other side of the veil. We closed with a voiced sound poem.
Thanks to all who came and shared and listened and honoured this ancient Cross Quarter day which marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter – a fire festival of turning inward towards the dark. Isabel, who is writing a poem for each of the 8 festivals of the Wheel of the Year, composed this one for Samhain:
A time in which things take their own time,
A time of risky seasons and unpredictable weather,
An edgy liminal time of toll-free crossings.
A time of holding and longing to be held,
Of a crone’s deep knowing and the wisdom of not knowing:
Of letting go and ceasing to struggle in the fall.
A time of chaos and cosmos entwined in one
When the veil between the worlds thins
As the cervix of the womb thins before birth.
And skeins of geese fly across the face of the moon
It is time to step gladly into the darkness and the flames.