have been gone for so long, in the woods, in the mountains, by waters fast and deep. It is all a blur now. Faces smiling and laughing and talking. Bodies swaying to drums by fire and star light. Our hair and clothes smelling of fire and smoke, earth and cedar. For once I am almost lost for words. My storyteller’s tongue was tied for days after while my mind and heart caught up with all that happened in the past month. Where have I been? It is spring, summer is a comin’ in and winter’s gone away-o. Where else do we untamed ones go when the sun shines and the earth is blanketed in green once more?
Where have all the witches gone?
Over hill and under stone.
You shall not find them inside a house,
but if you are quiet as a mouse
and walk softly on the forest floor,
you will find them at the otherworld’s door
by grove, sea, and crossroad, places of power,
working their magic at the appointed hour.
No, you shall not find them inside a home;
in the wilds is where they roam.
eltuinn is always a big event in my local community. We placed offerings of woods into the bonefire and invoked our gods. We poured the ashes of our dead and of 20 years of fires into the pit. The May Queen passed on her crown of flowers and twisted hazel wand. The Stag King was killed in single combat in the field before us all, naked, his body carried away solemnly by the men into the forest. The King is dead! Long live the King! The new Stag rides the maypole and hunts down his bride and they are wed. The twenty-two foot maypole is risen, the luscious redhead and I dug its entrance into the earth, the women crying out in pleasure as the men lower it into the pit. The colourful ribbons spill down and we dance, weaving the feminine and masculine together in spirit and song.
In the darkness of night we build a wicker man to represent our dead king. He is large and tall, the flames leap and devour him, rising high above our heads. The Bear looks at me and then runs and jumps the fire. He collides head-first with a morris dancer and his sharp staff. Blood into the fire and blood covering my hand, trickling down my arm as I hold the wound closed. Blood on the earth and blood on the leaves. The land isn’t satisfied with twenty years of dry wicker men. We dance, we drum, we drink blackberry mead and damiana liqueur. We massage each other with flying ointments of bear and bird fats. Cloven fruits are offered with mischievous eyes. We disappear into the woods. I come home blooded, broken, and bruised, my feet stained with sacred ashes and my dark hair tangled with leaves. I sleep and when I awake it is time to run away again, this time to a river surrounded by mountains for a large gathering of shamans.
he drive to the BC Shamanic Conference site is like entering another world, all ocean, mountains, and islands as far as the eye can see. The title of this year’s event is Return to the Forest and what a beautiful, blooming forest we returned to. The arbutus and the elders were in flower – white against green and red. So much love, smiles, and hugs upon arrival and it would continue on for the whole week. I was overwhelmed with love and my heart broke open. Such wondrous people come to this event each year.
The fire ceremony is my favourite ritual. If the local shamans had a god it would be Grandfather Fire. The lightning is called down until the flame leaps up and it is passed around and then placed in the sacred fire pit, decorated with spices into mandalas of red and saffron yellow. We are all given bundles of sacred woods to offer to the fire. “Grandfather Fire, I offer you the wood of the sacred cherry tree!” He devours the woods and grows bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter until it is unbearable to stand too close. We shout in celebration at his arrival. We drum and dance, breathe fire with rum, and pass around cigars, blessing each other with smoke and rolling them up the women’s bared thighs. Florida water and rose water are thrown in the air over us. We dance until we are covered in sweat and it boils from the heat. I pour red wine into the elder’s hands and he places them over my breasts and then covers me in powdered red cedar so it looks like I am covered in blood from cheek to navel.
That night I help the Wiccans put on their traditional NROOGD ritual and perform the tale of Cerridwen’s cauldron and the birth of Taliesin. A bridge is built between the Pagan and Shamanic communities. We are not so different. The shamans laugh and chant and spiral dance. They adore the greeting dance and kisses, eyes shining in the firelight. Fantastical animals hung from tall poles and people donning animal masks and costumes form a procession sunwise around the fire; raven, owl, heron, eagle, salmon, goat, bear… The people dance, leap, and mimic the animals they bear.
A First Nations hereditary chief came down from the mountains in the north to speak to us, to build a bridge of his own. His voice was loud and strong, his purpose clear. It didn’t matter how much he once disliked us and our ancestors for taking the land and destroying families and tribes. We are all destroying our world and he wants his grandchildren to have a future and knows we must all work together for it to be so. Don’t we all want the same thing? For there to be a planet of beauty and kindness left for our descendants? He beat his drum and sang louder than I had ever heard anyone sing like the inhuman song of a mountain or a rushing river.
I taught of the traditional ritual entheogens of Europe titled “Rediscovering Ancestral Plant Wisdom“. I taught why and how they were used by our ancestors and why and how we should use them today. I took away fear, hoping to replace it instead with respect and reverence for belladonna, datura, henbane, mandrake, monkshood, mugwort, wormwood and yew. Many had never heard of or used these plants before. At the end of the lecture and discussion I gave them a choice of smoking mugwort or using an ointment of mandrake or wormwood and then we all lay down in the warm sun while my friend Nikiah beat her drum. We went on a plant journey to meet the spirit of the plant and to seek its wisdom, sharing our experiences after. I was in awe of what a good reaction I received from everyone, how detailed and vivid their journeys were, how they felt the strong pull to work with plant spirits.
My friend Nikiah taught of sacred beekeeping and told us to listen to the message of the bees. We are destroying nature and the bees have been trying to show us. We need to listen and make things better for them, for us, and our children. We listened to a recording of the inside of a beehive, we inhaled the deliciousness of beeswax and the smokey vanilla sweetness of propolis resin, we tasted honeys, propolis tincture, bee pollen, and mead, and we bathed ourself in honeyed water. We journeyed to meet the bees and received wisdom and advice.
I went for a long hike deep in the woods along the river with Michael Dunning. He is a dark Scottish pixie full of fire and mischief. I named the plants and trees for him as we spoke of magic, initiations, our communities, our lives, and our shared connection to Scotland the sacred Yew tree. The air was sweetly fragrant with balm of gilead resin in the air and false lily of the valley low to the ground. I saw its broad leaves rustle and reached in to the darkness, pulling out a large, fat american toad. I have never seen a toad so big. I released it to the leaves and river-wet ground once more. We took it as a good sign. At the end of the conference, the Bear gifted Michael the yew and wolf bone ritual blade we’d made together. A fitting gift for such a teacher.
I lost a dear family friend while at the conference and so Christina Pratt’s ancestor ritual held very deep meaning for me. That day and all that night it poured rain for the first time all week. Pouring down tears of the dead, tears of the descendants. I let out all my sorrow and grief, burning it in the fire and cooling it with soothing water. We all dressed in white, faces painted white, and became the dead — the dead to our descendants so far ahead of us in the future. Beautiful mandalas of white powder around Grandfather Fire decorated with branches of cedar and white tea lights. We sang sweet songs in Gaelic, hands over our hearts, and then we drummed and we danced in joy becoming the living once more. I stayed up late talking softly by the fire with good people.
I came home with mead poured over my feet and rosewater down my back. My hair smelled of tobacco and woodsmoke and the hem of my dress soaked with water and earth. I did not sleep the last few days of the conference. I stayed up so late each night not wanting it to end, dancing or smoking damiana and rose petals with others. I went home with my heart and soul beaming love from all I’d received and I shared that love with my mother and grandmother on Mother’s Day when I returned.
blinked and it was time to head once more into the woods, this time to Lake Sasamat in the mountains for the Gathering for Life on Earth Festival. Many times we danced around the fire by the lake to drumming under the stars. Many times we hid under the porch by a smaller fire, laughing and talking, the lovely Kerri playing her fiddle. I remember the men and women, naked, painted each other with red ochre and blue woad and how the men carried a bull skull and the women a horse. We processed to the fire, to the lake and we invoked the Dagda and Macha into the skulls. We danced and we sang, faster and louder until a painted warrior fiercely drove a sword into the centre of the fire at the climax. We ran to the dock and lept into the cold waters of the lake, shouting and laughing, the blue pigment disappearing from my skin. The sword stayed in the fire all weekend long, eventually bending and twisting, like the ancient swords found in bogs left as offerings by our ancestors, until we let it slip into the lake showered with milk, ale, barley, pollen, and flower petals. The Coru Cathubodua recited a prayer for peace, prosperity, sovereignty, good actions, happy children, happy land… It was beautiful, like a cool salve on an angry wound.
I remember the men and women splitting up for the mystery rituals. The men shapeshifting and teaching brotherhood, the women calling the Queens of old to find the power within ourselves to be warriors in our lives, to be strong, to know we are not alone. I cast the circle with my bear drum and a booming voice. We invoked Hekate to be our gatekeeper and guardian, burying offerings of honey, spirits, pollen, and flowers for her in the earth at the foot of the altar of rocks and rotting logs covered in the she-wolf hide and mare skull. We passed a cup of my strawberry liqueur and invoked the Queens long dead, following the river of blood back through time to speak to them. We spoke blessings for each other, for ourselves, and for our descendants. We danced with weapons around a fire to the beat of drums – some with daggers, some with swords or spears, and others with axes. We howled like wolves and owls. Some women cried, some women laughed. We left the circle, heads held high for each and every one of us is a Queen. We walked toward the lake to meet the men. We sang them songs of beauty and of the moon and met them, each sex standing in a line facing each other. The women sang to them a chant of Thorn’s: “We are beauty and we are darkness. We are light and we are change.” Then we looked at each other in silence for a moment, the moon and stars in our eyes. “Attack!” I shouted and, much to their delight, we showered the men with kisses.
There was axe throwing and archery, bellydancers, musicians, and then all strange manner of vendors and fortune tellers at the goblin market – some trading rune and tarot readings or goods for songs and memories instead of money. There were temples consecrated to Aphrodite and Pan, gods and ancestors invoked, and many an offering to the spirits of the land and the lake buried and poured on stones. It was the simple things I loved most: swimming in the cold lake with nymphs and the honey covered kisses by the fires at night. It was both chaotic and beautiful. I have much love for my community and the magic that happens when we all come together. I came home smelling of elderflowers, honey, cedar, mud, and lake water. I do not wish to wash my clothes now, for how they smell of forests, fires, and flowers, but soon will come June and summer and more adventures.