The Three who are in the earth, the Three who are in the air, the Three who are in the heavens, the Three who are in the great pouring sea. Two years ago the old fairy doctor with her long white hair used the words translated from Scots Gaelic I too use in my rites to cast a protective caim. The trance came on easily with the soothing sound of the familiar words, this world fading and turning black. She took us to an island whose earth was made of the bones of the dead and yet still covered in green growth. An island in the centre of our hearts. There on the white beach, trees behind me, sea in front of me, she asked what we were to create and build in the near future. The ground shimmered in front of me and first appeared my wood carving tools. They soon disappeared and were replaced by a small cedar wood cradle.
It alarmed me to say the least. At the time I was single, living alone, and juggling two businesses plus web design work and a busy social life – a baby was the furthest thing from my mind. I started dreaming of a little boy and once saw a friend playing with him in a rare taibhsear’s waking vision. In the dreams there was such fierce love and happiness, I would weep quiet tears when I awoke. Tears for things as simple as having never snuggled, bathed, or played with a child that is mine. Tears for never having seen them smile or laugh with joy. It was out of character for my normally sarcastic, non-weepy, busy self. I hadn’t wanted children before. My heart seemed to know something was coming that my head wasn’t aware of yet.
My good friend Nikiah is many things and one of those things is a storyteller. I love her version of the tale of the goddess Inanna’s descent into the underworld. She tells it when “birthing” drums with people and she tells it when hosting mother blessings, beating her red drum, blue eyes sparkling while silver spills from her tongue. “From the great above she set her mind toward the great below.” It is magical and perfect how the most ancient of myths and folktales can mirror our own lives.
I had a plan for my life and my work… but then, of course, I fell in love. Love is a funny, unpredictable thing and can change you in ways you never dreamed. My heart softened, my tongue sweetened with honey, my actions were more and more selfless. The Poisoner won me over wholely with his patient but insistent love and his perfect words that always matched the trueness and sweetness of his actions. What is a woman to do but to completely let go of control and allow herself to be loved so deeply? I was stripped naked as Inanna was upon her descent to the underworld, pride demolished, but for the better.
What happens when two people are deeply in love? Passion, yes, but also other desires. We made up our minds to be wed, to be handfasted in a beautiful forest surrounded by our family and friends, to feast and dance into the night by the bonfire under the summer’s stars. We made up our minds to create new life, to start a family of our own, whispering to each other in the dark all the things we would teach our child and our hopes for who they could become. Shared intent and will are powerful between two magicians, there was no trying, the baby simply appeared — and before we’d even had time to make it to our handfasting! Everyone thought we would have a girl and even the local diviner, with her incredible accuracy rate and my ring spinning, suspended over my swelling belly from one of my hairs, was sure. I said nothing but remembered my dreams and sure enough the tiny life growing inside me turned out to be a boy.
What is it like to pull up a soul from the underworld, to pull down a star from the heavens? Uncomfortable, painful, gore-filled. Most people won’t warn you of the vomit, the blood, or the feces-laced waters – only of the pain. But it wasn’t frightening, it was what it was moment to moment. “It’s just a moment in time. Step aside and let it happen.” I remembered all the blessings my friends had given me. I let my body do all the work and shut off my brain, knowing my body was designed to do this and knew better than me, knowing countless women before me going back into the far reaches of time had given birth and trusted in their bodies.
We happened to drive by the graveyard on the way to the hospital and I prayed to the ancestors. Again I let go of control. Again I was Inanna descending to the underworld, being stripped of all my being until there was nothing left but meat and bones. This time rebirthed by the Queen of the Underworld to become Mother.
“Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, is moaning
With the cries of a woman about to give birth.
No linen is spread over her body.
Her breasts are uncovered.
Her hair swirls about her head like leeks.”
He arrived on the day of Saturn under the influence of the full moon; the worm moon named for the warming earth teeming with worms to be eaten by robins, also named the sap moon for the return of the flow of sap to the trees in early spring. He arrived with the sun on the Ides of March, the new year of the oldest Roman calendar, once marked by the full moon. Crow sentinels circled us every hour while in the hospital, circled the car on the way home, and continue to caw outside the bedroom window every day – a guardian gift from Grandmother Crow.
Labour was so fast and intense that there was no time for anything but a completely natural birth. The midwives were shocked since he is my first. One asked me what my secret was and the only thing I could think of was surrender. The Poisoner and I’s little Yew Tree was born big, strong, and healthy. We took him home the next day. Both of Scots blood, we performed a simple rite based on one of old to protect from evil, illness, the evil eye, and the fey. I blessed a fresh portion of holy water, sprinkling it on the thresholds, the altar, and marked crosses on our three foreheads to sain us. Then the Poisoner walked sunwise around the baby and I in bed with a burning brand. He laid his iron spear across the bed. He left an offering of bread, cheese, and whiskey on the altar for our familiar spirits and another offering of the same outside to appease and keep away the unwelcome outdwellers. “Good keep in, evil keep out.” It was done.
“Sain my little child,
Shield him from death,
Hasten him to health,
As thou desirest,
Pain and sorrow
To thine injurer,
A thousand welcomes to thee,
Life and health be thine,
The age of joy be thine,
In every place,
Peace and growth to him,
Strength and worth to him,
Victory of place,
Everywhere to him“
~ Saining Lullaby from the Carmina Gadelica
Being a superstitious folk magician, who is perhaps too well-versed in old Scoto-Scandinavian superstitions, another old tradition we are enforcing is to keep myself and the baby at home and away from other people for as long as possible with only close family and the midwife allowed to visit after a good handwashing. Confinement is usually associated with traditional Chinese culture, but was practised by Celtic and Germanic peoples as well. Mother and baby would be “quarantined” at home for up to one to two months to protect them from illness and the evil eye – which they were believed to be very susceptible to with birth being its own kind of magical threshold, causing a door to be opened between worlds.
Though based in superstition, I see reason in it. A newborn is still building an immune system and the mother will take weeks to recover from giving birth, which is quite a shock to the body. It being the tail end of winter, people are still passing around viruses – the less exposure the better! I know that I’m lucky having my parents, my auntie, and my sweet man to help me while I heal and our little one grows strong. One more superstition; I won’t be posting photos of the baby publicly for privacy’s sake as well as the Scots belief that it was bad luck for people to praise a newborn.
And now to continue on this new and unexpected adventure, to surrender and to revel in the joys to come!