The Call from the Great Below

TThe 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.

Our Forest Handfasting

The Poisoner and I being handfasted, wreathed in hawthorn

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.

Seven months pregnant

Seven months pregnant

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.

Friends washing my nine-months-pregnant swollen feet at my mother blessing

Friends washing my nine-months-pregnant swollen feet at my mother blessing

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!

Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Annwyn says:

    Beautiful! Congrats on your little bundle. I knew it was something special when I saw you two together last May. I am so happy for you, and your new chapter in life <3

  • May the wee bairn grow in strength and beauty. “Not above him, nor below him, but within him.”

  • wonderful, powerful, just lovely.. ♥

  • dre says:

    Wonderful!

    In Puerto Rican culture (of which I am half), mother and newborn wait at least 40 days before going out into the world. As you said, the superstition has practical merit. It is also very common to put a small gold bracelet with a mano fico on the baby to protect from all ill intent. As a mother of two, I can attest to the good sense of both the staying at home and the protective measures.

    I am so happy for you and your husband. Welcome to the parenthood, it is all good things. Many blessings to the three of you.

  • Brigit says:

    Blessings on all 3 of you, your post made me weep with joy, Your writing is very evocative and I enjoy everything you put on FB. Best wishes,B

  • elle north says:

    I love the story, the ritual, the birth, the joy. Congratulations. It’s amazing how the body can create such preciousness. xo

  • Helen says:

    Congratulations! I hope all three of you are well and continue to be well. Health, happiness and love to you :) xxx

  • LuceasChild says:

    Congratulations, Sarah! What a blessing and what a beautiful way to write up your experience. Many blessings on your newest journey! <3

  • Yes! Good baby! My son was born on the 14th of March (long ago!), and also came very fast and hard, and naturally. I am so pleased for all of you.

    May you three be blessed in all ways, for all of your days, and beyond.

    Aidan

  • Jen says:

    Many blessings to all three of you Sarah! My second son just turned 3 on the full moon this month and his birth was done in an hour and 17 minutes. He also told me early on that he was a boy and is still very intuitively connected to me. He is full on, bright, challenging and teaches me something new daily.
    Welcome to motherhood, I am sure you will take on all the challenges with much grace. And it is a calling that deepens the spirit beyond measure.

  • Niki says:

    Beautiful! I relate so much to this! I too view birth as a Descent (and in fact, posted this two days ago: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/2014/03/19/birth-as-edge-walking/). My labors have also been fast and intense.

    May your “lying-in” be peaceful and delicious. Many blessings on you and your family!

  • Lucía Moreno says:

    Such an ugly, weak baby, the fairies will want nothing with him.

    Take care of yourselves.

    Lucía

  • Janet McCulloch says:

    I’ve always loved your blog posts but this one made me cry a little. Brings back the memories of my own 3 births, how powerful and wonderful they were. Health and wealth to the 3 of you!

  • Yvonne says:

    Congratulations! Lots of good wishes to you and your family.

  • Silvia says:

    Incredibly beautiful!!! May the beautiful family be blessed today and always!

  • Angelina says:

    Congratulations and many blessings ^_^

  • Gabriella says:

    I have been reading your blog for some time now, and in doing so I feel as if I know you as a friend, similar to a pen-pal. You write with passion, truth and mystery. You present interesting knowledge paired with your views in such a way that I admire.

    I wanted to say two things: 1. Thank you for all of your posts. 2. Congratulations on your beautiful baby boy!

  • I emailed you once, crying, because newly pregnant, I feared I couldn’t dedicate myself as I wished to my magic. You advised me to focus on my child and it would resolve itself. Now my curly headed little Campbell is running around while his mother tends her herbs and sings to old bones.

    It is well, and so may it be with you.

  • Gary says:

    Great tidings and threefold blessings to each of you! I knew when you mentioned the babe would be born in March that his auspicious birth would come near the Full Moon! Welcome wee one and may Fortune shine on you always. You are blessed with wonderful parents!

  • Rie says:

    Congrats on your bundle of joy. Life will never be the same – thank goodness!

  • Pamela says:

    Congratulations! Many blessings on you and your family at this wonderful time <3

    It's impressive you managed to go through that without pain relief! He's certainly arrived at an auspicious time :)

    Slàinte, sonas agus beairteas! :)

  • Thorin says:

    Congratulations three-hundred times, Mrs. Lawless. A thousand blessings!

  • Afshin says:

    Congratulations Sarah! What a beautiful and powerful way to bring a new born into this world. Very happy for you! :)

  • Phoebe says:

    Many blessings.

  • Nikkie says:

    You have done a wonderful thing! May you be blessed abundantly!

  • Jaime says:

    Blessings of Light and Love upon your family, and Blessings of Good Health and Strong Growing upon your new son.

  • Jess says:

    That was beautiful- something I feel incredibly privileged to have read. Congratulations :)

  • Phoebe says:

    Longtime reader of your blog, but I’ve never commented. Just wanted to say congratulations. :)

  • Yvonne says:

    Congratulations on your birth! It sounds like it was a beautiful passing into motherhood. .. made me tear up with joy. Enjoy every second of your bonding retreat!!

  • Soli says:

    A thousand congratulations!

  • Otter says:

    What a lovely post! Blessings to you and your family!

    I think there is more to confinement than just keeping the bairn physically healthy. It is an opportunity for you to bond deeply as a family. That is something that was lost in “modern” society. I’m much older than you and things were different for me. By the time my youngest was born (28 years ago) it was only starting to become a popular idea to hold a baby immediately after birth, before they were cleaned off and measured and weighed. Because I was given the opportunity to do this my bond with him is the strongest of my three children. Speaking to them while in the womb and right after birth gives you a chance to connect with them on a much deeper level.

    May each day be filled with wonder!

  • Bonnie says:

    Thank you for sharing. So happy for the three of you!

  • Skayler says:

    Congrats Sarah! <3 Blessings to you and your family!

  • Nikko says:

    Blessing to you and your family…I am very happy and smiling for you.