Story: The Mother, The Great Mother and The Stranger

Written by Jennifer McCormack – for Bronwyn, G, Zen, Lily and River

 xx with love xx

Once there was a home with a family in it. A mother with flowing hair, a father full of laughter and three children, each with wild hair and dark eyes. They belonged together. They always had and they always will. The mother in this home was born of the Great Mother and always knew she was loved.

Life wasn’t still in this home. It was ever growing and ever changing, just like everyone in it. It was a home that was filled with the busy life of a real family. They all loved to laugh and talk and play. They had their fights too but they belonged together (and always will). They knew that those moments would come and go. We all have our moments.

“We can only be ourselves”, the mother would say, “and we are all wonder-full even though we are different. We have to love who we are! We also have to love each other because life is full of surprises. We belong together – and always will!”

Their home was a welcoming one. It always felt open, and sometimes it wasn’t even locked. They felt safe there with one another. There always seemed to be people coming and going: friends, friends of friends … even strangers were welcomed at various times.

At times the mother would gather women together in the energy of this special home and they would talk. Children would play with one another, they’d tumble and explore and make a lot of noise. Women would meet and talk, share food and talk, nurse their babies and talk. “We can only be ourselves”, the mother would say to her friends, “We can’t be anyone else, and we are all wonderful although we are different!” They loved spending time together, celebrating themselves and their families and learning from each other. All was as it should be.

One day, while most of the family had gone out, and just the mother was at home, a stranger arrived and waited at the door. The mother did not know this stranger was there, for it stood there like a shadow, silent and still on the doorstep. It did not knock, and neither was it noticed until the mother opened the door to go out and there in front of her was a figure cloaked so that its face was hidden.

It wasn’t unusual for new people to turn up in this loving home from time to time. This time, though, the stranger came right on inside the home without an invitation and without a word and sat in the corner, dark and brooding. The mother was surprised and quite confused! Many people come and go in this loving home, but nobody goes past the door without a greeting.

“What is your name?” the mother asked, “Why are you here?” The stranger did not reply but continued to sit.

When the family came home and discovered the stranger, they didn’t quite know what to make of it either. The stranger was frightening. The mother and the family did try all kinds of things to engage the stranger, and to help the dark, cloaked figure to leave. They tried to make conversation, to find out more about the stranger and why it was there. They got angry at it, they pleaded with it, they tried pushing it, but it revealed nothing. It just remained there in the corner, silent and brooding and refused to leave. Friends came by, many friends, to try and coax the stranger from the home, but no one could help, although the mother was grateful that they tried.

Life went on in the home, but with the stranger there it wasn’t quite the same. The mother and father weren’t so quick to laugh, although they did try to, and the children didn’t really know what was going on. It was still a special home and it was still filled with people and all kinds of busy-ness, but with the stranger there it was difficult to be at ease. All the same, they tried to carry on because they belonged together (and always will).

Still the stranger sat. It even seemed to grow in the shadows of the corner it occupied. It was starting to make the mother feel really unwell. She wanted her home back. She wanted her family to be happy with each other like they were before. She wanted to stop worrying about the stranger, to stop feeling sick and to start feeling like herself again.

Finally, the mother had had enough, and decided to spend some time with the stranger alone. The family weren’t sure about that. They didn’t want to leave her alone with this cloaked, silent figure. “We belong together, and always will”, she reassured them. “I will be ok”.

She left the home, knowing the stranger would follow her. She went to a place in the mountains that made her feel happy, a place where she could try to talk to the Great Mother, to think about what to do with this stranger. When she ate, the stranger ate. When she walked the stranger walked. When she lay down, the stranger lay down with her. She sat with the stranger. She fasted and prayed and cleansed and still the stranger remained. She grew thin and pale and tired and the stranger appeared to grow stronger and its shadowy cloak grew darker. She sat in front of it, and looked at it. Still it said nothing. She sat in silence and realised that the stranger was never going to go. “You aren’t leaving me, are you?” she whispered.

The stranger moved for the first time. It shook its head, but still she could not see inside the cloak it wore. The gesture was enough. “Great Mother, WHY?” she asked. Still there was silence. Because there was no one else, she wrapped her arms around the stranger and sobbed. They embraced in the darkness, together.

“Ok,” she finally said, “Ok. So you aren’t leaving. If you stay, stay, but you have to do it my way. My home is a welcoming home, and those who are in it are all loved. So I will open my heart to you but you have to let me be me. We are both wonder-full, even if we are different. We’ll have to get on with each other until it is time for you to go.”

So she and the stranger came down from the mountain and she found her family. It felt so good to be together again, to be home and wrapped in each other’s love. They belonged together (and always will). The stranger was now a quiet part of the family, accepted, but not quite loved. The mother knew that she was the only one who really had to find love for the stranger, although from time to time she still got angry that it was there at all. She found some courage somewhere and decided to explore what life was going to be like with this shadowy stranger of hers.

She gathered her family and friends and asked them to accept the stranger as a part of her life for the moment, and to help her enjoy her life with her new companion. The stranger was dark and silent, but the mother didn’t have to be. They all planned some fun together and it was almost like before, perhaps sometimes even better, although the stranger still made the mother grow tried. They laughed and played like children, even held a wonderful party with all the mother’s friends. The mother felt so full of love and life that even she could forget about her shadowy companion for a little while. It was wonderful just to be herself again.

Soon though, she grew tired. Living a joyful and playful life was challenging with the stranger, who just wasn’t by nature either joyful or playful. The mother began to feel exhausted and unwell once more. It was time to rest and she took to her bed. She slept a lot, and she didn’t always feel well. Her children and her special friends spent time as much time with her as they could, and the father rarely left her. He sat on one side of her bed and held her hand, and the stranger sat on the other side, both her constant companions. She had everyone she needed, and she was comforted by that.

The mother slipped in and out of the dream world. While she slept she spoke with the stranger. “You became a part of my life”, she said, “and I tried my best to accept you so that I could feel like me again. I’ve learned to be with you, so will you now show me what you look like?” she asked.

The stranger finally nodded, and took off the shadowy cloak. The mother looked back at the face revealed before her and gazed at it for a long time. It was a kind, gentle face, not the ugly, fear-full face that she had imagined. It was a face she had seen before, from when she was born, and again when she went to the mountains. It was the face of the Great Mother.

“We can only be ourselves,” the Great Mother said, “We are all wonder-full, even though we are different. Our strange shadow sides are a part of us too, and sometimes when we can finally embrace them they can take us to beautiful places. You’ve been so brave. You’ve been so sick, and still so authentic. You never lost trust in me, even though you never loved the other side of me. Come with me, beautiful lady, it’s time to go.”

The mother came out of her dreaming and opened her eyes. She turned to look with love at the man who had shared life. She opened her heart to her children and wished them all her love, all of it. She was too tired to talk with words, but her heart did the talking for her.

“I love you but I’m going to go now.” whispered the words of her heart. “I’m going to be OK, and so will you. We belong together. We always will.”

She took hold of the Great Mother’s hand.

xxx

Once there was a home with a family in it. A mother with flowing hair, a father full of laughter and three children, each with wild hair and dark eyes. They belonged together. They always had and they always will. The mother in this home was born of the Great Mother and always knew she was loved.

** If you share this story please always acknowledge the source of the story and that this story was written for an amazing woman called Bronwyn who journeyed with cancer on her own terms. ** If you are interested in writing your own story to express and understand your experience, I am available for personal consultations to help you write it. For more information, have a look at Therapeutic Storytelling with Jennifer McCormack, at Create & Relate.**

Advertisements

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Christmas Tree

Advent Tree WMI am so enjoying this process of meaning-making at Christmas time. I’ve never given it much thought in previous years … just sat each year with the unsettling question of “Why do we do this?” and it feels so good to finally address this. As a result all our usual icons at Christmas are now revealing their stories to me and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for tradition, a greater understanding of humanity and using it all to create my own meaning at Christmas time, and making some new family traditions too.

Why a Tree?

I haven’t really found out where the idea of the Christmas Tree came from. I have read some very interesting stories though! Like Santa, the Christmas Tree has evolved over the centuries, and I was right about it being an enduring pre-Christian, pagan symbol of Nature. I read one story about the fir tree becoming the symbol of Christmas because a monk used its triangular shape to describe the relationship of the Holy Trinity. I am sure it is probable that explanation happened at some point but the tree as a symbol of Christmas is more likely to be because fir trees are evergreen and were a symbol of strength, continuity and hope through the winter. The reverence of evergreen trees has been a Germanic tradition for thousands of years before Christianity and I was horrified to read the story of Donar’s Oak, an ancient tree that was miraculously felled by St Boniface (with a bit of Divine assistance, apparently) who then built a Catholic church upon the site to celebrate the town’s ‘conversion’ to Christianity. Can you imagine?

There are many stories associated with the tree at this time of year: the Yule log, the Solstice Tree, the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Go and look them up, they are really interesting! It seems to me most festivals are in some way associated with birth and re-birth, with life and death and the mystery surrounding it that holds us all fascinated with how the world works. For me it comes back to the quality of the life I am living, the birthing of my own self as I move through this life journey on this Earth. We can make our own meanings in symbols, we can start new traditions, and I think it is important that we do.

The Tree Inside

Ever since I read the story “The Little Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen I’ve been wondering about the reason we have trees inside our home at Christmas time. I often find Hans Christian Andersen’s stories more than a little melancholic … and this one is as sad as “The Little Match Girl” to me. This little tree was curious about the world, and had his wish for experience granted. He thought he would rejoice when it was his turn to go inside the houses in the winter like his fellow trees do each year. Instead he felt the pain and stinging cut of the axe, enjoyed a few brief moments of Christmas cheer and was then hacked to pieces for burning after Christmas. Hans! Must you?! I could never bear to use a real live tree branch after that – the whole story would shroud the tree in sadness rather than bright and cheery Christmas joy! The good news is, I have since re-written that story for myself and have also found another one about a fir tree, written so exquisitely, and called The Story of the Tree That Dreamt a Flower by Isabel Wyatt in “The Seven Year Old Wonder Book”, which also tells the story of how it came to be that we place stars on top of the tree. This book also has some really lovely stories about St Nicholas in it too. I recommend it as part of your Christmas reading to your children. We’ll be starting it tonight.

So one story heals the experience of another and, thanks to Isabel Wyatt, I’m recovered from yet another scarring Hans Christian Andersen experience (I am sure not all his fairy tales were intended for children). It still doesn’t sit right with me that we celebrate Nature in our living rooms each year by cutting trees down, and bringing them inside the house to die. I must still be missing something here. Christmas tree farms are big business now and they do provide habitat for animals year-round even though the trees are cut down or repotted to be used for one month of the year. The other side of this is that an artificial tree will last for a few years in your home but when you throw it away it will endure for centuries in a landfill. What to do? I’m not sure Christmas would be the same without the tree.

I grew up with a plastic tree. Part of our ritual each year was to take it out of its box from the garage, set it up in the garden and then spray it with the garden hose to wash off a year’s worth of dust. This was just as much fun as decorating it, I think. Christmas in summer in Queensland is hot and sweaty and any opportunity to play with water in the backyard is a delightful one. I also loved the sparkling water drops on the branches, like it was decorated already, and the contrast it made: a perfectly shaped plastic tree ‘growing’ out of the middle of our lawn.

Since having my own family we’ve swayed between real trees and plastic trees. We’ve gave our plastic tree away 2 years ago and have since been using potted trees,  however we’ve never had much luck with real trees in pots at Christmas, even native pines. I might as well have cut the tree down in the first place because my good intentions to replant it usually end up with it instead dying a longer, more drawn-out death in the pot, because nurturing pot plants is not one of my skills, and besides since leaving home I have always lived in rentals so planting a potentially enormous pine tree in someone else’s backyard isn’t really an option either. This year I thought we would buy a fruit tree instead. I think I am more likely to plant a fruit tree in our garden, and our landlords are more likely to appreciate this gift, and I am also more likely to want to take care of it. I also thought that planting the tree in a prepared hole might be part of the ritual of taking the tree down after Christmas. Our son can dig the hole, our daughter can sing the ceremony story, our toddler can get dirty, the tree will have a home, our garden will be blessed and we’ll all be happy.

Adorning the Treechristmas tree

I had no idea, before writing this, that I have more control issues surrounding the Christmas Tree than I did about Santa! Lucky I know how to laugh at myself and am getting better at letting things go! I love the idea of decorating a tree, and it is the part of Christmas I really gain a lot of enjoyment from – provided I can do the whole thing by myself with no input from ANYONE else!! Only I know where those ornaments have to be hung! Woe betide anyone who differs in opinion or who mucks around with my arrangement – that goes for toddlers too! In the past few years our Christmas Tree has been up on a shelf or a little table so little hands don’t disrupt it. I like to make it just so, and I think I don’t breathe properly around the tree until it is all packed away.

Well, we all have our little vices. I’ve tried letting go of it all and last year I think I did rather well, letting the children decorate it (and the house) and resisting the urge to make things symmetrical/evenly spaced/balanced in colour, form and shape. One thing I do hate with a passion (and which my husband loves) is tinsel. Can’t explain why … it makes me wonder what we are celebrating by covering a tree – a symbol of Nature in our homes – with a completely synthetic product that doesn’t even try to mimic anything in nature, and that also sheds little bits of tinsel that stick to my feet and blow all over the house. Man’s dominance over the natural forces? Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too far here! I won’t go on about it. Let’s just agree to maximise household happiness by minimising tinsel in my home. This year I would like to make our own garlands from my expansive scrap fabric stash, and I have some lovely gold fabric to use that may satisfy the family’s urge for shiny, sparkly things.

I may not love tinsel but I do love sparkly things. In all this reflection and thinking about Christmas, the most joyful memory from my childhood is that of lying underneath the Christmas Tree at night, with all other lights in the house turned off, everyone else in bed … just me and the tree and the colourful twinkling lights. I find lights on a tree so mesmering and I was always drawn to the tree lights at night time, totally lost in the peace and beauty of the whole thing. I would lie with my head next to the wrapped up gifts and wonder about their contents. I’d look up through the branches and see the tree from underneath – a whole new perspective of layers and colour and shadows. I even still remember the smell of the dust.

Today is the first day of December and for many families it is tree-putting-up day. I think I grew up with the tradition of putting the tree up two weeks before Christmas and taking it down two weeks after. Other families have their tree up in November. This year I have to say I am rather excited about putting up a tree and making decorations for it, but I don’t think we’ll do it until we can give it proper attention, which for us means waiting until school is over for the year, a whole morning with nothing else to do, carols, holidays. Embracing the light and joy of ceremony, tradition, expression and creativity!

Celebrating Birthdays

Do you have a special tradition surrounding birthdays in your family? As a family we keep it very simple: family time, special gifts and special food, some friends. When I had only two children then I had little things that I liked to do for them on their birthdays: a string that led from their bed to their gift, with little messages of love tied to it along the way … picture clues to follow around the house and garden in order to find their birthday gift … fun things like that. And then our family got bigger and busier and birthdays slipped past without much acknowledgement for a while there.

With three children, I want birthdays to be special and treasured but at the same time I don’t want to make a big deal out of birthdays, and I don’t want to have to organise a party for each child every single year either. Because I am the one who does the organising. This was the first year I have ventured into an organised party for one of our children. The Lego party was a bit of fun, and we are having a little High Tea for my daughter and a couple of her kindy friends soon. It isn’t something I plan to do each year, but I had fun putting them together this time, particularly once I let go of the idea that every special person you know must come to the party and birthday parties must be held on or near the birthday! My son’s party was held two months after his birthday with a handful of his friends from school, and my daughter’s will be held nearly a month after her birthday, again with just a few of her chosen friends. I’ve also let go of the need to supply party bags – a small hand-made thank you gift perhaps .. but a bag full of lollies and cheap loot doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t like giving things to people if I know they are going to be broken or lost within the week.

Although we haven’t yet developed a consistent ceremonial tradition surrounding birthdays within our own family it is still a very special occasion. I do celebrate their birthdays at playgroup, and my children’s schools also hold special little ceremonies for them too, so we are well versed in ceremony design and preparation in this family! It was my own birthday recently and my daughter spent a long time preparing a special rainbow throne for me to sit on, inside a rainbow circle. She crowned me with a garland of flowers and gave me a fishing rod so that I could fish for my dreams, then the family sang our favourite birthday song. I was very touched at the care and attention my five-year old put into this – for me! Of course now I plan to re-write our playgroup birthday ceremony for next year to incorporate her fishing rod idea. Sweet child!

At the moment our playgroup birthday ceremony is short and sweet: with little ones aged between 1 and 5 years old, and with lots of birthdays to celebrate through-out the year the ceremony can’t be too complicated at playgroup. If they were all a bit older I would indulge some time in a story or a puppet show – my daughter’s kindy do a puppet show for every birthday and despite the fact that the children have seen it many many times, they still sit there spell-bound as the story unfolds. Birthdays are so very special and ALL the little gestures we make to a child on their birthday are remembered and treasured.

My birthday ceremony takes no longer than five minutes. Here it is: I lay a golden cloth over our circle mat and place a golden sun pillow in the middle. Upon the golden sun pillow is a rainbow crown. The birthday child can choose to sit in the middle and wear the crown or sit with their parent to receive the crown. As I sing the rainbow birthday song I wrote I unwind a long silk rainbow cloth (5m length) around the sun pillow. Then I sit down and invite my helper to wind the music box we have that plays “Happy Birthday”. It is so soft everyone has to be really quiet to hear the fairy music, then in our fairy voices we sing Happy Birthday to the birthday child. I light a candle kept in my basket, and they blow it out. That’s all! Then we go wash our hands to eat. Here we are with the gold cloth, golden sun pillow, the rainbow crown (which is made individually for each child as a gift) and the basket with the silk and other goodies.

RAINBOW BIRTHDAY SONG

written by Jennifer McCormack

Sliding down through red and orange

Feeling warm and loved

Sliding down through yellow and green

With wisdom from above

Sliding down through blue and indigo

With trust and hope I come

Sliding down through violet light

I’m safe in my new home

From the rainbow slide I land

In loving arms with loving hands

Held forever close and dear in my family

I am born a rainbow child

With many who love me.

Rainbow Birthday Crowns for Little People

Children’s birthdays are wonderful opportunities for celebrating. I prefer simple celebrations for my children: a few friends, a park, some great food and a few well-chosen gifts. Anything more than that and I get whipped up in a frenzy of shopping, preparation, cleaning, crowd control … I don’t enjoy myself and my children get overwhelmed with everything that is going on and we all kind of collapse in a heap at the end of it. Some of the best children’s birthday celebrations I have participated in have taken no more than 10 minutes in a ceremony that acknowledges how special the child is. Here is my son at his playgroup celebration on his third birthday: a crown, a cape, a song, a story and a tiny gift was all it took to create a lasting memory and a warm fuzzy feeling.

I like to acknowledge the children’s birthdays at my playgroup too – the crown they wear for their little ceremony is their gift. This year I’ve chosen to make rainbow crowns because we love rainbows 🙂 Here’s how I made them.

Cut a length of red felt that, when it is doubled over, is enough to cover your child’s brow. Then cut strips of coloured felt, about 1 cm wide to sew the rainbow.

One by one, sew the strips along the length of the red felt base. Slightly overlap each coloured strip as you sew it.

Fold the red felt up behind the coloured strips and trim it to shape. Stitch one end of your elastic firmly between the folded felt. Stitch up the whole end of the rainbow. Measure the crown on your child’s head to get the right length of elastic to stitch on the other side.

Blanket stitch across the top of the rainbow. For a tutorial on blanket stitch, visit Mama Moontime

Add a few decorations if you wish. This crown is for a 2-year-old so I have added two little stars.

October Sacred Essence

Sacred Essence Women’s Circles have been offered monthly over the last year. They are a time and place where women can take a moment to slow down, to breathe, to take comfort in each other’s company and explore healing ways to be whole.

Sacred Essence offers a variety of modalities to explore and express women’s healing: meditation, yoga, breathing, ceremony, craft, song, dance and artwork. It is a deeply peaceful place to unfold in the safe embrace of sisterhood.

Sacred Essence took a break this month while both Melissa and I have been distracted by baby business (no news from Melissa yet but very close!). October Sacred Essence will follow the theme of Intention and how we can focus our intentions to reflect and vibrate with our inner core of beauty. The world is a beautiful place! Let’s create that together again and again and again … In this coming circle I will be sharing my favourite fairy tale of all time (one that nearly made it into our wedding ceremony as part of our vows!) and also we will be silk-painting a sacred altar cloth!

Come and play!

Monday October 4th, 7:30 – 9:30pm,
$20 per session or $45 for three sessions

Moonlight Prep Room, Silkwood School

39 Shepherd Hill Lane, Mt Nathan

RSVP to jennifer@ceremonieswithspirit.com
Please RSVP by 1st October so that I can plan for adequate craft materials.
Please share this link with your fellow womyn. All are welcome.

Blessings, Jennifer

Keep the blessings going …

I made this wall hanging for myself. It is me in the middle. Above and below me are my beautiful parents. They have their parents either side of them, and so on for generations. Each one of them is a part of me. Each one of them gave a gift to me. Each one of them has a story and it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what their story is. They are a part of me and they walk with me even though they may no longer be here.

I love being in the middle. Anyone can be in the middle. It is a comforting thought, spending time in gratitude for the gifts of my ancestors.

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about our ancestors, and how to honour them within ourselves, and within our daily lives. Spending time with the ancestors makes you realise how short our life span is, and how wonderful our journeys of learning are throughout our lives. Creating the wall hanging above was a very deeply moving experience that left me feeling super aware that I carry the gifts of those who have walked before me. I carry them and use them every day.

But you never know when those ancestors are going to call you to their world. Very recently, my own uncle was called, and after a while, he answered. He is now one of my ancestors. The friend of a friend was called too, leaving his wife and three children behind. And now a little boy in my school community. He hasn’t answered yet. Please send blessings/prayers/positive thoughts/ hopes to these people. He has a whole lot more living to do and the power of prayer can not be underestimated.

**update – the little boy was called. There is now a beautiful and peaceful garden in his honour at this school. He has been farewelled with grief and grace from his community. **

Menstruation Mat

Today I made a Menstruation Mat – a beautiful round mat to honour the daughter of a friend who will soon make her passage into Womanhood.

Her mother asked me to make it and intends to embellish it together with her daughter in an intimate home-crafted celebration.

This mat is truly blessed already with the spirit of sisterhood, as another two friends kept me company today and helped to make the mat.

What a lucky young lady to be held in such esteem at this transition point in her life!

Ceremonies of Sister Hood MUST become a ritual of our times. We must begin to share the knowledge that has been lost between women – the celebration of our bodies as unique and wonderful (WONDER-FULL!). I am so excited for this young lady that I am almost (but not really) wishing Rosella’s infancy and childhood away so that I can begin preparing a ceremony for her too 🙂

The mother of this young woman will be creating her own special ceremony for her daughter, however Sister Blessings are a ceremony that I offer as part of my Celebrant services. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit Ceremonies With Spirit.

Blessingway Felting Party.

At the end of last year I helped Sarah celebrate the coming of her second baby, both in my role as a Celebrant, and as a felting teacher – together we organised a Mama Blessing felting party.

We began with the ceremony, an intimate circle of friends sitting in the shade, celebrating Sarah as the Mama of Honour. We journeyed through a visualisation into a sharing and the expressing of our deepest wishes for Sarah, and the blessings she has shared as a friend over the years she has known each of the guests. It was very moving, very beautiful.

After the ceremony we helped to decorate the felt that I had made for Sarah as a wall hanging to decorate the space she intended to birth in at home. Each one of her friends and family used the felting needles to add designs such as flowers, hearts and little pictures symbolic of their relationship to Sarah. These designs decorated the outer border of her wall hanging.

I couldn’t help myself … and at the end of the blessingway I was still adding things, touching up designs, making sure they were felted in well enough to last many years.

My favourite thing about the felting activity was watching the women move through barriers to their creativity. Needle felting is such a wonderful way to begin expressing yourself visually – all you need to do is pick up a needle and some fleece and start felting! You do not need to feel pressure to make anything brilliant because any design that you create blends in with all the others to make a truly community design … and if you really and truly do not like it – you can take it off and start again!! It was wonderful to see each person find their confidence in design … and there is always one that cannot put the needle down and becomes addicted to creating little patterns and pictures all over the place 🙂

If you are interested in organising a felting party for your special function, please visit Lavendilly Fibre Arts or contact me here at this blog.

This is also an example of the portrait felting workshop I am hosting in March!