Story: The Old Woman Who Went Inside

I am working more and more with fairy tales for adults these days. I have re-written a few, and I have written a few new ones. I have been re-discovering the amazing transformational power that is held within a simple story and have worked closely with a few people recently to re-write stories or write new ones that re-tell their experience with a new eyes. Stories don’t always have to have happy endings to be powerful, either. Melissa and I have been writing transformational stories and meditations for Sacred Essence for several years. You can read a few of them on our website (and keep checking back, we add a new story every month!)

This particular story is not one for playgroup! It is one I wrote at the end of last semester. It came into existence after listening to the song “Hold It Up To The Light” by David Wilcox, and it partly describes my personal experience, and partly describes the companioning journey of client and creative arts therapist, however, like most fairy tales, there is a subtext. I know what it says to me – what does this story say to you?


Crone, by Jennifer McCormack

The Old Woman Who Went Inside

by Jennifer McCormack, 2013

Once there was an old woman who lived in the middle of a village. She would sit on a bench in the sunshine at the front of her house spinning her yarn, and people would come and sit with her when they needed some support. She would share her wisdom with those who had troubles without answers, for she had lived long and listened well. She would mix up special brews, lotions and make talismans, for she was interested in many things and had long realised the power of the natural world. She would also tell stories and people would come to listen, for her words took them to other places.

She was happy to help, and had done so in this way for many years. She would receive payment, exchange news, enjoy the company of the villagers and was loved in her community, but she wasn’t content. She was starting to get pissed off.

The villagers would come to her and praise her for being so wise, so patient, so clever at knowing just the right thing to do. Of course they were right – SHE knew it! She’d lived long enough to recognise her own wisdom, experience and mistakes, but she had grown tired of being everyone’s first stop. She thought they probably could have solved their problems by themselves if they’d given it some thought, or if they had listened to her last time they asked. She had begun snapping sharply at people who came to her for answers. She left her bench in the sunshine and shifted her spinning wheel inside where she sat in the darkness, the only light coming from the one window in her small cottage.

The villagers were confused and left her alone for some time. Old women can do what they like. They had a right to be snippy if they chose to! They were not sure what the matter was though, and they didn’t know what kind of reaction they might receive if they knocked on her door. Inside her house, sitting in the dark the old woman was enjoying the solitude, but after a few weeks she opened her door just a little. She didn’t mind the darkness, she didn’t mind her own company – but why wouldn’t anyone come inside? She might not want to solve their problems but she missed their company, and besides, the less people who came, the less payment she received.

Eventually someone did knock at her door. The door creaked open a little more at their knock and they let themselves in, calling softly to her as they stepped hesitantly inside. The went to sit beside her and the old woman pointed to a chair but said nothing, just kept spinning her yarn by the light that came through the window. Except for the hypnotic rhythm of the spinning wheel, the house was quiet. Still the old woman did not speak. Eventually the visitor held their trouble up to the light of the window and the old woman looked up. With a few words, she pointed out the obvious, the not-so-obvious, and the curious but would not give an answer, just kept on spinning. The visitor thought for a moment and suggested an idea that came to them, suddenly finding that their trouble felt lighter. The old woman smiled as her visitor went home, after leaving payment in a bowl on the table.

Soon others arrived. Those with troubles held them up to the light and they would tell their story and together they and the old woman would comment on what they saw, and somehow things started looking clearer. Those who need talismans and potions were directed by the old woman with a flick of her head to her garden, where they helped themselves to the things they felt they needed, and those who came to her for stories found rhythm in the sound of her spinning wheel, and they ended up telling rich and wonderful tales of their own. Some people just came to sit in the dark and the quiet with the old woman. It was cool and reassuring in there. They would leave payment in the bowl as the left the house: some money, a gift or some food.

After continuing in this way for a while the old woman began to leave her house again, to tend her garden, to do her shopping, to sit on her bench in the sunshine to spin. Sometimes she would sit with the villagers on her bench, at other times they would go inside and sit by the window. Sometimes she would mix a brew or make a talisman or tell a story, but at all times people were invited to respectfully choose what they felt they needed, and create their own stories. The old woman began to enjoy the company of the villagers, again discussing ideas together, walking through the garden and meeting on her bench. She lived a long life, sitting on her bench in the sunshine. As far as I know, she is sitting there still.

Parenting: The Celebration of Transformation

060I was an early childhood teacher before I became a parent. It now seems like a previous existence! I entered family life with a background of theory about small children, years of classroom experience, and just a little knowledge about babies … and was to quickly find out that theory is all very well, classroom experience is only useful in the classroom, and the little I did know about babies still equated to knowing nothing at all. I will never forget the day our midwife made her last post-natal visit: I was gripped with fear and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this little tiny person my body had produced (what do you mean this is your last visit?) I just couldn’t fathom the idea that she thought we’d be fine. She smiled, and gave me a kiss … and left. I looked at our brand new son and thought that being a mummy is easier with the baby on the inside!

I was stunned at how much I had to learn – from scratch. Breastfeeding was harder than I thought it would be. Sleeping was a mystery. Teething was distressing. Fevers were frightening.  Food and decisions about health care were whole other issues!  I felt overwhelmed by all the advice that people shared with me, out of the goodness of their heart, and a little confused at the vast array of parenting styles and methods to choose from.

Despite feeling so unprepared, my husband and I still must have had some form of composure about us: our little guy was a ‘good’ baby who didn’t cry too much, a cute little thing who smiled at everyone and an inquisitive chap who was interested in everything (and therefore got up to quite a bit of mischief). The first year of his life was full of life lessons for all of us. It was wonderful and exhausting all at once. In reality we were as fine as any other new parents – stumbling along and finding our way in our re-defined relationship as a family of three. We had a go at every idea in the book (and devoured every book in the library), and then threw it all out the window and just went with what ‘worked’. We breastfed, didn’t use a dummy, co-slept, wore him in a sling. We used NVC and baby sign language. We used natural cloth nappies, and had a go at Elimination Communication. We did baby-led weaning and fed him only home-cooked meals.

Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Our son knew what he wanted, we knew what we wanted, and it took some experimentation and some occasional compromising from each of us, to find a happy medium.

I have often marvelled at the bravery of the first child for being the ‘guinea pig’. They open wide the doors of parenthood and thrust us through them, willing or not! They are the trailblazers who will grow up and move on to the next developmental challenge before we feel that we have really mastered the last one. They test our patience, our creativity, our energy levels, our values and our relationships. They make us wake up to ourselves! I have found that parenting has been the single most effective way to learn how to listen to my own ‘truth’. I have learned more about myself on this journey than any amount of personal development I may have done before my first birth!

I have my favourite parenting books, and my favourite parenting ‘experts’ but I do not rely on them for all the answers. Since becoming a parent, I now interact with families socially through playgroups, mothers groups and women’s groups. I have shared my experiences and learned from my friends as they travel their own parenting journeys beside me. I have learned enough to believe that nobody can claim to have all the answers, because we only know for sure about our own experience with our own families, and all the rest is theory until it ‘clicks’ with you. I am inspired and interested in finding out more about what will enhance my understanding of my children, and thus our family life. It is exciting when we become our own teachers, and are forgiving of our mistakes.

Parenting has empowered me as a woman, a mother, a wife and a teacher, and I have learned that:

– parenting involves acknowledgement of the value of pain as a teacher (frustration, tiredness, disappointment and worry!),

– whichever way we parent it needs to come from the place of our own truth and intuition,

– parenting is a journey of discovery and learning, but is most inspiring when we keep looking and keep learning, rather than searching for THE answer, and

– for parenting to ‘improve’, it should be regarded as a sacred celebration of transformation.

We can get bogged down in the day-to-day elements of parenting and family life. I have found in my journey that the thing that keeps me going is to celebrate (daily) the sacred, the beautiful, the funny, the quirky, and the clever, but also to not overlook the ugly, the scary, the annoying, the angry and the frustrating. All these moments cycle in and out of focus but are ever-present in our parenting.

Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, May 2010

First published by Kindred at

Please do not reproduce without my permission

Celebrating Transformation

Two years ago I dedicated myself to the task of transformation – the journey of my own becoming. To be aware of the learning opportunities that come my way, however painful, mundane or joyful they may be, and to use these experiences to walk a step further along my journey home to Self.

This weekend the Goddess Association of Australia hosts their annual conference, with the theme of transformation. I am so very sorry that I am unable to attend this year – however instead I will be stepping forward on my journey of transformation as I co-host our Effective Parenting Weekend at Silkwood with my friend and colleague Melissa Joss. Transformation is our work now 🙂

To the women and men who are attending the Goddess Conference this year, I offer you my blessings for an amazing weekend together, and I would like to share with you my dedication to self that I made two years ago :


Serpentine Sister Initiation, June 19 2010

 I have been lifted with wings on my feet. I have been dissolved into the ether of the Muse’s finest imaginings, where I have received the gift of words.

 I have descended into the womb-tomb of Bone Mother, where I have been picked clean and laid bare, only to emerge once more, dressed in The Empress’s robe of simplicity, wisdom, joy, maturity and majesty, and clutching within my palm the seeds of the Reaping Queen – seeds for me to nurture, to take responsibility for and make something of.

 I have embodied the Weaver as I enjoyed fits of giggles and long heart-wrenching sobs. I have learned to weave moments of stillness within the moments of madness and to constantly review my boundaries and revise my intentions.

 I carry a sword by my side, together with my pen.

Both I use to clear my path, that I may see in front of me clearly with the eyes of the Lady of Prophecy.

 I have merged into the body of the natural world and heard the voices of Shamanka Woman and my Ancestral Mothers – my roots – in my blood, and in my body. Always a part of me, and always present as my Blood Keepers.

 I know the Sorceress’s power of alchemical transformation in form and soul and spirit and I dedicate myself to this – to the study of Goddess Alchemy – that I may continue to weave my way, to learn new skills and find the courage to stand in the face of the Unknown of my past, present and future.

It is only Change

Most of the time I hum along pretty happily, existing more or less in a state of balance and health and comfort. I am pretty conscious about what decisions help to create this state of existence for myself and my family. There are day-to-day frustrations, some lasting longer than others, but nothing that is insurmountable – and then out of the blue comes the big knock on the head: an event so out of place from my usual activities and expectations that it stops me in my tracks, takes my breath away, produces a few tears and possibly a few swear words and sets me back for a while to adjust. I recognise these now as my seasonal ‘shake-ups’ and I have come to value their presence in my life, even if only in retrospect.

Last season my shake-ups rocked me to the core of my being – turning upside down my ideas of what I thought I valued, and what qualities I counted as a pre-requisite for trust in friendship.  I have come through that and it is now Autumn, my favourite time of year, and bang on time a few shake-ups have appeared to help me along on my personal journey of growth in this life time: not quite so emotional this time, but a wake-up nonetheless – a temporary, but rather huge adjustment in diet and the news we will have to move house after our baby is born. I don’t love our house, but it is perfect for our needs right now, and moving house after a birth is not an appealing concept.

It seems that since becoming a parent, these ‘shake-ups’ have become more frequent, or perhaps I have learned a bit more about responsibility, forward planning, values, choices … I don’t know, but I certainly feel  just that little bit more mature in my view of life each time I have passed through a threshold, even when I thought I’d never make it with my sanity intact. This is something I am grateful for – but must it be so painful each time?

I’m a thinker and a contemplator. I spend a lot of time mulling over ideas, processing them and turning them around until I can make some sense of them. I’ve learned over the years that it is better to make sense of the events that turn your life upside down, than it is to sink into the depths of them and re-live the experience over and again. I do lean towards melancholic tendencies and do confess to rather enjoying a good wallow in the mud now and then. When a moment presents itself I will naturally begin sinking myself into the depths of despair to re-live the drama in my life. It used to get me down, but now that I know how hard it is to climb back out I still visit, but more in the capacity of a tourist – I stay behind the ropes, take pictures and souvenirs, thrill in the drama that unfolds before me, and then tug on the safety rope when I’ve had enough.

Although I can pretty much predict a winding of some sort each season, or maybe even a few: I’m learning – slowly – to recognise these for what they are. They are cycles in my life. They represent times when I need to take stock, to take time, to make decisions, to evaluate, and re-evaluate, to harvest, to cut and slash the things I do not need in my life and GET RID OF THEM. And from these times I can save a few little seeds of experience and a few little pearls of emotional memory, and string them together like a rosary that I can use to mutter prayers of gratitude when the cycle comes round again. It is only change. I can’t stop it but each time it happens I am a little more prepared for the next one , and maybe then  I won’t be tossed about so much by the winds of change, but instead spread my wings and allow the winds to take me where I must go.

As for my shake-ups this season: my new eating regime has re-ignited a passion for REAL, unprocessed, nutrient-rich food to bless my body with. What a gift! And the news about moving house? That is going to be fine too. Every change brings its blessings, and sometimes it is just better to wait and see what happens rather than worry about things that have not yet come to pass – see? I have a few seeds and beads on my rosary already 🙂