Thursday, 31 October 2019

Granny Smith

Today and tomorrow I celebrate Samhain (SOW'en), the Celtic cross-quarter day that marks the beginnings of Winter, the end of one year and the beginning of the next. A liminal time, like the twilight is to the oncoming night. a time of betwixt and between, where the realms of ancestors are distinctly felt by the living. It's good to remember that ancestors are for life, not just for Samhain though, but still we are drawn to reflect and remember and celebrate more so this night.

Later I shall honour those dear and dead with a small ceremony and a feast. Candle lights will be placed for them on my altar, and I will listen to any wisdom that drops in.

Let me tell you though about one special ancestor of mine. Granny Smith. A woman of great fortitude and short stature, much sparkle and smile, and one who took a big family secret to her grave. That's a whole other story. There is so much that is a whole other story. But for now just this ...

As a child I always thought it marvellous that Granny Smith had apples named after her. I remember the day of discovering this was not the case. One of those moments when the childhood blinkers fall slightly to one side. That's still not the story. This is ...

Granny Smith, was my great grandmother on my mother's side. She lived in a caravan, a largish static caravan in East Sussex. My grandfather also lived there at the time, looking after her till the end. We would go and visit, and I would be enamoured with the trinkets and charm and the garden. But more importantly I was enchanted by the twinkling, dinky woman in the back room. Her gentle sing song voice and her humour, and it was there in the back room, in her bed, surround by her sewing boxes, and fabrics, and buttons and trim, and glitz that my grandmother taught me to make peg dolls.

A quick rewind. My great grandmother, her real name was  Edith Starmer, was known for her dolls. She dressed dolls. In her younger days, as I remember it told to me, she had boldly walked to Harrods with a suitcase full of them and persuaded them to sell them to their clientele, which they did for years and years. Her dolls were splendid and dressed in finery. Victorian; Edwardian; from around the world; ball-gowned and up-towned; all laced, and feathered, and sequined, and beaded; and hand-stitched. I wonder where all her dolls are now.

She also made sets of clothes for Sindy, Tressy and Barbie dolls that sold on the local markets. According to my aunt, they sold really well because the branded outfits from toyshops were really expensive, and my aunt was lucky enough to have a sample set of everything, making her dolls some of the best dressed in the country. My wonderful Granny Smith was a single mother, not an easy thing to be in those day by a long shot, and didn't marry until my grandfather was in his late teens. This crafty and skilled enterprise is how she supported them both, that and putting my grandfather on the stage, again, a tale for another time.

She also made peg dolls. And it was this that she taught to me when I was little and she was elderly. The first one I made with her was a nanny. With tiny babe in arms. I remember it took us hours and hours. And I wore her out. Her teaching me patiently. Prompting me to focus and pay mind to task. Be neat. Finish the details properly. And voila. A doll. A little doll with a life of it's own. And that was a magick moment gifted to me by an equally magickal lady.

I then went home and made another nanny on my own.

Then I made a whole load more. Grand ladies with feathers and lace. In the mix a Scottish one for some reason and attempt at a Flamenco dance with cardboard castanets,  a blushing net curtain bride, and lost somewhere, there was once a Japanese inspired one, with a white kimono and a cocktail umbrella parasol. The magick of these dolls, as is the spellcraft of all dolls, took me to worlds I had not seen and a life out of reach. And the joy of making. Of being crafty. There is more in those words than we think. Of bringing imagination to manifestation. And the unfolding of something in your own hands, taking form and becoming. Looking back I can see that's a subtly empowering feeling to a child. To be a creatrix of your own world and tiny people.

Then in 2016 when I started the Mini Maidens Girls Circle of our Red Tent I took my peg dolls and the tale of Granny Smith to the first four girls there, ages between seven and twelve at the time. I taught them over the course of a year about the four feminine archetypes, and each season they made peg dolls. They made Maidens in spring, Mothers in summer, Enchantresses in autumn and Crones in winter.

And the loveliest thing, two of those girls have now had their menarche, and those archetype dolls were brought from home to place on our altar for their first blood ceremonies.

I may not be able to pass on the peg doll making to my own daughter, but in memory of Granny Smith, and possibly because of Izzy, it's my joy to teach it to other girls.

So this sacred day, I honour my beloved dead, and am grateful for their imprint on my heart and soul, their whispers in the wind, and the imaginings I still venture into.  I shall tend a flame and raise a glass to you, my Isadora Magdalen Moon, and to you, my Granny Smith.

Heidi x

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Just Watch Your Witchin'

We move ever closer to "sexy witch" time of year. See me roll  my eyes; gesticulate dramatically in a two-handed facepalm; and then see my cross witch face as I get out my waggy telling off finger and point in the general direction of countless seasonal aisles across the country, and at potential Halloween party goers and parents of mini trick-or-treaters.

There is nothing wrong with being sexy.
There is nothing wrong with being a witch.
There is nothing wrong with being a sexy witch.

But ...

There is a whole lot of wrong with the"sexy witch" Halloween costume. Not least cos a lot of it seems to be aimed at a rather underage market. Why are you trying to make your nine year old a sexy anything? And why are all the commercial Halloween outfits always a "sexy something" for the women and femmes. Jeez. Can we move past sexual objectification of women already?

But there's more ...

Witches are currently portrayed in two ways. One as the ugly old hag, crooked nose, warts, probably evil as fuck, and a bad thing. That trope has been around for over a couple of hundred years now. It says witches are bad. Being old is bad. Straying from the socially acceptable norms of appearance is bad. Magick is bad. The old ways are bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Witches. Not a good thing. And then there was a kind of reinvention, a reclamation of sorts, of the witch. In 1964 Samantha t-witched her pretty little nose, Morticia flirted darkly with Gomez, and hey presto, the witch was back, but only the sexy version: the tempting scorceress or the cutesy, ever-so-husband-helpy housewife. Not abracadabra, the witch is back in her personal power just for herself. Nope. Only if she appealed to men and they could imagine her in their beds. And there we have stayed. Old witch or sexy witch.

And in those two popular media portrayals we have that old patriarchal bullshit of "old wise women are bad, sexy young available women are good" .  Women's power and wisdom once again sidelined and dumbed down to black attire fit for a kinky bedroom session.

Here's the undumbed down truth. Being a witch is a way of life. Once, it was a way of life, a beingness that got you killed. In some places it still does. Here in the UK around five hundred were hanged for witchcraft during the dark times, and in Western Europe around two hundred thousand hanged or burned. Elsewhere, the number of false trials, torture and death toll mounts up further. That wound and trauma imprint still resides within the familial and cultural psyche. Having stood on several witch hanging spots, I can tell you it sits heavy in the landscape too. The shame of the wise women still makes it hard for certain people to walk their truth tall and proud, stepping out of the shadows and not hiding their shine. The fear may seem irrational, but having seen many women, and experienced it myself, sense the noose tight, the knot at the back of neck, the choking, and the subsequent clearing of the throat, during certain energy work or ceremony, I can tell you that  fear is still there in our national psyche. It's going though. Many of us work to clear it from land and place and person. There is nothing sexy about a hanging, innocent , terrified woman.

The other truth is that witches are not a thing of the past. The witch exists now. Some are old. Some are sexy. Some are old and sexy. Some are young. Some are middle aged. But honestly you are more likely to be stood next to one in the supermarket queue and not know. The ordinary witch. How the hell do you dress up as that? I can tell you now the last thing you are wearing when gathering herbs or the morning dew is a skimpy bit of black lace and a pvc bra. High heeled black boots and a crushed velvet cape is also a fairly useless look when stood out in the pissing rain in the middle of the heath on a barrow at midnight chatting with the old ones. Most witches don't dress up. They just put on clothes. Sometimes we have fancy shmancy ones for special days, and they may or may not be little black dresses made of shimmer and see-through, but on the whole not so much. Sometimes we do have pretty wowy ceremonial clothes, but there is too much playing at being a witch out there, full stop. Not just this time of year. The social media culture of sexy witch ignores much of this real chosen path. The ones who hone their craft. The ones who know the true meaning of "spelling". The ones who cut their herbs with moon. The ones who reassure the ailing. The ones that sit as hearths at the centre of community. The ones that go unseen in landwork and sacred activism. Some are even working polarity sex magic, which honestly is full of fucking shadow work and horrid self realisation, and often rather the opposite of sexy.

Anyway ...

Go buy your Halloween outfit. Dress up. But pay mind to the witch. Hold all this in your heart and honour the life and the source of your costume. Read up a little for yourselves on that you wish to be for one night of the year. Tell your daughters and sons that witches are real. That you may even know one and not know it. Tell them that witches are wise women, healers, valuable assets to community, wayshowers, wisdom keepers, land protectors, sacred activists, and have probably fought frontline for some of the rights you now have. Tell them also, not all witches are women.

Just remember that your dress up may borderline on badly stereotyping a well loved life path and a spiritual belief system for many. Bring honour and truth into your costume. Wear us well. Go be a sexy witch if you must. Or take inspiration from a recent picture of me out on a pre-sunrise walk, looking rather fetching in a blanket, wellies and pyjamas. Nah, go and look fabulous. Feel magickal. Go and step into power. Just watch your witchin'.

Heidi x

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Welcome, Women All

Last night I sat shocked and dismayed as a misinformed, uneducated, transphobic Facebook post garnered support and equally compassionless comments in a well known international women's circle networking group. There were plenty, like me, who commented with counterarguments and stood in solidarity with our trans sisters, and the sentiment that yes they should be welcomed in women's circles ... because they are women!

I've been saddened and gutted many times recently when some of my sheroes have take a similar negative stance on trans sisters. It's like the bottom drops out of my "sacred women's world" for a nano second. I can't imagine how it feels to be a trans woman and read some of it.

I want to share my personal experience here. That of my complete lack of querying my gender. Ever. Not one jot.

I was a feisty little child. In those days, labelled, in that charming (not), old fashioned, sexist way, a tomboy. Climbing trees, playing football, running about like a loon, arm wrestling the boys, and building dens. I did plenty of flouncing in finery, dancing, reading and arty things to balance it all out. What I would consider normal really, having ditched gender stereotypes many moons ago. But still the tomboy.

In my twenties a night out with my girl friends would sometimes see me in a pin stripe suit, even with the occasional cigar in hand. And yes I ended up taking some of those friends home to my bed and me to theirs.

I've also happily worked, way back, mixing concrete, hod carrying and laying a few bricks, and there was a time I only drank pints and most of my friends were men.

In all those times, and in all that experience from childhood to where I find myself now at fifty, I have never wondered if I was a man. I have never even thought to. It's never been on my radar internally. I have never ever questioned my being a woman. Happy and settled in my vast range of experiences and desires as a woman. I've unhappily questioned a whole host of other things, but never that.

My trans friends tell me a different story though. Their unease, their self-questioning and their confusion over identity was like a neon light daily for their whole life, peaking and troughing through layers of coping and masking. Their misgendering was felt constantly and deeply in some way, even if not consciously till their full realisation. No matter the activity or status they knew something wasn't right. To have that level of querying, where I have not had one moments thought to it, tells me that their experience is vastly different from mine. It's that experience I listen to. The fact that I have not given it one jot to being "assigned female at birth", and to them it means everything, lets me know I don't understand and my opinion should take a cue.

Sometimes we know ourselves truly not just by the labels we desire, but also by the labels we wish we could throw off. The labels we know, in every fibre of our being, are not ours. So for some born without wombs, vaginas and vulvas, the label "man" is one such tag, which sits like a burning brand of not being seen or heard as their true selves. It is those women whose path to sitting comfortably in their own skin is a warrior's path. It is those women who along with all others I welcome in to my circles and Red Tents, and the wisdom and perspectives we share together lead us all on into greater understanding, personal growth, collective healing and spiritual evolution.

It is with all of this in mind that a while back a group of us, all women's circle leaders or with vested interest in them, got together and brainstormed this, feeling there was a need to make it absolutely clear which women's circles were safe spaces for all women. We got Sophie Green, artist and designer, to come up with a logo. This is the circle she put together and we are proud to have it stamped on our inclusive Red Tents and women's spaces. Please if you would like to use it, see the instructions, message Sophie asking for permission and make a donation to Mermaids. You can see it in use here on our New Forest and Southampton Red Tent website.

I've sat with trans women in circle. I've listened to my trans friends talk about their experience. I've spent days, weeks, months, what felt like years, in debate on social media with those campaigning for both sides of the gender issue and women's rights. I've read articles from many medical, psychological and social professionals. I've read many blogs from a trans perspective. I've listened to parents of trans children. I've stemmed the fear of women who worry about "men" in women's spaces. I've read about trans women experiencing shifting cycles before even receiving hormone therapy. I've received vitriol in public from those who would exclude trans women from spaces I am running, and received the same in my inbox for opening my Red Tent to trans women. I'm done now. I don't even wish to lay out all the findings on that score. I just know that what it means to be a woman, and to feel as woman, means more than body parts, more than the physical, and the physical doesn't always get it right. I'm holding that line.

I just wanted this out there.

I am not going to sit in my circle from the place of privilege of having never been misgendered, or ever even questioned it myself, and say to a woman whose only ever desire, or one of them, is to be seen as woman, and deny her sisterhood. Nope. The sacred spaces, the general women's circles, I hold are big enough, loving enough, to hold women who bleed and women who don't; women who have uteruses and women who don't; women with breasts and women who don't have much up top at all; women who are able to have children and women who can't; and women who want to have children and women who don't. Each women's story and journey through this life is unique. It is this diversity that weaves a rich tapestry of womanhood. It is this sisterhood, not just cisterhood, that I will hold tenderly and protectively in spaces where we can grow and heal away from patriarchy, misogyny, and the undeniable different experiences of men, including trans men.

Any circles I hold that are specifically for menstruating or menopausal women, or workshops on womb magick and wisdom will be held in the same vein as a mother and baby group, just not appealing or appropriate to everyone in the wider group of women I serve. See how easy that was. No loss of honouring blood cycles or fertility. No negating the power of the womb. Just inclusivity, and a bit of specialising where needed.

Let's get to it sisters. Let's say "welcome, women all".

Heidi x

Note: Any trans woman near me open to exploring some of the energy work I do with the feminine energy body please contact me, as I'm part of project at the moment exploring a well known international healing modality with regard to reframing some of the understanding of what it means to have a woman's energy body.