She thought transformative was too big of a word to describe the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium. Now Mom understands that “transform” barely covers the metamorphosis that occurs with symposium sisters after four glorious days supporting, accepting and loving each other.
We all arrive in Laytonville tired from the journey, maybe even a little grumbly. Some of us travel 14 hours to get into the woods on Black Oak Ranch. But for those of us who have been here before, we know it’s worth it.
We have come home to the sisterhood and are ready to have our burdens lifted. We long to breathe clear air into the stress around our complaints and concerns from the outside world and make room for more love. We fuss a little over where to set up the tent or how best to arrange our sleeping bags in the tipi but know it will all work out in the end. We just have to get out of the worrying pattern.
Mom and I arrived at noon and schlepped our sleeping gear, my books and pottery from car to tipi – getting to those 10,000 steps easily. I wanted Mom to step into the independent woman I knew her to be and honor her as Crone as well. After 40 years of teaching this was her first September not in school. I felt anxious how best to hold her up while leaving space for the sisterhood to empower her AND carve out time to share my teachings, receive support from my friends and revel, just a bit.
Thirteen of us shared a tipi with some personality conflicts and snoring that would just have to be overlooked. That first evening it’s almost difficult to imagine how we can possible shake off the discomfort, set down the masks we wear and allow our own unique expression of the Divine Feminine to shine forth.
The transformation usually takes a breakdown to have the breakthrough.
Mine began as I prepared for my class Womyn Meets Death, which I created based on the experience of walking beside Melinda Listening Deer in her last year of Life then losing her. I was terrified of doing this wrong, not honoring Melinda “enough” and felt inadequate to teach this class. I was teaching on Melinda’s birthday. I set myself an alarm, giving myself 30 minutes to feel whatever arose and dropped into sacred space to read through some of Melinda’s 13-year-old emails that she had sent out Grove Mother during our sacred year as The Sisterhood of the Willow’s Magic. As the tears flowed, a mama deer and her fawn encircled where I lay. Melinda’s presence was with me.
And yet I still asked Reem to walk with me to the class site. She hugged me and told me I’d be okay. Pilar found me and gave me the notes I had forgotten, but asked her to bring, then forgotten again. Mom walked by as I set up the altar and gave me the thumbs up. Tiffany stood in the back of the assembled 40 womyn and smiled proudly at me. Even Kris walked on by.
And I began. “We all stumble around death and grief.” I looked down to the picture of Melinda. “I’m not so much teaching this class as holding space for a sharing and ritual around death. We all handle bearing witness to dying and death so differently and each deserve dignity for our process. We have done a great job reclaiming our right to sacred births and now it’s time to reclaim a sacred death.” Then I passed around a tincture called Emotional Ally and Rescue Remedy.
I shared this bumper sticker with Melinda when she went bald after chemo and the tumor had started to protrude from her belly. I shared it at ritual and how Melinda started going out bald in public after this .
It went around a few times while Copperwoman sang Goddess is the Universe, my new favorite. I swear every single woman had tears in her eyes at some point in the next hour and a half. “That’s okay!” I said during the creation of the Earth Blessing Pouches that we would later keep on the altar or scatter to the earth like ashes. “Mama Earth Loves Your Tears!” We shared stories and infused holiness into the transition between Life and The Other Side.
It was so beautiful, so empowering. I eased into my Living a Magickful class for teens, not really thinking too much about it until I was before seven teens, most of whom couldn’t look me in the eye. How could I get and keep their attention? I spoke of the magical connections related to the four directions and gave them four examples of issues they could possibly be faced with and four herbal allies. I told them they would only get to take one herb – one problem at a time. “One day, your issues will have issues.” But to nail down the point I had them add their birth year, month and day and reduce to a single digit then read from The Enchanted Diary about the lessons that will follow them throughout their life. I asked the girls if they would want to take on all seven archetypes. No? Okay, only one herb. I’m a bad ass teacher with teens.
At night the bone-fire blazed higher and hotter. Each time I danced around the fire, I got a little looser, a little freer. Apparently this gave my mom permission to get a bit more of her boogie on. She was on fire!!! “Vivas Las Crones!” she hollered at the ceremony.
I sold an amazing amount of books and pottery. So grateful for the support of my new art form. So incredibly grateful my books still sell. Tucked away in the tipi was the first print out of Melinda My Beloved, A Memoir. My first book in 8 years. I will now write a chapter about the experiences of symposium and the sisterhood that lives on.