Thursday, 19 April 2018

Witchlines: The Mother-House

Here is the third creative piece I have completed as part of my Witchlines studies.

In Neolithic Old Europe, some villages had so-called ‘focal houses’—buildings that were larger and often better built than the smaller dwellings around them, which were probably occupied by core family groups of a matrilineal lineage. It is surmised that such houses may also have been gathering places, perhaps for village councils or other events. For this task, I have imagined what one of these houses may have been like, and an event that took place there, both inside and out.

Inside a reconstructed Neolithic house, by Szilas (Source: Wikimedia)
The Mother-House

This is the first year she has missed it, her new belly too round and heavy, and her ankles too swollen to make walking down to the fields a possibility. She does not mind. Someone has to look after the youngest of the children. She looks over them as they make little clay pots, rolling out long thin snakes of smooth clay, joining them one atop the other. She has shown them how—See! Smooth down the sides like this—and now they are intent on their work, their little hands finding joy in the tactile experience of shaping earth into new forms, making shapes that are round and full, just like the women do in the temple.
The day is warm and still, the only sounds the soft murmurings of the children at their work, and, from inside the mother-house, the shuffling movements of the grandmother, as she scrapes the ashes from the belly-shaped oven in each of the three rooms, and lights a new fire in readiness—the cyclical work of each day, done with joy. Her knees are too old and stiff to walk far, so she too has stayed behind. She hums a little to herself, a tune that goes round and round, curling back upon itself, as the flames catch and heat begins to radiate from the earthen walls of the ovens. It is one of the old songs she has sung so many times, to dance the grain home each year. And beyond her own voice, in the distance, she hears it—the rising swell of the song, the shouts and laughter. 

With a grunt of effort she pushes herself up from her crouching position, bows to She Who Protects, and walks from the dimness of the inner room out to the brightness of the day. The children too have looked up from their making, eager to run to meet the returning villagers, but the grandmother calls them back with a tut and a smile—Wash your hands of clay before you rush off, she gently admonishes them. 

The almost-mother stands, hands pressed to her lower back, and laughs as the children run off with dripping fingers, the older ones carrying the smallest. On the pathway that runs up from the fields, alongside the furthest houses, the villagers appear. The women dance in a line, hands held, circling, circling, and singing the harvest song around the men, who carry the last round baskets and sheaves of grain. They reach the mother-house and lay down their loads, amidst laughter and cheers.

When the song of harvest is complete, some of the women of the mother-house, dressed in their fineries, their hair curled and plaited, go into the house and bring out the round loaves of bread that they baked that morning, and oil, herbs, and meat. And, seated on stools and blankets in the yard, the people feast.


Later, the celebrations complete, the chosen members of each house in the village enter the mother-house, one by one, carrying their vessels, clay-made mouths empty, awaiting fulfilment. They move through the granary room, with its large, curved urns, and smell of grain and earth, and the newly made clay pots drying on the attic floor, reached by a ladder; then through the living quarters, with its pallets, piles of blankets and sheepskin, and musty, yet comforting, human smell; and finally though to the inner room, where She Who Protects dwells, her rounded, winged and lined forms standing by the oven, and on the low shelf up against the wall. Here the people assemble, kneeling, as the grandmother takes up her ladle, and dishes out generous scoops of grain into their proffered vessels, filling them. 

As the clan mother, the grandmother takes great pride in sharing the gifts that the earth has offered with each house, each family, so that all are fed. To let anyone—woman, man or child—go unfed would anger She Who Protects, and the ancestors whose bodies, born from the land, have returned to feed it. In the coming days, as the rest of the grain is threshed and sorted, the granaries in every house in the village will be filled. And though the feasting may be over, the feeding never is, for it is the feeding that matters, the offerings that go back and forth, and around in a circle. All must be celebrated and sung and shared, and will be, for She will live on in her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, and her daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Wise Words: Breaking Our Silence

The public censure of women as if we are rabid because we speak without apology about the world in which we live is a strategy of threat that usually works. Men often react to women’s words—speaking and writing—as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper. Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men—control, violence, insult, contempt—that no threat seems empty. 

(Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Basic Books: New York, 1987/2006, pp. xxx–xxi)

Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt. 

(Rebecca Solnit, ‘Grandmother Spider’, in Men Explain Things to Me, Haymarket Books: Chicago, Illinois, 2014 p. 78)


Overcoming the silencing of women is an extreme act, a sequence of extreme acts. Breaking our silence means living in existential courage. It means dis-covering our deep sources, our spring. It means finding our native resiliency, springing into life, speech, action. 

(Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Beacon Press: Boston, 1978, p. 19)

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Anchoress: A Poem

from my self 
I drift in a sea of distraction 
that draws the I apart 
and distorts my thoughts. 
Lines of mind reach out, unwind 
but find no purchase.

I need an anchor 
an axis to spin from 
to unfurl threads of thought 
to swirl and whirl as they will –
wild and unbreakable –
windblown and sea-changed. 
Until I haul them back 
to my self 
on ropes strong with solitude 
to be calm and become 
my own anchor.

(May 2017)

Brú na Bóinne, Newgrange, by Barbara y Eugenia (Source: Wikimedia)

Monday, 9 April 2018

Wise Words: Emily Knows

(Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest, selected and with an introduction by Thomas H. Johnson, Back Bay Books: New York, 1964, p. 258)

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Roots Of My Unbecoming

I must become comfortable in my unknowing, more adept at my unlearning—and perhaps too a kind of unbecoming*—growing into a rooted, earthy being who is not a label, an identity, or any kind of deliberate intention—but the process of myself : an exploration of instincts, animal urges, intuition, and all that is natural and wild—married to, dancing with, intellect and knowledge. 

A wholeness is what I am, and have always been, self-contained within the porous shell that is my body.  

As I grow older, I become more essentially myself. 

I think this is part of the maturation process. Going from individualism, and a great emphasis on a sense of self and identity (through clothing, musical preferences and so on), to a more expansive sense of self that includes the land around me, and is therefore more organic. A stripped back, biological and ecological (though still human) identity, if you will, as opposed to a constructed, artificial one.

Myself as a root—of the land as the land is of me. Connected.

I gentle myself, kindling a kindness for what I have endured in life, and cannot yet face, or heal. My unbecoming will be my becoming.

*‘Unbecoming’ means ‘unflattering’, as well as ‘unseemly’ or ‘inappropriate’. Thus it seems quite an apt word for the subversiveness it suggests. I refuse to please, to be seemly or appropriate. I can only be myself.

Tree Sketch (Emergence), water-mixable oils and acrylics on oil sketch paper, 2012

Monday, 2 April 2018

Wise Words: On The Gift Of Creativity

Creativity is a gift. Too many of us refuse it unwittingly. Assaulted by self-doubt we fail to believe that it has been put into our hands. We diminish it by insisting we should have been child prodigies. We insist its only proof is commercial gain. But the creative is a gift to us from another realm, and it comes to us when it comes.

This has been my experience: whenever someone has determination, has a clear intuition or belief that he is “meant to write” or that she “has something to say,” there is substance to it. Sometimes this intuition occurs without any immediate evidence of the ability to express oneself “appropriately,” whatever that means to the individual. Sometimes the something that must be spoken eludes him or her. Still, if the intuition or determination is there, it is probably a reflection of inner knowledge. The task, then, is to find the way.

(Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds. Harper San Francisco: New York, 1992, pp. 15 and 18)


When we are engaged in the creative process, we are engaged with higher forces. Mysterious forms and forces seek entrance through us, and we had best cooperate.

For this reason, I often say that art is an act of the soul and not of the ego or intellect. To make great art requires great humility, the willingness to be obedient to what would be born through us. We are immersed in our creative projects. We are subject to them as to a great wind. 

(Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper: Inspiration and Practical Guidance for Starting the Creative Process, Penguin: London, 2004, pp. 212–213)
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