SACRED HOUSE (paperback)

CAROLYN HILLYER

WHERE WOMEN WEAVE WORDS INTO THE EARTH

 

 

Weaving together profound stories, original source materials and lyrical texts, this extraordinary book travels a spiralling route around the hearth fire of a sacred ceremonial house, gathering up the words that are fed into the ancient flames. Drawing on over 30 years of being absorbed in women’s work (political, spiritual, creative and magical), and decades spent as a workshop creator, song writer, intuitive painter and inhabitant of hills and moors, Carolyn has written a book that describes a deep mythology for women in relation to earth, spirit mothers, mystical journeys, sisterhood and the unfolding landscape of our travelling souls, as well as a view through a personal window into life and wild land. Now in its fourth edition. 400 pages / 235mm x 160mm / with colour plates

Price: £22.00

Additional Information

WELCOME TO THE SACRED HOUSE 

 

This book is written as a spiral that spins in both directions. After a long time searching for the bones on which to hang these stories, the skeletal form finally emerged, a non-linear structure that could gather up all my dancing words and tie them together. A circular loom, in fact, on which I could weave fragments of texture and colour, and then stand back to see how the pattern of the threads was spreading out to feed the cloth. A sacred house, indeed, that was solid and magical and timeless enough to accommodate all the many women who were travelling into these tales, and friendly enough to encourage their voices to sing out across the flaming hearth. With wild nature prowling so strongly at the centre and around the edges of these stories, I wanted to catch something of the raw dynamic of the land within these words. Some of these story cycles have emerged from workshop journeys that I have created for women over many years. Some stories are newly born and freshly grown; they have flown in over winter snows and scarcely left a trail, so lightly they have woven themselves into this book. Some are written around a rhythm that can best be experienced when they are spoken out loud; some will even take you out to dream and trance if you stay with them for a while. The songs that are threaded through the book can of course be read as lyrical text, although they will enjoy being sung, with your own tunes if you are not familiar with the original melody, harmonies or rhythm. The sacred house exists; it was built some years ago on the wild land where I live, a ceremonial roundhouse like those used by the ancestors who walked these hills five thousand years ago. Its roots and soul are far, far older. Time inevitably shifts from lines to circles within its walls, and layers of ancient faces flicker across those of the women sat within. I welcome you through its door and invite you to travel with these stories as they are woven by us onto this loom.

 

Here you will find stories about… returning home, constant rivers & ancient paths… feeding the soul & gathering the harvest of songs… binding power & the work of wise hands… womanhood & the mysteries of blood and moon… lost clans, remembered ancestors & sacred lovers… protection, deep magic & old knowledge… darkening shadows, death totems & intuitive voices… weaving the land, wild places & the turn of seasons… deep winter, ice warriors & the web of mother lines… primordial rhythms, prayer dances & drum rituals… grieving hearts, unbound spirits & distant terrains… sisterhood, strong circles & shared journeys… the dances of life & bright joy…

 

THE WEAVER’S DAUGHTER AND OTHER YARNS  (a story from Sacred House)

She collected looms. The first was a rug loom, a simple frame bolted and braced and bound with twine, as tall as a tribes woman in her middle years and twice as wide. She came to this loom by chance or destiny or both. She had crept into the weavers’ monthly council because her fingers itched and twisted whenever she passed near their door and she wanted to know why. She edged through small knots of women talking until she saw an empty waiting loom; and the warp strings were a-humming as she knelt down on the floor. Her hands felt hot and restless but when she held them over the cones of coloured wool piled to the side, they cooled at once and grew calm. She picked up a spool and wound some yarn then placed her fingers on the strings. The loom sang as she started to weave and the song continued all through the morning, beyond the dusk and far into the following day. She wove the yarns and wound the colours until the loom was full and the warp string song faded and fell silent at last. She was alone, for the women of the weavers’ council had long gone to their homes. She was hungry, not just for food but also for the loom song that was now buried beneath the finished, quiet rug. So she found wood and knife and hand axe, and she cut and drilled and sanded until the timber turned into a tall rug loom, on which she wound a warp then placed beside her bed so she could hear the taut strings humming in the night. The second loom was smaller, created by weavers who like to travel lightly and grow their weavings by the roadside, amid a tumbling mass of children or beneath the kitchen window as flat breads bake upon the coals. She took a bus into the mountain and she rowed across a wide lake and she drank tea beside the water as she twirled a spool around her fingers, until a weaver’s daughter found her there and smiled. They walked together through the houses on a trail of brilliant threads that wound out from every doorway to form a braid of women’s labour, which spread around the village like the sun. She sat with the weaver’s daughter every morning, every evening while the weaver’s old hands taught her how to stretch the fine loom threads from her waist up to a tree branch and lie back into the weaving as it danced and sang before her. And the song was of the berries that lay drying by the water and the song was of the girls that gather fruit into their tunics and the song was of the colours that battle on through pain and hunger to keep the people hopeful and to hold their dreams of free and peaceful lives intact. So she held the weaver’s old hands and she kissed the weaver’s daughter; she rowed back across the lake then kept on weaving as she travelled and the fine threads sang her journey all the way back to her hearth. The third loom came from the temples and from the prayers of healers who believe in wild weaving and the anarchy of yarns. She flew in dreams to meet them where they stood on stairs of white stone and the cloth poured from their fast looms down the steps in waves and wide cascades of colour. Old women banged on gongs and offered chants and warbled softly as they danced slowly through the weavings that kept on flowing out, beyond a wall of weeping shadows and a tree of weeping petals and a ring of weeping women who were laughing through their tears. And still the looms were turning and their songs were like quick water or the light tread of a heron on the sand. So she woke up with the sunrise and the bright loom sang beside her; and its song will never stop, for how can wild threads be silenced or old women ever made to cease their mad exquisite dancing? The fourth loom was born from ice and from cold roughened fingers. It was strung next to the stove inside a cave of sweet wood as the snow fell all around in frozen stars. The warp was spun from silence and the weft was wound from silence and the shuttle whispered back and forth across the solitary strings. The design was tight and careful, and the patterns were so subtle, and their symbols carried messages from rock and bone and drum. She balanced on the ice as she wove upon the cold loom and she leaned her head to catch the weaving’s delicate song. She heard the sound of women chanting in low voices and the creaking of their boots through the deep snow. She heard them calling out across the frozen land and her hands became still upon the chill and icy loom. So she heard the murmur of their parting and a single note that sounded across the vast and empty space they left behind. The note threaded through the loom, a single cord of music; she leapt onto its tail and rode it home. The fifth loom was broken, rescued from a trader who had cast it out into the rain. It was small and squat, and very complex in its various levers and components. The wooden frame was grimy and the metal combs were rusted, with springs stretched beyond their comfort and the sheds were held together by bits of rotting wire. She had once brought home a broken loom before; it was so neglected and dismantled, such a mess of weary pieces, so heavy with old dust, so stained by dull utility, that its song was completely dead. She burned it on a pyre and even as the flames licked through the loom it really was too tired to sing. But this little loom was different for it still had a spark inside it that tentatively pushed against the tangled strings. It was a song of resilience and the quiet power of people who refuse to be broken with their looms. So she sat at nights and listened while the looms all sang together and at first the noise was grating for their very different voices could not find a song to share. But gradually their different yarns and fibres found harmonies and chords, and their songs all met at last within the cloth.


CHAPTERS IN SACRED HOUSE

Section 1 ENTERING: Stones washed by moon
1 Granite /2 Doorway
Section 2 EARTH & HEARTH
3 Earth Floor /4 Hearth Fire
Section 3 FIRST WEAVER
5 House of the Weavers /6 The Loom /7 The Pot /8 The Drum /9 The Mask
Section 4 HERON’S COAT
10 The Heron House /11 Heron Flies East /12 Heron Flies South /13 Heron Flies West /14 Heron Flies North /15 Heron Flies Home
Section 5 BONE HILL
16 Forgotten People /17 Hag and Stag /18 The Old Valley
Section 6 WITCH TREE
19 The Oldest Magic /20 Warm Spells /21 The Coat of Many Eyes
Section 7 CAVE SONG
22 The Oracle of Nights /23 Toad & the Magic Vulva /24 Crow & the Mortuary House /25 Spider & the Silent Lace /26 The Cave-Beyond-the-Cave /27 Bat & the Unknown Night /28 Mare & the Surging Tide /29 Moth Wings /30 Death of Owls
Section 8 WEATHERED EDGE
31 Damp Earth /32 Sweet Day /33 Heathen Hills /34 Cold Winds
Section 9 ANCIENT ICE
35 Inside the Winter Book /36 The Northern Sisterhood of Drums /37 Wolfsmilk & the Mending Drum /38 Wise Ashes & the Dream of Fire /39 Red Ochre & the Breaking Drum /40 Twisted Braid & the Bear Dance /41 River Nomad & the Fish Girdle /42 Raven Scar & the Bone Needles /43 Shadows & the Dark Smoke /44 Moon-in-Water & the Human Heart Drum /45 Edge of Ice & the Reindeer Soul
Section 10 GRANDMOTHER DRUM
46 Spirit of Drum /47 Hare Drum /48 Salmon Drum /49 Bear Drum /50 Lost Drum /51 Nameless Drum
Section 11 RIVENSTONE
52 Ashes & Earth /53 Dissolving Woman & the Burden of Wounds /54 Hollowing Woman & the Restoration of Grace /55 Bleeding Woman & the Gift of Shrouds /56 Illuminating Woman & the Blessing of Songs
Section 12
57 Ash and Ember /58 Smoke in Thatch
Section 13 LEAVING: Stones warmed by sun
59 Song Rivers