The Finished Cloth

Ancestors, Dreamers, Pathfinders, Spellbinders, Spinsters, Stonekeepers, Travellers, Weavers, Sisters & Wild Sanctuary

We come together to weave because if we do not then threads will drift and cloth will fray, and the fabric of lives will thin out to rags. We come together to bind and mend and add colour because if we do not how will the cloth make us strong, how will it draw us in and bring us home? We come together to ply earth and land, darkness and memory, stories of life and bright days because if we do not then how will we know the pattern of our journey, how will we remember what has been and what is to come?

Welcome to the Story of Thirteen Moons Festival

In September 2015, four hundred women from over twenty lands and cultures gathered on Dartmoor for a celebration of sisterhood, an honouring of sacred land and a shared journey through an exciting and magical programme that included fire ceremonies, music, ancient crafts, women’s art, workshops, talks, shrines, drum circles, song sessions, lodge rituals and the tending of hearths. The festival was incubated and hosted by Carolyn Hillyer, at Lower Merripit Farm in the heart of Dartmoor’s wild hills. It was created by one hundred kindling women (women who tended the fires, the land and the many sisters who came) and supported by a rich tapestry of artists, craftswomen, musicians, teachers and speakers.

A personal note from Carolyn

“In the prowling nights after Thirteen Moons had finally completed and settled back into the sleeping earth, I sat beneath star-cold skies amazed and in awe at what we had all created. So much gratitude for the soul-beauty, woman-grace and generous-heart with which so many sisters had come to this land and contributed to the weaving of our extraordinary gathering. So much wonder at the tears, prayers, deep stories, jubilation, inspiration, healing, sweet challenges, courage and profound memory that all those sisters laid into the lap of this land. So many blessings to our earth magic and our womb magic; to our blood songs and our bone songs; to our heron wings and our wolf eyes; to our arms that embrace the planet and our sisterhood that carries us in to the heart of our womanhood, out to the edge of great mystery and beyond the threshold of brave and powerful change. But in the wild frenzy of all our festival work, our organising, co-ordinating, tying, tweaking, trimming; inside the flow of women, the flow of creativity, the flow of magic, the flow of exhaustion; in the midst of all that it was nigh on impossible to find a clear view or a quiet moment to fully appreciate and understand the nature of this gathering. In the weeks after everyone had left, with time and silence on the farm, I was busy hemming the final edges of the festival, getting everything in order, every woman sorted, every number balanced. Then finally those gentle moments arrived when I could start to absorb the festival, truly assimilate all the extraordinary work of the sisters who created it, and the abundant courage and enthusiasm of the sisters who came to participate in it. Ah, what a good job we all did! There were challenges of course; a gathering of a multitude will cast up any number of those. There were organisational confusions certainly; we were all stretched out to our fingertips and sometimes balanced precariously on our toes with what we had undertaken, but the wobbles were miniscule compared to everything we achieved. Women in the full flow of their inspirational rivers are a magnificence and a wonder! Since the festival, many women have sent beautiful and generous words that speak about their experiences during the weekend, their inspirations and realisations, their wild anecdotes and transforming stories. Thank you so much: those words have enabled me to experience more of the detail of the weekend. In return, here are my profound thanks to each and every sister who gave her creativity and commitment to make this gathering; truly it was only possible because we all wove Thirteen Moons together. Here is my deep gratitude to each and every sister who chose to come and be part of the festival, who undertook long journeys or difficult paths to get here and who trusted us to care for you during your time among these wild hills, who filled the lodges with your love and honouring, who enriched the weaving that we shared together. I give more thanks than words can hold without spilling…”

Photo Gallery

Here are pictures of shrines and lodges, hearth fires and well waters, drumming sisters, singing sisters, weaving sisters, antlered sisters, older sisters, younger sisters, sisters sitting together and alone. Here are some of the musicians, presenters, teachers, lodge women and craftswomen who created the fabric of the festival. Here are the cistvaen and the kettle, the copper and the yarn… and the hay harvest that we were making alongside the event! Here is the welcome of the loom cloth and farewell of the remembering vessel…

Below is a sliding photo gallery – click on the first square image to open the slide show and to view the images in full.

The Story of Thirteen Moons

Nine women’s lodges formed the bones of the festival: Ancestors, Dreamers, Pathfinders, Spellbinders, Spinsters, Stonekeepers, Travellers, Weavers and Thirteen Moons. Each lodge burned a hearth fire throughout the weekend and offered a flowing blend of scheduled sessions, workshops and rituals, as well as quiet pilgrimage times when women could visit and spend time within the dynamic of each lodge as they wished to. Sometimes surprising and spontaneous moments took place beside those hearth fires; sometimes, especially during the deep night, the lodges sank into powerful silence. There was a central hearth fire outside the main gathering place of the Thirteen Moons lodge from which the other eight fires were rekindled each morning, and to which the embers and ashes of those flames were returned during our final ceremony. The central hearth was ringed by nine poles, decorated and cared for by the lodge sisters, each holding the energy of a lodge within the circle. The nine lodges shared the care of the whole farm, with its shrines & totems, woods & meadows, streams & pools; beyond dusk the land was lit with hundreds of lamps and candles so that women could continue to pilgrimage through the darkness. Together we created the cloth of the festival, weaving the deepening threads of our many journeys around the nine lodges, each individual woman becoming a weaving shuttle as she moved across the great loom of our gathering. These words describe something of the offerings of the lodges and the contributors…

The ANCESTORS LODGE was located in the neolithic roundhouse; the lodge sisters tended that timeless hearth and the old weavers’ shrine beneath the trees, where they created blessing rituals for the stones. This lodge was the place for connecting with the ancestors, the old mothers and primordial spirit women. It was our drum house (including the large communal drum), and the hearth for sacred storytelling, the weaving of words into flame. Here lodge women told strange and shadowy tales, or sang over bones or laid out ancestor lines for women to track. They opened the doors wide to welcome in the ancestor women and awakened embers beneath ancient songs. At the end of the gathering, the lodge sisters dismantled the old weavers’ shrine that had been hanging in the woods for many years, and carried all those weathered totems and talismans to be burned upon the final fire.

The DREAMERS LODGE was accessed through the stone labyrinth and past the dreamers fire; pilgrim women followed the winding path into and out of the dreaming place. Inside the domed lodge, the Bird Crone sat waiting to embrace the dreamers, along with a treasure chest of magical and lovingly created tools, totems and oracles to inspire their inner journeys. A cloak created from thousands of bird feathers was available for women to wear and in which they might soar and circle dreaming skies. This lodge also had the care of the stone circle and dreaming pool, candlelit and shimmering at night. Sometimes the lodge sisters offered deep dreaming times when the tent entrance was closed to allow women to travel further with intent into the depth and darkness of the lodge.

The PATHFINDERS LODGE, located in the wooded place beside an ancient deer birthing ground, was the temple of Elen, the deer goddess in her primordial forms. This was a forest lodge that offered drum pathways, guided journeys along the old deer roads to meet the bright drums, the forest womb, the hidden trails and the broken track. The shrine was marked by a rising deer spirit totem hung high in the trees, antlered poles and a narrow, mirrored, firelit track into the place where the red deer of this valley pass by during dawn and dusk. These sisters had the care of the Pot of Remembered Sisters, freshly fired in the village pottery and nestled among the roots of the great beech, a vessel hung with clay beads that could be individually placed inside, to honour our cherished women who have travelled on to other hearths.

The SPELLBINDERS LODGE was the home of magic, spells, old mysteries and blood wisdom; and a place to rest and be nurtured with bodywork, herbs and tender care. The lodge encompassed a cluster of tents: the Active Womb (for circles, treatments and teachings such as ancient desert witchcraft, and learning from plants and trees), the Still Womb (for resting and nesting), the Yoni Steam tent and the Tree Oracle workshop tent. The lodge was supported by midwives, doulas, herbalists and women who work with blood magic; many balancing and nourishing herbal teas were brewed at this hearth fire. These sisters also had the care of the well, where they shared a well-dressing and blessing of the waters during the festival. A potent mandala, painted with of menstrual blood and red ochres, was created ritually by women and carried to the final fire ceremony.

There was a full programme of ANCIENT CRAFT WORKSHOPS during the weekend, wonderful opportunities to sit in circles of sisters and work with some of the skills that our ancestor women have always known. Within the Thirteen Moons lodge coppersmith skills were learned, as women made talismans and pendants, drawing the magic of copper through their heating and beating. At the Spellbinders lodge, wood representing nine tree spirits had been prepared so women could work with those sacred energies; sanding, polishing, carving, painting, oiling and blessing the pieces to make amulets. In a forest tent beside the Pathfinders lodge, women were taught how to make antlered headdresses from willow withies; and there were many sisters who wore their sacred antlers on their brows during our last evening of ceremony and celebration!

Most of the craft sessions took place in the SPINSTERS LODGE, a dazzling temple to textile. Crafts were taught simultaneously in all four corners of the tent, with a shrine in the centre that held ancient weaving tools and symbols. The tent walls were hung with many cloths and tapestries; fabric woven by women especially for this event, felted pieces created by women’s gatherings over many years, blankets and rugs from many lands, textiles brought by visiting sisters from mountain and desert. In this lodge sisters taught backstrap weaving on small rigid heddle looms, offering a beautiful array of wool yarns to reflect the energies of wild landscapes. There were sessions in felting, using sheep fleece brought from Sweden; this was meditational and rhythmic work as fibres were matted and small dream pouches shaped around smooth stones. There were workshops teaching the gypsy hook spindle, an ancient tool for spinning fibre this is cut from fresh willow; women decorated their spindles with ochres or berry juice, then learned the simple technique using natural and nature-bright fibres. Our Bedouin sister travelled from her community in the Negev Desert to teach the embroidery techniques and symbols traditionally used by nomadic women, as well as sharing something about the culture, lives and future hopes of Bedouin women. Our mountain sister came from Kathmandu to show how to make a form of traditional sacred cloth painting (paubha), existing since the 3rd century AD, using ritually prepared polished cloth and earth pigments.

The WEATHER LOOM was housed in a women’s community red tent that was part of the Spinsters Lodge. Women sat together to weave into this large communal loom using yarns, fleece and fibres to catch the energy of weather (both on the land and across our inner landscapes) while lodge sisters drummed, sang and taught ancient weaving chants. The weather loom cloth was completed, carried to the final fire ceremony, then hung on a high bough ready to catch the wind and rain and autumn mists.

The STONEKEEPERS LODGE sat alone in the marshes beside the stream; a place of herons. It hosted the powerful dawn sweat lodge ceremonies and the sacred pipe rituals. These sisters were also guardians of the ancestral cistvaen, the stone chamber holding the bone bundle that honours White Horse Hill Woman, and the simple offerings that women made and brought to place there for her. This Bronze Age ancestor was welcomed into the belly of the spirit drum journeys that took place inside the lodge, connecting participating women to the womb of the earth; delivering them to memory, freedom, honour and a sense of deep belonging, all held inside the power of ancient stone.

The TRAVELLERS LODGE was based on the nomad chooms of Siberia, created and cared for by a vibrant clan of younger women. They offered pilgrims quiet moments in which to be nurtured and tended with berry teas, nature foods & good chocolate, hair braiding (traditional reindeer-herding style), hand massage and gentle songs. They also encouraged women to be playful with hoolahoop sessions and circles that brewed much laughter and revitalising energy. This lodge shared workshops about growing traveller’s tales and journeying into creativity, and also hosted talks and teachings by some of the elders who had travelled from other cultures, including a Carrier tribe pipe ceremony. Visiting women helped to create a wide hooped instrument with ribbons, rags and bells, which travelled in a cascade of colour and bright sound to the final fire ceremony.

The WEAVERS LODGE was the home of the Shaman Weavers, a shrine installation of Carolyn’s newly completed painting cycle. For the first time, these thirteen ancient life-size grandmothers sat together around their great bowl-shaped loom. This lodge was a place for journeying, contemplation, quiet vigil and drawing in inspiration from all the wild land that these weavers bind into their cloth. The shrine and the visiting pilgrims were tenderly nurtured by the lodge sisters; through the days and long into the nights, they gave support, attentive eyes, encircling arms and warm blankets (including the original Sister Blanket with its many words of kindness sewn into the cloth).

The SHAMAN WEAVERS have formed the deep belly around which the four years that led to this festival have moved. The weaver paintings and loom cloths began to emerge in autumn 2011 and since that time women have gathered regularly to work with each shaman weaver, venturing into the wild landscape that fell from her weaving hands, exploring the inner trails that carried us across those lands. The shaman weaver circles travelled beyond Dartmoor to Germany, Russia, Sweden and Canada. By winter 2014, with nine shaman weavers completed, we were ready to seed the festival, and to draw in from those sisters who had been sharing those journeys, in order to lay down the bones of this gathering of women. During the next six months, the final four weavers arrived and the circle of thirteen was at last ready to sit around the great loom.

The THIRTEEN MOONS LODGE was the main gathering tent, and the stage area where the performances, presentations and song circles took place. There was much music here, both wild and tender, from brave, powerful individual singers and potent, energetic bands of women. There were artworks and craftworks here, exhibited by women using paint, photography, leather, rawhide, metal, glass, written word, clay and many other forms. There were yoga sessions in the mornings, workshops in the afternoons and talks throughout the day. This big lodge was tended with candles, flowers and fragrant smoke. The lodge sisters also cared for the Loom Cloth (over 13 m long) that was laid out like a glowing spine through the tent and was created over four years by hundreds of women’s hands. This lodge pulsed with the ebb and flow of women as they arrived to drum, sing, dance, trade, watch, listen, weep and laugh together.

The Council of Earth Sisters

This took place in the Thirteen Moons tent during one long afternoon session; we closed all the other lodges so every woman could attend. Nine sisters representing the stories of women lives in nine different cultures gathered on the stage and in turn stood to offer their words of wisdom, prayer, lament, celebration. Carolyn stood to speak for Lyuba, Nenets reindeer herding woman from Northern Siberia, telling something of her life and struggle to reclaim shamanism for her people; Chieko spoke for Japan, teaching about an ancient form of women’s sacred language and talking about the current and historic threat from radiation to her land; Naama spoke for the Bedouin desert women, describing the project she co-founded to raise their status in society, restore traditional textile skills, give them financial independence; Noga spoke for Israel, describing a women’s ancient spiritual and witchcraft tradition that long predates modern and recent conflicts, and places honour to the earth mother before all else; Estella spoke for the Canadian First Nations Carrier tribe, talking about her work with women’s empowerment, blood rituals of womanhood and the potency of our womb journeys; Cecibel spoke for Peru, describing a recent journey to the Andes to bring healing to a violent story within her family and to restore her own connection to the land; Renuka spoke for Nepal, having travelled to the festival from a home destroyed and a community trying to heal after the recent earthquake, and shared words about her ancient sacred painting traditions (she is a rare female trained with these skills) and the need for safe menstrual houses for vulnerable Nepalese women in remote rural areas. Denise spoke for Zimbabwe, for the vibrant music traditions and sacred customs of the villages where her husband and musical partner lives, for balance with the earth through the vibration of music and song; Cedar spoke for Dartmoor, about being born of the wild hills, what the moors mean to her as a young woman travelling far out in the world, the underlying sense of a home waiting for her return. The council ended with all the women present singing together to honour these earth sisters, Heron fly you home…

Denise, Renuka, Chieko, Estella, Noga, Cecibel, Naama, Cedar, Carolyn, circle of sisters.
(Portraits © Cedar Shaw, except the photo of her © Sue Murphy)

Our Sister Fund

This fund has been created during the last few years, raising money for women’s campaigns and projects through the sale of the mini sister blanket (organic unbleached cotton tea towel). We added to this during the festival by offering special Thirteen Moons calico carrying bags. With additional donations from artists and other sisters we were able to distribute over £2000 after the festival, primarily to support the work of Naama and Renuka, but also in the form of smaller grants to other women. The sister fund will continue to gather resources for other women’s projects.

The Many Weaving Sisters

LODGE MOTHERS, LODGE SISTERS, CO-ORDINATORS & CREW: Carine Verveld, Gillian Thurgood, Anne Thomas, Christine Watkins, Isabella Lazlo, Johanna Klapper, Krysia Carlton, Sam Winsper, Jaine Rose, Lisa French, Cindy Robinson, Freddie Foosiya, Kesty Jakes, Marisa Picardo, Suzi Edwards Goose, Sam Elen Marks, Fiona Lee, Lisa Hill, Millie Dubieniec, Debs Hall, Mez Lucerne Lambourne. Glennie Kindred, Ffynn Willis, Joy Horner, Julia Duthie, Karin Chandler, Rachel Hertogs, Jilly Dowse, Kristina Hoijer, Emma Stephenson Young, Emily Powell, Joanna Swift, Karin Baird, Kate Fletcher, Laura Salmon, Lesley Hodgson, Lily Payne, Lisa Schneidau, Naomi Ocean, Ruth Liengaard, Sam Wernham, Tegwyn Hyndman, Julie Froekaer, Lisa McClean, Rachel Inman, Ruby Revell, Cedar Shaw, Tallula Bentley, Gabrielle O’Connell, Ellen Mulcrone, Joie de Winter, Lara Conley, Lua Maria, Sophie Forster, Hilary Keenan, Cecibel Egan, Jackie Knight, Janice Moughton, Kara Martin, Carolyn Hillyer, Clare Tinnyunt, Carol Asuray, Belen Parades, Ella Avalon, Jade Wood, Sharlea Sparrow, Sarah Arkle, Star, Azul Valerie Thome, Jackie Billing, Indera Ajimal, Martha Baker, Fiona Marshall, Farah Chaudrey, Imogen Ashwin, Izzy Rundle, Lisa Gray, Vicki Smith, Rain McManus, Shirley Field, Rima Hussein, Terry Edser, Xoe Parry, Fran Victory and her Blue Moon Cafe team.

MUSICIANS & PERFORMERS: Carolyn Hillyer, Carrie Tree (with Asha McCarthy & Sophie Afthimiou), Demelza Riddell, Denise Rowe (with musicians Kirby, Rachel, Chloe, Abigail, Monica, Sarah & Bella), Kate Fletcher, Lara Conley, Lua Maria, Julie Felix, Miho Igi (Japan), Ruby Tinnyunt, Seize The Night (Shannon Smy & sisters), Wild Women Band (with Jana Runnalls, Kat Brown, Lydia Lite & Oshia Dury).

WORKSHOPS & PRESENTATIONS: Carine Verveld (Netherlands), Carolyn Hillyer, Christine Watkins, Denise Rowe, Jade Wood, Kate Fletcher, Maggi Squire, Miho Igi (Japan), Noga Adama (Israel), Tegwyn Hyndman.

EXHIBITING ARTISTS & CRAFTSWOMEN: Annabel du Boulay, Carolyn Hillyer, Cedar Shaw, Cheryl Tipple, Clare Emelius, Danielle Earp, Debs Hall, Dorrie Joy, Emma Sampson (plus Ember Vincent), Emma Stephenson Young, Jilly Dowse, Kristina Hoijer (Sweden), Lucy Filce, Naama AlSana (Israel with translator Eve Tal), Naomi Ocean, Renuka Gurung (Nepal), Ros Simons, Tiffany Reeve, Vikki Shillingford.

FIRE CEREMONIES: Carol Asuray, Ella Avalon, Jade Woods, Sophie Forster, Fiona Marshall.

COUNCIL OF EARTH SISTERS: Carolyn Hillyer (representing Nenets sisters, Northern Siberia), Cecibel Egan (Peru), Cedar Shaw (Dartmoor), Chieko Kanaya (Japan), Denise Rowe (representing Zimbabwe), Estella Patrick Moller (Carrier Nation, Pacific Coast Canada), Naama AlSana (Bedouin community, Negev Desert, Israel with translator Eve Tal), Noga Adama (Israel), Renuka Gurung (Nepal).

ALSO: Nigel Shaw (who did set-up, technical work, sound engineering, music support, take-down); many behind-the-scenes people (who helped with structures, plumbing, facilities, accommodation, transport and deliveries).

FAR-TRAVELLING SISTERS: special thanks to the women who travelled long distances to be part of this gathering; Elena and all the Russian sisters, Val and all the Canadian sisters, Ursa and all the German sisters, the Swedish group of sisters; also sisters from the Netherlands, Israel, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Latvia, France, Japan, Nepal, Norway and from all the other lands that were represented at the festival. Thank you to our Brazilian sisters and our Siberian Nenets sisters who could not join us but connected to our gathering during the festival.

Additional Threads Added to the Weave of Thirteen Moons

We’re sounding speaking calls for sisters to answer and find their belonging * Need find live * As I make this journey into the arms of the Goddess I sing the song, the song that I have learned from young women and women of other lands * Of broken scars, beautiful memories and perceptions changing * A holding loving healer is circling the source with a crutch built to crumble * Tired, alive, connected, acknowledged and seen as woman * Power is being truth, is fierce and fire, soft and sure you are medicine * Threads weaving to remember that whatever you need is provided by her, love, comfort, nurturing, joy and the ecstacy of life * I will meet you fully my beloved sisters at the waters edge and then… * We all dive in * Into symbolic memories of past lived times * Times of knowing * There is magic in our fingers as we gather the many threads * A purpose in our touch as we twine and twist, warp and weft, wend and weave * This is our work * Connect me to this beautiful sisterhood

THE PROTECTRESSES (© Suzi Edwards Goose)
This is for the ones we call our sisters
Circles of trust and honour and love
This is for the wise council and the good company
The dancers to the drum
The warriors of the heart, the keepers of the code
The blessed womankindness

This is for the warrior women
The shield maiden sisters
The Protectresses
This is for the ones who have each other’s backs
The strong women, the wild women

This is for the warrior women
The shield mother sisters
The Protectresses
The ones whohold each other up
The nurturing women, the kind women

This is for the warrior women
The shield crone sisters
The Protectresses
The ones who mend each other’s tears
The teaching women, the wise women

This is for the ones who went ahead
Over the wall, into the fire for us
This is for the ones with buzzard sight
The watchers at the edge
The defenders of honour, the keepers of justice
The fighters unto death and beyond.

13 MOONS (© Joie de Winter)
Four hundred women
under the oak,
sweet gentleness in song.
Making calls to the land
with the ancient tongue.
Resting our bark spines,
with the earth we rise,
balancing soft with fierce
for this new time.
We’re filling gaps
with lasting drums,
with the fire of the grey,
lightness of the young.
Drum us clean,
drum us strong.
Weave us tight,
with threads long.
Heather catch our frays,
with the moor’s be sewn.
Moors with the mystery,
tapestries of moon remedy,
stitch into me, my womb,
stitch through us with love.
And I’ll tug you,
as the seasons tug me,
tug me from my river to the sea.
Sisters we’ve weaved,
with this poem be free.

13 MOONS (© Lisa Woods)
I found within a home
Made of skirts, veil and skin
Muddied earth feet, breathing soul
Wild tangled hair blowing bells
Rattling beads on ancient grounds
Threaded warp and weft, woven in dreams
Naked glade where the known unknowing dawns
Blown on the wild wind, nature’s call.
Beauty’s abundant sight and sound, beheld
In wonder of that forgotten
Burnt to the ground, arisen in wonder
The watcher finds herself found
Breathing scented senses coming home… HOME
Burning hearts glow stamping feet
The rhythm of horses, wild and free
Amidst stars of a crescent moon.
Wild sister, free sister, wild woman
How I loved and love your song.

SHIFTING WITHIN (© Maggi Squire)
I sit upon roots of tree and sip hot tea from the urn
watch how women are when dressed as they wish to be
layers and belts and wind swept hair.
Here in moon time, moon of our lives
moon of whispering tree, moon of lodge, of rock, of deer,
of fire, of dreams, of many hearths we sit beside
and quietly, I feel a pivotal moment.
I shift and am more deeply rooted within my self.
Oh, mud woman who knows my sorrow
heavy falling down of inner body
within my rugged longing for needed strength
infinite form and formless shape
in awe…body, dust of stars in my bones, moon and mud.
I stagger and lie in grass and feel ground of my being
It is hot, I hear voices arise from women of other lands
mud absorbs primordial need to sink to earth
sunshine warms while sleep mends and spring water revives.
Waiting for there is much preparing for the night
in dark there is drum and voice and moving into what is.
Seen and unseen we travel our many paths of pilgrimage
fire lights our way and rare it is to be in the company
of these women from so many lands with such intent
and candles hung in trees, lit water, fire blazed our direction.
In the lodge of dreams a woman was transformed,
I saw her change as a cloak of feathers covered her body.
She lit the souls of those of us who witnessed the moment
and the mirror in the place of deer answered my question
as my feet traveled forward seeking and learning
such it was and you are the ones who know it to be.

with love from Carolyn

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