THE STORY OF THIRTEEN MOONS
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? (from Sacred House)
In the autumn of 2015, four hundred women from over twenty lands and cultures gathered on Dartmoor to share sisterhood, honour sacred land and journey together with joyful magic, tender prayer and wild celebration. The festival was conceived and hosted by Carolyn at Lower Merripit Farm in the heart of Dartmoor’s wild hills. It was created and supported by one hundred kindling women (tending the substance and soul of the festival) including a rich tapestry of artists, craftswomen, musicians, teachers and speakers.
THIRTEEN MOONS IN PICTURES
Shrines, lodges, hearth fires, well waters, drumming sisters, singing sisters, weaving sisters, antlered sisters, older sisters, younger sisters, sisters sitting together or alone, musicians, presenters, teachers, lodge women, craftswomen, cistvaen, kettle, copper, pot, yarn, loom… (photographs by Cedar Shaw, Sue Murphy and other sisters)
Below is a sliding photo gallery – click on the first square image to view the slide show.
THIRTEEN MOONS IN WORDS
Nine lodges formed the bones of our festival: Ancestors, Dreamers, Pathfinders, Spellbinders, Spinsters, Stonekeepers, Travellers, Weavers and Thirteen Moons. Each lodge tended a hearth fire throughout the weekend and offered a flow of planned workshops, informal sessions, shared rituals, and quiet times for women as we made our individual pilgrimages around the land. Sometimes surprising and spontaneous moments took place beside these hearth fires, sometimes the lodges sank into powerful silence. Each morning the lodge fires were rekindled from our central hearth outside the Thirteen Moons lodge; the embers and ashes from all our flames were gathered together for our final ceremony. The central hearth was ringed by nine poles, decorated and cared for by lodge sisters, anchoring the energy of each lodge within the circle. The lodges shared the care of the whole farm, with its shrines and totems, woods and meadows, streams and pools. Beyond dusk, the land was lit with hundreds of lamps and candles so women could continue to pilgrimage through the darkness. Together we created the cloth of the festival, winding 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.
The ANCESTORS LODGE was located in our ceremonial roundhouse where lodge sisters tended the sacred hearth and created blessing rituals for the stones. Here we connected with the ancestors, the old mothers and primordial spirit women. This was our drum house, our hearth for the telling of magical stories and the weaving of words into flame. Here the sisters sang over bones and welcomed in our ancestral mothers to awaken the embers beneath the ancient songs.
The DREAMERS LODGE sat within a broad stone labyrinth, a winding path into and out of the dreaming place and around the dreamers’ fire. Inside the domed lodge, the bird crone sat waiting to embrace the pilgrims, offering a treasure chest of lovingly created tools, magical totems and quiet oracles to inspire our inner journeys. Here was a cloak created from thousands of bird feathers for us to wear, in which we might soar and circle dreaming skies.
The PATHFINDERS LODGE, found in the wooded place beside a deer birthing ground, was the temple for the deer goddess in her primordial forms. Here we walked drum pathways, guided along the old deer roads to meet the forest womb, the hidden trails and the broken track. Here a deer spirit totem leapt high through the trees; antlered poles and mirrored tracks led us to the pot of remembered sisters that honoured our lost and cherished women, now travelled on to other hearths.
The SPELLBINDERS LODGE was the home of magic, spells, old mysteries and blood wisdom. Here we were nurtured with body work and herbs and tender care. This lodge offered us the active womb tent for ancient desert witchcraft and teachings from plants and trees, the still womb tent for resting and nesting and blood magic, also tents that held the gifts of yoni steam and tree oracle. Midwives, doulas and herbalists gathered here; many balancing and nourishing teas were brewed on this hearth fire.
The ANCIENT CRAFT WORKSHOPS that we shared during the festival were wonderful opportunities to sit with sisters and work with skills known to the hands of our ancestor mothers. We learned to work with copper, making talismans and pendants through the magic of heating and beating. We were given small pieces of wood representing tree spirits, which we could sand, polish, carve, paint, oil and bless as we made amulets. We discovered how to make antlered headdresses from willow withies, which we wore upon our brows during ceremony and celebration.
The SPINSTERS LODGE, was home to most of our crafting work, a dazzling temple to textile with different crafts taught simultaneously in every corner of the tent. The tent walls were hung with many cloths and tapestries: fabric woven especially for this event, felted pieces created at previous gatherings, blankets and rugs brought from mountain and desert. We learned backstrap weaving on small rigid heddle looms with yarns to catch the energy of wild landscapes. We learned to felt with island sheep fleece, setting a slow rhythm in our fingers as we shaped small pouches around smooth stones. We learned to spin nature-bright fibres on willow hook spindles decorated with ochre or berry juice. Our Bedouin sister taught desert embroidery techniques and symbols used by nomad women. Our Nepalese mountain sister showed us how to make traditional sacred cloth painting using ritually prepared textiles and earth pigments.
The WEATHER LOOM was housed in a domed red tent beside the Spinsters Lodge. We sat together to weave onto a large communal loom using yarns, fleece and fibres to catch the energy of weather while lodge sisters drummed, sang and taught ancient weaving chants. The finished weather loom cloth was carried to our final ceremony then hung on a high bough to catch the wind and rain and autumn mists.
The STONEKEEPERS LODGE sat alone in the marshes, a place of herons and clear cold streams. Each dawn, sisters hosted powerful steam lodge ceremonies, sacred pipe rituals and spirit drum journeys that connected us to the womb of the earth. Here we honoured the ancestral cistvaen, the stone chamber holding the bone bundle that anchors prayers for white horse hill woman, and brought simple offerings that we had made for our ancestor women. Here we found the resonance of deep belonging held inside the power of ancient stone.
The TRAVELLERS LODGE was in our nomad tent, like a Siberian choom, created and cared for by a vibrant clan of younger sisters, who nurtured pilgrims with berry teas, nature foods, good chocolate, hair braiding, hand massage and gentle songs. Here we were delighted by hoolahoop sessions, creative writing journeys and circles that brewed much laughter. This place hosted intimate talks and quiet teachings by some of our travelling elders from other lands. We helped to create a wide hoop of ribbons and bells, which travelled in a cascade of colour and bright sound to our final fire ceremony.
The WEAVERS LODGE was the home of the shaman weavers, a shrine installation of Carolyn’s painting cycle. For the first time, these thirteen ancient life-size weavers sat together around their great bowl-shaped loom. This was our place for journeying, contemplation, quiet vigil and drawing inspiration from all that these weavers bind into their cloth. The lodge sisters offered the pilgrims support, attentive eyes, encircling arms and warm blankets through the days and long into the nights.
The SHAMAN WEAVERS formed the deep belly around which the four years that led to this festival have turned. The weaver paintings and loom cloths began to emerge in autumn 2011 and since then circles of women gathered regularly to work with each shaman weaver, exploring the wild landscape that fell from her weaving hands and the inner trails that carried us across those lands. The shaman weaver circles travelled to Germany, Russia, Sweden and Canada and by winter 2014, with nine shaman weavers completed, we were ready to seed this festival. During the next six months, the final four weavers arrived and the shaman weavers were ready at last to sit together around their loom.
The THIRTEEN MOONS LODGE was our 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, exhibited by women using paint, photography, leather, rawhide, metal, glass, written word, clay and many other forms. There was yoga every morning and workshops throughout the day. We tended this lodge with candles, flowers and fragrant smoke. We laid out our shaman weaving loom cloth, (over thirteen metres long and created over four years by hundreds of women’s hands) as a spine glowing through the centre of the tent. This lodge pulsed with our ebbs and flows as we arrived to drum, sing, dance, trade, watch, listen, weep and laugh together.
THE COUNCIL OF EARTH SISTERS
This council sat at the heart of our programme and we closed all the other lodges so every woman could attend. On the stage nine sisters represented the stories of women’s lives in nine different cultures, standing in turn to offer their words of wisdom, prayer, lament and celebration. Carolyn stood to speak for Lyuba who could not attend, 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 (with translator Eve) for the Bedouin desert women in Israel, describing the project she co-founded to raise their status in society, restore traditional textile skills and give them financial independence. Noga spoke also 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 community trying to heal after the recent earthquake, and shared words about her ancient sacred painting traditions 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 she has family, 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 home waiting for her return. The council ended with all the women present singing together to honour these earth sisters, heron fly you home…
Photos: Carolyn Hillyer, Naama AlSana, Cecibel Egan, Noga Adama, Estella Patrick Moller, Chieko Kanaya, Renuka Gurung, Denise Rowe, Cedar Shaw, circle of sisters. (Portraits © Cedar Shaw www.cedarshawphotography.co.uk)
OUR SISTER FUND
Our Sister Fund, which has been running for many years to raise money for women’s projects and campaigns, gathered resources during the festival through the sale of the Sister Blanket tea towels, Thirteen Moons calico bags and other donations. After the festival we were able to distribute over £2000, primarily to support the work of Naama and Renuka but also in the form of smaller grants to other women.
A WEAVE OF SISTER VOICES
We’re sounding calls for sisters to find their belonging * there is magic in our fingers as we gather the many threads, as we twine and twist, warp and weft, wend and weave * four hundred women under the oak making calls to the land with the ancient tongue * 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 and the lightness of the young * stitch through us with love * I sit upon roots and sip hot tea and watch how women are when dressed as they wish to be, skirts and skin, muddied earth feet, wild tangled hair and breathing soul * 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, home * there is much preparing for the night, in the 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 * 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 * this is for the ones we call our sisters, the wise council and the good company, the dancers to the drum, the warriors of the heart, the keepers of the code, the blessed woman-kindness * this is for the warrior women, the shield maiden sisters, the protectresses, the ones who have each other’s backs, the ones who hold each other up, the ones who mend each other’s tears * 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 * I will meet you fully my beloved sisters at the water’s edge then we will all dive in…
“In the nights after Thirteen Moons had finished, I sat beneath star-cold skies amazed and awed by what we had all created. Such gratitude for the grace and generosity with which so many sisters contributed to the weaving of our beautiful gathering. Such wonder at the songs, prayers, stories, jubilation, tears, inspiration, healing, courage and remembering that all those sisters laid into the lap of this land. Such honouring to our earth magic and womb magic; to our blood songs and bone songs; to our heron wings and wolf eyes; to our arms that embrace the planet; to our sisterhood that carries us out to the edges and beyond the threshold and into powerful change. Once silence returned to the farm, I could truly start to absorb all the extraordinary work of everyone who created it, and the vibrant enthusiasm of everyone who participated in it. There were challenges of course; the gathering of a multitude will cast up any number of those. There were organisational confusions certainly; we were stretched out to our fingertips with what we had undertaken. But these things were insignificant compared to everything we achieved. Women in the full flow of their inspirational rivers are magnificent to witness. So here are my profound thanks to each and every sister who gave herself to create this gathering; it was possible because we wove it together. Here is my deep gratitude to each and every sister who chose to attend, who undertook long journeys or difficult paths to get here and trusted us to look after you; you enriched the weaving that we shared together. I give more thanks than words can hold without spilling.”