(if you've not already read it, see HEALING THE WITCH WOUND - PART 1)
As I stepped forward another woman also stepped forward and I offered her the space. I stepped back, thinking maybe I could slink back into the crowd, but as she finished all eyes turned to me... or at least it felt that way… as they knew I’d wanted to speak. I stepped into the space.
My whole body was shaking, not with fear, with energy. What was I being called to? What would I say?
I shared some of what I’ve shared with you already… The names are familiar… today is my birthday… their deaths linked to my birth… from Pendle. I didn’t say that I’d known of that connection since I was 8 when I decided to do a school project on the Pendle Witches (I wish I still had it to know what I wrote then, to see the drawings that I made of the stereotypical witchy figures I would have seen them portrayed as).
I spoke of how I’d been ordained as an Interfaith Minister and how connecting with the Divine Feminine had been a big part of that journey, and shared with them the words that had come to me on when I was writing a healing ceremony for myself… I am Witch, I am Priestess, I am Warrioress, I am Wise Woman, I am Healer, I am Woman in Her Power. I didn’t share with them about my ministry training Identity Day where I'd turned up as ‘She in her Power’… naked (on zoom), apart from a ruby headdress. I didn’t share with them that that healing ceremony I had written had been a two-part ceremony set on Pendle Hill at the full and new moons, a releasing of the past, a healing of my feminine line and of the witch wound, a stepping into my power.
I don’t know what else I said, other than ‘May we all be in our power’.
I returned to the crowd, momentarily as two more women stepped forward and shared their words, both sharing that today was also their birthday. And then I was back in the centre, with 150 eyes looking on and 150 voices singing happy birthday. Their lives lost, reclaimed, our lives celebrated… again that sense of we were them. Death and birth. Birth and death. It felt significant, like those who we honoured rebirthed through the collective work we were doing.
And as I sunk back into the crowd I felt sick, there was a tightness in my throat, breathlessness, my stomach was churning, my legs felt weak. A sense of horror. Now the fear was coming in strongly. What had I done? How could I have taken up space? Who else wanted… needed… to speak? What did I say? How was it perceived? I wanted to shrink and be swallowed up. I recognised the feeling… shame!
It was excruciating to exist in, for when it swamps me like that it’s not like the shame exists in me, but that I exist in shame. I felt sick. Where before I’d been anonymous, now I was known. Where before I was invisible, now I was seen. Where before I was silent, now I had been heard. I had made myself visible. I had spoken out. People knew things about me. Was it safe? And there was the witch wound deeply alive in me! That’s how it lives in us, all these centuries later… in the fear of being seen, being heard, taking up space, speaking out, connecting with others, trusting others.
And as I continued to be overwhelmed by the feelings we moved into the next part of the ceremony. Lucy Pearce from Womancraft Publishing was briefing a circle dance. We joined hands, in a squashed circle (150 people in circle is big) and chanted as we danced left, swaying right. Still overwhelmed by shame, I wasn’t present, and was grateful for the hands on either side of me holding me. Grateful also for the dance; my feet moving on the earth to ground me and bring me back into my body. After the circle came spiral… a spiral dance inspired by Starhawk (I think, as I said I wasn’t very present) with another chant. I’d done this before. I knew that as we spiralled in a long line inwards and then outwards again we would meet each person. The dance was an invitation to look into each person’s face, each person’s eyes.
The nature of shame, at least for me, is that it makes me want to hide, to escape people, to disconnect. I feel unworthy of connection, of relationship. It makes me choose to be alone. So the last thing I wanted was holding (the hands)... connection (the eyes)... to see the others… to let myself be seen. It had my heart jumping out of my chest!
Of course I didn’t have to, no one was forcing eye contact, and yet I did have to, just like the two times my body lurched had forward earlier in the ceremony… to carry the plaque, to speak… I felt impelled… to take this invitation, to make the most of this opportunity.
As we began to dance, I looked into the eyes of every person there, not everyone looked back, but I saw them, I let them see me and in doing so I felt a shift. As we spiralled in and then out the shame shifted, eased at first, in this connection and then was replaced by an elation, a joy. I again felt grateful for the two hands holding me, as I stumbled leaving my body again, this time in a kind of transcendence, rather than dissociation. I wondered if it felt akin to what the dervishes of the Sufi tradition feel as they dance around and around. It was deep and beautiful and moving and connecting.
And then it was over. We were catching our breath. I was wondering what just happened as I stood dazed.
We gathered and were again invited to collect the names, to carry them up to gallows hill. I checked in with myself. Was I to carry Alice Nutter? It was a clear no. I didn’t need to. “it’s done”. I had done what I came for. She and I had received what we needed. And besides why walk her to gallows hill when she was no longer headed there… she was innocent! Her story and herstory, and also my somehow my story, was retold.
As we walked in procession up the hill, drumming, rattling and chanting I was struck by the buildings we passed. All institutions… churches… schools… and as we passed I envisaged us bringing more feminine energy to them, to society and the systems which uphold the patriarchy.
Our afternoon was spent at the sundial in Williamson Park, the top of ‘gallows hill’. I loved that the sundial was our chosen space for the remainder of the ceremony... the celebration. As we arrived into the space we encircled the enormous raised circle that forms the sundial, designed to catch the light, to measure the light. We danced, we sang, we connected, we spoke, we witnessed and were witnessed in our sharing and we explored Cali's archetypes of the witch… Wise Woman, Intuitive, Temptress, Creatrix, Healer, Earthkeeper and Sister and our relationship with each. As I write I wonder which archetypes you identify with and which need more exploration for you…
It has taken me days… weeks… to settle again after the ceremony. It called forth more in me than I expected. It healed something deep in me and perhaps my ancestors and descendants too. When I arrived home I heard how over the weekend my teenage daughter was invited to express herself more, to use her voice, to speak up, told that what she has to say is valid. In another situation, she was invited to step into a leadership role with a group of girls! And those synchronicities for me demonstrate the magic of ceremony. I’ve long said, “it stops with me”. I continue to choose to heal what's in me so as not to pass down to my children what’s not theirs. And somehow my showing up, stepping forward, speaking up, being seen, feeling the shame and allowing in the connection has released something. I’m not saying the witch wound in me is healed. As with all healing there are layers and layers to spiral around, but something big happened.
Before the ceremony I’d stood on Pendle Hill and spoke the names of the Pendle Witches, calling them in. After the ceremony I drove directly from Lancaster back to Pendle Hill, still chanting “I am, a witch I am, keeper of the ancient ways, I am” . I sat and sketched the hill in the sunlight. And again stood atop and called their names Alice Nutter; Elizabeth Southerns (died before trial); Elizabeth Device; Alizon Device; James Device; Anne Whittle; Anne Readfearn; Katherine Hewitt; Isobel Robey; Jane Bulcock; John Bulcock; Jennet Preston (tried in York); Alice Grey (found not guilty) , honouring and releasing. I like to think their spirits are lighter for the rewriting of herstory.
The next day I visited my mother-in-law before heading North and she said she had a gift for my daughter. Without knowing where I’d been or what I’d been doing over the weekend, she handed me a copy of ‘Mist over Pendle’ (a story of the Pendle Witches) and a Pendle Hill Story map! There were so many synchronicities over the weekend, to me magical signs that I’m following the guidance, I’m where I need to be, on the path, doing the work.
That evening I visited a friend on my way home, and remembered when I’d been there in 2015, back when I’d been living in a bus, travelling around the coast of the UK with my family. We’d lived for 3 months on her drive whilst my husband built her a strawbale meditation room. As I climbed into bed in the spare room that night I remembered this was the bed in which I’d laid during a soul retrieval back in 2015. That soul retrieval linked to the healing ceremony that came 5 years later… the ceremony writing itself... seeded in the soul retrieval.
And I realised the ceremony I’d just taken part in felt much bigger than what had happened on the day, or even the days around it. In speaking those words, proclaiming myself ‘Women in her Power’ I had spoken the words from my healing ceremony which I never got to do due to covid. In speaking the words I had completed my healing ceremony, which in turn was completing something begun with my soul retrieval. This was a multi part ceremony that was unfolding in my life and not just unfolding in my life, but unfolding my life itself!
Find out more about my Ceremonies of Healing
Explore Cali White's Witch Archetypes See Emma Swinton's The Witch's Daughter premiering at Bolton Film Festival in October and available to watch online See Cheryl Prince's Awaken (although Cheryl isn't mentioned in this blog I went to see her tell her story whilst at The Witches Revival (the wider event in which the ceremony to honour the Lancashire Witches took place) and watched her play Awaken on my return home).