The transporting story below is a memory from a woman of her childhood, printed with her permission. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a land far away, or maybe in the backyard, where women gathered every moon, where ceremony was the order of the day, where sacred was undefinable because it was woven into the fabric of ordinary life….
She knew it was important, the way the sun going down is important. An event that could look so menial and so grand at the same time.
Her little feet dug in the grass as she inhaled deeply the sweet smoke that smells like safety, just as Van Morrison sounds like home. Eyes closed and breathing deeply she surrounded herself in the smoke, the wings of birds beat the air around her.
This was no ordinary night, and instead of being relegated to bed or minded by some other person, she was here, where things were happening. She felt big and proud to be allowed to sit with the adults, with the women, to hear the stories. As the smoke cleared her mother handed her the smudge and she, innocently as only one so young can, with all the ancestry that sits strongly behind her (and none of the suspicion or shame that comes with knowing “your place” in this society) she picked up the wing and began her task.
Each woman would approach the small door to the tipi, and with her best outfit on (which ranged from silk saris from India to tie-dyed tights to something of her mothers that was way too big) she would welcome and smudge each woman before they passed through the threshold. This way she was an important part of the ritual and was greeted by each of the women with respect and acknowledgement for the role she played. Once the last woman was through the door she would find a place next to her mother, or auntie Inna or some other mama she decided to adopt for the night. Inside there were always flowers and lush cushions, candles that reflected the light of all who sat there. The elements were called and she would watch each time as her mother would grow into a magical medicine woman calling down and up the safety and the blessings of the earth and all that be.
After that, it all happened.
Laughing, crying, dirty jokes, singing, so much singing, dancing, screaming and of course STORIES. Some were real, others legends and myths, tales of triumph or disaster, lessons all.
They all listened, they all had a chance to speak, even her, young as she was.
It would get late, she would play with candle wax and make the most delicate little cups, much like thimbles by dipping her finger in the hot wax of the candles and then sticking it in her mouth only to repeat until she could pull it off without it breaking. What satisfaction! And the tapping sound it made on the wooden boards of the tipi floor, she liked that most of all and could be amused that way for hours. (Except that playing with wax wasn’t part of being a respectful in circle and if she wasn’t sitting next to her mother she would get some serious stares from across the circle that clearly would say “Stop with the wax. Now!”)
Sometimes she would fall asleep, comfortable, listening to the voices of the women in her life, sometimes in song. Often she’d have someone to play with her hair or who would rub her back as she drifted off on the cushions or sheepskins on the floor, surrounded by the crackle of the fire and the smell of smoke, incense and whatever exotic flower essence the person next to her was wearing.
She would wake in a tipi much darker and emptier and with only a few candles. Her mother would get her up, grumbling all the way and take her to bed in the little tipi next door where she slept.
She would go to sleep feeling warm, knowing she had been part of something special, out of the ordinary, sacred. She had been held in that space of women, that rich, colourful, safe place of the circle.
She misses the circle. She misses the people older and wiser who would share their knowledge, who would transmit it through their smiles or tears. She longs for the connection to mother earth. She listens. She practices. She longs. She is grateful.
Thank you, to my daughter, for your ancient depth of understanding of sisterhood.