Our 2018 retreat to the Isle of Eigg (19th – 28th May) launches on wed 16th August when this website will be relaunched
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Cailleach doll by the Loch of the Big Women
Our 2018 Retreat to the Isle of Eigg taking place in mid to late May will launch on the 1st August 2017.
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The Ancient Mothers of Scotland Retreat
The Ancient Mothers of Scotland Retreat is a retreat to the Isle of Eigg off the west coast of Scotland.
Join a Tribe of Like Minded Women
It is a women only retreat honoring that women have gathered together in circle since the beginning of time when women began to honor the cycle of the year. I believe that when women gather together we each bring back a piece of that ancient sisterhood – one woman may carry the songs, another the ways of ritual, some honor the gathering through creating altars while some blend herbs for sweet inscence and healing and nourishing drinks. Together we reweave that ancient sisterhood that is needed more than ever on this planet at this time.
Who Are the Ancient Mothers?
We’ll get to know these ancient Mothers of Scotland – The Goddess Brighid, the Cailleach, an old shadowy figure of a long vanished deer goddess and Clutha (who is a goddess of water and Goddess of the Clyde) through stories, through gestures of ritual, in visiting sacred sites as well as art and shamanic journeying.
The Cailleach – doll by Jude Lally
Why come on This Retreat?
Without roots how can we remember that we once lived a very different life – one where we were completely integrated with nature. This Retreat allows us to reclaim our wild self, a part of ourselves who knows we are nature. It is a retreat to nourish our roots with stories and time in nature where the Ancient Mothers do they own work in talking to us and working through us. We gather in circle to share these experiences and explore them in art and weave them into our daily lives in the work we do in our lives and in our communities.
While each woman is on her own individual path in this life we come together to inspire each other, to share the stories and to be on the land which has a wonderful way of talking to you. You’ll leave with a renewed sense of aisling (personal vision) of your place in the world and also your work in the world.
Cailleach Doll by the shores of Loch nam Ban Mora
I don’t have to tell you that right now we are in dark times. Each day seems to unleash new unbelievable moves in what seems like a game where no one is playing by the rules. I feel overwhelmed and have to balance this madness by unplugging. Unplugging from the world of social media, from being online, from human interaction and reach down into my roots which connect me to an ancient lineage of women.
There is a little island off the west coast of Scotland who for me is rooted in an ancient female power, its name is the Island of the Big Women. There are several legends of big women both on and around the island – from the original Big Women said to be a mythological race of giant women, big enough that they could easily enough step across the small islands to their dwelling in the centre of Loch nam Ban Mora (Loch of the Big Women). One island over on the Isle of Skye is the home to Scathach, the Shadowy One – who trained the very best celtic warriors and then there is the story of the female warriors of the Pictish Queen Moidart. The stories of the original Big Women and the female warriors seems to have become so fused together it’s impossible to untangle them and say which belongs to which.
Pictish Queen by artist Leonie Gibbs
The story of the female warriors sets place in the 7th century CE when a Christian monk called Donnan arrived on the island on a mission to convert Pagans into the new faith of Christianity but as Dressler (1989) explains the religious annuls recorded that the establishment of a monastery on Eigg was not welcomed by the ruler of the island, the Pictish Queen of Moidart in whose territory Eigg was included and which was reported by Columban chroniclers as keeping such pagan practices as observing Beltane rather than Easter and worshipping serpents.
‘Legend tells that from her dun in Glenuig, the Queen of Moidart ordered the monks to be killed: ‘I am keeping herdsman to herd my milking cattle on the face of the Corravein, not to be herded themselves by a monk’. When the newly converted islanders reused to obey her orders, she flew into a red-hot rage and sent her own warrior women over to Eigg. They came upon Donnan and his monks as they were singing mass in their oratory on 17th April 617, but the saint beseeched them to wait until they had finished their prayers. As they left the church, Donnan and his monks were beheaded one after the other, their bodies piled up and burnt’ (Dressler, 1989).
The Cailleach by Loch nam Ban Mora and the Magical Lights
But the story did not end there and it is said that unearthly voices were heard chanting bewitching the warrior women who found themselves compelled to follow the lights as they were lead up towards the Loch. The lights rested above the little island in the middle of the Loch and the warrior women it is said entered the water with their eyes fixed on the lights each of them drowning below the surface (Dressler, 1989).
As the saying goes history is written by the victors and in this story the monks got the last word. I can’t help but feel this wonderful story of the lights appearing which bewitched the female warriors to their death is perhaps a story borrowed from the Big Women. Is what we are reading something the monks borrowed in a way to invert the story on its head as the did with so many Pagan tales?
Who were the Big Women, big is another way of saying respected, looked up to or important. Maybe they were human women with special skills such as prophecy or healing. Maybe they were mythological beings much like the oldest crone of Scotland the Cailleach. As an artist I am drawn to the story of the lights and the bewitching elements as in Celtic belief water held the sacredness of the Goddess. Was the Loch throughout generations a sacred place – it is high up in the middle of the island and it’s quite a climb to get there but when you do take that pilgrimage you feel your entering into another realm.
Views from around the Loch
While some people take holidays to Spain and sun themselves on beaches, I find myself scaling mountains answering an ancient calling. May 2016 found me back on Eigg, again in one of the hottest days of summer. May is always a good time to visit anywhere in Scotland even although the beginning of the month may bring snow the midges haven’t arrived yet! This trip may turned out to be HOT and while I’d brought many layers I cursed quietly for not bringing a sun hat. There are times when I see a snapshot of myself – i’m not lying on a beach in Spain but heading up to a mountain loch with the extra layer i’d packed now wrapped around my head as an attempt at shading myself from the sun. Finally after several visits over the years I’m making this trip alone and there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there is barely a cloud in the sky.
In the waters of the Loch of the Big Women – a perfect swirl of water between my feet
I’m not quite sure what this pilgrimage has in store but I’m following the call. I reach the loch and the sun is shining straight ahead of me as the water surface glitters in thousands of bright lights dancing on the surface. I sit and just be in this place soaking the silence and the sun then suddenly feel I’m being watched. I look around but can’t see anyone and then I realize it’s not folks from this world who are watching me its folks from the other world! I feel I’m being watched by women – maybe it’s the generations gone who honored the mythical Big Women or maybe it’s the Big Women themselves? Big I remind myself is another word for respect or look up to and maybe that’s who the Big WOmen were – seer’s or wise women who people traveled to in a time of personal crisis.
Daughter of the North WInd
Then slowly is dawns on me what this pilgrimage requires and I’m a little taken back at the idea of submerging myself under the loch waters, yet when the old ones beckon who am I to resist! And so gingerly I take off layers and while I’m surprised that the water is warm (it’s relatively shallow and has been warmed by the sun all day) the bottom of the Loch is covered in very small extremely sharp stones. I have visions of a brave me diving in under the surface of the water down into the depths of the middle of the loch but in actuality I’m terrified of water with dark peaty depths and so I gingerly step out to waist height water, take a deep breath and fully submerge myself under the surface. I look back on that split minute in my head with slow motion as if there were otherworldly eyes on the shore watching me and in the water with my as I submerged myself. I felt radiant when I emerged – as if I really had swam into the middle of the loch dove down and reclaimed some ancient treasure. I had reclaimed something – I had reclaimed a sense of purpose and deepened my connection and relationship with these old ones for in dark political times like these we need to create new ways of working and being in this world that are rooted in an ancient spiritual bedrock to keep us anchored and fed.
Without roots we are lost and so this May a circle of women are taking a very special spiritual journey. A journey that will require some to cross an ocean and for all of us to take a train journey, one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world – the West Highland Way and travel through the heart of Scotland’s wilderness. Then we will leave mainland Scotland by ferry and cross the waters over to this little island where we will tap into the stories of the land and work with these ancient female forces so we can come back into the world replenished and inspired for the work that lies ahead.
In Part two of Scottish Amazon Women Rising we will be traveling as the crow flies its roughly ten miles to Tarskavaig on the Isle of Skye to the ruins of Dun Sgathaich Castle (Castle of Shadows) and once home to renowned Celtic warrior Scathach.
Join Jude on her Ancient Mothers of Scotland Retreat which includes a visit to the Loch of the Big Women where there is an optional submergence ritual under the water which is a significant ritual in reclaiming lost parts of ourselves, in particular embracing our wild self and is an initiation, or a rededication to our own and unique ancestral soul path we take in this world.
Dressler, Camille. (1998). Eigg The Story of an Island. Polygon, Edinburgh, Scotland.
While i’m a long way from home (currently living in the Appalachians) I left out my Bhrat – my piece of cloth for Brighid to bless as she returned to the world on Imbolc eve. The fabric is Harris tweed from an Island of the Hebrides – known as Brighid’s Isles. How beautiful to see the dew form as crystals on the cloth. I think of tweed as the interviewing of prayers and honoring of the land it came from – the colors and the stories.
I was lucky enough to be given a wonderful supply of Harris tweed on my last trip home which I have been saving to create my own mantle, such as the protective mantle Brighid encompasses.
This weekend I’m looking forward to our Imbolc retreat exploring brighid and the psychology of the season and how we can take those traditions of Imbolc and doll making and stone medicine to support our journey around the wheel of the year.
Brighid’s stories and traditions are vast for they encompass a Goddess, a Saint and the figure of mary of the Gael – the true essence of the Goddess Brighid incorporated into the new religion of Christainity in a very different form of Celtic Christianity – where the beliefs of both worlds were practiced side by side.
I have always been drawn to the tales of Brighid that somehow are a little hidden or on the threshold and the theory of Brighid as Bear energy as honored by the earliest of peoples (and proposed by irish scholar Seamus Ó Cathain) is one which certainly fires my imagination.
Click below to read my essay The Great Bear Mother: A Journey with Brigit to the Ancient Dawn of Imbolc which was published in the anthology ‘Brigid: SUn of WOmanhood’ by patricia Monaghan.
And take a journey between the worlds with this guided meditation & otherworld journey…Take some time, create sacred space and journey with Breejah!
Click on the image below.
Dancing with the Grandmothers in the dark of the year in the deep of the Cave
The snow began falling yesterday afternoon here in the foothills of the Appalachians. All throughout the night it fell steadily and soundlessly. I got up before dawn and went outside for my morning ritual of whispering into the threshold that time when it’s not quite night yet not quite day. I feel those deep heart gratitudes and prayers leaving me and travelling out onto the shimmering strands of the great wide web, into the weaving hands of the ancient foremothers.
This winter I have followed the lulling song of the energies of the plants and trees as they took their energy down deep into their roots. I too have burrowed deep into my cave and tended to my roots. Some days I sit by the fire and stare into the flames, other days I paint pictures of the bear grandmothers on the walls and watch them dance and sway when the flickering flames reflect on them. Other days I draw all the insights gathered from dream fragments, of whispers and those that fall with the glittering showers of snow, sometimes I stitch and sew and create wise women who wish to be born. It is is a rich time indeed if you can mange to stay undisturbed and nestled in the thick layers of darkness.
There is a path, an ancient path that walks the strands of the great cosmic web. It is the Ancestral Soul Path, one which thousands of generations of women have walked, danced, sung and woven deep magic into. It’s a path that walks the thresholds as it weaves in and out of this world and into the otherworld.
This May you are invited to join a tribe of like minded women and travel the Ancestral Soul Path on a spiritual journey to the Ancient Mothers of Scotland. This journey takes you on one of the top 3 spectacular train journeys in the world – the West Highland Way weaves through the beautiful wilderness of Scotland, framed by mountains, a journey where you often spot deer from the train. This journey takes you from the bustling city of Glasgow up to the coast at Mallaig where a short ferry ride takes you over to the Isle of Eigg.
Eigg’s Gaelic name is ‘Eilean nam Ban Mora’, which means Isle of the Big Women and it’s the magical realm of these myths and stories that forms the hearth for our time together. From tales of Amazon warriors and Pictish Queens to the Cailleach and Brighid, from hints of Holy Women, Brighid and the great Deer Goddess whose bones form the bedrock of these small isles.
Ritual & ceremony provide women with the opportunity to explore their personal intentions while engaging in shamanic arts such as doll making, singing and nature art and mapping our journeys fosters an exploration of insights and experiences.
The Stone Planting Ritual
Employing programs such as Joanna Macy’s ‘Work That Reconnects’ participants have the opportunity to express their joy of living on this planet as well as the grief in what’s happening in this world and then through shamanic journeying ask future beings for their guidance and then commit to the work they already bring, or wish to bring to this world.
As we walk this path the land is our ever present companion in this process as we synchronize to her rhythms and ever changing faces. The central focus of the Ancestral Soul Path is to sit in circle as we gesture, tell stories within personal ritual as each women speaks her story into sacredness. This path is walks on ancient spiritual bedrock and offers a deeply transformative process – that blooms a unique bloom within every woman unique to her and her path in this world.
There are days set aside for personal reflection – walking on the beaches or with art
Blessing by the Well of the Holy Women
Storytelling of the Ancient Mothers & the Big Women of Eigg
Honoring our Wild Self
Initiation to your own Ancestral Soul Path at the Loch of the Big Women
Joanna Macy’s program of the Spiral of Reconnection
Shamanic art – Doll Making, art in nature, mapping our journey
Walks to local sacred sites
Visit to a local working Croft and the Crofting Museum
Meet up with local women and an evening joining their singing group
Stone planting ritual
Ritual, ceremony and a Celtic Need Fire
Fall is definitely creeping through the foothills of the Appalachians and finally the temperature is beginning to cool. All summer I’ve held that aching for cooler temperatures as there has been so many days where there is very little difference between the day and the night temperatures.
I after all am I creature of the north. I see dogs digging holes where they can bury into the cooler earth and i’ve wriggled my toes into the earth and soaked my feet in our teeny, tiny little stream.
Today I feel unsettled, restless. I had this vision that I just want to retreat to the temple of the Ancestral Mother’s. To enter the temple in the half light of dawn and open the door and windows to the new day.
I want to lie down in the centre of the temple and look up to images of the ancient mothers and her symbols as I purify myself in the aroma of dried herbs grown from the garden. To turn on some music which transports me from being rooted from this exact moment and stretches me back through the ages to my foremothers and to the future foremothers.
I’ll light some candles and offer prayers into the day. Remind myself to create from a place of mystery rather than yesterdays or last week’s emotions!
Then i’ll make some coffee and head upstairs to the studio which shares the same roof as the temple as of course it’s sacred work!
But for now my temple is nomadic and my tribe of women is nomadic.
The Ancient Mothers of Scotland retreat takes us to an island which often feels on the very edge of the world. An Island steeped in the rich mythology of Ancient Mothers and for that time we are a tribe of women with our travelling temple….