Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times December 2017
With Yule just around the corner, you are likely planning festivities, gatherings, and family nights!
Growing up, of course, my family celebrated Christmas, and large scale was the rule. Everybody sent cards, bought gifts, planned dinners and lunches, and I can say Christmas for many of my family members was one of the biggest events of the year.
After I moved out, and started my own traditions, I scaled back the complicated Christmas festivities, and after converting to Paganism, reduced it further to just a single day for Sabbat. The Winter Solstice is a big deal for me, because I am so happy about the fact the sun will grow stronger, and “be reborn”.
I typically do a firepit fire, and libations alone, although I’ve attended public Sabbat and officiated for friends before.
Many different topics can be explored in Pagan Yule or Winter Solstice observances, but this year, instead if exploring things related to the Wiccan or Heathen male gods rebirth, the topic will be mothers.
Yule and Mothers Night
Anglo Saxon Pagans, according Bede, writing in the 8th century:
“… began the year on the 8th calends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.”
They supposedly venerated the Disir, or the mothers, mother goddesses, protective mother ancestors, and held sacrifices in their honor. They gathered, feasted,
Yule lasted three days in Pre Christian days, but a lot of modern people observe it for twelve days, beginning December 20 or 21, with Mother’s Night being the first thing observed. Many do a ritual honoring the protective female mother ancestors and goddesses. Some give food or other gifts to them, light candles for them, and ask them to protect, watch over, bless, and ensure good coming harvest.
Some sources state Mother’s Night was the final festivity in Yule, and it was observed then in honor of the goddess Frigg. She wove people’s fate for the new year on that day, which was counted as New Years, and Frigg was honored. It was said she had knowledge of the future, but would not tell anybody what it was! She also was unable to alter the future, as evidenced by the fact she foresaw her son Balder’s death, and try as she could, she was unable to avert it.
I have attended candle lighting ceremonies Norse friends observe for some of the twelve days. They do candlelight vigils all night, with a prayer on the hour every hour, and network with one another from household to household if they can’t do it all under the same roof.
Of course, it is the women/ Matrons of our community who do this.
Some of these women have moved out of state, and some are no longer in contact with one another, but those marathon candlelight vigils are one of many things that are still maintained by almost all of the women to this day.
This is an appropriate introduction, I think for this month’s topic.
Mothers, and most specifically, mothers who have lost children.
I had the privilege of reviewing the beautiful film Somebody’s Mother, which was created by The Tollman Sisters, Gabriela and Evelyne. It’s been very successful in the US, and is headed to China!
I watched the film, myself and I recommend it. It’s a film that will make you think, and gets right to the difficult to face, let alone discuss issues that come when you lose a child.
As somebody who has been trying to have children for twenty years, and have been unable to, this film really hit home. The Tollman sisters explored so many of the things you deal with after such loss.
In the film, one sister’s baby died, and the other loses custody of her son after inability to take care of him that was not in any way her fault, and that she never meant to happen.
In the instance of losing custody due to inability to care for a child, the number one thing I see happening in the lives of my loved ones who have children is they become so focused on making their kids their all, they become completely unaware of their own needs at times. This is due to the great love they have for their children that compares to nothing else in their lives, and to a loving parent, no sacrifice for their children is too great. It can mean that sometimes, they don’t know how to ask for help, and they forget that even parents need support too. The topic specifically explored is postpartum depression, which I have seen more than one mother I love deal with it.
In the instance of the death of a child, I have been told by more than one parent that the death of a child is something you never fully recover from, and one that literally takes a part of your heart away that you never get back.
The stages of grief are explored intimately from the viewpoint of both sisters, and done in such a way that viewers can relate.
The film takes a very compassionate view of suffering many films exploring pain lack. At one point, in the film , it was said “I don’t know why I needed to go through it…I don’t know why I needed such pain.”
The film shows how loss of a child impacts the relationships of the parents of the children with one another. I don’t have the statistics of how many people’s marriages or engagements are called off when a child dies, but I’ve seen it happen quite a lot. The film presented a relationship surviving, and another not surviving.
The film portrays the inability to function normally in your own life after such a loss, and the great lengths people go to in order to keep up appearances, so people leave you alone about what happened. Sometimes, not talking about something that is tearing you apart emotionally is part of coping with it. It also shows how sometimes, that is absolutely impossible, however, and many of us have endured well meaning questions after losing a child we are not ready for like “ When will you have another baby?”
The love of sisters and how they are one another’s number one supporter, and closest friend in good times, and bad is intimately portrayed. It is a beautiful testament of the Tollman sisters devotion and love for one another as well.
Finally, the film shows how to pick up the pieces after unspeakable tragedy, and find hope for the future.
The link to the film’s pages follow, as well as a trailer.
This film is now available on Amazon. Click Image below for more information:
Interviewing Gabriela Tollman
I had the opportunity to ask Gabriela Tollman some intimate questions she lovingly answered. Her words are as heartfelt and nurturing as the film.
Saoirse- Some of the women I interviewed about loss of their children are deeply suffering, even decades later. Some wanted to share, but could not bring themselves to talk about it. What words of advice, healing, and wisdom do you have for women dealing with loss of their children, be it through death, or loss of their living children?
Gabriela- It is an intensely painful experience to live through the loss of an infant, and it has been important for to let myself cry all of my tears. I spent two to three years crying. What helped me cope and carry on was the understanding that everything that happens in life has a reason. I know this idea does not comfort everyone, but it helped me. I began to see the events of my life, and the loss of my baby Charlie as a way to further advance the development of my soul. I also found many healers and teachers who helped me. Brian Weiss’ book Many Lives Many Masters was integral to helping me transform my pain into a spiritual lesson. Other books and healers that resonated with me are Anita Moorjani Dying to Be Me, and A Course in Miracles.
Saoirse-What do you recommend to these women to find strength when their own strength seems to vanish?
Gabriela- Writing down my story was an immense help for me. I wrote down anything I was feeling, thoughts and ideas in journals. These writings eventually became part of our film, Somebody’s Mother. Creativity of any kind helps transcend circumstance. It allows one to rise above and take control of grief and pain instead of it controlling you.
Saoirse- In what do you find comfort when it seems things are at their worst, to get you through until things are better?
Gabriela- As mentioned above, writing and creating helped me transform. Other practices that have helped me transform the pain are meditation. I practice transcendental meditation and this truly was the tipping point in getting me through that horrifying pain of grief. TM allowed me to find a place of peace inside myself, and release the oppressive negativity, anger, denial, fear and anxiety of grief. It is an incredible tool for all types of trauma and grief recovery. I also practice yoga, hiking, swimming, and am a certified hypnotherapist. Hypnosis is extremely effective for those who have a difficult time meditating, as it delves into the subconscious where I find peace and answers.
Saoirse- If you are religious, how does your personal devotion carry you in these times of grief? If you are atheist, but philosophical, how does your personal philosophy and values do the same?
Gabriela- One of my favorite quotes is by David Bowie “Religion is for those who are afraid of hell, spirituality is for those who have already been there.” I am spiritual. The works of Brian Weiss, an MD, hypnotherapist, writer and teacher changed my life. He writes a lot about past lives and lessons that we need to experience in the flesh in order to grow, evolve, transcend and raise our vibrations. Another brilliant healer and teacher that I follow especially in difficult times is the work of Marianne Willamson. Her teachings of A Course In Miracles help me find understanding. A COURSE IN MIRACLES offers a lesson for each day of the year, which is an incredible practice for self-healing and transformation.
More on this beautiful film follows the working at the bottom of this article.
The Mothers Stories
I could write volumes about how my personal miscarriage and being childless breaks my heart, but instead I reached out to friends who have lost their children. Their names are changed for confidentiality, but they were good enough to share their own heartbreaking stories with me, and all of you.
First, my friend Patty lost a child to death, and custody of another.
Here is our conversation about it:
Patty- In 1998, I gave birth to Anthony Joeseph Oliver. He only lived 3 days. He was born on March 14th and died March 17th. He had potters syndrome.
Me- Oh gods! How does it make you feel?
Patty- Kind of bad still, but it gets easier. I also have a daughter who I don’t get to see who turned 18 in May. I wanted so badly for her to know Anthony, her big brother. He would have been 20 in March.
Me- I wish that had happened for them too. Have you ever been able to get a hold of your daughter?
Patty- No, but I’m hoping she tries to find me. I think she lives in Missouri. I miss them. It’s kind of hard to talk about it.
Our discussion ended at that point. Patty just couldn’t bear to talk anymore, and I understand. My prayer is she is able to make contact with her living daughter.
The next woman I interviewed is 20 year old Jade, who lost her child very recently.
This is her story;
“Marceline was a very healthy baby up until the last two weeks I carried her. I was seeing Riverside doctors as well as Knox Community doctors. KCH refused to coordinate my care with Riverside, and wouldn’t believe me when I said she was ten days ahead of development.
Since I’m a Type 1 Diabetic, Marcy was already going to be bigger than a baby from a low-risk mother. I started going into labor at about 34 weeks, but KCH said I was too early, and stopped me. I went into labor again at about 36 weeks, and they didn’t really stop me since I was at the minimum week requirement, but they were going to give me a steroid shot for her lungs.
They had warned me about it last time I went into labor, and I had asked Riverside how it would affect me. They said I didn’t need it, and if they gave it to me it would possibly send me into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which would hurt my baby. I told KCH I didn’t need it, and they told me I was getting it whether I liked it or not.
About a week after that, I went in for a non-stress test, which I did twice weekly. I was scheduled for 10:00AM. I switched rooms three times, and they took an hour trying to find her heartbeat. They brought in an ultrasound machine to see if they could find it, but the machine wasn’t functioning properly. The next two weren’t, either. It was about noon at this point, and I’m already panicking.
I was already at a higher risk for a stillborn birth, and I was afraid that’s what was happening. Mike, my fiancé, was watching the monitor since I couldn’t see it. He told me that the cord was wrapped twice around her neck, and he could see her heart and circulation stop.
The doctor that was operating the machine told me, “I’m so sorry, but your baby has passed away. We can’t find her heartbeat.” I feel like I screamed, but I was in so much shock that I can’t remember clearly. I remember crying that entire day. It took them another two hours to start me on a Pitocin drip, and another two to start the epidural. I had to lay with my dead child laying still in my belly, because they were forcing me to deliver vaginally.
They told me that I run the risk of not healing properly from a C-section. I honestly would’ve taken that risk if it meant they could revive Marceline. I had to lie and wait until late that evening before I could deliver her. It was over an hour that I was in labor. Marcelne had shoulder dystocia, and was stuck in my pelvis. My pelvis was too small for her. They were using the vacuum on her.
I remember screaming, and feeling everything, even with the epidural. Mike, Mom, and my best friend Mickey all saw the cord around her neck, and heard the doctor say, “Oh, that’s wrapped tight.” I saw her turn a little to block Mike from seeing her cut the cord. Marcy was born at 1:16AM on Sunday, July 9th, 2017. They let Mike cut the cord, then laid her on my chest.
The skin on her cheeks had started to slough off from the cord strangling her. When I let Mike take her and hold her, they wouldn’t let me up to see him. I don’t remember much after that, and I think I had fallen asleep. The next morning the nurses had brought her in so I could see her. Her poor little hands were so cold. Her lips were so dark they were nearly black. I remember sobbing as I held her and being so afraid to touch her, thinking she would disintegrate if I did. When everyone had left the room, and it was just Mom and I with her, we sang her her lullaby, Loch Lomond.
I begged her to just come back to me, to us. I told her how much we loved her and how badly she was wanted, and how I was so sorry this happened to my poor little fox. She weighed 8lbs. 12oz., was 20.5 inches long, and looked exactly like I did when I was born. I didn’t get to hold her anymore after that. I could barely hold myself together; I barely can now.
The doctor also told me it was my fault she died, saying it was complications from diabetes that killed her. They also tried talking us out of getting an autopsy done on her. The autopsy results were eight pages long, and there was only one thing that may have been linked to my diabetes, but was not the ultimate cause for her inter-uterine demise.”
It is my prayer that the blessings from the goddess be upon my beautiful friend that she may become a mother of healthy children, and that she may heal from this terrible tragedy.
The next woman who shared her story was Mary.
“I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I was in and out of group homes for most of my teen years, so I was actually kind of excited that I would finally have someone who loved me who didn’t get paid to. (Teen logic). A few weeks later, I went to a party with some friends in a nearby hotel. I was the only one there not drinking. My baby’s life was too important to me.
Everyone was passed out on the beds in piles, except for me and one guy who was still drinking. I’d noticed him before, and he was cute, but I was in a relationship, so he was off limits. Besides, he was a cop’s kid, and he drank way too much, knowing he could get away with anything. I shook my head and decided to use the bathroom and find a place to go to sleep. He followed me to the bathroom. I won’t go into details, but he raped me on the bathroom floor, and no one even woke up. The next morning, I left before anyone else stirred. Once he had left the bathroom, I had spent the night curled up crying on the bathroom floor, so I was able to tiptoe out unnoticed. I called my best friend and asked her to come get me. She lived nearly two hours away, but she came, and instead of taking me home, she took me back to her house.
That night, I started spotting. Being so young, I had no idea what to do. I didn’t tell anyone, just got a pad and pretended everything was fine…until it wasn’t. By the next afternoon, I was bleeding heavily and having stomach pains so bad I couldn’t stand. I told my best friend what was going on, and she and some friends who were at the house took me to the ER. Of course, by then, it was too late to save the baby. That opportunity had passed the day before, if it ever even existed.
After the miscarriage, things are kind of a blur. However, I do remember what the doctor told me after my D&C. “You’ll never be able to get pregnant again. It was a miracle you were ever able to in the first place. And if you do manage to get pregnant, you won’t be able to carry a baby to term.” Just a few months later, I was pregnant again. This time, she was nearly a month late.
I was in the custody of DCS when I had my daughter. Less than two weeks after I had her, I turned 18. I told my case worker I wouldn’t leave the home for young mothers when I turned 18. I lied. I left on my birthday. She was livid, and actually tried to have my daughter taken from me. I fought like I had never fought before. No one was ever going to take THIS child away. I’d have died first.
Because of the miscarriage, and because I knew she would likely be my only child, I grew up and threw myself into motherhood head first. The late 80s were a time when almost all moms bottle fed their children, and preferred strollers and bouncy seats to skin on skin contact. I nursed my daughter, and improvised a way to carry her on my chest, much like today’s baby slings. She slept in a bassinet that was right beside my bed, and there were nights I would wake up and put my hand on her back, panicking a little until I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing. I never went a day without telling her I loved her, and I never went a night without reading a story and tucking her in. Perhaps I was TOO close to her, but I never wanted her to doubt my love.
The doctor was partially right. I was never able to have another child after my daughter. I tried to move on, but every year I would think about how old my first child would be if they were alive. Today, they would be 28. My daughter is 27. She is a beautiful woman with a wonderful life. I always told her growing up that she could be anything she wanted, but that all I wanted for her was happiness… I still feel that way. And she has it. That’s all a parent could ask for.”
I have thanked these beautiful women for sharing their stories, and they will be invited when I do the ritual I have written for this month’s article. It was very difficult for me to write this, as I could not stop crying the whole time. I will be blessed during this ritual as well.
I tried to think of something simple, but meaningful, and what I would want somebody to say to me for my grief over my own childlessness. I also looked to see what other liturgies I could find for women mourning loss of children, and I did not find much. I don’t ever remember hearing of such a ritual, and what little I did find was specifically for either funerals or miscarriages. I found nothing for women who are barren unless it was to pray for fertility. I found nothing for women who lost custody, as society tends to assume these women deserve that, but I’m not so quick to judge. I found a couple of Pagan prayers about miscarriage, and quite a few Catholic liturgies. I wanted to do something where the women bless and support one another, and as the women I am inviting venerate different gods and goddesses, I did not write this to be specific to honor a goddess, or to fit any one pantheon.
Instead of just honoring the Mother goddesses, living mothers, and mothers who have joined the ancestors, for your Winter Solstice Celebrations, I suggest a blessing for living Mothers who have lost children.
Decide if you want one officiant to act as a Priestess, or if you prefer to delegate parts and readings to multiple people, depending on the needs of your group.
You will need:
- One large candle for The Goddess,
- One candle for each child attending women have lost,
- A large pitcher of water, and cups to drink from.
- Boxes of Tissues in case anybody needs them because they are crying.
First, cast circle as you normally do, or leave the circle open as preferred.
Then light the large candle to welcome the goddess. Because of the solemnness of this rite, a silent lighting is acceptable unless you have a special way you want to welcome her.
Each woman should take the pitcher of water in her hands and bless it as she sees fit. The communal blessing is what will make this ritual powerful, as it is one another we oftentimes look to for love, and strength. Prayers, or focusing energy to bless the water as feels appropriate for each woman is acceptable.
After the water is blessed, have each woman light a single candle in honor of each child they have lost, saying the child’s name and sit all the candles in a circle around the blessed water.
The reading, as followed can be done by one person, or each person can take a part to read.
“ The unbreakable bond of flesh of our flesh transcends the body and mind, and unites through spirit.
Though their bodies are far from yours, their mother, your soul connection to your children is forever.
Though your life with your child ended, you are still their mother, and always will be.
Let the love of the Divine Mother who you manifest in this life fill the void the loss of your child left.
You, a vessel of life, create more than just human beings. You create life through joy, kindness, laughter healing, and love.
May the blessings that you, a reflection of the Goddess, bestow upon those around you be returned to you tenfold.
May those whose tears of sorrow you dry, dry your tears. May those who you bless with tears of joy fill you with joys beyond compare.
May the waters we have blessed heal us, wash away our sorrows, and restore things we thought our pain took from us forever.
May the Mothers mourning loss of connection with living children be reunited with them, and have a long, happy life together.
May the Mothers whose children have died be reunited with them in the place of the ancestors, if they do not reincarnate together.
May you have the love and support of other mothers around you. Know that you are never alone. You have the connection to the Divine Mother, and all Mothers on earth who embody Her.”
Next, give everybody a cup to drink of the blessed water.
Each woman will then take turns talking to their child, or children and think of something they would have done for their child. Since they can’t do that, let the Mothers take a pledge to do something for another child in honor of the child or children she has lost. It can be something as simple as babysitting for a single parent you know for free, or something as great as adopting or fostering another child who has no parents.
Next, take down circle as you normally do, and potluck.
Blessed Yule, and Blessed Be.
Below is more information about Somebody’s Mother.
From the Press Release about Somebody’s Mother-
I feel shattered, pieces of me flying everywhere. Some parts of me are back in the hospital with the ghost of Charlie. Some parts are on the other side with Charlie’s soul, floating, dancing in the light. Together the two of us, our forgotten love. The love we didn’t get to share in this lifetime because he died. My little baby died. He was born too early with a terrible infection. He became terribly septic and was suffering. We released him from his pain and took him off life support. He floated away back to the other side and he died. Some part of me is there with him. Another part is on the floor at Trader Joe’s, where I was just shopping but had to run into the bathroom, and beg God for mercy; from the pain that I was experiencing just walking through the bread aisle.
Grief showed me all its colors, textures, shapes and sizes. When I lost Charlie it felt as if I was never going to get out. One day, I had a vision in my meditation, that Charlie came and said I need to make this story, I need to talk about grief and loss and that there is a connection to the other side. He’s not lost, its just another realm. And so we began to change the script we had worked on. Making something, first by writing it down in the script, then re-enacting it out during production and finally observing it in the editing slowly allowed me to befriend the grief. The parts of my body rejoined other parts. Parts of my soul rejoined the other parts and the new fragmented me became whole again.
During a scene in our film SOMEBODY’S MOTHER I sort through a purple box, which was actually my Charlie’s baby items. These items were given to us from the hospital NICU and consisted of Charlie’s little hat, a lock of his hair, and his footprints. I hadn’t been able to go through that purple box since returning from the hospital over a year prior. I decided to go through it for the first time while we were filming. During the scene, I wept. I felt purified and cleansed. It was beyond healing, it felt shamanic. By fully embracing the pain, I somehow transcended it.
I wasn’t just doing it for me but as a way to understand others; who had or were going through this. I learnt that extreme pain forces us to leave our bodies and reconnect with something deeper than ourselves. In this process, we shatter into a million pieces destroying who we once were, our former selves; our ego identity to rebirth into a new self with new knowledge and a reconnection to “source” energy. Charlie taught me this. Making the film allowed me to fully understand it, and not become lost in the grief or hardened by it. Instead it helped me open and soften. The experience deepened my understanding that this pain is a universal experience, which ultimately made me more of who I am. — GABRIELA TOLLMAN (Director, Writer, Actor, Producer)
My sister and I were interested in exploring contrasting themes. So many women we know want to get pregnant so badly and when they do; they don’t enjoy motherhood. It’s complicated. The role of a mother; is expected of women. It is assumed that the role of a mother should come easily and feel natural, but this is not always the case. Not everyone should become a mother.
We wanted the audience to feel how lonely these two women feel. If we are disconnected from honoring loss and disconnected from pain then how do we move forward in life? If Anna had allowed herself to express the confusion as a mother, her guilt, shame and fear perhaps she could have sought help instead of walking away from her four-year old child and leaving him in a car. So many women go through postpartum depression but feel so much shame that they act out instead of seeking help. We wanted to explore these topics, these dark places that nobody really wants to see – the places that are uncomfortable for an audience to experience and yet when they do, they feel relieved that they survived and deepened their understanding along the way.– EVELYNE TOLLMAN (Writer, Actor, Producer)
This film is now available on Amazon. Click Image below for more information:
About the Author:
Saoirse is a recovered Catholic. I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.