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Pre-2008 Posts

Night of the Mothers

Wizard Women of the North

I have been occupied over this past week with the  living out and carrying forward of the traditions and rituals of my womenfolk going back many centuries and millennia.   Matrilineally, I am of Norwegian and Finnish descent.  I am a third- and fourth-generation American; my grandmothers on my mother’s side came to America at their husbands’ bidding.  I lived for half a century without knowing the truth of my ancestry:  that my foremothers, before the Christianization of Northern Europe, lived out their days in a culture and context in which the wisdom, strength and power of women were deeply and respectfully honored.   They understood themselves to be the daughters of, and surrounded invisibly  by, powerful giantesses, woman warriors, tribal mothers and wise women:   the Norns, also known as valkyrie or disir, who presided over their destiny and tenderly directed them, who were teachers, protectors and warriors, to whom whole communities turned for wisdom, prophetic insight, and protection from harm.   In the world my foremothers knew, women were the keepers of wisdom, knowledge and magic; they were the givers, interpreters and protectors of the runes, which did not foretell or announce but which shaped the future.  My foremothers deeply understood themselves to have been made in the image of powerful, wise, highly educated, warrior women.  It is in this knowledge that during this time of year, near the winter solstice,  they carried out the traditions and rituals of “Mother Night,” known in Scandinavian countries as “Dísirblót,” festival of the disir or tribal soul mothers.   They understood this season to be the time when the old year gives birth to the new, and as such, as a time to reverence all mothers, both living and dead,  real and mythological, biological and spiritual, who shaped their understanding of women’s  and all people’s and creatures’ place in this world.

The traditions celebrated as Christmas traditions are really traditions of the Night of the Mothers, “modrasnach”:  evergreens brought into homes, gifts and offerings tied to its branches, presents beneath the trees, all in honor of the tribal mothers who had gone before, offered in the spirit of thanksgiving, reverence, and hope for the future.    Reindeer were evocative of the shape-shifting abilities of mythological woman healers; elves symbolized the Norns’ invisible protection and defense of the earth, its creatures and people.  Even the star at the top  of the tree was meant to beckon the Mothers, to draw their attention.

It pains me so deeply the way these woman-centered, woman-loving rituals and traditions were and are relentlessly, deliberately, stolen, infantilized, trivialized, dismissed and especially co-opted by Christians, including Christians who have done their best to silence the Mothers’ voices, to wipe out all and every understanding and knowledge of women as powerful figures, goddesses in their own right, teachers, leaders, prophetesses, warriors, healers, defenders and protectors,  tender lovers.   The images all around us of women as slaves to their families at this time of year, frazzled servants, madly baking the cookies and wrapping gifts, haggardly decorating the fake tree in whatever this year’s fad might be, make a mockery of the noble  and moving heritage which belongs to us, as women, of celebrating this very central night and season in which we honor our mothers, figurative, spiritual, fleshly, imagined, mythological, and their power to give birth or not, to give life, or not, to defend and protect life, or not, to teach, to lead, to shape the world.  The traditions belong to us, to women, as a people.  They are ours to shape, to define, to protect and above all, enjoy.  They have been stolen from us, co-opted, but we can reclaim them.

It’s in that spirit that I am enjoying what others call “Christmas.”  I made gifts for all of my children, grandkids, sisters and brothers this year:  small plaster hearts, embedded with bits of items precious to their womenfolk:  bits of my maternal grandmother’s clay pheasants which sat on her coffee table from my earliest memories, buttons from my paternal grandmother’s button box, dried flowers from my mother’s garden, bits of wool from my flock of sheep.  I have offered these in my heart and mind to and in the memory of all of my women,  this great “river of womyn,” as a friend describes it, which has preceded me, which gave me life, whose traditions and rituals I have maintained, even during my own years of darkness when I didn’t understand what it cost them to keep these rituals and traditions alive.   I will be setting a place at my table this year for the Mothers, as well,  with flowers and a glass of this year’s elderberry wine from the tree in my garden.  It will be the best seat at my table.

It is said that once a woman realizes the truth of her spiritual heritage as a woman, her herstory, all of the great cloud of women witnesses rejoices and rushes invisibly to her side to strengthen and inspire her.  I am feeling that today.  It is a grief, it is a torment, it is a thrill and an inspiration, as so much of this season of my life is.  I am listening to one of my favorite CD’s this morning; the image above is the CD cover.  It is entitled “Wizard Women of the North,” and every song rings for me, beginning with the song, “Herding Calls,” which is, yes, a song composed of women’s sheepherding calls, (which sound amazingly like me when I call my sheep!), continuing with “Word of Incantation,” (indescribable!  you have to listen!),  to the haunting, “Illusion,” powerful, “Phoenix.”  Well, just listen.  And buy.  🙂

Herding Calls

Word of Incantation



In the Spirit of, and for Love of, the Great Mothers, and all mothers, both those who have born children and those with spiritual children,




12 thoughts on “Night of the Mothers

  1. I’ve been lurking for a while, but this post is the perfect opportunity to delurk and say thank you for a lovely meditation. It’s a perfect gift for this time. Blessed Be!

    Posted by rrede | December 24, 2006, 7:24 pm
  2. Oh, I wish I was there to see! I bet it’s amazing. We’re trying to set new traditions down here, and missing the old. But it’s a great time to review old traditions, in transition; what a thought. I knew all the holidays were stolen from pagan beginnings, but hadn’t followed that through to find the source of the pagan beginning, rather just assuming they’d been lost. How great that that’s not the case. I will definitely be searching deeper.

    Posted by Pramiti | December 24, 2006, 8:45 pm
  3. Thank you Heart. I had trouble connecting to your links. I managed to find everyone except phoenix which gave me an error. But yes, yes, yes. This year it felt so right to open presents and celebrate on the Solstice. Today I phoned women I know and told them how important they were in being an enlightened witness in the work they do. I have been reading Alice Miller’s books and Derrick Jensen’s. I told one friend that it is better to feel despair than to feel nothing. She agreed. We will not be defeated. The side of life WILL defeat the death machine. Choose life. The trees, the salmon, the weed in the concrete crack, the child, the wind in the trees, water, fire, earth and air; that identity and connection to your land base. It is not airy fairy stuff. Blessings.

    Posted by rhondda | December 24, 2006, 9:24 pm
  4. Lovely post. Directed here by Ithiliana over at LJ.

    Posted by Henlith | December 24, 2006, 9:39 pm
  5. Thankyou for a beautiful post. My Solstice bonfire is still burning as I write this response. Not just our holidat traditions have been co-opted by Christians. Walk into a Catholic mass any day, and observe the presence of the elements in that ritual: candles, incense, the chalice of wine, the bread, the staff the priest carries, the circular plate inscribed with a star that the offering rests on.

    I claimed my power on Hallween 1987, and the older I get the calmer and more beautiful the celebrations around this season get.

    Blessed be, Heart.

    Posted by healingmagichands | December 24, 2006, 11:27 pm
  6. This is a very beautiful post. Thank you for it, and for all your wonderful writing this year. Blessed be.

    Posted by Ann Bartow | December 25, 2006, 9:24 pm
  7. Indeed, for this and all your writing, thank you Heart.

    Posted by Pony | December 25, 2006, 11:52 pm
  8. From one third generation Norwegian valkyrie to another, skal!

    Posted by Sam | December 26, 2006, 3:36 am
  9. Blessed be to all of you, my wimmin, and skal to you, Sam.


    Posted by womensspace | December 26, 2006, 4:59 am
  10. I first discovered Holda many years ago while researching the Pagan origins of Santa Claus. In addition to learning that the Teutonic Gods Odin and Thor were part of Santa’s mix, I found that in some parts of old Europe, it was Holda–not Santa–who brought gifts to children and determined who was “naughty or nice.” I also encountered lore depicting her as dressed in red and going down chimneys to bring gifts to children. An old Germanic tradition included leaving an offering of food and milk for Holda on December 24, known as Mother Night


    Thanks to Radical Goddess Theology for the link.

    Is there anything men didn’t co-opt/steal from women?


    Posted by Heart | December 27, 2006, 2:43 am
  11. Hiya,

    Stumbled across this blog trying to finds any words of wisdom on the connexion between women and water… and found gorgeous music instead! Do you have the names of the artists, I can’t find them at the links you posted…

    Posted by Firebird | March 20, 2007, 9:22 am
  12. Hey, Firebird, click on the photo at the top of this post. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | March 20, 2007, 4:12 pm

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