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Witch women?

Far away in Sabina, the beautiful hills of Italy, a bevvy of friendly nuns, yoga, pottery, deep process work, new friends, the freshest Italian food…

I had no idea what to expect from this week, but the above convinced me that even if the workshop was terrible, all the above ingredients would be worth a trip to Italy. The convent is huge and immaculately clean, the nuns smiling always, the little village is typical in its quaintness, consisting of an ice cream shop, a pizzeria, a linen shop and a few antique shops. The church and abbey tower above everything, the church bell competing with the loudest rooster that wakes up all life from just after six in the morning.

We are a group of ten. I am the second youngest. America, Britain, Germany, South Africa. Ten unique individuals are all eager to explore Eldership, whatever that might mean, or if there even is such a thing try to figure it out. We all know that Eldership is mostly referred to in a discourse of de cits. (Of course, we had to laugh at ourselves when the moans and groans started about not sleeping, being constipated after eating too much pasta and white bread, and hearing the creaks and cracks of joints as we did our morning yoga!). It is our mission for the week to go deeper and deeper into the meaning of ageing, exploring the role that we take, the story that we tell, and the way in which we narrate this story.

Nader and Maddy, our facilitators, beam with a sense of vitality. Maddy with the wild hair (Ed thinks she looks like a wise owl with her grey curly hair pinned up on the sides of her head), Nader serene like Jesus himself with his leather sandals. Maddy guides us to play with clay, be free with it, and explore it with our eyes closed. (I am way too much in my head and nd that I make bowls – begging bowl, feeding bowl, vessel to contain and hold, a coiled bowl that reminds me of my connection to my mother who takes on the shape of an Iris.) One of the lessons I learn is that Eldership is about getting out of our cognitive conscious reality to go deeper and deeper into a dreamland or essence reality. This is exactly where ageing takes us, becoming slower in order to notice more, falling out of our perfect yoga pose to become more aware of getting back in touch with our roots, and growing down – as opposed to growing up.

Eldership is about connection, not only to our own sense of Self but to the greater sense of All, growing into the Earth, feeding from our Connectedness with every other living thing. It is our time to stand our ground, to become firmly connected. On Wednesday evening we watch a documentary on the burning of witches in medieval times (by the church). I cannot help being aware of being in an Abbey, most probably some were even burned in the square of this Abbey. The patriarchal church eradicated (or at least had a good go at trying to) the Female power, making it about sorcery, creating ugliness in ageing women, and misappropriating the words “Crone” and “Hag”. Women were the healers, carried the gift of Knowing, were the midwives, made the brews and threw the bones. For that, they were burned and persecuted in the most horrid and barbaric ways. Through the ages we have created the patriarchy and bestowed a senseless power on men, only to see the world deteriorating into deeper and deeper malady.

Surrounded by Anna, Elizabeth, Iris, Maddy and Joyce, I feel the burning energy of the feminine, the bewitching Power of their earthy groundedness. Anna, originally from Kenya, rises like Mount Kenya through the mist of her Englishness, radiant blue piercing eyes meeting my gaze with absolute determination. She grows in stature over the week, becoming like a Southeaster wind blowing all the autumn leaves up in the air and across the roofs. Elizabeth, mother of Nader, German in every gesture and lightness of her hair and skin, is the Mother Superior. Her pale demeanour, and the string of pearls around her neck, speak of the love of a Persian man that brought the beautiful Nader into this world. His skin is just not pale enough to escape the label of the “other”. And whilst I have my issues with the Bible and Christianity, I cannot look at the two of them and not imagine the love that Mary had for Jesus… In our group work, I am with Anna and Elizabeth, Mount Kenya and Mary Magdalene, both mirroring for me the steadfastness of love and determination that only a woman can portray.

Iris, grey hair curling softly around her ears, framing the finest of feminine features reflecting the soft cotton of her tailored clothes (that she made herself) shines with the softness of the feather that stuck to the window all week. A soft, down feather, white, gently blowing in the wind. She holds her gaze and frowns deeply as she thinks before she speaks her kindness and strength. Her deep connection to her husband Tyron (aka Spider) embodies everything that is quintessentially Wife, Beloved. The tattoo on her chest of a sunbird hovering in its sucking the nectar from a flower is the perfect depiction of her own beauty, a bird in flight.

The universe breathes Maddy into Life, grounds her in our midst, and holds our attention with her own deep breathing like the ocean wind catching the waves, fuming into the breeze a lightness contrasted with her Mother Earth foundation. Here is a witch, sorceress, magus, magician, ancient warrior, and alchemist Joan of Arc. Wild hair that will not be tamed, eyes that see through their lids, breathing the ancient wisdom of the Anima into our clay and our yoga. Her gentle touch is grounding, her body exudes the heat of the central earth.

Joyce the liberated Jewess, the pioneer earning to be part of Africa, writing a new script of ethical Being-in-the-world. My immediate attraction to Joyce is about our similarity, our fighting spirit, and our need to stand up and be seen and heard if only to hide our own vulnerability. We express our words while hiding our thoughts, we stand tall while cringing timidly.

Being in the presence of such glorious beauty, such wisdom and power, gentleness and resolve is what encapsulates the essence of Eldership, what breathes life into a world that is broken, what holds the vulnerable, makes strong the weak and integrates the scattered. The softness of steel, the smoothness of spiked rocks on the seashore, the lushness of the desert and the silence of a roaring waterfall – Woman, Mother, Sister, Daughter, Goddess – each and every one of them. One day, when the world will stop and truly see Older Women, Crones, and Hags, as the Essence of Eldership, we will see a new birth of growth, wisdom and prosperity for all hu(man)kind.

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