The Story of the Woodswomen

Art by Helena Nelson-Reed

Many years ago I was out walking in the woods... 
It was a sunny winter’s day and a white blanket of snow enveloped the land. There were many animal tracks in the snow, but what really caught my eye was a pair of human footprints, as if someone had been out walking barefoot in the snow.
I followed the footprints and they led me deep into the heart of the woods. There I found a hut made of branches and covered in snow. As I approached the hut, I heard the sound of crackling flames and a woman’s voice softly singing. Closer I went, until the woman’s voice stopped singing and said, “Come inside, friend… come inside where it is warm…”
Curious, I crouched down and crawled through the tight entrance into the hut. Inside, there was a fire, and on the other side of the dancing flames was a woman unlike any other woman I had seen before. Her hair was long and thick, full of spider webs and crawling things. Her eyes were dark and bright, like glowing coals in the night. She wore many layers of skins and furs, and her bare feet looked as though they were made of old bark.
She was a woodswoman, and over a cup of hot chaga tea, she told me a story about a time long, long ago…  
There was a time long ago when women could be seen in the woods… You could find women mossy green and earthy brown, dark as the night and pale as the moon. They came in all shapes and sizes, and with many gifts, but for all their differences you could be certain of one thing – all woodswomen had a heart of gold deep inside...
In those days, the woods sang with the sound of singing, howling, drumming and dancing, and the gentle whisper of an ever-watching presence. The woods were alive with the magic of the woodswomen... 
They lived among birch trees, oak leaves, moss, bark and snow. Some woodswomen preferred to live alone in the heart of the woods where they could tend to their own magic, whereas other woodswomen lived together like families and made the simplest of chores a lot of fun with much laughter and singing. Some woodswomen were most at home living together with bears and wolves, and then there were the travelling woodswomen who carried their homes with them wherever they went.
The woodswomen were storytellers, singers, drummers, dancers, weavers and healers. They knew much about the woods, the wild plants and animals, the dance of the seasons, the sun and the moon. 
Indeed, they knew much about all such things that were good to know about, and it is said that the townspeople often ventured into the woods in search of the woodswomen’s services. They took their children with them into the woods where they learnt many things from the woodswomen. Step by step, they learnt to walk in tune with the woodland ways and to listen to the whispering songs and stories of the land.
Everyone was welcome in the woods. If ever you were in need of a story and a belly laugh, you need only venture out into the woods to find a woodswoman sitting there on her bed of moss with that funny look in her eye as if she knew you were coming. But the townspeople were also very careful to respect the woodswomen and never take them for granted. It was crucial to remember that the woodswomen were of the wild, and the wild is a place where nothing is as it seems.
It is said that the townswomen were also wild once a long time ago, and if you looked very closely, you might have noticed the wild sparkle in a townswoman’s eyes when she laughed too loud or did anything unladylike.   
It is said that the townswomen used to sneak out at night in the light of the full mother moon. They left their homes and headed out into the woods where they joined their sisters in a great circle of dancing, howling women. All night long they danced in the moonlight and they sang the song that everyone longs to sing deep inside.
But what happened to the woodswomen?
Where are they now?
There are many songs and stories about that time so long ago. Some say that the woodswomen never left and that it was the people who really changed. Over time, the townspeople forgot the woodland ways of old, and there were few left who could still sense the magic of the woods, and hear the whispers of the trees. 
It is said that the woodswomen would stand at the edge of the woods, looking out over fields, towns and villages. Together they sang a song so sad, so grey, dark clouds filled the skies and drenched the earth with rain. Some of the townspeople felt a sorrow they could not explain and children cried without knowing why. The woodswomen’s tears fell upon the earth where the Great Mother took them with her loving hands and lay them gently down to rest.
So if you ever go in the woods and listen very closely, you might just catch that weeping song of the woodswomen, softly singing in the wind…
Many things have been said about that time so long ago and we may never know the whole truth about what really happened to the woodswomen.
What we do know, however, is that the woodswomen are returning. I have met them in the woods and heard stories from all over the world about the returning of the woodswomen.
And isn’t it an extraordinary thing that the woodswomen should return now - now when we need them most?
We can help the woodswomen return to the woods by returning to our own roots, reawakening to the whispers of nature and remembering how to walk in tune with the woodland ways just like the woodswomen showed us a long time ago.
There is an ancient path into the woods that we all know deep inside, although many have forgotten how to find it.
Can you remember? 


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