Once upon a time, long 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 – tracks of dog, deer and hare – 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 to 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 tree bark.
She was a woodswoman, and she invited me into her woodland home and told me a story over a cup of hot chaga tea...
There was a time long ago when women could be seen in the woods…
You could find women mossy green and earthy brown, fiery red and glittering gold, frosty white and cloudy grey, black as the night and pale as the moon. The women 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 the woodswomen. The woods were alive with the sound of stories being told and songs being sung late into the night.
The woodswomen lived close to the earth, the sky and all the elements. They lived in the trees, in the soft green moss, in mountain caves and secret sanctuaries. They lived deep, down under the earth and high up above, close to the stars and the cold, fresh winds. They lived in shelters and huts made from everything they could find – twigs and roots, mud and bark, branches, leaves and snow.
Some woodswomen preferred to live alone in the heart of the woods, where they could tend to their own magic. Some woodswomen loved to live like families, and together they made the simplest chore a lot of fun with much laughter and singing. Some woodswomen were most at home living together with bears and wolves. Then there where the travelling woodswomen, who carried their homes with them wherever they went, from north to south and east to west.
The woodswomen were storytellers, singers, wisdom-keepers and healers. They knew about the woods, the stars, the earth and all the animals big and small. Indeed, the woodswomen knew about all such things that were good to know about, and the townspeople often visited the woods in search of the woodswomen’s services.
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.
The townspeople often took their children into the woods where they could run wild and free. The woodswomen taught the children how to listen to the whispering songs and stories of the woods, and how to act in accordance with the woodland ways.
The townspeople were careful to respect the woodswomen and never take them for granted. It is crucial to remember that the woodswomen, no matter how kind and polite they may have seemed, were no ordinary women. 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 the only reminder of that time can be found in their eyes. If you look very closely, you might just catch the wild sparkle in a townswoman’s eyes when she laughs to loud or does something unladylike.
It is said that the townswomen used to sneak out at night during the full moon. They left their homes and headed out into the woods, where they joined their wild sisters in a great circle of dancing, singing women. All night long, they danced in the moonlight and they danced the dance of the wild and they sang the song that all people long to sing deep inside.
But what happened to the woodswomen?
Where are they now?
No-one knows for sure what happened to the woodswomen. 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 became blind to the ways of the woods.
Some say that the woodswomen would stand at the edge of the woods, calling out to their friends and loved ones, crying out to the children they once held in their arms and sang songs to, the children who had grown up and grown blind to the wild ways of old.
Together they sang a song so sad and 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 under their feet, and the Great Mother took their tears and laid them gently down to rest.
So if ever you are out 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 myself 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 when we need them most?
We can help the woodswomen return to the woods by remembering our own roots in the wild. 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?