Swan stories are always love stories, because swan love is the love of pure devotion.
The devotion of the swan mate who will not leave the body of her beloved until all that’s left of him is feathers.
The devotion of the youngest daughter who spins and weaves six shirts in utter silence to turn her brothers back from swans to men.
The devotion of the swan maiden to her stolen swanskin and her wild soul.
The devotion of a young lover to the swan woman he will follow to the ends of the earth and be faithful to for the rest of his days.
The devotion of the soul to God.
In this two-day dance and mythic writing immersion, we will weave nests with our bodies and our words, gathering strands from different swan stories, as a way to explore our own relationship to devotion.
From the Paleolithic bird goddesses of primordial Europe to the swan maidens of Russian folklore, from mother birds who sit on their cygnet-eggs without moving until they hatch, to the silent, weaving daughter in the Six Swans fairytale, all of these will surround us and guide as we explore questions like:
What does devotion mean to you?
What does devotion feel like in the body?
What does devotion feel like in the mind, in the psyche, in the hands that create?
What is your heart devoted to and what does it mean to follow that devotion?
And so we will create these nests with our whole bodies, our whole creative voices and our whole imaginations, for two immersive days of dance guided by Nao and story and writing by Sylvia. Our location will be a beautiful, bright yurt, warmed by a woodburning fire, that looks out over the sea in Merville, on Vancouver Island, B.C.
We will dance and write together all day on Saturday March 2nd, and for a half day on Sunday March 3rd, with a night of guided dreaming between. A delicious, homemade vegetarian lunch (with gluten free options) will be included on Saturday, and snacks and tea on Sunday.
This class is open to all. You do not need to be a dancer or a writer to participate. Nao and Sylvia use both practices primarily as doorways into a deeper relationship with soul, with heart, with body, and with the creative life.
For more about Nao's dance work, you can visit her website here.
We so look forward to seeing you there!
Registration is $360 CAD/ $275 USD for the two-day immersion.
Please note that travel expenses and accommodation are not included. There are several rooms available on site, and we are also happy to advise about other nearby lodgings.
To register, please contact Nao at email@example.com. Space is limited to 20 participants maximum.
For Canadians, etransfers can be made via Interac directly to the above email.
For all other countries, payments can be made via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday March 2nd 2024, 10:00 am- 5:00 pm
Sunday March 3rd 2024, 11:00 am- 3:00 pm
Ohm Centre Ocean Yurt
Merville, British Columbia, CANADA
T H E B E A R W I F E:
a dance series
September 11th- October 23rd 2023
"Gracious forest mistress
Golden forest master
order paws to turn
set claws on the loose!"
- Salmi, 1884 (trans. C. Tolley, cited in Pentikaïnen)
from Wo(men) and Bears, ed. by Kaarina Kailo p. 265
*artwork by Kay Nielsen, for East of the Sun West of the Moon, circa 1922
This autumn season, across six weeks, I will be dancing the Bear Wife under the guidance of my dear friend, the gifted dance teacher and farmer Nao Sims. From the end of spring into summer Nao doesn't offer classes because of the demands of a robust garden, orchard, teaching forest, apiary, henhouse, family & farm interns, so it's always a treat when September rolls around and she starts her dance teaching again. She's a brilliant, wise teacher, both somatically powerful and also absolutely gentle. Her classes are for anyone— they are poems in motion, myths in motion, meditation in motion. Participating in one of Nao's series is like getting guided by a combination of Marion Woodman, Rilke, Terpischore the ancient Greek muse of dance, and a wild garden full of songbirds. She has been teaching dance to women for over 20 years; her work is very special, and very potent.
And this season, after years of talking about it together, I am finally offering a writing workshop in tandem with Nao's dance series called WRITING THE BEAR WIFE.
This workshop will take place on the Saturday morning in October before the last class, and will only be available to students who are also registered for the dance series, as our writing will be an exploration, a circling round and dreaming through of the stories, impressions, memories, insights and gifts we have been experiencing through our bodies during the previous five weeks. I'll be dancing right alongside you, so exactly what I will bring to our writing workshop I can't say yet; it will emerge for me through the dance, to be shared with you on the day! But suffice it to say, it will have something to do with the rhythms of the old circumpolar bear-wife tales; the wild longing and loss and reunion at the heart of fairytales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon; the deep instinctual marriage of human and animal in each of us.
You can imagine that our writing will be a kind of basket-weaving or clay-vessel coiling, so that you will leave the workshop series not only with the somatic imprint of this time with the Bear Wife in your muscles and blood and bones and embodied psyche, but also with something tangible to hold, to refer back to, to read over. Your own personal talisman of this ancient story.
READ ON for dates, and for Nao's description of the theme of this series.
It's going to be a feast.
Class One~ The Maiden Daughter (September 11th)*
Class Two~ The Bear King (September 18th)
Class Three~Leaving Home (September 25)
Class Four~Breaking the Promise (October 2nd)
Class Five~The Impossible Task (October 16th)
Class Six~ The Instinctual Marriage (October 23rd)
*all classes held 6:30-8:00 pm PST on ZOOM
*Optional Writing Workshop with Sylvia V. Linsteadt - (October 21st at 10:00- 12:00 am, PST )
NOTE that for locals to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island Nao also offers an in-person of this class on the Wednesday evenings.
from Nao Sims~
The inspiration for the fall term revealed itself one bright morning, about a week ago. It happened during a run through the forest, as I came upon the largest black bear I have ever seen. He saw me at the very moment I saw him, and I think I can say with confidence that the surprise was mutual. There was one long magical moment, equally delightful as it was frightful, that cast a strange spell upon us both: there we stood, transfixed by each other’s presence for the briefest of moments. A second later, the spell broken, I called the dogs and turned back from whence I came, and he ambled on up the path to where the berries were sweeter and more abundant.
On the way back home, I found myself thinking a great deal about bears. More specifically, of the stories I know and love that feature bears, and even more specifically, stories about relationships between bears and women. And as I walked further down the trail, past the blackberries and the sun-dried huckleberries, I marveled at the way in which old stories that depict bears who take human brides appear throughout the Northern World, all of them strung with themes of wonderment and trepidation, fertility and instinct, domesticity and wilderness, masculine and feminine dynamics, and endurance and perseverance.
Truth be told, I have always had a personal fascination with bears; not just the ones who dwell in the woods behind our home, but the ones in the stories and illustrations of my girlhood. For as long as I can remember, bears have been deeply woven into the fabric of my imagination and the innermost landscape of my being.
As a child, I was struck and enchanted by them for what I perceived to be their human-like appearance and mannerisms; now, as a grown woman, I am struck by the ways in which the man I live with often seems more bear-like than human. More days than not, I feel as though there is a large lumbering bear in our kitchen, accidentally breaking ceramic teacups and tracking mud across the floor. There are fir needles wound into his thick dark hair, and every evening the smell of the forest wafts in through the door alongside him. His table manners leave much to be desired, and his appetite, after a long day on the land, rivals any bear in the woods. My daughter climbs her father like a mountain to ride on his back, while the dogs delightedly bark and chase him around the living room as my carefully arranged cushions go flying in the chaos of it all.
Here, in our part of Vancouver Island, we share the land with the bears, mostly black bears, and in our case, a particular family of bears. Some years they are more present than others, but overall, with abundant apple trees and honeybees on our land, they have made themselves regular guests. Our little daughter is enchanted by bears, and instructs all of us while picking blackberries “to not take too many, and to leave some for the bears” (which we diligently do).
And so, this Fall session, the first of the year, is dedicated to the bears of the world, and the dwindling wilderness they inhabit.
While the bears fill their bellies with salmon, readying themselves for their long winter’s slumber, we will follow the Bear King into the dance and the old stories.
Together, we will explore themes of instinct and wilderness, civilization and domesticity, promises made and broken, and the alchemical union of opposites.
We will look at what Jung called “the sacred or spiritual” marriage, which he described as the union of archetypal figures within the psyche, and we will consider the masculine and feminine parts of our own beings, as we strive to unite them on our human journeys.
"It is a red thread coiled
I cannot go astray
because I have hold of it
My mothers are on one end of it
My daughters are on the other
The moon is the labyrinth
I am carrying a vessel as old as the moon
There is salt on the rim
I thought it was broken but it was not
I thought I was broken but I was not
I have become watertight again
after all this time"
- Sylvia V. Linsteadt, from "Time, and the Vessel,"
forthcoming in The Venus Year (2022)
* * *
If you could see your own motherline thread as a line between points, each point the place where one of your foremothers gave birth to her daughter, starting with you and then reaching back and back and back, where would it lead? What would it spell? What could you weave with it, gathered up in your hands? What pain is held in it, making it too sharp sometimes even to touch, too thorny, like the sister weaving shirts out of raw nettles and not spring flowers to turn her brothers from swans to men again?
Even if your relationship to your biological mother is fraught, even if your recent motherline is full of trauma and loss, there is a thread of life, golden as what makes the morning, that stretches from womb to womb to womb into deep time, the miracle of life arising again, and again, and again, from the very earth into you.
My motherline stretches back to Puritans in Maine and Massachusetts, then Protestants in Yorkshire, carrying the devastation of colonialism. From there, the names are quickly lost. The line wheels out across England like raw basket spokes, sprouting willow buds. In some ways feels like all the waters of England carry traces of my motherline. I don’t know how far back. Maybe it crosses over to Denmark with the Vikings. Maybe it stays, flowering out of Scotland, out of Wales, out of Pictish tribes, out of Neolithic moorland people. Maybe it touches my paternal grandmother’s motherline in Ireland. A green thread, arising out of long ago hillforts and elfmounds. At some point further back it winds back across the mainland of Europe, down along the Danube. It winds back, chronologically, to the consciousness of Neolithic Old Europe.
I can feel it there, like light and water and something as strong as earth, in my hands. It's alive, and at its root, at its headwater, flows a great, absolving, blood-thick love. It speaks of a time before the generations of trauma and loneliness in my motherline, as a woman of European descent. It speaks of a Europe before the structures of patriarchal violence we still live within. It speaks of a Europe long ago, when we were woven whole with the earth around us. Far enough back, there are mothers in me, Old European mothers, who remember what it was to speak to the swan at the riverbank, and know them as ancestor and kin. Old European mothers before the coming of the ways of warrior kings.
* * *
I offer this class—at the time of the spring equinox, which is also my own mother's birthday— as a love offering to my motherline, and to yours. I offer it as a place of sanctuary and renewal, a basket woven strong and loving with rushes from the riverbanks of my mothering England, a space to help you safely explore the warp and weft of your own motherline.
What does it mean to follow this thread like the golden ball of wool given by an old woman to find your way? What might we weave of these inherited lines of ours, like the heroine in the Six Swans story, to enact some powerful redemptive healing that extends through our families and beyond, into the wild communities around us? Do we weave with aster—gentle flower— or with nettle —sharp but strong nourisher— or both?
Using European fairytale motifs and creative writing exercises, we will tend to, and follow, our motherlines, listening for what it is they most need, what gifts they bear for us and our communities, and where it is they might lead.
May this work be a prayer for peace on our planet. May it be a prayer for the motherlines in migrating falcons, and gray whales, and great patches of wild iris, and matriarchal herds of elk, and all the threads that weave us together, children of Earth, born each of a mother.
** The basket in the title image was woven by me this spring in a class with the wonderful Elizabeth Crawford, using rushes she gathered along a river in Somerset
In you is a warp that reaches back 10,000 years. In you is a weft that sings your motherline song, womb to womb to womb. No matter the traumas or losses of lifetimes, the thread remains unbroken, the thread remains intact. It is dyed with the blood of birth, with the steep of vision, with the mordant of dreams.
In you is a motherhouse whose floors are full of your foremothers' bones, whose walls shelter the looms and spindles where your motherline still spirals, waiting to be woven all the way back to health. The fire in the hearth of your motherhouse has not gone out in all these tens of thousands of years. Even in the most difficult of seasons, there has always been an ember under the ashes, waiting for your breath. Even in the most devastating of eons, the bones of your grandmothers have not stopped chanting their love for you from the walls, and all the old things their hands knew about life, and love, and death, and birth.
Come, at the root of the winter solstice, at the hinge of this dark season of mothers and the rebirth of light, into the Motherhouse with me, the Motherhouse of Old Europe.* Here, I will share with you a story, a telling of my own motherline, as it winds back through Puritan New England, to Yorkshire, and then deep into an imaginal but archaeologically-rooted past in a pre-patriarchal Europe.
I will weave us a Motherhouse out of words to sit in together and, after the singing of my own motherline song to you— the part of it that I have written up until now, for this is an ever-evolving epic within each of us— I will lead us through some writing exercises to bring us into our own Motherhouses, so that we can begin to tend, and weave with, and be supported by, the foremother threads sheltered within.
Come in to be held, to be spun, to be nurtured, to be rooted, to be revived.
This workshop space is open to all who identify as women or who have a womb, and to participants of all ancestries— I speak of a Motherhouse of Old Europe simply because that is my ancestry, and therefore the space I can prepare and welcome you into.
* Motherhouse, as a term, is one I created (although I'm sure I'm not the first) while researching the social structure of Minoan Crete, combining the theories of Jan Driessen about household sizes and ancestor worship with those of Marija Gimbutas and her extensive work across southern and eastern Europe. I will explore this historical framework within the workshop and within the storied, word-built Motherhouse I will recreate around us.
** A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Rodakas, a wonderful oral folklore and storytelling organization in Rethymno, Crete dedicated to the preservation of traditions around music, architecture, stonemasonry, ceramics, women's textile arts, and more.
The image used in the poster was taken by me at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. It is a small effigy of an ancestral woman, priestess or goddess within a house--temple, crowned with the Minoan horns of consecration, from the 18th-17th century BCE, Galatas.
There is a hearth in you made from the spark of your original ground. Your εστία. In Greek, the name of the goddess Hestia means not only the home as hearth— literally, the goddess is the hearth— it also means "origin." The point from which something begins. The word itself has pre-Greek roots. This means it is pre Indo-European; pre-invasion; pre-conquest. It points to a εστία as primordial as peace.
So, this hearth in you is made of your peaceful origins. The ones that are ancestral, and the ones that are of soul. Your ancestors from long ago are gathered around this fire singing their creation stories back to you, reminding you of who you are and what ground you are made of. What literal, ecological ground— of root and mineral, tree and animal— and also what inner ground.
Even if everything around you crumbles, this hearth and its original ember remains. Even when the fires tended by the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome were quenched, still their flames remained lit inside the wombs of all mothers and all children, all those who create, and dream, and love, to this day.
It is this inner εστία that can provide sanctuary and nourishment and kindle light for us, again and again, even when all seems lost.
In this mythic writing workshop at the cusp of autumn, we will venture deep into our inner origins, into our bones, to listen for the creation songs being sung around our origin-hearths. Through an exploration of such historical themes as the House-Temples and hearth-shrines of matriarchal Old Europe and their thematic continuation among the Vestal Virgins of ancient Latium, we will give thanks to Hestia, and begin to re-story ourselves back to home ground.
We will begin to set the stones— or branches, or mudbricks— back in the walls of our inner sanctuaries from where they have fallen due to disuse or destruction. We will retrieve the embers and set them at the center, and listen for the way of tending them that keeps a balance within and without, a way of tending them that keeps us warm and nourished no matter how the winds blow. A way of tending that weaves the wild back in.