The Promise of the Cloutie Branch, Part One


so many clouties

Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference

This will be in a few more parts–maybe two, maybe three, maybe more.

Three Hours

I like to arrive on Thursday before the conference so I can settle in. I was pretty proud of myself this time that I wasn’t also dragging three bags of show-and-tell for my classes, as is my wont. I had a couple of clouties branches and two bunches of drying herbs. And a small basket filled with clouties—and all the other clothes, bedding, et all that one must have to make the time comfortable.

I unpacked almost everything. My roommate, Monika, had already unpacked but was not in the room, so I had a while to make my bed and hang up my clothes and get the lay of the land. Good. Very good.

I didn’t have any evening obligations and most of my friends hadn’t arrived yet so I ate some of the food I brought, went upstairs to the teachers’ kitchen and made some tea and prepared to settle in for the evening.

My world is very time-crunchy and never more so than when a new book is coming out and I am looking down the long tunnel of Samhain tide. So the notion that I could stay inside for a whole evening, with no social media, no email, no phone calls—that was a beautiful prospect to consider.

I do these things that are cut-outs of small hands and a copy of my business card or a strip of paper with info on a new book or workshop is glued into the center. I call it my “hand-out” and people like the joke and often take the little hand with them when they might not take a business card. I had traced a bunch of those onto heavy paper and they needed to be cut out and their little message taped on. I had three lovely hours of mostly silence, hot tea and the peaceful and mindless work of trimming, cutting and taping. It became a meditation as my mind cleared and I kept breathing deeply, deeply. The little hands all got finished, ready for the next day’s class.

Meeting Monika

Monika arrived as I was getting ready for an early night and we hit it off instantly. She is Taino and German, and I was delighted to hear the former. I asked her to repeat it when she said she was Taino. She started explaining what that meant but I smiled and said—I’m just so relieved. I didn’t think there were Taino people left, that slavery and disease had all but wiped them out. She said she gets that sometimes and went on to tell me about her people and her family, and we discovered we had some mutual friends in the Cherokee Nation. Her husband is Cherokee and they spend lots of time up on Qualla Boundary. It didn’t hurt that she also looks a lot like my cousin Dena, whom I adore.

We wished each other a good night, hoped we didn’t snore, laughed when we both said we’d get up in the night to go pee and we went to sleep.

Not Patty but Mz Amy

First thing the next morning was the Teacher Mingle. The rain had been heavy in the night but lightened up for the walk across the site to the Round House (which I often call the Stone House—and I may have those backwards even now).

I immediately saw a dear face that I knew and I threw my hand up in the air and smiled. Patty Grant! The woman looked at me in a friendly blank way and even as she did I realized she looked like Patty but was older. Turns out she was Patty’s sister Amy Walker and I introduced myself and apologized for mistaking her. Then I saw Monika on the couch and we all chatted as other folks arrived. Turned out Patty was not going to be at the conference this year and Amy—I called her Mz Amy—was going to be part of the Opening Ceremony.

There was hot tea and snacks and comfy seats and benches. Teachers and staff kept flowing in and our circle got wider and wider. Corinna welcomed everyone and we stood together holding hands, making an intentional circle of support as we wove in our community.

Meeting Crystal

As is the usual thing, we went round in a circle and spoke our names and said which classes or events we were doing. I always like to hear people’s voices as they identify themselves and talk about their work. You can tell an awful lot about people in those few moments. Some are shy but proud of their work. Some are nervous and not sure what to say. Some have a lot of big talk. Some make everyone feel at ease with a little story. A little bit of all that was there.

Across the circle from me was a woman named Crystal and as soon as I heard her accent, my ears perked up. She said she was going to try not to cry and she introduced her daughter. She told us her mother had died five months before and this was her first time at this conference. And then she did cry and we loved her up. And then she said something about being a proud Appalachian woman (or maybe she said native to the mountains, I can’t quite remember) and then I burst into tears and I waved at her and pointed at her and did the gesture that means me-and-you at her. When the meeting was finished I was supposed to run into the dining hall and leave my little bento box so I could have lunch and then run off to the opening fire ceremony.

But first I had to hug Crystal’s neck and introduce myself. And we both hugged hard and cried like little babies and her daughter just shook her head like it wasn’t even a thing. We promised to scratch out some time to talk over the weekend and we talked about corn liquor and then I ran into the dining hall and gave my lunch box to the Amazing Paula (who has people in West Virginia) and told her she had to meet Crystal. Then I squished through the rain to the tent for the ceremony. I was already 15 minutes late and NikiAnne had already sent me a text to get my butt over there (really she was very polite and nice about it) and so I did.

Days Of Rain

I returned this morning from the Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference. I fed the chickens, unloaded the car, checked the community garden and took a hot shower.

This conference is an old favorite of mine.  I used to volunteer there but started teaching and doing some ceremony a few years ago. This year it was my privilege to hold space for an opening fire ceremony, as well as the evening fire gathering. I taught two classes–one on herbs for all the phases of women’s lives and another on the folk healing traditions of the Scots-Irish folks that are some of our Ancestors. There was a croning ritual, too.

The other thing there was was rain. Lots and lots of rain.  I arrived in a drizzle and unpacked under a downspout. Some kind and lively young women schlepped my ton of baggage up the narrow stairs of the last building from the old Black Mountain College–the conference calls it the Mothership.

We were blessed with a light rain first, light but steady. Then the deluge.

Good sleeping weather.


The Fire of Her Bright Spirit: a Year of Priestess Training in the Mother Grove Tradition

Mother Grove has been preparing this new program for many months and I thought I’d share it here for those of you who don’t do Facebook.  Leave me a message if you’re interested in the training year.

Year One

Cohort Luna

Ten women, meeting twice a month for thirteen Moons.

Ten women mentoring with seasoned priestesses, learning with and from each other.

Ten women tearing off the restraints and trappings of modern culture, stripping away fear and embracing longing.

Ten women training to be priestesses, learning to create and facilitate ritual, dancing into trance and memory and genuine power.

Ten women.

Are you one?

We begin in November, in the heart of the ancient New Year.

Join us.
The priestesses of Mother Grove Goddess Temple have designed a year of classes focusing on bringing a select group of women into alignment with their Goddess honoring selves. It is not a clergy training program—it is a mystery school for deepening each women’s spiritual journey, where women can feel able to priestess themselves.

We’ll begin in November of this year, meeting twice monthly for four hours each time. Every quarter we will meet for an intensive in a retreat-style format. We will end with a final day-long retreat, ending in a certificate ceremony the following November.

The charge for the year is $3000 per student, exclusive of travel, food, lodging and the quarterly intensives.


Ancestors on the Move…do I have enough cornbread to get through Samhain?

After a super-busy week that included the final edit on my new book, the publisher sending the book to the printer, a memorial service, teaching at the Organic Growers School’s fall event, picking up and delivering a load of goat-and-chicken poo and Sunday’s ordination and more—anyway after all that and the weather change, I am excited to think about autumn and winter gardening.

And my thoughts are frequently visited by my Ancestors.

I have a class on Ancestor Altars at Raven and Crone on Friday evening and one on working with our Ancestors coming up next month.  All this reverie made me think of this piece I wrote last year, so I’m sharing it here to keep it close.

We begin with apples in our laps.

We hold the vastness of the center.

Shoulder to shoulder, we hold the Void.


Crow, come in! Hawk, come in! Horse, come in! Bear, come in!

We rise.

As Ancestors form a deeping fence,

As Mighty Dead align their Host,

As Crow and Hawk, Horse and Bear ring the place between

Earth and Nothing,

She steps out from the darkness.

She steps out through the Beings.


Her face both maid and granddame,

Her back straight as an ash spear,


Hand reaches out to hand and we begin to dance.

Circle within circle,

ringed by the Eldest,

ringed by the Dead,

we dance the dance of tilled Earth

as the brass bells at our waists

ring out.

And as the smoke from fires past begins to cloud our eyes,

We open our dry throats and sing,

apples strewn in our path

like fat rubies.

fest of neighborhoods 023

Rams’ Heads

On the front corners of my home altar, there are blue ram heads made of plaster. My morning meditations usually begin with me facing the East,  placing the palm of each hand on one of those blue heads and then inclining my own.

I did that this morning, after two weeks of traveling about. Very happy to be back to my regular morning routine but holding in my heart the memory of the temple at Palmyra that was recently leveled by the Islamic State crowd.

As I took that first deep breath to greet the rising of the Sun, there was a stern voice at my shoulder.

The plain is not empty.

The way is clear.

Build the Temple.

Oh, dear. I almost lifted my hands from the ram heads and turned to speak. But I held my ground and thought on the flattened landscape where that old temple had stood.

Temple? Was it still a temple if no one sang the praise-songs? Or offered up the appropriate sacrifice?  Is it still a temple if no one is there, serving the Divine Beings that were once housed and worshipped there?

The Divine ones that I serve seem to be less interested in historic monuments that are chiefly tourist attractions and more interested in humans remembering and honoring Them, even if the honoring isn’t what They experienced back in the day.

It doesn’t mean that the destruction of the temple shouldn’t be avenged, that justice doesn’t apply in this situation. But the Divines want more from those of us who serve Them than a slavish devotion to the trappings of the past. They expect us to be the flesh-and-blood congregations that keep Them vital.

Time to build the new temples for these new times.


Grain and Dancing and Getting Merry Like Lughnasadh

Mother Grove Goddess Temple does public celebrations of the eight holy days of the ancient calendar, among other things. We go to a park or rented space and we invite all our peeps to join in.

Many people prefer a solitary practice but do occasionally like to worship with others. We have lots of drop-ins and new folk who then return to their private lives.

Our celebration yesterday was a mixed bag of Lughnasadh, Lammas, First Fruits and thank-goodness-July-is-done. We honored Tailtui, Selu, Demeter and our harvest connections.

Two local bakeries donated tons ‘o bread and cupcakes and pastries and we decorated the altar with that bounty and as part of the ceremony, invited people to come to the altar, take a loaf of bread and give it to someone in the circle that they didn’t know. I think that was my favorite part of the ceremony as they wandered about with bread, introducing themselves, hugging, giggling.

So today is my day of rest. I finished a bunch of writing projects that were all due on August 1–one of which is my new book, which isn’t completely finished but actually feels like a book.  The marvelous Vicki Lane wrote a humbling Foreword that made me tea-up when it arrived in my InBox.

Now, I return to the gardens and orchards, and editing, of course. But for today, I’m kicking back. I may even drink a little beer.

That’s grain, right?

Thinking about Oppression, and Magic, and Healing

We are still discussing the Confederate battle flag and what it means to be Southern an what it means to be a Black Southerner.  All of this over on the Facebookery.  My friend Literata posted a meme about the Confederate flag and the swastika.  My responses were these…

And yet–at least for the first one–there are other meanings to a different group of people. A symbol with power can have many meanings, not all of them conflicting.

I am saying it isn’t a binary, neither the one thing nor the other. It would be healthiest for the communities genuinely impacted by any symbol (as opposed to the social media juggernaut that has silenced many voices on all sides of these issues) to sit together in deep listening and sharing and see what comes of that. That is a healing way, though terribly difficult. Memes are easier, for sure. It is so much easier to shut one group down and raise another up but that usually doesn’t lead to reweaving the shredded fabric on community. So much easier to point and judge without getting into the messiness of justice within culture.

I am asking for the parties involved to come together so that oppressions can be truly accounted for and work begun toward eliminating them. Instead, we manage a number of feel-good gestures that–while important as gestures–may not move us forward to actual elimination of the horrific ill of racism. Ditto sexism. We can’t simply concur on what feels like a meaningful platitude without actually working–day by day, year by year–to take these toxic systems down.

I am saying it isn’t enough (to remove the flag) and now isn’t the place to stop and think we’ve fixed something. If we are truly interested in fixing the problem, of bringing healing all around, we have to do more than gestures. They aren’t empty–symbols are potent, which is how this conversation began. But gestures aren’t enough to ratify problems. That takes ugly, painful and messy work and a kind of endurance that most Americans don’t understand.

As a multi-generational Appalachian woman and a Pisces, it helps me to see all the sides of an issue and to get to the meat of it. My outlook tends to belt-and-suspenders and looking in the shady corners. I appreciate the gestures, truly. But what we really need–in my opinion–is the sort of process that South Africa went through–truth and reconciliation. And, frankly, that should have been done in 1875.

I encourage all Southerners, who love the South and hate the stereotypes and bashing, to fly the Bonnie Blue as a sign of cultural solidarity.

Bonnie Blue flag