Wise Woman—A Story

The wise woman stared at a reflected face
in the sacred well revered by her ancestors.
Overhung with Hazel and Wild Rose
it had been used as a shrine for centuries.
After a silent prayer, she went to the river bank
and lay down between clouds of white Meadow Sweet,
next to clumps of linear green rushes.
She trailed her fingers through channels of water.
It was icy cool with a pushing pressure flow
against her strong barriered hand.
She saw small fish silvering their way
up river to avoid a grey heron statue
standing tall and solid with rigid eyes.
She listened to the different bird songs
and watched flock patterns fly overhead.
A bee emerged from an Iris bloom
covered by a shower of golden pollen.
The Willow bent its branches downward
as it wept into the flowing water.
She then found the well-trodden woodland path
that would take her to the security of the Oak grove
to meditate in the dark silence of the tree sanctuary.

As a child she was grandmother taught
to find the gifts of nature and healing plants
spread through the seasons of the year;
how to recognize and treat diseases
with balms, poultices, or herb teas.
She heard the harmony of rhyming songs,
poetry, and stories from olden days;
and the timed mantra of repetition.
The balance of survival in the natural world
and the fragile web of connections
that link to all living things in many ways.
The protective mantle to keep life sustainable,
and the signals that warned of disintegration.
The seasonal shapes of the arboreal landscape
and the songs to sing to trees on woodland strolls,
to map the weather’s signs for types of harvest
and find the acorns the squirrels had buried.

She had taught her to count the nights
to track time, and how fourteen
would tell of half a lunar cycle
within the moon month of sky observation.
To watch the different shapes, colours and phases
and how the people and the tides were affected.
Time was seasonal and circular, not linear.
Beginning with a full moon at the month’s start,
there was a light and dark side of the moon.
The year also had a dark and light half
and equinoxes and solstices were marked on the calendar.
They were important times to be celebrated, and to
watch the daylight and the strength of the noonday sun.
Festivals were seasonally observed,
tied to natural events, spirally recycled.
They began at sunset, before the night, not sunrise.

Her grandmother was both teacher and seer
with a special insight to the future.
It was too bad past Druidesses did not see
the denigration that there would be
with a religion based on patriarchy,
and anything female no superiority.
Male scribes wrote women off as experts.
The helpful early Christian women converts
were deprived of their meaningful place
to ensure that the men wouldn’t lose face.
And as their role had been diminished,
their equal status in society was finished.
As wise women or witches they were relegated,
not so much valued and often hated.
Confined to legend, no position at all,
but within the village they were still on call.
They gave healing, advice and restorations
and were well aware of local situations.
What her grandmother didn’t fully explain
was the resentment that came after the pain.
The jealousy, insecurity and accusations,
the suspicion bitterness and recriminations.
The regret of a confidential explanation
and consequential denial of treatment given.
The betrayal and deceit of those she cured.
Their spoken gratitude had not endured.
The doublecrossing, disloyalty and abuse
from friends she treated, with no further use.
But it became more dangerous than that,
when authorities were told of the witch and her cat.
She had heard of other women thus persecuted,
who were tortured as witches and then executed.
The wise woman who had helped for so many years
was now by the river drowning her tears.

They used to be Druidesses with equality,
teachers, lawmakers and warriors;
and sometimes leaders and queens,
as well as wives and mothers.
They made a lasting contribution to the tribe
and had a relevant voice that was heard.
They had rights and privileges
and protection and justice under the law.
They didn’t try to oppress, deprive and belittle,
to unman the man uncall the calling.
Within society nature held a prominent place.
Law was structured to prevent wrong,
to punish for wrong inflicted
and to give just retribution.
There was security for life, property and nature;
freedom of movement, thought and conscience.
They tried to seek and show truth
when others covered, hid and buried it.
They had heard of other religions,
but knew that there was only one morality.
And then the Romans came.

The conquering Romans spread through the land
with tools of destruction and domination;
and they lost freedom, rights and privileges.
They were crushed and beaten into submission,
forced to cooperate and negotiate.
To diminish local talent,
the Romans took the best
and the brightest of the
young men from each tribe
away to be slaves
in other countries.

Roman women were restricted and confined
and the rights and freedoms of Celtic women
alarmed and concerned the Roman men.
That was something they would not import
to their growing and spreading empire.
In 54 A.D. Claudius banned the Druids – that was an order.
The spiritual, intellectual and legal guardians
disintegrated – the roots and anchors gone.
Rome could not combat their kind of power;
destruction was the only way to wipe out its influence.
For a while, Roman and Celtic gods stood side-by-side,
then gradually the Romans took over Celtic sites.

Her grandmother had admitted that all was not perfect.
They had been so busy with rights and laws
that they neglected the mechanical force that controls,
degrades and humiliates – designed to dominate.
There was a Celtic weakness of constant feuding.
Arguments blocked a united progression
and were often fueled by alcohol.
Those internecine quarrels prevented cohesion
and made forces fragmented and useless
against the organized and rulebound legions.
But there were regional and annual gatherings
to tackle unresolved problems and seek solutions.
A bitter complaint had been known to fester
into betrayal and collaboration with an enemy.
All the comprehensive laws could do nothing
for the dissatisfaction of an individual.
There had been such a person with a grievance
who invited the waiting Romans in Gaul
to Britain, looking for his own benefit.
Verica, of the Atrebates assisted Claudius in 43 A.D.
Such a selfish, foolish and shallow man
who opened the way to Celtic destruction.

Roman Emperor Constantine fought hard for position.
He was not converted to Christianity by true conviction.
He decided that a cross he had seen in the sky
was a sign from the Christian God that,
used on the shields, would guarantee victory.
He won, and suitably adopted this new religion.
Then he made sure that his stamp was upon it.
Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine and rules
designed for control, not communication.
A vehicle for commerce and materialism
and eventual papal propaganda.
All was not sacred simple and holy.

Within the procedure a fallen angel
had morphed into a devil with horns and a tail,
to chastise and punish disobedient congregations.
Churches were meant to leave a lasting impression,
calculated by talented mathematical masons.
Architectural show places of wonder and display,
or cold stone edifices with glazed windows.
Sometimes God was left at the front of the cathedral,
an iconic figure not included in everyday life.
Ceremony was a substitute for spirituality.
Wealth and structure replaced ascetic simplicity.
There was no room for appreciation of nature.
Celtic holiness and sacredness found in nature
had no place in Christianity’s future.
That religion slipped into Britain conveniently.

It was not opposed violently and
took over from other beliefs gradually,
until it had spread around the country, wholly.
And nonbelievers were branded pagans,
eventually accused of being devil worshippers.
Patrick went to proselytize in Ireland,
where he was once held hostage.
The Romano Brit was successful
with his message of Christian conversion.
Within one of his prayers he asked that
he be protected from druidic women.

Her mother had refused to become a wise woman,
because they were both feared and respected.
She decided that fear would find enemies,
so her grandmother taught her instead
about old histories and ancient ways.
She did not want it to be lost knowledge.
But when she had stared into the still water of the well,
she had only seen treachery and breach of trust.
She was now threatened with punishment or death
for conversing with the devil who didn’t exist.
That would be her reward for giving
the benefit of her wisdom to people in need.
She had gone to the sacred grove to meditate
to ask why such events even happened.
Where were the answers, solutions or remedies?
She found only one – a long inevitable struggle
between right and wrong, good and evil.