In the beginning, Sisters of the Wild started as an antidote to my own grief.
I had just slipped into my 40’s and a feeling of emptiness fell over me like a dark and heavy blanket. From an outsider's perspective, you could say I was living the dream: a gorgeous husband, beautiful apartment and a daughter that is the light of my life. But so much of it felt like a prison, the mid-century furniture, the Porsche in the driveway, a wardrobe heaving with treasure, my only respite; a vinyl collection that told the story of my life.
I had broken the tether of my earthly connection, my wildness, I’d forgotten how water moved over rocks, how the wind sang and trees talked to one another through intricate mycelium. The life I was living was so out of alignment with what my body craved that I decided to give it all up, the marriage, the home and my material possessions, choosing instead to live nomadically.
An initiation is when part of you has to die in order for something else to grow and in hindsight the death of my marriage and the life that had me shut off from the magic of nature was one of the first initiations I would go through on my journey with Sisters of the Wild.
Grief sunk its teeth into me so hard that most days I abstracted from the beauty of the world. In the midst of this grieving my body kept hearing an inner voice asking me to walk, I had no idea what this meant until the day I fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a new 500 mile route that was to circle the Scottish Highlands. A road for cars and cyclists but I knew that my feet needed to beat this path. On a whim I booked an overnight train, spiriting away to Inverness with no experience and no idea that the next 5 weeks were about to change my life.
On day four of the walk I reached the most majestic mountain I’d ever seen, its road snaking up like curls of smoke, it was unwavering, people drove past and stared at me as I heaved a massive bag on my back, sweat beading my forehead. It took hours to reach the top and in that time my mind worked tirelessly to sabotage every step I took until a flood of inspiration rushed into my thoughts. I had chosen this walk, I was supported by so many people, I wasn’t walking away from danger or to find food and water, I was walking to reclaim myself and my relationship with the earth. It was there on that mountain that my grief began to transform itself into something new.
I thought, how could I be the only woman who feels this way? Hungering for reclamation of self and the reawakening of our alliance to the earth. So I made the decision to gather women who recognised the pull of her own wildness, but found modern society quite adept at pressing down so hard on them that they had forgotten it was there at all. Once those thoughts had run their course, the answer was simple; a booming inner voice sang ‘Sister of the Wild’
Essentially, I started to do this work to feel grounded, to connect with the cycles of nature, and to give women an opportunity to do the same.
At the gatherings I’ve started to observe recurring patterns; I’ve noticed women arrive at Sisters of the Wild, often feeling tightly-wound, overwrought from the responsibilities that they have in their lives. The gatherings are a safe container where the women don’t have to feel so much contraction, but rather the ebb and flow of their natural environment.
You can feel them opening up, unlatching their hearts and minds from all the unnecessary cargo they’ve been carrying. And I always encourage the woman to go to nature to find answers when they are dealing with something no matter what it is. Go and take your shoes off, walk through the grass, feel the dew on your feet, swim in the lake, press your bare skin against a tree. That’s when resolution comes, when you’re in your most serene and anchored place. Once you deeply allow yourself to be identified within nature, there is less need for so much structure in your life.
We gather at Cae Mabon, a place that was created by the storyteller Eric Maddern over 30 years ago, there’s a lot of myth in the area of Snowdonia, I think the folklore carries a lot of value given what we do here. Nestled in an ancient oak forest, dotted with little cob houses and wooden huts, people have gathered here for years, their only intention, deep respect for the Earth, and every person who comes here has a keen sense of guardianship of the place, yet we all know we are simply guests.
At Cae Mabon if you take away all the trimmings of Sisters of the Wild, stripping it back, you end up with just the land itself, this is the very soul of the gathering, and what the women get the most out of their time; the lake, the mountains, the wandering creek, the surrounding ancient oak forest. That’s the foundation of everything we do.
I want to create a space with soft edges, and room for things to shift and fluctuate which is why I don’t plan a schedule. Since, so often we are incarcerated in a lifestyle that doesn't allow for our time to be malleable, a schedule selected by me wouldn’t leave any room for trusting the woman to cultivate their own experience. Instead of the archaic, hierarchical matrix we are used to, what I want is to hold a space that abandons patriarchal roots, and rejects the pyramidal mould altogether, and fashion instead a collaborative space where we are all in a community, on equal ground.
We begin every day fresh and regard the day in its own right. At breakfast, each morning the women who have come with skills to share discuss what the day might look like; what can be done inside and what can be done outdoors, weather depending, how long the classes are and how to prepare for them. We then tell the woman eating breakfast about what we’ve considered and because we exist in this harmonious environment, someone might bring something up that no one has observed yet and thus the whole is now benefiting from the involvement of every part.
The lack of schedule, the fluidity of the time and space is so foreign to most women that they have to unfasten many preconceived notions and adjust from the world they’re used to in order to access their self-reliance.
There have been many skills shared at Sisters of the Wild. From macrame to movement, womb work and tea ceremonies...but some stand out as integral parts of the experience and foundational aspects of the gathering. Weaving is one of our focused skills always shared by the artist May Hands who comes from a lineage of weavers, her grandmother Maureen has been weaving since she was a child and is now in her 90’s.
It’s a craft where everyone uses the same techniques, but at the end when you view everyone’s work together you see all the individual instincts and expressions, women often integrate what they’ve found on the land in their work; leaves, twigs, lichen, blades of grass.
Botanical dye is, and has always been a very popular workshop, the process of transforming plain pieces of silk into art that breathes and sings through the alchemy of plants. It only takes a day to do and at the end when we all go down to the river to untie our bundles the woman dip their silks into the freshwater and there is a sort of childlike- wonder you see on their faces, rapturously gazing at their work, enchanted by what they’ve created.
Roo Veeren from Tea Clay Love shared clay work and at the last gathering where we used the fire outside to cook the clay and it was an experiment to see if clay that hadn't fully dried would survive the heat. Roo asked the woman to trust the process and surrender their art to the flames, not knowing the outcome just believing that what happens, happens. All of these busy-hands-quiet-mind activities leave you with something tangible, a reminder when you go back home of the importance of sharing ancestral skills.
Then there's fire craft, when women learn to make fire with their own hands it reminds them of their own capability, their self-sufficiency. Fire-making is an ancestral necessity, it is something at one time every human knew how to do, because if you didn’t then you wouldn’t live. And you can see it in a woman’s eyes, in her face, when she has created a spark that transforms the tinder into flames, she becomes the alchemist, and the act of creating something seemingly out of nothing has a tremendous effect on a very old part of our spirit.
The very first gathering was 16 woman in one campsite, one fire that we had to light in the rain, we cooked every meal and boiled all the water on that one fire. It was paramount to keeping everything going, and beautiful because we ended up being around the hearth the whole time, for warmth, for food and for connection. From the original 16 there have been hundreds more who have sat around a Sisters of the Wild fire, and hundreds more to come, I want fire prowess to be one of the many things woman leave the gatherings with.
The dream is to eventually be preservers of our own piece of land. At the moment, we don’t know exactly what that looks like but essentially a community space where vegetables are grown and skills are shared, to welcome artists and makers to take residency there, to stay for a few months at a time, create art, teach what they have to offer with self-sufficiency as the driving impetus, but instead of it being 3 times a year it will be all year round. I may be the vision holder, but it’s a collaborative space, the women who return to the gatherings year after year are going to be integral in having the vision come alive so that we are able to alloy the ancient way of living with the new.
“Embracing my artistic self and sharing skills that have been passed down to me through generations at the Sisters of the Wild Gatherings allows my confidence to grow as an artist. Being amongst the women in nature is very special, a place where you can be completely yourself with no hesitation. The gatherings also plant and nurture creative seeds that enrich my practice deepening my knowledge and love for the materials, weaving the work I do in Wales back into studio life.” - May Hands, artist and Sisters of the Wild attendee
“We are nature, and having the privilege to work with clay helps remind me how much this earth matters. The slow processes; the growing; all the while, developing this relationship to a beautiful natural material. But creating isn’t always or just about technical expertise, for me community is one of the most creative things we can be involved in and Jayne facilitates beautiful ‘sacred’ spaces at Sisters of the Wild that allow those who gather to express themselves freely without judgment and connect to (our) nature in the most beautiful of ways”. - Roo Vereen, artist and Sisters of the Wild attendee
I'm a woman, just like you.
Through my own challenges with womanhood, being a mother, a wife, navigating a divorce and my own health issues, I’ve found that the most honest healers are movement, the breath and interaction with the elements. I feel most supported by rocks and the roots of a tree; I feel most alive when the wind is whipping my hair and I’m dancing barefoot on the grass.
I believe in love, even though my heart has been broken a thousand times.
My version of love means kindness, honesty and truth. Love is showing up, standing for something and using your voice eloquently and powerfully to promote justice and peace. Love is hugging, listening and looking someone in the eyes as they pour their heart out to you. Love is my daughter, the most amazing person I know: dedicated, compassionate, kind and hilarious. When I watch how she is living her life, she's 27, I’m filled with hope for the future of this planet.
I love swimming in lakes, rivers & oceans and sitting next to a fire, under the stars drinking whiskey. I love wearing black, being on a train or travelling somewhere new. I love chocolate. I love the reflections of a disco ball, and I love Prince with every wild bone in this body.
Peace & Be Wild
Over the past two years, during the Spring and Autumn equinox, under the name 'Sisters Of The Wild' I have held space for women in nature. We come together to stir the pot, feel the warmth of the fire, we dance, we cry, we laugh and we grow. As I’ve sat with these large groups of women, listening, learning and nurturing, I found myself connecting deeply to their individual stories.