Read an Excerpt from Together We Rock!
CHAPTER FOUR – A Vow from the Depths of Time
After four months off-grid in my secluded valley throughout the wettest and wildest winter on record in Wales I was a different person. The me that left on that early March day was a very different me from the one who had arrived in November. I felt far more resilient in body and mind, connected to the land around me and the nature she hosted – it was now an intrinsic part of my life. It is so easy to be ‘apart’ from life in a town or city environment, where concrete takes the place of grass and lamp-posts take the place of trees.
I fantasised about buying a large piece of land, putting up a number of yurts in secluded positions and renting them to women of a certain age to experience the transformation I had.
Stripping back to basics in an off-grid yurt had given me such a powerful reconnection with myself I could imagine it helping other women in similarly profound ways. But it remained a fantasy, popped away in my imagination possibly for use at a later date.
Having fallen in love with Llanidloes, which I was told was situated on the heart chakra of Wales, I wanted to stay. I found the local community extremely open-hearted and welcoming. I was home on my ancestral soil – and it felt good.
I spent a few months in a teeny-weeny caravan surrounded by hundreds of lambs alongside the River Severn. On many fine spring days I walked in to town, known as Llani to the locals, passing field after field of these adorable creatures playfully leaping off their toes as if on pogo sticks. I called them the Llani Lamb Gangs. I was in another enchanted valley helping look after the seedlings, the chickens, the dogs, the cat and the grandmother while the owners were away. In the mornings I’d water the seedlings, throwing my arms up in the air and chanting to them, “Stretch your arms up babies, stretch your arms up!” I think it helped.
I then moved to a weeny caravan (that’s the official term for one just five feet longer than the other one) in a very magical woodland garden set on a steep slope, with pools linked by a delicate stream which forged its way through dense undergrowth from the hills above. I decided this was home. I had a good internet connection, all mod cons – albeit in a very tiny space – and two acres of enclosed garden for my cat, who had lived with a friend of mine for almost four years while I’d been nomadic. And I was close to the friends I’d made while living in the yurt.
I still wrote for the spiritual tour company, in fact I was now Editor of their new digital travel magazine. Although it was very interesting and I had leeway to create as I pleased I knew this was not really what I loved. I felt restless. I wanted to be back writing to my own heart’s song, but I had no idea how I could make that transition from a proper paid job to… well, what exactly? Being a freelance writer and/or novelist was unlikely to pay my rent.
I decided I’d keep that as a star to steer by and stay open to any unexpected opportunities. As a firm believer in the magic of life, I anticipated something. All I had to do was recognise it.
In the meantime my job offered me delightful experiences. I went to London to attend a couple of fantastic conferences. At The Shamanic Lands conference I was drawn to talk with a tall, slender young woman, Elen Tompkins, who, with her long blonde hair, reminded me of Galadriel, the Elven Queen in Lord of the Rings. She had a stand at the conference where she sold her first book: Silver Wheel: The Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. That book drew me back to its pages and to her side several times that first day. After a while I had nothing more to say to this young woman, but I was mesmerised by her presence. I bought the book, stroked its cover, white with golden tracery, and yearned to read it back home, by the pool fed by a sparkling little waterfall and under the gaze of ancient trees.
One morning a few weeks later as I worked online, rabbits chomping the vibrant grass outside, a pair of blue tit parents stuffing bird seed from the feeder into the wide open demanding beaks of their babies, and my ginger cat Kahuna lying contentedly in dappled sunlight, an email pinged into my inbox announcing the first shamanic Silver Wheel retreat to be held by Elen Tompkins. I burst into tears (even I thought that was a bit extreme). The more I read about this four-day retreat an hour and a half away from where I lived, the more I knew I had to go – even though I didn’t really know why.
Price-wise I couldn’t really afford it. I’d also have to borrow a tent and camp as there was no other accommodation. As I weighed up the pros and cons a big bulldog with wide jaws, sharp teeth and a look of deadly intent invaded my sanctuary to seize my cat. All hell broke loose. Kahuna shot up the hill. I shouted for help. The neighbours came rushing through the gate along with their other three bulldogs and in the pandemonium I stood rooted to the spot, my heart thundering.
“He’s okay”, came a call. Kahuna had escaped the jaws of the dog by hurtling down a vertical drop to the stoney hem of the pond. But he wasn’t okay. His back leg, although not broken, had the two ligaments stretched so badly that he had two inches of play and a lot of pain in his right knee joint. I was relieved he’d not been savaged, but distraught he’d been hurt and knew that my money and my time should be spent on him – not a retreat with Elen Tompkins, however compelling.
I tended to my cat. I had to borrow a big cage from the vet which took up half the caravan, but kept him from jumping up or down and hurting his leg further. Our safe haven had been breached. I felt my trust had been too. But although I felt I ‘owed’ him my round-the-clock care I was also still being pulled to this shamanic retreat.
I was asked a great question by a coach I was working with: “What do you do, Francesca, to sabotage following your dreams?” I answered pretty quickly: “Drama, which then requires all my attention to handle.” And here it was. “So, are you going to allow it to sabotage your dream this time?” And there was the gauntlet laid down so clearly. If I somehow created drama to take me off course from following my heart, could I let this current drama do that too? Was I able to leave my cat to follow my heart, even though I had absolutely no idea what I would receive from the experience?
You may understand my dilemma or you may not – but believe me I found it a very tough decision to make. Having never had children, my cat, who had lived with me for twelve of his sixteen years, is my surrogate child and I take my responsibility possibly too seriously. I had brought him here and now he had been badly hurt. But I did make the decision. I found a cat sitter among my friends who agreed to stay in my little caravan while I was away. She also lent me her tiny tent and sleeping bag. A week or so later I was in my trusty lionhearted car, with my camping toilet on the back seat, and off I went again – into the unknown.
It was early September, the buffeting wind had chased away the rain, and I was excited and nervous to explore this new wild landscape, where Elen Tompkins had drawn forth the wisdom for her book. I had read the description of the retreat many times, I knew we were going to experience thirteen shamanic ceremonies in four days, but as I had never been on a shamanic training of any description I had no idea what that might entail. And even though I had wanted to read her book – somehow I hadn’t got round to it. I was in the dark.
It must have been the huge lion-headed rock (I have a deep love for lions – but more of this later) which made me choose to pitch my tent away from the others, and possibly the thought that I’d be marginally sheltered from the blasting wind the far side of the rock giant and his wife. Not that I could pitch it. It was so windy, I had only five spindly tent pegs and the instructions made no sense to me whatsoever. But I was saved by one of the other early arrivals, who even had spare tent pegs in his car.
Our group of eleven felt like a perfect number as we congregated in a giant yurt with hobbit house round windows all around its circumference. At the far end was the most amazing altar I had ever seen with huge crystals, a driftwood tree hung with things which sparkled, white swan feathers, bowls of shining pebbles, and other shamanic paraphernalia. And Elen, standing tall like a wand, in Elven clothes and with a jewel on her brow. We were going on an inner journey to the bridge which crossed eons of time to meet our Lemurian selves and reconnect with our vow. To the resonant beat of a drum we were guided through a magical landscape, which my logical mind said was just my imagination and nothing more, but I enjoyed it all the same. Afterwards Elen told me she remembered me from Lemuria. When I asked myself if I remembered her too, tears welled up unbidden, as if my heart recognised her even though my conscious mind didn’t. Something deeper was going on that I simply couldn’t name.
It was a tall order to complete thirteen such ceremonial journeys in only four days so we started early and ended late. We journeyed inwardly and sometimes outwardly through the woods and to the magnificent waterfall which roared its voice across the valley. Water cascaded and tumbled through a high pelvis of rock, and churned toffee-coloured under our feet at the bridge. This was the place where the Elven Shining Ones from ancient realms shared their hidden knowledge with Elen. It was indeed our Rivendell – a very sacred location.
This was the first time ever I had immersed myself in anything of this nature. I enjoyed it fully and although I was drawn to working with Elen further, I still had no real idea of what it was and why I’d attended. We were told that by simply turning up we had reconnected with an ancient vow, but I had no idea what this was. Little did I know what was coming.
“We can call ourselves Crones Rock, dress in black leather biking gear and win Britain’s Got Talent!” I had laughingly suggested to two of the older women on the retreat during a discussion one day. And as I said goodbye to everyone, after four windswept days and a fascinating journey I still didn’t understand – this idea of Crones Rock stuck in my frontal cortex.
On my arrival home, knowing I still had a few days of my weeks’ holiday and a pledge from my ‘boss’ that he wouldn’t bother me unless it was urgent, I got a Skype call from him.
“I hope this doesn’t ruin your holiday,” he said, “But I can only pay you till the end of this month.”
Hard on the heels of that thunderbolt my landlord gave me notice if I didn’t have a Plan B to pay my rent. And then my cat, still cage-bound, became diabetic. I was out of cash, out of work and out of ideas. But as you know I believe in the magic of life, and when the proverbial shit hits the fan I see this as the prelude to a breakthrough. And a breakthrough soon came.
Crones Rock… crones rock… crones rock. Why would this idea not leave me? I suddenly got it. All the seedling ideas I’d received as I’d flown over the Andes had been fertilised through my experiences in the Amazonian Ayahuasca retreat, the four months connecting with nature under the canvas of a yurt and the extraordinary shamanic work of Elen Tompkins. Now they germinated. As I tugged at the ‘what if’s they unravelled, and the answers came through effortlessly. This was not about a leather-clad trio of ageing singers, but a community of wild, wonderful and wise elder women.
What if…? What if I could create an online community where we had the resources to discover that we women of a certain age in this post-menopausal stage of life were able to rediscover that we are valid and valuable, where we can consciously co-create and collaborate, where we can share our wisdom with the world and make a difference.
The ideas coalesced.
A day or so later I was driving along the road to Rhayader, a few days before my 61st birthday, when I asked out loud: “What would be the name of the place where wise elder women meet – our version of the Red Tent, that ancient space where menstruating women gathered?”
The answer came to me so quickly: The Silver Tent!
Of course! A silvery energy shot down through my crown chakra and out through my feet as a silver shiver ran across my skin, and tears streamed down my face. Here was my vow from the Silver Wheel retreat. I sensed the common source, the feeling this was bigger than me and that this idea had been waiting for my fertile heart and mind to be open enough to apply it.
The Silver Tent – a special place where we elder women would learn who we truly are, that we have a reason and purpose for being here. This is my vow – to create this place where the power of the feminine can rise again. I felt its truth like a luminous flame, a purity of idea, one which I had been committed to across the ages. This was an idea whose time had come and I could no more disengage from it than I could disengage from any one of my limbs.
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