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Untangling My Roots

Holly MacKenna, MD takes us through a physician's poetic journey of personal and ancestral healing, with the help and guidance of a Wise Woman healer.

And may all mothers know that they are loved
And may all sisters know that they are strong
And may all daughters know that they are worthy
That the circle of women may live on

Female voices harmonize with the wind-shaken trees, raising from the clearing which holds a circle of women – young, old, broken, and strong – singing and drumming in celebration of their time together. It was hard to fathom that this same group had originally come together and created the altar we now surrounded just 32 hours ago.

We spent 2 days forming our community and speaking our truths through tears with voices initially soft then shaking into a roar.

And may all mothers know that they are loved
And may all sisters know that they are strong
And may all daughters know that they are beautiful
That the fire of the Goddess may burn on

As the women sang, I reflected on my own journey which began years ago. I had originally connected with the Wise Woman who led our circle virtually as a fellowship student of integrative medicine. I felt connected to Tieraona Low Dog as soon as I saw videos of her interviewing women and discussing various herbs and lifestyle remedies.

In those initial months, I never spoke to her or had a live interaction, but I felt drawn to her presence and spirit.

Several months later just as the coldness of Winter broke away and the Irish Celtic holiday of Imbolc marked the beginning of Spring, I received an email inviting me to a Sacred Feminine workshop that was occurring online. Dr. Low Dog was the featured teacher, and I jumped at the chance to have any interaction with her. She spoke about ritual and the scientific and spiritual benefits of including it in one’s healing journey. She shared examples of how she had used it in her own life for healing from loss and invited us to consider how we may do the same.

I knew from my psychiatry training that only by engaging in my own inner work and recovery would I be able to be fully present to those whom I wish to help as a physician and healer. Tieraona’s lessons and examples of using ritual opened my mind to the possibility of using an older way of healing – of being – to work through my grief and loss.

 

I knew from my psychiatry training that only by engaging in my own inner work and recovery would I be able to be fully present to those whom I wish to help as a physician and healer. Click To Tweet

 

That Summer I returned to my family’s homeland in Ireland feeling inspired by all I had learned. As I traveled across the country seeing family and visiting sacred wells, rocks, and forests, I gathered my own energies and personal items. I planned a ritual to heal myself and to fully mourn the young souls lost during my journey towards motherhood. I had my two beautiful children with me, helping me to choose crystals, candles, and meaningful items. Their presence served as a reminder for the five lost pregnancies which I had never fully acknowledged and grieved. I was drawn to hold a ritual for my lost pregnancies at my father’s gravesite for him to be a witness.

I remembered it also held a small area that was dedicated to babies who had died before being baptized. I knew from my uncle that this small plot had been dedicated in more recent times as an acknowledgment of the Church’s past refusal to allow unbaptized children to be buried with their families. The Catholic Church’s belief that these small souls were not saved nor allowed a Christian burial had affected my family line numerous times – some had been spoken of only in whispers and others went without mention.

The babies born and lost between my father and his two living siblings were buried by my grandfather Jack in the back of his and my grandmother Una’s garden. They later moved to another home and on into the afterlife. That once cared-for garden is now an overgrown fenced-in jungle. At the back one’s eye is drawn to a bright green bush that seems to glow in the sunlight. Only stories handed from uncle to niece relay the babes who lay beneath its branches alongside its tangled roots.

My grandparents Jack and Una were both buried in the Castledermot family plot with my father. They had chosen the spot for two reasons: it allowed space for their neighbors in life to hold a plot beside them in death, and it was under a beautiful apple tree. That tree shed its leaves with relieved tears as I sat with their only remaining son in my own makeshift ceremony.

I called out the names of parents made to continue their earthly journeys without their children. My brother and his wife, my husband Todd’s brother and his wife, Jack and Una, and Todd and me. All those whose names were never spoken because their stories are still untold, all the babies waiting to be buried at their mothers’ breasts, the mothers’ hearts left to beat without their mates. I had gathered a bundle of purple flowers from Jack and Una’s overgrown garden, and we offered it during the ceremony, knowing their roots shared space with the babes my grandparents longed to have buried with them in that carefully chosen plot. Fallen apple tree leaves caressed the flowers with gratitude.

Wehaheya wehaheya weheahe haheya
Wehaheya wehaheya weheahe haheya

An Autumn leaf fell onto my lap, and I found myself back with my soul sisters singing to the forest creatures and trees surrounding us. Amongst those trees moving with Spirit’s wind was a bright green bush surrounded by purple flowers. Beside it flowed a small creek, and Dr. Low Dog pointed to it when telling us what a miracle it had been for the water to flow after a recent forest fire and subsequent drought. The flowing water was viewed as a gift from Spirit as it nourished the bush’s untangling roots.

And may all mothers know that they are loved
And may all sisters know that they are strong
And may all daughters know that they are powerful
That the fire of the Goddess may burn on

We closed our circle, and the women began to disperse. I found myself lingering in the clearing of the forest. I felt the support and gratitude of my Ancestors as they witnessed my journey to heal our line. I found myself face to face with the Wise Woman who first inspired my growth.

Tieraona Low Dog stood tall and slim with long raven hair blown from the wind of the trees surrounding us. Her eyes mirrored the sky and looked into my soul as she spoke.

“You, my dear, are a healer. Forget about the label – psychiatrist, physician, whatever – that doesn’t matter. “

“What matters is here,” she said as she pointed to my heart. “You are a healer.”

At that moment the winds shifted, and I felt the roots of the trees and ancestors surrounding us untangle and reach to that space and moment in time. Spirits of both our lines surrounded us, lines shared by blood and healing arts. Generations of divine feminine spirits stood among the trees and witnessed the end of our journey.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Holly, I had the privilege and blessing to ride with you in my car and sitting next to you for several sessions. I felt towards you what you felt with Dr Low Dog…a beautiful, soft Presence that was so welcoming. I also felt when you nudged me to tell my dream in the circle there was something sacred about voicing it in the group. I still see Socks as a Leopard reminding me I can be soft and gentle, but also fierce like a leopard if need be. Thank you for your writing and renewing my faith in the medical/mental health field. The clients who find you are very lucky indeed….a MD who heals.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful article-
    It was a magical empowering weekend -we all felt the mountain energy , honoring the mother and ourselves
    Thank you so much to our great teacher Tieraona and Kiara

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