A path was a short distance away from the stream. Although it was a hot day, it was comfortable and cool. The trees of the forest were heavy and dense, providing shade as we moved along the trail. Light filtering through the tree boughs created a myriad of patterns and shapes along the forest floor. Songreen’s stride was quick and nimble, allowing her to keep pace with the very slow gait that Freedom kept alongside her. “Look up,” said Songreen. As I did, I saw a group of children and some men and women looking down at us. It appeared that they were standing in the trees, and I was taken aback. “Tree houses are plentiful in our tribe, and are a part of our village that is located on the ground.” said Songreen. The tree houses were designed to compliment the tree and connected one to the other in a inconspicuous design. Precious immediately made her presence known and began to sing sweetly, providing a concert. Her melody rose above us into the treetops. Songreen said, “We are nearing the forest trail and will meet the Forest Women Elders shortly.”
As the trail unfolded in front of us, the trees let in more light. We reached the edge of the trail, and in the clearing the village was visible. It unravelled in a circular fashion with many dwellings seen dotting the edges every so often. A great number of round stones were placed in the center of this village in a circular mandala pattern. Brightly colored bird feathers held together with cording were hanging from the poles placed around the stones. Villagers walked about and stared at us with curious eyes as we passed. Some dogs barked in the distance, while others moved closer to get a better view of us as we passed.
Songreen stopped at the largest structure in the village, which was located in the center of a mandala edged with stone. It was a wooden sculpture of a female, created from a living tree, holding leaves in her hands. Surely it was monumental, and fitting as the totem of the Forest Women. Behind this wondrous carving was another structure. It was markedly different from the other lodgings–larger and more decorative. There were animal skins of different colors and textures stitched together, stretching over a round framework as opposed to the smaller and inverted cone shaped teepees we had passed along the way. Symbols, animals, and birds were painted in bright colors on the curtain of animal skins which hung over the entryway. Songreen turned to me saying, “Wait”, then entered.
It seemed like forever before Songreen returned. She opened the draped animal skin that covered the entryway and, holding it with one arm, she gestured with the other arm to enter, at the same time assuring me that Freedom would drink and graze nearby.
I entered the space not seeing very well at first. It was dim; much darker inside than out in the open air. It took me a moment or two to adjust my eyes. In the distance, there was a small pit in the ground with a fire burning. Behind it was a very aged woman who was seated on a mound of furs. She uttered not a word. Placed around her were many objects and articles. Blankets lined the walls. They were quite beautiful, varying in color and design. Sculptural objects made of bone and fibers hung from sinewy threads located at the upper portion of the structure, where the smoke of the fire escaped in a stream of smoke at the top. Pots and bowls of many sizes and colors were placed against the edges of the walls, some holding long grasses and others filled with a variety of colored stones. Behind the old woman was a wide paneled mat, designed with geometrical shapes and patterns, woven in precision and to perfection. Before I knew it, the mat behind her lifted slowly and a number of women stood in a row, directly behind the old woman. Songreen approached the fire, which was between me and the old woman and began to speak.
“As Medicine Woman of the Forest Women, it is my responsibility to introduce you to the Winnowing Ones. It is not often we have visitors here in the Forest of Women, and we wonder why you have come. We will get to that later. Seated here before you is our chief Elder and leader, the eldest, known as Arabar. She is my grandmother, mother of my mother, Aladai, who was the medicine woman before me. Behind her, standing to the far left is Hasheena, elder teacher of our lore. Next to her is Resim who trains our women to hunt. She confers with only a few chosen men of the tribe to work with our women, who also help defend our village, if need be. Standing in the center is Millecarme who teaches our young women the art of cooking, using herbs and plants. To Millecarme’s right is Lorgemaree who is the Elder architect. She has long held the knowledge of creating our treehouse structures of quality and safety. Next to Lorgemaree is Nadeerah who passes along her knowledge of the arts: painting, weaving, sculpting, musical instruments, and even crafting weapons. We are all curious to know where you are from and why you are here.”
I gathered my thoughts wanting to be respectful and to show my gratitude for allowed to be heard. I began, “I am Lavenda Kakabell, a traveller; part of a group whose members are journeying to different lands. I am here to experience the company of the Women of the Forest and to learn what I can from your wisdom. I am on a journey to experience all I can in this land of Seekendyeeshelfind. I chose to stop at your village during the latter part of my journey.”
Arararb spoke. “We welcome you, Lavenda Kakabell. Stay amongst us as long as you wish. We are willing to share our knowledge, as long as it will be used in a healing and positive way. The Great Spirit and Earth Mother wish all to be as one and to honor one another.
Our people: women, men, and children, all live together peacefully, each special in their own way; however, the women hold the power of decision making and have throughout all of our tribe memories. Aladai, Hasheena, Resim, Millecarme, Lorgemaree, and Nadeerah all nodded their heads in agreement and acceptance. “We will gather in several hours when the sun sets– to honor you, our guest. In the meantime, Lorgemaree will take you to your lodging that has been designed for visitors.”
Lorgemaree stepped forward. “Come,” she said. “You will find the lodge to your liking. There you will find food and water, and a change of clothing. Your horse will be nearby grazing.” I followed Lorgemaree along the rows of well-made structures. All were seemingly framed alike; however, each was decorated differently. Using design, color, carvings, feathers, and beading, each posed a splendid array to delight the eye. When Lorgemaree stopped walking, we were in front of a teepee that was decorated from the ground up reaching one half way with green earthen matter, possibly moss. Tree branches of earth and twigs were woven around the base. Feathers of all different colors were used intermittently to create a striking vertical design. The teepee’s top half was covered with animal hide of a rich golden ochre, nothing else. I thanked Lorgemaree and stepped inside. The space was plentiful–a circle of stones with a slow fire in the center to take the edge off of the air that had began to cool. An area of grass matting with blankets off to one side called to me. A small patch of blue sky showed through the top…the sunlight, strong, I was sure. It reflected on several earthen pots, one of which held a supply of water. Its outside texture catching a bit of the light and caused it to glitter. I lay down, closed my eyes, and drifted off. I awoke to the sound of children giggling and swishing of feet passing by. When I adjusted my eyes to the faint light, I could see that a pile of clothing lay to one side on some blankets. I quickly splashed water on my face and proceeded to investigate the pile of clothing that lay nearby.
The clothing that had been left for me was quite beautiful. The dress of soft deerskin was embroidered with beads sewn around the neckline, and a pair of moccasins similarly beaded were placed on the ground near the blanket. I felt like one of the tribe as I hurried to don the dress and foot apparel. I opened the door flap and was surprised to see a young boy, stationed right there. He grinned at me before taking my hand. Pointing to the center of the village, he led me to a fire that was blazing in the distance where a crowd of villagers had gathered. As it was not yet totally dark, we made it to the fire easily. The entire tribe was in attendance and everyone seemed to be in good cheer as excitement filled the air.
Drummers, male and female, were seated together to one side. Sounds of singing, which followed the rhythm of the drumming, was sailing through the night sky, dancing everywhere. Hy yah, hy ya ya, hy ya, hy ya, hy yaya.
Arabar, Songreen, and the Women of the Forest Elders were sitting together at the place of honor in the middle of the mandala around the bonfire. Tribal members – men, women, and children filled in the area nearby. I was curious about the culture of the Forest Women and why they were called the Winnowing Ones. I hoped to have this explained at some point in time.
Food consisting of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, was served on large platters of wood planking and placed on blankets in one area. Thirst was quenched with water, and a drink having a fruity taste was also plentiful.
As the evening progressed, I added to the celebration by having my bird, Precious, serenade us all. Looks of amazement appeared on all visages, and Precious sung the children to sleep as the concert progressed into the night. Dancing followed into the night along with story telling, which the older children who could keep their eyes open long enough to hear, just loved. Tribal members left intermittently, making their way to their teepees, leaving the soft glow of the fire as it diminished…the night eventually turning into day.
When I awoke the next day, I joined the villagers for breakfast. I was approached by Songreen who took me to Arabar’s lodging. We spoke of the Forest Women, their history, and how they came to rule on their own. Arabar said, “Our tribe is very old, and the name of ‘The Winnowing Ones’ derives from our ancient elders choosing those among our people having gifts that are very special and important to the tribe. Our ceremonies are held in a sacred space inside a nearby cave. We consider this cave sacred and to be the womb of the Mother/Goddess Spirit.” When I asked if I could attend the next ceremony, I was told that this would have to be discussed at the next meeting of all the Elders, and that I would be told if and when this would be possible.
I spent time with each of the Forest Women Elders, as they worked with the young women of the tribe. This allowed me to learn valuable information in all areas of their life, and for this I am very grateful. I gathered that nothing has changed here for lifetimes, and serenity is the result of keeping the tribal rituals. No one is made to stay, and a village of those who have left is located many moons further to the North, following the tributary of the river.
From Songreen, I learned how she foraged for medicinal herbs. I went along on visits she made to those in need of healing, both physically and mentally. As the days passed, I also spent time with Resim, watching and taking part in the hunt for deer and smaller animals, whose fur and other body parts were used for clothing and everyday living items. Training for the hunt began at an early age, and those who were naturally inclined found much joy in their vocation. The same applied for individuals who apprenticed alongside Millecarme, teaching them the art of cooking, using herbs, plants, and meat to prepare healing and nutritious broths.
I watched in awe as Logemaree held meetings in the lush forest showing how to chop trees, both large and small, making use of the sharp tools crafted from rock found in nearby steams and riverbanks. The animal hides made into strips was implemented by the use of tying knots to hold together branches and larger shafts of wood used in the teepee lodges and for carrying objects and materials. Nadeerah invited me to join in all aspects of the painting, weaving and sculpting. Only a few women had a good feel for crafting weapons and tools to cut either animal skins or bone, or weapons of defense or for use in hunting. The use of berries to dye skins as well as the weaving of different grass was something I found very interesting…these traditions and patterns and processes handed down from generations of women. It was a blessing to see how musical instruments were crafted, and to listen to the levels of notes and tones reached by each one.
A boon to Freedom was the awe inspiring herd of wild horses that Songreen’s mother, Aladai cared for. These horses were traded long ago, and the line continued as Aladai became the “horse whisperer” of the tribe. Freedom spent the entire time with these horses and loved frolicking and racing with them. Although the Forest Women did not travel out of their boundaries, the horses were used for moving heavy items and for sheer love of having them as companions and friends of the tribe. I cherished this time with the Forest Women, having learned many things about relationships, sharing, and valuing things of old that cannot not be measured.
One morning Songreen approached me with news of my joining the Elders in the next ceremony. I was elated that I had been accepted into their circle for this special event. Songreen said that she would come for me in a short while, asking that I bathe in the nearby stream to cleanse myself for the ceremony. I was ready and waiting for her when the sun was beginning to descend in the sky. We walked back along the trail that Freedom and I had came in to the village, all the way, backtracking to crossing the stream. When I saw we were approaching the stone staircase, I knew that the cave where Freedom and I had entered during the rain was the sacred cave. We walked up the stones and reached the ledge. It was late afternoon and the air was still and the light was peaceful with a bit of a haze. Going into the cave, the light lessened and the walls had a faint glow. I heard drumming as we walked further into the cave. Songreen shifted her direction and when I looked carefully, I saw that there was a very small cave entryway. Crawling into it on her hands and knees, as it was just large enough to fit a body through, I followed, although I was a bit hesitant. It was only a short distance crawling on our hands and knees until the cave tunnel widened into a room that was lit only by small lamps, giving light that was minimal. My eyes adjusted fairly quickly, and I could see the circle of women seated in the center of the cave. I recognized all of the elders and saw a few faces that were new to me. We sat in an open space close to where we had entered. I was aware of a sweetness in the air, incense I supposed. It permeated the air and I immediately relaxed. As I looked around, I could see that the faces and bodies of all were painted in geometric designs exposed where clothing did not cover their bodies.
A cup was being passed around the circle, Songreen passing it along to me after she had sipped from the edge of the cup. She said, “Drink just a drop, as it is potent.” I slowly lifted the cup to my mouth and drank; tasting the liquid that was slightly bitter. “It is an herbal tea, prepared just for this ceremony, and will relax you.”
A soft hum touched my ears and chanting built up gradually. I could just about hear it after a while, as I became light and felt like my body was drifting a bit. I felt my aura expand, up and up and out to the edges of the cave, further and further out into another time and space. I felt myself out into the universe, seeing the earth from afar. My wings lifted from my back and spread out far and wide..I was free to soar to my heart’s content! It was night time and the constellations were ablaze with a light as bright as diamonds. I soaked up the moon’s rays…. it was full with a soothing energy. I caught sight of the Seven Pleiades…. they called to me, sending celestial energy. Suddenly I heard a voice, announcing itself as Mercury. It spoke clearly and with sincerity, urging me to be one with all and telling me that I will be able to have an effect on those that seek me out for healing. That I would be able to communicate with Spirit and meaningful entities…. and that I would be able to discern their true meanings. My body felt strange, as I was filled with a cosmic surge of power, and I knew my cells were being altered somehow in a remarkable and beautiful way. Peace and acceptance filled me in my entirety. I heard the noise of soft drumming in my ears, beginning to pickup in intensity, harkening me into a downward free fall – bringing me back towards the earth, downward, downward, as my wings transformed into my skin moments before I was back in the cave and to my place in the circle. I opened my eyes and I was in the cave. The drums very loud now. I turned to Greensong and she smiled, saying, “It is time to go.”
We were the first to leave, making our way to the small tunnel exit, then out into the larger cave where the walls glowed even brighter, as the day had turned into night. When we reached the ledge we could see the large expanse of the heavens, filled with stars brightly lit, a brilliant display. The moon was full and was encircled by a bright halo. We made our way down the stone stairs, crossed the stream, and following the path found the tree houses quiet — continuing back to the teepee that housed me and a reassurance by Songreen that we would talk about this the next day. “Sleep well, Lavenda Kakabell. I leave you with the blessings of Spirit.”
I lay down, still a bit dizzy from my experience, and drifted off to sleep with a sliver of light from the full moon streaming into my teepee from the opening at the very top. I dreamed of all I had experienced thus far on my journey, and woke in the morning with a renewed sense of my spiritual self. I knew that I would be moving on after meeting with Songreen to a place that I was needed.
Songreen and I met that morning and we processed the visions and out of body experience I had felt. I was quite honored, as she said that the Elders felt that I was one with Spirit, and as they were the Winnowing Ones, knew that it would add to whatever it is that I would need in the future… enabling me to call that to me which was needed for myself and for those who were in need. I left with the knowledge the Elders made it possible for me through the gathering of the knowing ones in the sacred cave, knowledge of healing and wisdom from the ancient ones that had been placed in my body and mind and spirit as far away as the “Others” and the Star People of Old, knowledge useful for those that I am to share as a human on the Earth plane.
When it was time for my departure, I asked Arabar if I could speak to all of the tribespeople at a gathering before I left, which she graciously agreed to do. When the time came, I greeted all, thanking the Winnowing Women of the Forest of Women, and the villagers from my heart for all that I had learned and for their acceptance of me during the time I spent with them. I said that I needed no reminders of the time I was in their village — and that they had added much to my life experience, and that they were the gift. I rode away with more than when I had arrived.