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  • Writer's pictureRuth Tilley

Shamanic Initiation.

Every year I take on 2 groups of women, to journey back to themselves. To peel back layers of conditioning, and discover who they truly are. Their magic arises and becomes known. The initiation that comes at the end of their year together looks different for each group, for each woman even. We create your ceremony as we get close to your rebirth.

One of these women has written this beautiful piece on her end of year initiation retreat. With everyone's permission we share this with you:

"This week I dream nightly of ritual, darkened places and the close presence of other

women. It is one of those weeks which feels like a dream, in which one wonders if recent

experiences took place in waking reality. Sleep is deep and plentiful, and my body tells

me to move slowly; to listen out for balance in these ever more fractured times.

I have returned from a weekend of retreating with a group of brave, beautiful women as

part of our year-long experience with shamanic guide and healer Ruth Cato. Ruth works

in shamanic womancraft, celebrancy, boundaries and safer space holding for trauma.

More can be read about Ruth in this medium article. In this year-long entwining of lives,

stories and hearts, we gathered for bi-monthly weekends to journey together and learn

shamanic practices whilst sharing challenges, traumas and soul aspirations. We spent

time at the gorgeous Wellness Space in Leominster, ate delicious food and supported

each other over a mutable year of working through blocks and stepping up to our most

loving selves.

Over our initiation weekend, we stayed in an off-grid eco village, which is built, designed

and curated with a lot of love and care. The communal eating area is full of flowers, and

everywhere around the site one can follow winding paths to buildings which look like

something from a fairytale or long ago time. The wilding sentence of this valley is

punctuated with waterfalls at both ends, held in the pages of mountains. We were the

only visiting group on-site for the weekend, and shared the secret valley with a few

season residents and visiting campers. This place feels like a story we’ve all been longing

for, something ancient made real, with touches of beauty and theatre everywhere.

It is not the mind-body-spirit area of Western culture that I write these words for. To re-

access the spiritual openness I felt as a child and young person, I personally have had to

overcome a lot of rational conditioning and cynicism. The generalised language of healing

and spiritual experiences isn’t one that speaks to me as a poet and writer, which is one

reason Ruth’s work is so appealing to me; she uses her own language and heartfelt

intellect as a teacher. She is grounded and of her own ancestral land, and hands

responsibility back to whoever she works with whist creating a space of safety.

However, it is with surprise that I find myself telling people (selectively) that I’ve just come

back from a shamanic women’s retreat. It is new to be explaining the concept of soul

retrieval to a friend suffering long term anxiety, or sharing the lovely experience of being in

such deep female company whilst sleeping in a roundhouse with eight other women and

a baby girl. It is like my habitual language has slowed down, and other ways of speaking,

doing and expressing are surfacing. It feels much better, more like truth.

I so wish I would write things down that I hear others say or hear them write. I remember

listening to the radio a few years ago to a speaker (whose name I can’t remember) talking

about awe. He said that awe is the missing emotion in modern culture, or words to that

effect. Over the retreat weekend and afterwards, I’ve found myself using words like

‘extraordinary’ and ‘awestruck’ to describe our time together. Elements of my day in

general have become more remarkable, poetic language more accessible and everyday

moments notably poignant and beautiful.

Without sharing the stories of others, I think I can write that the narrative of our weekend

was mostly made up of an initiation for each woman; a ritual space or ceremony designed

to initiate her into whatever she chooses. We gathered around fires several times daily to

share was there for us. We lay together in sunny meadows, painted bodies, held each

other. Some of us slept out under the stars as part of our initiation, and were welcomed at

sunset by the drumming of their sisters. For others, we enacted more elaborate

ceremonies of offering, death and rebirth. It is a gift and deep privilege to participate in

these highly personal rites of passage, to watch women (some carrying and releasing

significant trauma) marking the death of those parts of themselves that are no longer


In other ceremonies, inspiration from particular goddesses guided the old story, dying so a

new one could break through. We walked to a hidden waterfall, some of us entering the

underworld as we did so. Some made physical creations as part of their ritual, such as

beautiful textile dolls to represent particular people or parts of themselves. Across all the

ceremonies, spirituality blended with metaphor, symbolism, storytelling, poetry, creativity

and embodied experience to collectively re-birth each woman into her own power. In

each ritual we shared tears, laughter and love.

We shared freedom in our bodies too. In the off-grid mid-Wales eco-community which

hosted us, nakedness was normal and acceptable. Our sleeping quarters were right by a

deeper pool in a clear cold stream, the only option for washing! This was a new and joyful

experience for a semi-seasoned wild swimmer. I almost resented the electric shower

upon my return, missing the invigorating and swift route to feeling awake, clean and

completely in tune with nature. We skinny dipped together, and shed all shame around

our bodies, embracing our differences as women of all shapes and sizes splashed about

with squeals of laughter. The water took part in our rituals too, a place of re-birth and

baptism which carried away the patterns and aspects of ourselves we were releasing.

Collectively and safely, we all felt able to express our sexuality, in a safe and wild space.

For some this was experiencing eco-sexuality: an erotic and/or sensual way of being in

nature which needs no other human to be involved - a unique kind of relational freedom.

For myself (as I know I can permissibly share my own stories) it was receiving affectionate

touch and holding from other women. This is something I crave deeply in everyday life,

and a (not necessarily sexual) part of my bisexuality which is often denied expression in a

heteronormative society and repressed British culture, where sustained touch between

any gender is not a language we share.

It takes time, trust and letting go to truly experience the power that women can

collectively reclaim together. Being part of this group (and another women’s collective)

has enabled me, in the last three years to call another woman ‘sister’ and learn that we

really can have each other’s backs. I use the word ‘woman’ to refer to anyone who

defines themselves as a woman, from a she/her who feels at times on a fluid gender

spectrum. I also use it to refer to human beings who are still harmed by age-old

destructive ways of patriarchy, and carry wounds (from lives past and present) simply

from being born with female anatomy. As one of these woman-identifying humans, I now

say freely to any other person that I need other women like I need to breathe air. Without

that connection and sharing on an almost daily basis, my world becomes grey and sad.

Our co-facilitator for the weekend (a very special woman who works with shamanism,

death, herbs and weaving) shared that she is known to the otherness as Starling. It was

like a flock of starlings that our processes moved and shifted together over the course of

three days. Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Resonance came into my mind over this

very beautiful and special weekend. I found myself saying it was as though we had

become one morphic, resonant body; moving, releasing, crying, laughing, expressing and

mutating as a murmuration of souls. I re-enter my life in touch with that otherness, and

still connected through shared roots to a group of women spread across geography, time

and space. In each woman’s story is a part of every other woman’s story. As the poet

Audre Lourde wrote: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles

are very different from my own”.

Emily Wilkinson

June 2022

Art by Sophie Lucyer

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