Wednesday 14 January 2009


A decade ago, in a field in Wiltshire, three of us sat listening to a friend. She had made an appointment for an abortion in a couple of days time and was working through her doubts and feelings witnessed by three other women. I’ve no strong feelings about abortion other than women bear enough responsibility for the existence of children in the world and so can generally manage the responsibility for stopping a child coming into the world. I’m pro-choice and pro-responsibility. What mattered here was the conscious preparation of this woman for the intentional killing of her child.

I’ve not spoken to pro-choice Pagans (there are a few anti-choice Pagans) who seem able to get to grips with this though I dare say there are some out there. Pagans talk a lot about the cyclical nature of this and that, and we say we have a loving respect for the Dark Goddess, She Who eats Her own children, but there seem very few of us who don’t need to smother the dark and difficult in the sparkles from unicorns hooves. There is nothing nice about abortion. Its purpose is to cause death, to exert power over something that is entirely vulnerable. That’s what women have to contend with, that’s exactly where the Dark Goddess steps in.

So it’s not a matter of “There, there, you poor thing, there is nothing else that you can do, you have no other choice,” because of course there is another choice. This situation calls for unswerving honesty, loyalty and clear sightedness. When you can look into the void and endure the horrendousness of what looks back at you you have stepped into your own power. Be careful you remain a decent human.

The evening before she went to hospital the four of us met in the wellbeing bender. The burner was chugging out heat, we had a guardian, a man who made sure no one walked in by mistake, and we’d all come personally prepared. Our intent was to prepare the pregnant woman for her abortion; to acknowledge the enormity of what she was going to do; to attempt to prepare the mystery that is a foetus for her death. We gently stripped the pregnant woman and lay her on cushions and sheepskins, covering her with blankets. One of us was at her head, one at her feet and another doing the physical acts of the magic. The pregnant woman shivered and cried a little and we all altered our consciousness so that we were able to say what needed to be said without recourse to paper, allowing words to come through our mouths from who knows where.

A calla lily was placed in a white shallow ceramic dish and we made it the focus of our attention as the bowl was balanced over the pregnant woman’s womb. We’d collected some menstrual blood throughout the day and when the time was right we poured the blood onto the white lily, staining it and spilling red into the white of the dish. It was surprisingly dramatic, speaking to that unconscious place which responds to symbol and meaning. The pregnant woman gasped in shock, sobbed and was moved to speak to her foetus and the Goddess which took however long it took. In the end, she was able to be impassive with the stained and bloodied image of wrecked purity.

A small stream flows close to the site and a large bottle had been filled with its water. As she remained held, we moved the lily and the bowl from her belly to a patch of earth from which we’d folded back the groundsheet and carpets and poured this water over the lily into the bowl, which overflowed so that the blood washed away into the Land. The bowl was again placed over her womb and first one woman and then the next drank from it, with the lily still in it, knowing that invisible traces of blood remained. Finally the pregnant woman drank from it. Her purity would not be the same as it had been but it remained intact.

In time we clothed her and led her back to her bed, tucking her in to dream, purposefully not grounding or making a formal end, allowing her unconscious to speak and be heard clearly. The three of us returned to the bender, tidied up and didn’t say much; it felt deep, powerful and fine.

Perhaps the central aspect of this work was equality. We knew each other very well, which is not to say we spent massive amounts of time together or even that we are close friends. But we had shared years of experience and possess the individual ability to work in a way that allows others to function as true equals. When one steps forward it doesn’t mean that others must stand back. That fundamental equality allowed us each to serve and be served with no covert power-focused intent.

This kind of ritual isn’t absolution or justification, something to be done routinely or lightly. We didn’t cast circles or invoke the elements because what are we trying to contain, to erect barriers against? We were 4 women working on behalf of a woman who had chosen to kill her child, on behalf of a child that was going to be killed and, I hope, in service of the Dark Goddess. With that clear at the front of our minds we also knew we were taking a risk in drinking from a vessel that held the mixed menstrual blood of a number of women, whether it be HIVAids or other blood-borne problems. I don’t recommend it and I don’t not recommend it. You’ll make your own choices over the kind of things you want to do, but be clear that if you want to do things properly and well you won’t always be able to perform a health and safety assessment.

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