Saturday I had the privilege and joy of getting together with a group of soulful women and a wonderful spirit-filled teacher, storyteller, and outsider artist, Cher Shaffer, who guided us through the process of making what she calls “time cage dolls.” Our somewhat cryptic message from Cher in advance of the workshop was this: “Be thinking about the women who have influenced your life. Bring a pen, and paper to write a message to them… Time is convergent. Past, present, and future, all merge in all of us. We become Time Cages. We are the embodiment of all that has gone before us, all that is, and all that will be. We are part of the great circle of life. Please contemplate this, and be mindful of any messages or words you get before coming to our gathering.” I was intrigued as I have been contemplating my place on the wheel lately, the past, present and future converging, being a mother in the middle between a teenage daughter and my own 92-year old mother. I just knew I really needed to make a time cage doll.
One of the first things Cher talked about when we met at the charming Hillsborough home of Margaret, tucked in the woods on the Eno River, was the existence of the Little People. Cher was very matter-of-fact about this and talked about their presence in the forest and the likelihood that they were watching us right now: We might not be able to see them, but they could surely see us. As she spoke, distant rumblings of thunder could be heard and the weather changed from a hot, humid, sunny day almost instantly to a darkening sky that eventually erupted with cleansing rain, enlivening us as we sat in circle, our imaginations awakened. Cher’s mother was Cherokee and the stories of the Little People who lived deep in the forest were a part of her heritage. I felt time collapse as I sat listening to her tell stories about how as a little girl she grew up playing in the Appalachian woods and catching glimpses of the little creatures. I felt a thrill as she spoke, as if I had come home. For that was my childhood, too, in Kansas, where I spent many hours alone, roaming through the woods on fairy hunts, conversing with the invisible ones, of whom I occasionally caught glimmerings and shimmerings, rustlings and murmurings. There, my imagination and intuition were nurtured and my love for all things mystical, magical, natural and sacred took form.
My mother encouraged these sightings and endless talk about the creatures I built houses and left offerings for. Once I pointed to the door-shaped bottom of a giant tree in our yard and my mother went out and painted it red so the fairies could find it. Now I could watch from my window and perhaps catch their comings and goings through this portal from their world to ours and back again. Since childhood, I have felt the deep need to be surrounded by big trees and lots of green and gravitated to these settings. It feeds my soul and keeps me close to the nature spirits I feel are like guardian angels to me. Now I have a 14-year-old daughter who thinks it’s funny that my computer screen saver photo is of a wise tree spirit — a wizened face in a tree that is there for everyone to see if you truly look.
And that was the message of making the cage dolls. To truly look at nature and be with it and create from it, bringing you close to Spirit and the ancestors, who speak this language of knowing, of seeing, of being. The women who had gathered here were all open to seeing with new eyes, it seemed, open to creating a nature spirit, a soul doll, a reflection of themselves that captured time in the cage of her body, connecting each of us in a personal way to our own ancestors, and in a universal way to Spirit and to one another. Together we made a coven of 13 (tee-hee), a magical number of magical women whom I had never met before but who all seemed like long lost friends. In no time we were laughing and sharing our stories of marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, maidenhood and menopause, and what one of us heard as “sinning” instead of singing–both had meaning depending on how you looked at it.
My cage doll hummed to life for me when I put little paper scrolls with the names of the women in my family written upon them inside her rib cage of twigs and grapevines. She was now a sacred vessel of remembrance, of childhood memories of playing in the woods with the invisible ones, creating worlds I would revisit later in my adulthood and introduce to my own daughter, memories of my grandmothers who read to me and told me stories of their childhood, of my mother who knew how to laugh and who gave me the gift of Believing, of my big sisters, guiding spirits throughout my life, and of my own daughter, who was a little baby girl just a few blinks ago and is now a young maiden who teaches me as much about myself as about her own unique way of being in the world, both innocent and wise at the same time — all converging in a time cage of my own creation, showing me the way to the sacred feminine, the great circle of life.
Thank you, Cher, and Margaret, and all the women and the Little People who showed up on a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place, to share precious time together.