Artwork: The Norns by Lara Veleda Vesta
Today I share the Swan Blessing story of the Deer Healer and her exile by ancestral worker, artist and mythic storyteller, Lara Veleda Vesta. I was honoured to hold this ceremony for Lara as her ancestral work and teachings are so rich and deep and always an inspiration to me. I have no doubt that it was a Deer kinship that brought Lara and I together to do this work.
The story of the exile is one that many healers carry deep in their bones. For many of us we carry ancient memories of the sacrifices that were made in the past around medicine and healing and the vows taken to have permission to carry it and use it. These vows made perfect sense in their time but they are very confusing for us to hold in our present lives. In past lives and in the times of our ancestors decisions had to be made to use healing medicine in a way that broke these laws but protected and saved the lived of others. These were extreme times and they called for extreme measures. What happens when the soul remembers and holds the trauma of these events? Very often these memories and soul promises activate similar events again in our current lives as the spirit tries to understand and heal this pattern.
Lara's story is of a healer taught in a tradition of the Deer Women who had to break her healing vows to save the lives of her community. Rather than breaking the hearts of her people who looked up to her she chose instead to protect the integrity of the Deer Women and their ways by exiling herself from her home, her land and her people. In Lara's present life this story has kept playing out and only recently she experienced an illness and deep initiation back into this story. I believe that by cutting away these stories and histories we won't heal, instead we must let go of the ties and bindings to them through old promises and vows. In this way we are not cutting off we are integrating the story and coexisting with it. We can then learn to embrace the teachings and most importantly the deep ancestral wisdom and medicine ways of these times. This is the 'coexistence of alchemy'. This is our inheritance. And this is Lara's Swan story.
Elen of the Ways by Lara Veleda Vesta
The Deer Healer
And I bathed in the pool by my grandmothers who dyed me with woad and garlanded me with bay laurel and rosemary and hawthorne berries and star bright flowers and sang to me and set me free to run with the deer beneath the sun, with the swan singing and my own voice singing and opening to the freedom that is our birthright, I return the song, I return to the women of the deer, I carry them with me. Their freedom, their healing, their community, their belonging, their land of oak and meadow, their scent of blood and bone, ash and stone. We are one.
'In the ancient time of swan and wind there lives an undine. She waits not, for in the portal of the waterfall pool she drifts up and holds my hand. Her crown sways, her eyes portals too, slits of pure gold and grace. The silver thread around my finger connects to her webbed hand, her skin ever changing aquamarine, deep blue, green. We fall into the pool and are in the creek of my childhood, the water warm, stones brown and copper bronze beneath us. On the floor of the creek there is a golden key. The undine has me take the key in my right hand and swims us deeper along a dark channel where there is a narrow passage with a round wooden door. Looking up I can see the blurred alders above and remember I can breathe underwater. I insert the key in the lock and turn and the water rushes out into a meadow.
In the meadow sits an old woman on a stone in a circle of stones. The circle is surrounded by oak savannah and rolling hills. She is crouched there wearing a red skirt and a green shawl, her hair long and silver grey, her face pained as she looks down the valley. Her heart hurts, there is a pain too deep to skillfully bear.
Down the valley in her line of sight, through the portals of time to a village. She is young there, wearing a skirt of red and a green embroidered vest with silver clasps, her hair in a long braid. On the town green there is a festival starting and she has the work of strewing the flowers and herbs, blessing the circle. The townspeople love her and honor her. She feels whole.
To the north of the square is her home, a round house with two levels, a fire or hearth in the center. On the fire is a cauldron, and in the cauldron is a medicine brewing thick with herbs, purple in color. She adds a handful of hawthorne berries and stirs the mixture. A spiral forms on the surface, doubled, moving in both directions. She sips from a heavy cup and it tastes of honey as the door opens. It is her work today.
She heals hearts with this medicine, scooping it cheerfully into cups, offering herself in story. Literal hearts, broken hearts. Her work is love and joy.
In the forest, but not far from the edge of town there lives her teacher. At six she was sent for initiation and study with the woman of the deer. The woman of the deer is sometimes many women, sometimes one. She has long white hair and wears white robes, and the deer around her round house are dappled white. Something shines in her hair, something like stars. The girl learns the ways of the deer, learns when to pour out and when to conserve. There is a sacred knife stuck into the table block and she watches it for many years, through growth and learning, until her moon blood comes. One night when the moon is just past full she is taken into a field and her left hand is cut by her teacher down the palm, her blood dripped into a cup in the stone. She makes a vow by her blood to serve always and without question, to preserve life and to listen to the deer. She is celebrated, she has her purpose and her path, and the women of the deer live on for another generation.
Sometime in her mid life a moment of choosing comes. An aching betrayal. The village suffers abuse and violence, destruction, a year without crops, another, the deer are dying from lack of fodder in the hills and the people are dying from the greed of men.
The greediest and cruelest of all lies before her now. A shadow. She carries a vial of poison. To end his life is forsaking her vows, but to not end his life is forsaking her community which she has committed to serve, the land which she is promised to, the deer to whom she owes her spirit heart. If he doesn’t die all of this will be gone. And if he dies at her hand she will save it, though she must die too—at least, appear to. She must disappear into the wood and not return. She will leave her cloak in the stream, smeared with blood. They will believe her victim of another’s crime.
This she knows and still tips the bottle to his blistered lips. Then she goes.
Run run run. Run with the deer. In exile, she can’t ever return. No one knows, it is a secret. She lives alone, serving only the deer, healing the deer.
She dies in the circle of stones, still bound by her oath and the complexity of the forsaken.
And her oath became mine. To serve without question. Her choice became mine, to lose and lose again home and root and family.
When we met she was all ages, ever changing. When we embraced she was so familiar. She smelled like me. The binding on me was wood and metal, like a barrel and staves with a lock. She drifted into wholeness, becoming our whitehaired teacher, woman of the deer.
And the water witch in the falls gave me a glowing wand which sliced through the past, the broken oath, the exile, like liquid and the bonds slipped away.
And I bathed in the pool by my grandmothers who dyed me with woad and garlanded me with bay laurel and rosemary and hawthorne berries and star bright flowers and sang to me and set me free to run with the deer beneath the sun, with the swan singing and my own voice singing and opening to the freedom that is our birthright, I return the song, I return to the women of the deer, I carry them with me. Their freedom, their healing, their community, their belonging, their land of oak and meadow, their scent of blood and bone, ash and stone. We are one.'
Lara Veleda Vesta, Dark Moon before the Solstice 2017
You can explore more of Lara's profound work in ancestral mythology guided by her Norse ancestors at Lara Veleda Vesta. I hope her generous offerings, experience and wisdom help you to find the trackways back to your own ancestors.
** Two days after holding Swan Blessing for Lara I went for a walk in Sherbrooke Forest and finally saw the White Deer that lives here. I have been waiting 5 years to sight this beautiful creature that I had heard so many stories about. This was a beautiful confirmation that by connecting with others who carry similar medicine and dreaming that we strengthen our dreams and wishes. Thank you Lara for helping to sing the Deer back to me.