Shapeshifter: Seasons of a Woman’s Life

A woman is a shapeshifter, flowing from one life stage to another, just as each season gradually becomes the next. We trace each season of a woman’s life, with all its gifts and challenges, as it resonates with each phase of the Wheel of the Year.

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The Hallowmas Woman: On the Threshold

A woman is a shapeshifter, flowing from one life stage to another, just as each season gradually becomes the next. We trace each season of a woman’s life, with all its gifts and challenges, as it resonates with each phase of the Wheel of the Year.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she embarks on an Underworld journey. Indeed, she will visit the Underworld more than once during the course of her lifetime. This journey may be precipitated by the loss of someone she loves, or by a life-threatening illness, or a grave disappointment in career or craft. When it happens, she feels that all is lost. She is separated from everything she holds dear. She is in shock. She despairs. She grieves. 

She descends to the realm of the Old One, the Crone, the Cailleach, the Grandmother, Lady Death, Hecate, Baba Yaga, Erishkegal, La Santa de Muerte. The Old One has a thousand names. 

Our Hallowmas Woman might find herself in a darkened wood, on a night when no moon lights the sky, not even a thin crescent. She sits cross-legged in the dirt at a place where three roads meet, a basket of offerings at her side. She shivers as she hears the mournful howl of a black dog, its red eyes glaring at her out of the thicket. She watches the silver-thin filament of spiderweb twist and turn in the starlight. She feels the rush of cold, quick air as a hoot owl flies overhead, flapping its enormous wings.  

She waits. 

She sits silently at the crossroads, knowing that the comfortable, familiar terrain of her life has crumbled away and is no more. But it is not yet clear where she will go next, or what shape her days might take.

She waits for the counsel of the Old One.

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And while she waits, she reflects. She begins to dream. She sorts through her emotions. Yes! I want that. No! I don’t want that. This is the life I want. Not that. She begins to have glimmers of ideas, a dream barely caught upon waking. What was that? An image, a scent, a feeling . . .it is shapeless, taking form, then shapeless again.  

Even though she is heartbroken, she begins to find comfort in this liminal space, between here and there, past and future, now and then. She is poised on the threshold between her ancestors and her descendants, the Dark Moon and the New. She begins to sense that she is broken open, and her heart expands, light streaming out through the cracks. The veils between this world and the next are thin indeed.

We see the Hallowmas Woman in the stark November landscape, with its muted tones of olive, ochre, sienna brown. We find her in a cold statue in a graveyard, garlanded with dead roses, thorns, and blood-red rosehips. We see her in fogbound mornings when there is no distinction between sea, stones, and sky, and the Otherworld is just a step away. She lives within the brief days and long nights that draw us toward withdrawal and cocooning. The Hallowmas woman rests. She withdraws into herself. It is not a time of connection. She prefers her own company, turning down invitations to gather with others. The midwinter holidays will be here soon enough. 

Perhaps, if she should be so lucky, a woman will live long enough in human years to embody the Old One literally. At 70 or 80 years old, she has walked the Great Round of life/death/renewal more than once. She knows how the story ends.Age does not automaticallyconfer wisdom (there’s no fool like an old fool) — but by 70 years old, our Hallowmas woman has learned a thing or two about her soul’s purpose. She is well aware of the legacy that she will leave behind when she crosses the threshold. 

Her body may be ravaged by disease or aging. Then again, she may be as flexible and strong as her 90-year-old neighbor who practices yoga and walks a mile or two every day. Keeping the physical body supple and healthy has never been as important as it is now, with a whole Underworld to explore.The Hallowmas woman has not had her moonflow in many years, and to be honest, she doesn’t really miss it. She’s content to be on the other side of the hormonal veil, and to leave the cycle of fertility and release to younger women. 

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When the time of All Hallows comes to a woman’s soul, she begins to make her peace with Lady Death, and with endings of all kinds. She knows, as the Fates do, that all things must pass. She knows herself as Atropos, She Who Cuts the Thread of Life; as the Queen of Swords, who slices away negativity, confusion, and doubt; as the Blue Dakini, who severs ties. She makes choices: this, she will keep. That, she will let go.

She begins to live as if Lady Death is peeking over her shoulder. Life is stripped down to its essentials. What is really important? In the end, what really matters?  

She sorts through the possessions left by her parents and grandparents, after purging and giveaways and purging again. What remains are photographs, wedding rings, a Welsh Bible, a fraying crazy-quilt, a fishing hat, a cherished wooden chair. But more than any physical possession, her parents and grandparents live on in the content of her character. She has inherited her mother’s knack for hospitality, her father’s kindness, her grandmother’s steadfastness, her grandfather’s poet’s tongue. She sees her ancestors every day in the curve of her own cheekbone, the texture of her hair, and the shifting blue-green hue of her granddaughter’s eyes.

When we suspect our time might be short, our priorities become quite simple. Finish that painting, that poem, that song; forgive him, and her, and that one too. Spend time with the ones we love; visit the edge of salt water and stones every day. While we’re there, be sure to pick up beach glass, then give it away. Sing to the Blessed Mother. Light a candle and breathe a prayer for the wild and holy earth, for the benefit of all beings. Be present to the beauty that surrounds us. Every day is a gift of grace. 

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The Hallowmas woman has been sitting long enough at the crossroads. The Ancient One emerges from the thicket of thorns, the black hound at her side, a green snake wrapped around her arm. She offers the woman a sliced-open pomegranate, its ruby seeds spilling out. With her inner ear, the woman hears the ritual words: “Take, eat: the fruit of death, which is life.” She swallows nine pomegranate seeds, savoring the tart, bittersweet flavor on her tongue. The Crone points a bony finger toward one of three paths, and the Hallowmas woman moves on. She casts one last look over her shoulder as she leaves the Underworld, then turns to search for a first glimpse of the New Moon.

On our deathbeds, when we’ve run out of time, and no more books will be written, no more songs will be sung, and no more canvases will be painted — when that time comes, and we are poised to cross the threshold into the Great Unknown — all that matters is love. The fierce love we’ve had for the sacred earth, for our friends and family and lovers, and the love that has flowed back to us in return. Our overflowing hearts have been cracked open, mended and broken open again. All that matters is love. 

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Joanna Powell Colbert is an artist, author, teacher, mentor, and retreat host who encourages lovers of Mama Gaia to lead purposeful, creative, and soulful lives. She is the creatrix of the Gaian Tarot, which combines her love of symbolic, archetypal art with the mysteries of the natural world. She has been walking the path of Goddess Spirituality since the early 1980s. Joanna teaches e-courses and workshops around the country on earth-­centered spirituality, seasonal contemplative practices, creativity as a devotional path, and using tarot as a tool for inner guidance and self-­exploration. Twice each year, near Spring Equinox and Autumn Equinox, she convenes circles of extraordinary women at her Gaian Soul Retreats on Whidbey Island, Washington.

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