archives, feminism

The Chicken-Witch of the Grove. {excerpt}


Oh, child! You might want to cover your ears, for I’m about to tell you something that’s sure to shock even the likes of you. Take a breath. Are you ready?

In all parts of the world, even that humble piece of green beauty you inhabit so well and with such grace, there exists a creature so wild, so beastly, no one dare speak her name. In truth, though, there are many reasons to go searching for her, this long-tongued mistress of all monsters, but only the bravest hearts ever do. They never have to look far either; she’s in the house around the corner, pushing the cart in the corner shop, and rocking the grandbaby on the park bench. Yes, she’s fearsome, but she’s hardly rare.

Do you know what she is yet? Can you tell by the lilt in my tone? My smirk? The spark in my eyes?

She’s the lusty grandmother, low-breasted and sharp-tongued, compassionate in deed but obscene in humor. You might seek her out for advice; she’s got years of wisdom tucked under her tunic. You might seek her out for a listening ear; she’ll hear you like no one else can.

There is, however, one reason above all reasons why you might search for that mystery-keeping, hip-swaying hag: she’s got the greatest stories.

She tells the stories no one else tells, those tales of unchaste-women-gone-warrioress and loose-lipped witches who shared too much. She tells the stories others won’t, and this is one she tells only the truest of hearts, only those who have expressed a longing for sacral wound healing that goes beyond talk and digs into the muck of it, into the fecund depths of shadow and rot, trusting that often there is, in the end, much growth to be born from disgrace.

Now, the lusty grandmothers all begin this tale like this, and I’m not one to part with their traditions:

Once in a land where the mists remembered what people forgot, where the air was heavy with story and legend but those who lived there spoke in short bursts of arrogant rhetoric and one-size-suits-all maxims, there lived an ordinary woman who hungered for more. She yearned for poetry and passion, for those long-gone days of forbidden love and youthful rebellion. Where could she ever find her sisters-in-lawlessness who yearned to live as she lived, with an insatiable thirst for hedonistic ceremony, first-and-only kisses, blooming gardens, and sensual majesty?

This woman, this plain and simple chicken-witch who collected eggs at sunrise and tended to her garden until the evening skies glowed pink, woke each morning a little more ravenous for that particular secret that, left unknown to her, would continue to keep her from a more pleasure-filled life. She never kept a lover long, and her few friends maintained a careful distance. She boasted sacred solitude and a love of the land to hide her loneliness, but, indeed, there was an egg-shaped hole in her heart that she could never seem to fill.

Now, the lusty grandmothers who tell this tale disagree on many things, stubborn crones that they are. Some say that this woman, this woman who we’ll call Juniper, hailed from a long line of women who shared her distaste for illusion, who yearned for something greater and more mystical than this ordinary world was showing them. Others say that Juniper was unique in her particular quest for joyful community and magick-making. In the end, who’s to know? Isn’t that precisely where we all find ourselves, in that place of deep and debilitating uncertainty where our grandmothers are but black-and-white photographs and our more primal ancestors are mythic legends at best? Juniper was much like we all are these days: trusting in her belonging to something greater than she has known but unsure of where to find the medicine she needed.

The lusty hags agree on this next bit though:

Against all odds and weighted by the heavy shroud of mystery, Juniper had faith that she was the living incarnation of her ancestors’ best-kept secret. One evening, just as that first new moon of spring was rising, she set her mind to seek out that particular sustenance she was craving. She left the warmth of her farmhouse bed, called into the night by the silvery and spectral beams of that milk-white sliver in the sky, passing through her well-tended garden and by her many quiet chicken coops, and, before long, finding herself with mud-soaked feet at the edge of a fog-filled grove. In this place, the grandmothers say, the trees had eyes. Juniper could sense the wild all around her, mist-made fingers caressing her face and hissing spirits singing softly into her ears.

Some of the trees watching her now were those she was named for, the holy tree of cleansing and renewal to those ancestors she had never known. Others were knotty oaks and naughty pines, holy ash trees with spidery branches and mourning willows, but all bent to see the seemingly sure-footed maiden moving to stand at the grove’s center. Anyone who had been watching, if anyone would have dared to watch such a clearly sacred and solitary ritual, would have seen Juniper raise her arms moonward, stand stone-still at the center of that place, and sprout shaggy greens from her head. They would have seen her skin grey-over into bark, her head roll slightly to the side, and her eyes glaze over to become blue berry clusters. They would have seen her white dress pierced through and through by branches, and they would have seen a magick-starved woman turn into a lush and full-grown juniper tree.

But no one was watching, and Juniper’s experience of that night was far different from what it might have looked like to an outsider without the ethereal sight.

Yes, she did reach her arms toward the moon, but all the while her roots were sinking deep, stretching low and wide, meeting and intertwining beneath the soil with the other trees’ ancient memories. The other trees did not look at all to her like bark-and-leaf, knot-and-needle forest dwellers, not any longer; she could see them for what they were in that moment: mothers and grandmothers come to meet her here, disguised as those earthly deities who were, like our foremothers, too often taken for granted.

There were dozens of them, moving toward her now, slowly and with much love in their eyes. She recognized so few of them, though she saw her face in their faces. No names had she for these matrilineal wisdom-keepers, but they, indeed, knew her. Juniper sensed, in that moment, that each of these wild-hearts held a piece of that secret that eluded her, a particular line in the story that, until this very moment, she thought was hers and hers alone to know and to share, if she had anyone she cared to share it with.

A hooded and kind-faced crone stepped forward and pulled two small and spotted eggs from the thick woolen fabric she was draped in; one of the eggs smelled rotten and was dull in color, while the other was so vibrantly blue it glowed with an otherworldly spirit.

“Take them both, child,” the hag prompted. “This one is my grief over a babe lost too young, and this one is my love of the sea.”

The chicken-witch took the gifts with great care, nodding in gratitude.

“And here,” another grandmother stepped forward, dressed as a chaste and holy woman and holding two pink-marble eggs, one cracked and one whole. “This is my devout discipline that might have killed me sooner” — she handed Juniper the cracked egg — “had I not harbored such a wild lust beneath my over-starched skirts.” Grinning, the old one handed her other egg, and it gave Juniper’s hand the slightest shock when she touched it.

“Don’t dare forget these,” offered another ancestor, a non-binary beloved wearing jewels of bone and shell. “This is my heartbreak when I left my land.” They held a bleeding egg up to their cheek and christened it with their tears. “And this…” They paused, opened their mouth wide, and a blue-quartz egg rolled from their tongue. “This is the Witchcraft that healed me.”

A seemingly faceless grannie tapped her on the shoulder, and the chicken-witch gasped at the sight of her.

“Fear not, child,” the shadow beneath the hood ordered. “I bring you the deep mysteries of your people,” she handed her an egg made of bone with a skeletal hand, “the oldest medicine I have,” she pulled another egg from up her sleeve, “and the long-vision.” The spectral crone gave her still one more egg, a bark-skinned thing that seemed to be a seed, and then the whole of her vanished into thin air.

To Juniper, it seemed only a fateful, teary-eyed evening spent beneath a new moon, receiving gift after gift of long-kept wisdom and family knowledge, whispered slowly in her ear by one woman after another, handed to her as endless gifts of egg after egg, but to anyone living in the fast-paced world she had left, many moons would rise and set over this grove of mismatched trees set ‘round the young, rebel juniper in the center.

“Such is the work of the spring,” the last grandmother mused, handing the chicken-witch the last two of her gifts. Juniper’s skirts were heavy now, weighted with a bounty of family secrets, cronely art, deep wounds and certain regrets, hidden love affairs, and, most of all, the wild inheritance that had been hers to claim all along. “This is a deep betrayal by those who claimed to love me.” She held a humble and misshapen shell; the insides long leaked out, and soft whimpers and mewling sounds came from the pitiful thing as she handed it to Juniper. “That heart-wound was mine, but it’s yours to heal, my great-great-granddaughter, and this…” She pulled a large and spotted egg from her pocket. “This is my resilience, my refusal to stay down for too long; now it’s all yours, as it’s always been.”

Now, some of the lusty grandmothers who tell this tale say that as soon as she took that last egg, the chicken-witch woke warm in her bed, laughing at the bizarre dream of tree-speak and egg-bearing grandmothers, but that the very next day Juniper left her farm sanctuary and went into the world, celebrating the spring at a debaucherous garden party where she met a lover who would become friend, who would become partner.

The lusty grandmothers who harbor a love of the traditional fairy tale end the story like this: The chicken-witch remained in that grove, a lovely young juniper tree to anyone who ventured to that hallowed ground, for many years, though to her it seemed only a single evening, until a sacred hunter with a warm heart saw her for what she was: a healing woman who spoke the language of the trees, who held a treasure-trove of wisdom in her skirts, who needed no saving but, rather, to wake with a heart made more whole by bone-and-blood and belonging.


This is my spring initiation, and I know now that the joyful hag is me. My heart beats in time with the drums of my forebears. My laugh is the cackle of every crone who came before me, and those mighty ones have surely dreamt me into being. Somewhere right now, in a time that is long gone but still is, there a hopeful wanderer of my bloodline gazing at the sunrise as I do in this moment, praying for the very wholeness and healing that I embody. I am the living incarnation of their secret spells, and somewhere right now, in a time that is yet-to-come, there is a hopeful creature connected to me through this silver-threaded cosmic web. Their breath is my breath, and they have woven the most beauteous tapestry out of these scars of mine.

This is an excerpt from Seasons of Moon and Flame: The Wild Dreamer’s Epic Journey of Becoming by Danielle Dulsky.


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Danielle Dulsky

Danielle Dulsky

Danielle Dulsky is a heathen visionary, Aquarian mischief-maker, and word-witch. Author of 'Seasons of Moon and Flame: The Wild Dreamer’s Epic Journey of Becoming', 'The Holy Wild: A Heathen Bible for the Untamed Woman' and 'Woman Most Wild' (New World Library 2020, 2018, 2017), Danielle teaches internationally and has facilitated embodiment trainings, wild circles, communal spell-work, and seasonal rituals since 2007. She is the founder of The Hag School and the lead teacher for the school’s Flame-Tender Facilitator Training and online coven, The Hag Ways Collective, an E-RYT 500 and YACEP, a Fire-Keeper for Ord Brighideach, and a dedicant to Irish-Celtic spirituality. She believes in the power of wild collectives and sudden circles of curious dreamers, cunning witches, and rebellious artists as well as the importance of ancestral healing, embodiment, and animism in fracturing the longstanding systems supporting environmental unconsciousness and social injustice. Parent to two beloved wildings and partner to a potter, Danielle fills her world with nature, family, art-making, poetry, and intentional awe.
Danielle Dulsky