Monica Sjöö. artist and writer, born Sweden 1938,
died Bath, England 2005
Monica, standing next to her painting of Rhiannon at the Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall
Monica’s last writing, handed to me in June 2005 -“As in a hallucinogenic state – dreaming, reading, feeling. I see the women, cavewomen, who are the Earth Herself. I see their birth blood mingling with the moss, the living cave. Women – “the seven daughters of Eve” give birth to every tribe, every nation – their blood perpetuating all there is. Their birth blood, ochre, mixed with saliva and other substances used to create cave paintings of pregnant animal mothers. I see them in my mind’s eye – vibrant, alive, reaching out to us now in these so dangerous times. Like mothers, old crones bless us, protect us. I have a sense of wonderous light in the dark caves, the ancestors lighting the way and filling the caverns with velocity, tenderness and radiant art of different kinds. The vagina carved on walls and natural crevices, emanating, looking like the womb of the Mother. I can hear the deep waters calling and the spirits speaking.”
Amongst the tributes to Monica from around the world –
“I will miss Monica’s big spirit, her dynamism, her fierce love of the Goddess, and her unceasing advocacy for women and the poor. Although she remained an anarchist and incorrigible rebel to the very end, her illness and the care-giving she received as a result of it softened her and opened her heart. She was bathed in love that was sent to her in waves from around the world.” Vicki Noble
“The loss of Monica resonates across the ocean to those of us who knew her only through her pioneering work. She was among the first Goddess authors I encountered and her work influenced me indelibly. The greatest tribute that we can give her is to sustain and continue the work that was her life.” Patricia Monaghan
“Monica’s art envisioned the unity of Goddess in a thousand different forms, from the megalithic Grandmothers to the Black Madonnas to the deep animist ground of Earth’s holy places. Her great dream was to see women spiritually decolonized and set free. Now she flies free in the realm of the ancestors, and I know she still holds this intention, in company with the Great Female Beings she painted and spoke and wrote about.” Max Dashu
On Death and Dying – by Monica Sjöö
“People have in all times known that the ancestors, who are the dead, who are ourselves, always guide and teach us. The people in trance states listen to the voices of the spirits whispering and roaring in subterranean waters under red ochre crevices looking like vaginas. The closest I have come to this experience was spending time on my own whilst drawing within the subterranean temple/womb/tomb on Malta, the Hypogeum where the Great Mother and Her spirits dwell. Yes, I believe that the figurines of the Goddess facilitated the entrance (through Her opening/Yoni) into the ‘subterranean womb, assuring a place of regeneration’. I believe that my own paintings are similar portals to and from other worlds.
The sacred sites of the Goddess – such as the stone circles, standing stones, holy wells, mounds representing the Earth’s pregnant womb – are also places of trance-states and communications with other realms or the worlds of the Faerie/ancestors/the dead. There is at all times a telepathic communication, an umbilical cord, between us and the Mother Earth. We are, after all, her children although we have forgotten. Ever since a powerful initiation to the Goddess in the land of Avebury and Silbury in 1978, I have pilgrimaged to Her sacred sites. My very first initiation to the Great Mother had been during the natural home birth of my second son in 1961. During that incredibly powerful birth I had seen in my mind’s eye great radiant masses of darkness alternating with great masses of light, coming and going. Although I didn’t know it then, this was the Goddess who is both Dark and Light, beyond all polarities. Did she show herself to me in Her pure energy-body? This changed my life and set me on a life-long search for the ancient women-led cultures of the Goddess. Ever since the 60s I experienced these ancient women – sisterhoods who co-exist with us now in another time-space, communicating with me, and speaking through me. I am their medium. Birth was a Sacrament in Goddess times and women gave birth in sacred enclosures by holy wells aided by The Mothers, triple wise women, who, like the Norns, wove, maintained and cut the web of life.
The ancient shaman women or Shamankas also acted as guides for the dying as they returned to the womb of the Mother; birth and death being the two sides of the same process, coming and going. Circumstances that led up to my son’s death in 1985 made me fear my own work and even the Great Mother, who, after all, had taken him. I had to keep reminding myself that I was only his earthly mother while She is his greater Mother. During some years I lived in a twilight world of shadows and pain. In the meantime, my oldest son was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and died, twenty eight years old, and like his brother on a full moon. I have come to understand through years of grief that not only was I the birthing Shaman woman bringing my sons to this realm, but I was also the Shamanka who had to witness their deaths. There is a great similarity between the birth and death process, such as travelling through the dark channel from the dark womb into the light of day, into the light of the Goddess Otherworld at death, coming and going. She is the great luminous Mother of the dead or ancestors who await us and She is the great Dark Mother of the fertile Earth that gives us life. She who is both Dark and Light.
It has dawned on me while writing this that I didn’t really believe in an afterlife in the past, even though I spoke of how the Blessed live on in the womb of the Great Mother awaiting rebirth. These were just words. It is only after my sons’ deaths, lucid dreams in which they visit me, experiences when my young son went into the Otherworld – that I ‘know’ in my bones that there is a life eternal and that She, the Mother, always transforms. This has been a great gift. I now do not fear death and look forward to being with my sons again.”
Extracted with permission from the Introduction to “Midwifing Death: Returning to the Arms of the Ancient Mother” by Leslene della-Madre [Plain View Press, 2005].
Monica Sjöö Passes Into the Arms of Goddess
by Leslene della-Madre
Two years ago, I came to visit Monica from California, where I live, to spend time with her following my attendance at the First World Congress on Matriarchies in Luxembourg. Since Monica could not go to the conference, I felt I could bring it to her. It was a wonderful time sharing with her the news about women (and a few men) gathering from around the world to talk about the truth about matriarchal culture. I felt I was bringing news of revolution/shevolution to her—a shevolution she has been part of for a very long time. She was in hospital then, dealing with bone cancer. I showed her digital photos of the conference on my laptop, talked and laughed with her, and did hands-on-healing with her. She told me how much she loved “having my strong hands placed on her body.” I felt glad she could receive the healing energy. During that visit, Monica was able to come out of hospital and attend a healing ritual for her at a friend’s house. Many of us placed our hands on her and tended to her like mothers and grandmothers. I always feel the ancient sisterhood when I can participate in ritual in sacred space, and felt so thankful that we could spend quality time like this together. I felt we were continuous in that circle with the matriarchal consciousness I had just experienced prior to coming to see her.
I have only recently returned from being with Monica again. This time was different. Monica was making her transition back to the Mother/Goddess, and she was at home, tended to by her son and friends. I had a specific purpose in coming to see Monica this time. I wanted to say thank you and good-bye to her. And I wanted her to see the final cover and manuscript of the book we had been working on together for several years, which turned out to be her final project. Monica’s art graces both covers and the text, and her words in her introduction provide a portal for the reader to enter into the sacred realm of the Goddess. She had been asking me over the last two years when the book would be done, so I had a mission in bringing it to her. I feel that Midwifing Death, Returning to the Arms of the Ancient Mother, is a final tribute to her. Amazingly, the first printed copy of the book arrived at Monica’s from the publisher on the morning of the day she died. It was the first time I saw the book in print. While she was not conscious, and so did not see it with her physical eyes, I felt the Goddess brought it to her in the way She felt was best for Monica. The timing was extraordinary.
I arrived from a long journey from California on the Monday night before Lammas. Many friends along with her son, Toivo, gathered by her bedside that night to share a Lammas ritual with her. Although we knew Monica had been full of surprises, like going to Sweden when the doctors said she would die soon, we all knew this would probably be her last ritual. Her women’s group created a beautiful altar of flowers and harvest fruits in the center of the room on the floor next to her bed and Marie France played her magical harp.
I was particularly captured by her rendition of Pachabel’s canon as her gliding fingers effortlessly coaxed the strings to surrender their tones. The music was riveting and sacred. Monica’s good friend, Nancy, who generously housed me and cared for me while I was in Bristol, gently asked me if I wanted to offer something for the ritual. Nancy shared with me earlier that Monica said at a previous circle “I want to die, I want to fly.” I remembered this as we all stood in circle holding hands. I felt that to really honor the energy in the room, the ritual needed to be very simple and needed to meet Monica where she was. She had decided only a day or two earlier to stop drinking and eating. She had clearly made her choice about what she was doing.
I have realized from my own priestessing experience for many years that one needs to be present enough to be able to read the energy that might arise in the space, as well as be flexible in the moment, and not attached to doing or having agendas about how things should be if there is a calling for something different that can only be felt in the moment. I feel rituals are created from the heart. I did my best to offer what I felt was needed for Monica—the creating of a sacred space in which people could offer blessings to her if they wanted to. It was a kind of harvest and sharing of the heart. One by one, we went to her bedside and said words from our hearts as we handed her a flower. Those of us in the circle held the space with gentle toning as people went to her. Monica received the flowers until she held a bouquet in her hands. When she felt she “had enough”, we made a collective prayer with those who did not have a chance to sit with her and sent loving energy to her. I felt we gave permission to Monica to let go, and that we were all witness to her process in leaving this world. We passed a cup of elixir to share communion. Marie France played Pachabel’s canon once again, closing the circle. Monica said in a loud strong voice, “I want to die, I want to fly.” It was certainly not a usual Lammas circle in how people are used to celebrating harvest and honoring the cross-quarter time between the Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox, as it was certainly quite unusual to have a beloved sister in the circle who was actively dying. So, it seemed to me the definition of harvest was more about the meaning of Monica’s life and death, our willingness to share, and her willingness to receive.
It was my experience in the ensuing time I spent with Monica that our circle provided her with sacred permission to die, which is very important to give, if possible, because it lets the dying person know that it is okay for them to leave. It seemed that Monica’s anxiety settled down after the circle and that she entered a more peaceful state. I had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with her in which she spoke her truth in moments of lucidity, sharing some of her feelings. This gave me an opportunity to offer her some midwifing/coaching, much like a midwife does at a birth. I reminded her of the need to surrender and that death and birth are really the same. She gently closed her eyes and seemed to retreat into a deep well of being.
I left for a few days during Lammas to go to Cornwall. I wanted to go out on the land and pray at sacred sites. I was fortunate enough to get to re-connect with Cheryl Straffon, who I met ten years ago at a Goddess Gathering in California, and in seeing her again I felt a kindling of an instant connection with a long-lost sister. Cheryl was kind enough to take me to several places where I could be with the ancient Grandmother stones and Goddess. It is such an amazing experience to feel held by the landscape the ancestors/ ansisters revered as the very body of the Mother, Herself. The luscious nurturing one can experience from this, if one is open, is beyond description. I felt Monica’s presence everywhere. I also went to sacred wells and made prayers for Monica for safe travel on her journey.
At the sacred well at Sancreed, I saw a Lammas poetry tribute hanging in the tree to Asphodel Long, who returned to Goddess several months before. I felt Monica was in good company!
As I returned to Bristol by train from Cornwall, I had a sense that Monica had made her transition. I held the space for her and learned from Nancy, who picked me up at the train station, that Monica had just passed two hours before I arrived. We went directly to her, and sat with her. I felt I concluded my Lammas ritual with her by sitting by her side and doing a prayer practice that is said to help the spirit of the departed. Feeling full of ancestral love and wisdom, I visualized a Great Mother Goddess in front of Monica’s heart, imagining a sweet, golden, nurturing Heart Light stream forth from Goddess towards Monica, meeting the same Heart Light emanating from Monica’s heart. I visualized all of Monica’s karma purifying as her light met with the Mother’s, the two becoming one, and Monica merging with Goddess. I did this over and over for quite a while. It is said in this practice that when we die, we are the child luminosity jumping into the lap of the Mother luminosity. I feel Monica was held by the winds of timelessness that will grant her wish to fly, and that she has returned to the arms of the Mother.
Article ©Leslene della Matre &
Goddess Alive! No reproduction without permission.
Remembrance of Monica
by Jill Smith
“In the 1980s I shared many incredible experiences with Monica at ancient sites and sacred places in Wales, England and the Western Isles of Scotland where I later lived. She and I were at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis with a group of people at Midsummer in 1982 and we walked the body of the Sleeping Beauty Mountain. Together with her son Leif (who was later killed), she spent time with me at Talley Valley tipi village in Wales, waiting for my son Taliesin to be born. She often spoke of the amazing time there in the Valley at the time of a partial eclipse of the Sun when the valley people built a labyrinth round a great fire. Eveon, Monica and I walked the labyrinth naked and stood together with my great pregnant belly in the centre as though it were the belly of all three of us.
She was a powerful thread ebbing and flowing through all my life. She inspired my own strength, amazed me with her intellect, knowledge, perception and analysis of everything. In recent years she periodically jolted me back into political awareness and shared her re-discoveries of ancient Goddesses and places I was unable to visit. She was a true lineage-bearer of the ancient ancestors of both the Northern Lands and of North Africa. The otherworldly light of her paintings is haunting, taking us back into ancient times and into other realms and realities. She was unique and irreplaceable.
Monica’s funeral took place at Bedminster Downs outside Bristol on Aug 13th, and five Priestesses of the Goddess who were friends of hers, Jill Smith, Maggie Parks, Sheila Braun, Cheryl Straffon and Hana Evans, held the directions and released her spirit at the end to the elements. It was a privilege to be able to do this, and an amazing experience to be able to have the whole Service run as a Goddess Ceremony. Her friend Nancy Rollason oversaw the whole proceeding, and the Crematorium was packed to overflowing with many friends from all walks of Monica’s life. The Service included a Eulogy by Pat T.V.West, a song by Rita Lynch, personal reflections by some women, a Goddess chant led by Jackie Dash, Monica’s own words on death and dying [reproduced on p.6] read by Cheryl Straffon, a Swedish song by Inga Gidrun, and Celtic Harp music played by Marie-France Riboulet. At the end there was Monica’s favourite chant “You can’t kill the spirit”, and everyone spilled out of the Crematorium on to the lawn outside where they made a huge circle and praised and blessed Monica.