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THE GREAT MOTHER: A Lughnasadh Teaching from Our Canine Wise Woman's Journey Back to Source

Bessie, the Great Mother

It’s late summer here in the foothills of the Virginia Blue Ridge, the season known to the ancient Celts as Lammas or Lughnasadh. It’s the time of the first harvest, the Pregnant Goddess, a celebration of grain, abundance, and the gifts of the Great Mother. Gardens are in full bloom laden with veggies, trees are ripe with fruit, and skies glow with golden rays that only August brings.

The Three Dog Pack: Townes, Bessie, Emmylou

We pause to marvel with reverential gratitude at all we have birthed & cultivated in the year. Yet, I am sitting here reeling in the heartache, mystery and magic of losing our precious dog, Bessie, the ‘ancient-in-dog-years’ wise woman of our three-dog pack, on Monday.

Bessie was the second dog to join our family but the oldest. We adopted her when she was around two as a companion (and hopefully exercise buddy) for our rambunctious 9-month old, rake of a puppy, Townes. Immediately we, and every person to meet her subsequently, recognized her as an old soul. She was goofy and had a sense of humor that only she got. We used to joke that she only told the punchlines and would look at us laughing and say, ‘Do you get it? Isn’t that hilarious??’ We’d laugh with her and say, ‘No, Bessie, we don't. You have to tell the whooooole joke for it to be funny!!’ But it was funny. Her expressions, the side eye, the smile, and the body language delivered the joke despite her comedic incompetency.

But underneath the goofiness,

Bessie was wise.

In the week leading up to her transition back to source, I was struggling to recall specific ‘remember when….’ stories or to even find the words to describe who she was and what she meant to us. As I reflected on the season of her transition to spirit, it hit me like a golden beam of August sunshine: Bessie was the Great Mother.

While she was never birthed her own litter, Bessie embodied the Great Mother, the archetype of the ever loving, giving Mother. She nurtured, loved, held space, set boundaries, protected, created joy & laughter; she was a wisdom keeper, and fiercely loved her life and all her people till the very end. I think it was hard for me to come up with particular memories because one of the things Bessie did ‘BESS’T was to show up and hold us in her love, her gentleness and strength, and her beautiful wise soul as great mothers do (and my husband Jamie and I are lucky to know GREAT mothers). Bessie mothered from a distance as one does with grown children, instinctively knowing when she was needed, when to step in with an embrace, when to step back, but always holding us in her love.

Bessie on one of our sunrise walks.

Bessie, a border collie/hound mix, roamed our property with great devotion, walking the fence line, circling the house completely before she’d knock on the door for her breakfast. When the weather was good (and that is a relative term, because Bessie’s good included extremes in temperature, her only dislike being the rain), she’d stretch out in the sun, or curl up under her tree all day. It was only until recently, that I realized Bessie was in deep relationship with the land. The more I dove into earth honoring traditions, the more I saw her teachings. Mother/Mater/Matter: they all have the same root, they are all the land, they are the earth. Bessie was indeed one with the land. And she knew how to use her Mother Earth to heal her aging body.

The day before we helped her transition, I donned my Doula hat, and with Jamie's help threw a ‘Bye for Now, Bessie, Brunch’, a picnic under her tree for a small gathering of family and friends who wanted to say farewell and celebrate her life and love. For many months, Bessie slept more than she was awake; but that morning she knew the day was all about her. From 10:30 on, she put herself in the midst of her party, she helped set-up, inspected our food choices (she really approved of the bacon!!), greeted every guest (even trotted over to her 'fairy dog' mother’s car!). She was present for every hug, tear, love, memory, bits of bacon, milk bones, and kisses. It was astonishing to witness. We were blessed with a magnificently cool, glorious day for August, but I still worried ‘is this too much for her?’ However, every time I gave her the chance to go back inside, she was like, ‘nooo way, this is my party!!’ She soaked it all up, every single minute.

After all her friends departed around 3:00 pm, a gentle rain started falling. Jamie and I in the aftermath of the celebration, sat looking out toward the mountains, empty champagne bottles on the table, in awe of the day, of our lives, the love, the animals, the family, the friends, this insanely magical place we call home. While Bessie rested in the house, we watched a doe and her fawn nibble apples in the orchard and curl up for a nap (and as I write, just now, under Bessie's tree, the mama and her baby along with several others are grazing in the orchard). The symbolism of the mama and baby, the apples and live giving seeds opened up a deep conversation about Bessie as the Great Mother, the divine feminine earth wisdom she exemplified, and why it’s so needed in today’s world. A bald eagle flew across the horizon--we hadn’t seen one in ages--the owls called nearby. We were in Bessie’s world.

That night after her party, Bessie wanted to sleep outside despite the rain. I curled up with her under her tree, covering us with a quilt, the branches sheltering us. Jamie followed with a pop-up tent sometime later, joining me for a snuggle. I was certain, she was ready to journey home, so Jamie stayed with us for a long time. But she wasn’t ready; she had more teaching to do yet.

While Bess was a powerful keeper of this land, her wisdom sometimes went unnoticed by us (sometimes dumb) humans. But in her final time on earth, she, the ever-loving Mother, gave us one more chance to receive her teachings. In those hours listening to the rain, my body against the damp earth, feeling her breath and heartbeat under my hand, the owls rooing on a branch nearby, trumpeter swans honking in the distance above the din of cicadas. There were no tears, just the stillness and vibrance of the night around us.

I did lots of energy work and Reiki on her while she quietly slept, trying to ease her transition. I found myself (with loving intention) wanting her to cross-over on my timeline. I didn’t want her to suffer, though she wasn’t showing signs of distress. And in our tender embrace I heard her say:

Stop doing. Be here now with me, with the rain, with the owls and swans.

Be here in my love.

This is my death,

and I want to live

on this sacred earth


until it’s my time

to leave this body.

Be here now in my love,

and let me be in yours.’

So I did. I held her head in my arm, my body curled around hers, and I received her abundant, motherly love & wisdom. I sang to her the song of Goddess Brigit. We listened to trains rolling through the mountains, and the coyote chatter in the foothills. There were no tears, just an expansive magic of love and mystery.

Around 5:00 AM Bessie stirred and indicated she wanted to go inside with the rest of the family (I was pretty grateful since I was damp, sore and cold). The pups, and cats, Jamie and I surrounded her with hugs, kisses, tears, stories for hours watching her slide show until the vet arrived. Bessie was Bessie till the end: a vessel for both receiving and giving bountiful, motherly love,

Our culture has difficulty embracing death. It’s scary (even for me and I’m a trained End of Life Doula, but dying is a sacred reality of life and holds huge opportunity for intimacy, connection, and the beautiful cycles of life on earth. Too often, we try to be brave, hold back tears, retreat in times of grief, but if we can ‘lean into it’ as one of my teachers said in my training with the University of Vermont, we lean into love and the fullness of life. Bessie, in the act of her dying, gifted us with profound love and sacred wisdom, inviting in the wondrous, mysterious part of life that has so often been severed from the beauty it can hold. The end of Bessie's life held as much magic as all the days leading up to it.

Bessie, I honor you when I ground myself in the magic of the earth, when I sit in stillness under your tree, the faeries dancing in the dapples of sunlight. I honor you as I walk barefoot on the wet grass listening to the owls and ravens call from the orchard. I honoring you with my belly against the soft earth watching the deer nibble apples off the ground. You will forever be in our hearts and in this land.


When I sat down to write about Bessie, I decided to do more research on Lughnasadh, the Ancient Celtic Sabbat celebrated around August 1st, so I could gain a deeper understanding of how Lugh, the ancient Irish God, fit into honoring the Great Mother. I was struck by the magic wand when I learned that Lughnasadh was a funeral festival Lugh held in celebration of his foster mother, the Grain Goddess Tailtiu, who was responsible for clearing away the forests, so the land could be cultivated and her children could be fed. As the tale goes, Tailtiu grew very tired, and weakened by the arduous task of clearing the land year after year, she could no longer go on. On her death bed, she ordered Lugh that there would be no mourning upon her death, only celebration. So, Lugh buried her beneath a sacred mound, lit a fire for her, and threw a huge festival with games, art, song, feasts, etc. in honor of Tailtiu and the life-giving grain she brought to the land. With the realization that Lughnasadh has its origins in a funeral for the Great Mother, I just can’t help to think that Bessie is still teaching from beyond, planting seeds of wisdom to crop up when I need them like a Great Mother would do.

Safe journey home, Sweet Mama. May you flourish in Spirit, Bessie Girl, knowing that you will always be a part of this land, bringing forth new life and more magic.

Holding you always, Bessie, in our hearts and in this land.
Golden Light of the Great Mother

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