Womb Altar Cards- the Back Story

Three days before Christmas, 2016, I was diagnosed with andeno-carcinoma in situ (ACIS). I didn’t know anything about this disease- but I knew the word carcinoma and I was scared. My GP referred me to a specialist- whom she had already spoken to and made an appointment for me as it was, she said, urgent that I saw him.  This idea of urgency continued when I did see the specialist- he performed a colposcopy to determine if I had cervical cancer or ACIS only. ACIS is considered a “premalignant glandular condition” in the lining of the cervix- and is the precursor to cervical andenocarcinoma- in other words, cervical cancer. So regardless of the outcome of the biopsy he recommended that the safest and best option was to have a hysterectomy immediately.

A hysterectomy is removal of the womb and would mark the end of my menstruating years. I wanted more information before I went down that route. I wanted to know what the likelihood of getting cancer was, what other alternatives were, and I wanted to share with him my belief that the womb was sacred. I told him that although I was passed my child bearing years I wanted to keep this part of me.  Throughout this journey I was told by the medical profession that as I no longer wanted to birth more children then my womb was unnecessary.  The idea that menstruation might have an important function and meaning for me, really was not considered and the idea that my womb was the birthplace of creativity was also not acknowledged.  Though I did point this out whenever I could.

This diagnosis was the start of an ongoing healing journey. And I mean ongoing, I am still deep in process.   While I waited to find out if I had Cancer or not- I spent two weeks in Croagingalong National Park, Gurnai/Kurnai country. A truly beautiful spot on the east coast of Victoria- and it is full of birds. I spent a lot of time listening to and looking out for birds. I spent much time drawing on the energy of this place, to create as much calm and nourishment as I could.  Nature has long provided me with a sense of connection and belonging. And though I hadn’t been to Wingen Inlet before I felt welcomed to this land, and a deep sense of peace here.

Upon return to Melbourne I learnt I didn’t have Cancer- yet. That was the framing though, that this disease will likely lead to cancer.  I decided to have surgery -but not a hysterectomy. I had a cone biopsy which involves a cutting a wedge out of the cervix and testing for the disease.  This was supposed to be minor surgery- but was a huge and challenging journey for me.  Mainly because I caught an infection- which impaired me for 6 weeks.  This recuperation was however, a deeply transformative time as I travelled on the portals of illness to new understandings about myself, my body and life.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, illness is a gateway into another way of being.  Time shifts and morphs. The hours do not tick by, for those clocks hold no sway. You are in another realm. In this realm ordinary things become extraordinary, drinking water, sensing sunshine on your body, the rush of the wind in the leaves. All these little moments are magnified and intensified. This is the realm of magic and wonder. This is the realm of the Shaman. And here I roamed for three weeks, in and out of time, of sleep, of dreams, of earth. She of whom we are all made.

And around this time I began to explore my relationship with my cervix.  I realised my understanding of my cervix was limited and at times, simply wrong.  I had always pictured my cervix as a flat circular muscle which opened during birth.  It is in fact more like the throat, a tubular organ linking the vagina to the womb.  It has two openings, the internal and external OS. And it is the external OS that opens when giving birth.  For much of my life all that I knew of my cervix was limited to the information given around birth, that it was the opening to the womb and during birth was able to open to 10 cm to allow the baby through. And for a long time that was all I knew.  Then during my Four Seasons Journey with the School of Shamanic Womancraft and later my MoonSong Apprenticeship I learnt more. I learnt that the cervix produces much of the changing mucus that we experience during our cycles, and that the cervix also changes position during our cycles, opening to blood, to sperm, and closing also. And yet there was still much I didn’t know.  But all that was about to change.

So, began a journey of getting to know my cervix.  I re-read two of the books essential to teaching MoonSong Workshops, Becoming A Woman by Jane Hardwicke Collings, and A Blessing Not a Curse (Jane Bennett)– it’s amazing what you pick up when your focus has shifted.  I really digested the information on the cervix, especially around her opening and closing in time with the cycle, and the softening and hardening of her entrances.  I began looking at pictures too…though there were not many I found the most amazing photographs from My Beautiful Cervix project which, when I looked in 2017, was just one woman’s account of her cervix throughout one cycle.  The site has grown since then and now has photographs from several different women’s cervixes throughout their cycle- and importantly has images of a cone biopsy and radical hysterectomy! I wish that had been there earlier!

Using these images, the information I had, and the feelings within my own body I began to draw my cervix, and her changes. Initially I drew her as a donut, a fleshy deep pink organ with a hole in the centre. And yet I wanted to draw my cervix in relationship to the whole of the yoni- connecting her to my vulva, vagina, and womb…. To show her as the throat, or neck like structure that she is.  I also wanted to show how I now saw the cervix – as a sacred gateway, a portal to the temple of our womb- our creative centre. I began to draw the changing  dynamics within the whole yoni region of the body. And so, began my drawings for my Womb Altar Cards

As a teacher of MoonSong I regularly used the Altar Cards produced by Jane Hardwicke Collings as a teaching aide. These cards include a set of the moon phases, the earth seasons- depicted both within the context of a rose, and through the seasonal celebrations in the pagan wheel of life, and the life cycle of woman, (drawings by Lucy Pierce and photographs of JHC and her family ).  We didn’t have cards specifically for the menstrual cycle.  So I used all these cards as inspiration- drawing on the wisdom contained within each set and the correspondences between them to create my Womb Altar Cards. For we cycle- that is our nature during our menstrual years, and these cycles correlate to and with the moon and her phases, and the earth and her seasons.

I wanted to capture these relationships in my cards. I wanted to show how dynamic and alive our cervix and yoni is. How our bodily changes reflect inner and outer changes within us too. All the while being mindful that everybody is different. As we say in the MoonSong workshops this is the map, your body is the territory. These cards are a guide for you to get to know your own body, your emotions, your feelings and how you change within your own cycling ways. And my learning went deeper too.

Susan Weed writes of the cervix, “take you’re your power. Claim your cervix and your genitals as your own. Possess your cervix, your uterus, your vagina. Look at your cervix, accept it, love it, cherish it. When we reject a part of ourselves, we can find ourselves “losing” that part to surgery!”  So, I took to looking at my own cervix, the My Beautiful Cervix project has kits you can buy to help you do this too. You just need a scapula and mirror! Though they provide some guidance too.  I was also drumming to journey to meet my cervix- my womb, my inner Goddess, and to listen to the inner wisdom and words of my body and guides. This was a time of deepening connection and love. Love for the parts of myself that still held shame, and fear, and pain.

And someone I knew pointed my in the direction of the online Self Cervix course, which is “A journey of pleasure and awakening.” For the cervix is also an integral part of our sexual anatomy and expression.  But it is often blocked and armoured, and a lot of the course was focused on de-armouring our cervixes. For it is only when they and we feel safe enough that we can really access the eroticism and pleasure that is our birthright. And I really came to know this through the course. But this information is not widely known, and when I told one of my specialists- a Gyny- oncologist Doctor, he dismissed this idea, and, when I told him that I knew from my own experience that my cervix was and is part of my pleasure zone, he wanted medical proof!!!!  How far we have to go.

I wanted to share the sexiness and juiciness of our yoni’s and the ways this shifts during our cycle too. Clearly ovulation is the peak of our overtly aroused state and yet our menstrual time has its own juicy magic. And of course, all of this is entirely personal. When you feel most alive and aroused etc is not necessarily when I do, and it’s not necessarily when you are most fertile. Arousal and pleasure are very personal and individual, and yet there are biological times when our bodies are “ripe” and ready for possible fertilization of the egg. And of course, many of us do not have male partners, and yet our bodies continue with the magical cycle of preparing for, releasing and letting go of the egg…. with all that this entails- and it’s a lot!  I must skip over so much information- but have a look at the cards, much of it is in them!

And of course, the creativity that is arising at the time of ovulation is more often than not about creative projects, ideas, thoughts and ways of being, rather than the creation of new life.…. During my ovulatory period, I used to feel a lot of love for everyone. I was also more talkative, and full of ideas…. A few days later on, a sense of perspective would arise, and it was time to let go of the many stimulating ideas.  And now I find this second half of the cycle, a time of quiet creative energy. I am more inwardly focused and so I am often writing stories, poetry and editing during this phase.

And as someone who no longer has a womb I still love to use my cards, and I hope these cards can be of use to other women who don’t have a womb- for whatever reason.  The cards are illustrative of the energy of the moon phase I am flowing with, and of the seasons.  I like to look at my day 21 card as the Maga card, this is the stage I have entered, and there is lots I can gather from meditating on the image here.

So, having produced a set of cards that I was pretty happy with I put them out to my School of Shamanic Womancraft community to gauge responses and feedback and I am pleased to say that the response was really positive.  I then set about producing more cards and releasing them to the wider community. I also produced a brief guide for using them, which you get when you purchase the cards, but they are your cards and how, where and when you use them is up to you. I hope you enjoy playing with them.

And despite all that I did to heal myself, I did get andeno carcinoma. I found out after my second cone biopsy- many months later. I kept my womb for a year longer than was originally proposed and I am so grateful for the gifts of this journey.  Which I can some up as love and trust instead of fear, and embodiment. I have connected to my body in ways I had not. Ironic that illness and disease have been portals to a greater aliveness in my body.  Before sacrificing my womb, I had a womb loss circle with dear friends- several actually, to share my grief and love of my womb, and to celebrate wombs everywhere…My husband and I also had a gentle and intimate goodbye ceremony. These ceremonies were all very healing, not only for my womb, but for the collective understanding of our cervixes and wombs- which still suffer from ignorance, shame, and fear.  This journey to love our cervixes, and our wombs is a profoundly healing process- for ourselves, all our relations, and for the womb of the earth.

In February 2018 I had a radical hysterectomy, the removal of my womb, my ovaries, some lymph nodes and extra tissue. The surgery was huge, and the recovery long and slow. But my womb, and my cervix live on in these Womb Altar Cards, and in the energy within me, a loving space where the creative energy of these cards came from. That energy remains. I bow to the womb energy within you too, whether or not you have a womb.

love and blessings

Sarah xx

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