Singing Over the Bones programme 2016-17


I’m breaking the flow of my usual writings here just this once, to offer updates both on ‘Singing Over the Bones’ creative retreats for women, and on online courses, for the coming year.

Singing Over the Bones creative retreats for women

Since the remaining 2016 retreat in October is full with a waiting list, I’ve now organized the schedule for 2017. There will be three of them, each set in stunning locations in the Irish and Welsh landscapes that are steeped in wild myth. The full information, including accommodation details and fees, and information on getting there, is available on my website beginning here: Please note that all retreat accommodation is in single rooms, in comfortable, well-equipped large holiday homes. These retreats are small and cosy by design: maximum numbers vary from 7 to 9 depending on the location.

General information

‘Singing Over the Bones’ creative retreats are for women who are between stories; for women who see that the world is challenged, changing, and are wondering about their place in it. During all ‘Singing Over the Bones’ retreats we explore the ways in which we can bring into being our uniquely female wild wisdom, which so often remains unawakened or suppressed. We do this by working with wild myth and story, and by mapping and deepening our connections with place, the natural world, and the non-human others who share it with us. Whilst all retreats are structured around this overall focus, the specific stories we work with will vary according to the retreat’s theme (see individual retreat information below). During each retreat, I’ll offer you stories and together we’ll explore their deeper meanings and the ways in which they can lead us to a deeper sense of belonging, both to the world and to our wilder selves. In this way, our own stories begin to merge with the stories of the land. We fall into the land’s story; we become a part of the land’s dreaming, and the dreamings of the non-human others who inhabit it along with us. Ultimately, we are exploring the ways in which our native mythologies can inform an authentic and transformative Heroine’s Journey, a journey of re-enchantment which will lead us back to our place of belonging.

The emphasis on ‘Singing Over the Bones’ retreats is on writing as a mode of expression, but all forms of creative expression are welcome and encouraged. The retreats will offer inspiration for anyone who is interested in exploring the power of myth and story in their lives and their work: writers and storytellers, artists and craftspeople, those who want to incorporate narrative into their therapy work. Although these are not ‘how to write’ programmes, and do not focus on technique (and nor do we ‘workshop’ our writing), we will spend some time delving into the construction of myths and fairytales, and explore the ways in which we can begin to create our own.

‘Singing Over the Bones’ retreats are also founded on our immersion in the Celtic lands in which they take place: lands whose ancient flesh and bones I know and love, and which I have lived in and am deeply connected to. This is not just an imaginal immersion, but a physical one too: we will be actively experiencing the land and the nonhuman others who share it with us. My approach, then, is deeply grounded, rooted in sensory experience as well as in creative imagination work. I aim to create a warm, supportive but creatively challenging and transformative atmosphere in which we spend time indoors and outdoors to deepen our connectedness, catalyse our own personal metamorphoses, and enrichen our creative practice.

The Power of the Celtic Woman. Snowdonia, Wales, Saturday 18 to Friday 24 March, 2017

Cadair_IdrisThis retreat will take place on the edge of the tranquil coastal village of Llwyngwril, in Gwynedd, North Wales, where ancient granite mountains meet the sea on the western fringes of the Snowdonia National Park. Join me for this week of the Spring Equinox in an area rich in Celtic and Roman history to explore the myths, stories and native traditions which spring from this beautiful and ancient land.

Our work will be centered around the stories of the strong, fascinating and complex female characters in the magical medieval Welsh manuscript, The Mabinogion. From Rhiannon of the white horse to Blodeuwedd the flower maiden; from Branwen the peace-weaver to fiercely independent Arianrhod in her castle by the sea, we’ll explore wastelands and wonderlands, cauldrons of inspiration and rebirth, the origin of the Grail myths (and the centrality of the Grail Maidens and the Loathly Lady), and the pivotal role of women in our native mythologies.

Dancing with the Cailleach: the Wise Woman Way. Kerry, Ireland, Sunday August 27 to Saturday September 2, 2017

KY-002_Gap_Of_DunloeThis retreat will take place in one of my favourite places: Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the stunning mountains of County Kerry, near the world-famous Gap of Dunloe.

During ‘Dancing with the Cailleach’ retreats we’ll slide into the powerful and magical world of the Cailleach: the Old Woman of the World, the creator-shaper of the land, the Wise Woman. In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach (‘old woman’) is the divine hag, the geotectonic power of the land itself, who gives shape to the Earth throughout all its ages. She is the oldest of all, and like the natural world over which she presides, she renews herself constantly. Above all, the Cailleach is the fierce protector of the Earth and its wild creatures, guardian of its balance. In this retreat we’ll explore the rich and varied vein of stories about the Cailleach and the Wise Woman in Celtic mythology.

This part of Kerry is Cailleach country, for sure. You can walk up to An Com Cailí, the Hag’s Glen, and to Loch Cailí, where the Cailleach was said to have her home, on a tiny island which could be accessed only by boat or underwater stepping stones. Nearby, too, is a pinnacle called the Hag’s Tooth. These mountains are dramatic, unspoiled and intensely beautiful.

Islands and Otherworlds. Connemara, Ireland, Sunday 14 to Saturday 20 October, 2017

omey island beachThis retreat will take place in a house with its own private sandy beach on the wild Atlantic shoreline of Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland, next to a tidal pathway across the sands to Omey Island. Omey is a place to which pilgrims have come for many centuries; these retreats, then, are centered around our individual Heroine’s Journeys as a pilgrimage back to belonging. We talk about what it means to be a pilgrim; what an authentic Heroine’s Journey might involve; what it means to fully belong to this earth.

The myths and folktales we work with on these retreats include the story of the selkie who lost her skin, the mythology of mermaids, and other shape-shifting, transformative sea-stories of the Celtic lands. We’ll also explore the old Irish echtrae: heroic journeys to an Otherworld which is dominated by strong women, and the immrama: ancient sea-pilgrimages to Otherworldly islands, including Tír na mBan: the Isle of Women.

Bring a pilgrim’s open and searching heart, bare feet to paddle in the wild ocean, and a basketful of sea-longings.

Online courses

My two current courses (see below) will run throughout 2016. Please sign up to my newsletter to keep an eye out, at the end of summer, for a new online short course (four instalments over four weeks) which will focus on the personal practice of working with myths and fairytales. We’ll explore how they work, how to write your own, how to incorporate them into your creative work or therapeutic work. More information on online courses can be found at my website, here:

Sisterhood of the Bones

Night Woman / Crone Tree, Carolyn Hillyer
Night Woman / Crone Tree, Carolyn Hillyer

‘Sisterhood of the Bones’ is a unique year-long experience for women who want to delve deeply into wild stories, myths and archetypes, and so to connect in a grounded, rooted way with the cycles and seasons of the year. The course is organised around the eight seasonal festivals which many of us in Ireland and the other Celtic countries still acknowledge. The reason for this focus is simply to work with one way of rooting ourselves into the seasons and cycles of the living land, deepening our relationship with the land we occupy, using those eight festivals as anchor points for our own experience of the cycles and seasons of the year.

From this grounding, ‘Sisterhood of the Bones’ offers you ways of finding your own stories of cycles and seasons, showing you how to penetrate the musky, earthy places of your own territory, and so to apply the lessons that you’ll learn here to the reality of your own embodied life. You will also follow a guided Heroine’s Journey: a journey back to enchantment, to a sense of place and belonging to the world. It offers exercises and prompts that will help you to explore and the stories you tell about yourself and your life. This work is focused on, and expands, the concept of the ‘Eco-Heroine’s Journey’ which I developed for my new book, If Women Rose Rooted.

Reclaiming the Wise Woman

The Moss Maiden, Heligan
The Moss Maiden, Heligan

As the state of the biosphere grows ever more perilous and contemporary culture becomes ever more alienated from the natural world, I believe it is the job of women to bring us back into right relationship with the land. Women have a special relationship with the earth, a unique understanding of her stories; the old mythologies across so many cultures tell us that it’s always been so. And in my native Celtic lands, once upon a time women were the guardians and protectors of the natural world, the heart of the land, ‘Sovereignty’ personified.

The Wise Woman emerges out of our own native myths and literature, and our own iconic native landscapes. The Wise Woman is more than just an archetype: she is a living, breathing woman with a deeply connected way of being in the world. She knows that this connection to place and to the land she inhabits is the secret of women’s creative power. The Wise Woman knows how to listen, and she knows how to tell. She has fallen into the land’s story; she has become part of the land’s dreaming. She is a land-whisperer, a place-conjuror, a story-weaver; she listens for the wisdom of the Earth. The Wise Woman is a woman who has reclaimed her stories, and has found the voice with which to tell them. The Wise Woman is remaking the world.

In this course we explore and reclaim our native Wise Woman stories and traditions, bringing them alive and making them relevant to the world we live in today. We explore both old and new representations of the Wise Woman in myth, story and literature. We explore a range of skills and practices – practical and creative, and always deeply grounded – which help us develop a rich and authentic relationship with the natural world around us, and bring us back into balance with the land on which we live.

This course takes place online, and it lasts for a year. Just before each New Moon –  i.e. thirteen times during the year – you receive an emailed link to a password-protected page on the website for the course from where you can download your materials. The material vary from module to module, but include video and audio files, and illustrated text PDFs. Each Module includes a ‘wise woman’ story which comes out of the native traditions of Celtic and Northern Europe (both in written form and as an audio file). Other original written course materials focus on subjects which include understanding our native traditions relating to plants, animals and trees; what it means to ‘listen to the land’s dreaming’; uncovering and telling the stories of place …  There’ll also be reading recommendations, and links to external resources on the subject we’re dealing with during that Module.