Stories are dangerous, they create liminal, mythical spaces where we cavort with wild wolves and meet the wily witch in the woods – only to realize that she was inside us all along
If this were an interview, I’d tell you this about me: I have a degree (BA hons) in English Literature & Modern Philosophy, I am a career creatrix, apprenticed in the craft for almost two decades as a professional author, wordsmith and journalist.
Storytelling is in my blood; words are my magic wand, weaving out literary spells. Books and words are dimensional doorways.
Back in 2008, at the peak of my career as a mainstream journalist, I was nominated for IPC/Time Warner Writer of the Year and I was also nominated for an Amnesty International Award for Human Rights Reporting, with pioneering articles on the plight of female Tibetan refugees, amongst others, for the British women’s press. (I didn't get close to winning). I did win a Silver Nautilus Award in the category of Women, alongside four other international awards, for the book ‘Womb Awakening’ which I co-authored with my husband Azra Bertrand, and published in 2017, and a Nautilus Gold Award in the category of Religion/Western Thought for Magdalene Mysteries in 2020.
I have articles published in the award-winning book Feminine Mysticism in Art and Sage Magazine. In 2022 my curated collection of my essays, Spirit Weavers, will be released, sharing wisdom teachings about the path of feminine magic.
Over my career, I have edited a national women’s magazine, interviewed numerous celebrities, experts, film directors, and creatives, mentored other writers, and immersed myself in understanding and expressing the role of story in our lives.
I wrote a book about a Gigolo (for the money), and helped tell the story of Emily Christie in No Safe Place, a Scots lady who stole my heart with her bravery. I wrote for many publications, including the Guardian and Grazia, had a film column in a national glossy magazine, and did countless interviews, including BBC Radio & TV and was a go-to writer for intimate chats with celebrities, who would call me for personal advice.
I was one of the 20 female journalists to be invited to Downing Street by the outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss women’s policies, and I inspired the question that got the next Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, talking about female-friendly sex toys, which made the national news. I also appeared on the BBC talking about relationships and the changing role of women, and was part of the team that put Dita Von Teese on the cover of a glossy women’s magazine talking about her role in the ‘New Erotic’ movement – a sexual revolution led by women from their own sexual agency and embodied desire.
I have also worked as a chambermaid, cleaner, barmaid, bingo caller, double-glazing saleswoman, onion picker, picture framer, gelato server, coffee maker, personal assistant, photocopier, insurance agent, amongst my younger self’s ‘past lives’.
Finding the Feminine
But if I were to go off duty to pour out a cup of tea for a chat - I’d tell you this:
No matter where I went, what I did, or what twists and turns my life took, one thing was consistent – the calling of the power of the feminine, the medicine of her stories, and the wisdom of her myths and cosmologies. There were secrets to be unveiled.
Like a wild courtesan, my writer’s pen danced across the page to bring alive a feminine mythology that tossed up her skirts of revelation, spelling out a lost feminine gospel. I was being called onto the spiritual path of the Divine Mother, to remember and re-incant the ancestral feminine wisdom of the forgotten witches.
I visited remote Goddess temples in the Himalayas, pilgrimaged to sacred Black Madonna sites and ancient caves dedicated to the goddess of the witches, Diana. I studied with Saivite Sadhus, practiced Kabbalah, and embraced alchemy. I soon realized that Mary Magdalene was calling for a new theology to explain herself, and set about discovering what that might be. I lived in a tribal village in Orissa, India, to study the old temple dance arts; I meditated, prayed, explored and opened myself to the magic.
For seven years I ran a feminine mystery school, initiating women into their power. In the exact time it took Inanna to traverse the Underworld, I set about on a deep and wonderous journey with a global circle of women to enter the wild forest of our own forgotten wisdom, to discover the treasures of our womb’s mystery. Together we visioned a rebirth of our world.
I learnt to use the magical formulas of words to open up rusty wisdom doorways.
Almost accidentally, I became an experimental feminine theologian, piecing a new story together. And I watched as many of my previous colleagues in the women’s press became visible as witches, goddess worshippers and soul healers. There was a seismic shift in the culture waiting for words to awaken it.
Even if I didn’t want to follow the call (and sometimes I didn’t) a path was magnetizing me, refusing me passageway in any other direction. I felt like I had the Grail Maiden in front of me, with her enchanted lamp lighting the way, and the wise Old Hag of initiation behind, impatiently booting my behind and heckling me on. It was a call of destiny; it just kept ringing on my door.
Honoring the Motherline
I began to look for lost treasures in the ancestral roots of my foremothers, in the wild and moody lands of my birth, near ancient Mam Tor, the ‘mother mountain’, in Hope Valley.
My best and worst traits are inherited from my homeland; I hail from the wildlands of Yorkshire, with moss and moor in my soul; prone to fits of bawdiness and brass. My mother was a home help and care warden, before she became disabled due to chronic illness, and my father was a market trader, selling fruit and veg in local markets. They are now both Ancestors, buried deep in the womb of Mam Tor, entangling me to the land.
As a child, I flourished on the wild magic of fairytales, and relished the dangers of wolf and witch. I also immersed in the word magic of Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Pilgrim’s Progress of John Bunyan, alongside the work of folklorist and author Alan Garner, before entering the secret witch gospels of literary enchantresses such as Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Christina Rossetti, Jane Austen, Anais Nin and Angela Carter.
I also fell madly in love with the secret worlds of the Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose classic work was a metaphorical exposition of the great alchemical Sophianic Mysteries.
Before long, I realized these stories were singing with lost wisdom from the native European oral traditions, where feminine knowledge had been encoded into fairytales and fables that held secret transmissions of the spirit of land and place.
This began a long and winding process to reconnect with my native spiritual lineage as an Awenydd – becoming a spirit keeper, storyteller, and chantress; a receiver of divine inspiration, ‘awen’, the Holy Spirit of witches and their feminine dynasties.
In short, my Ancestors were calling – many of them witches and wise women who were long on knowledge, and short on patience for my forgetfulness of their lives. As surely as if a bony hand had risen out of a grave to grab my ankle, I was brought back down into the earth, into the lands of my birth, into the stories of my blood. The greatest manuscript is our body.
I discovered an erotic birthright, drenched in a wickedly fertile soil, with not an ounce of puritanism entwined around its long, deep, thirsty, roots. As Emily Bronte says in her heathen witch-gospel, Wuthering Heights, on the call of the wild mysteries:
He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk.
Marrying a Bright Raven
As part of this initiation into ‘awen’ I took on the name Seren Swannesha, which means gentle swan of the stars in the Goddess-centric ancestral tradition of my foremothers. I also married a man whose family name was Bertrand, Frankish for bright raven – completing the balance of the otherworldly sigils of Swan and Raven. The magical familiars of our ancestors.
In 2012 we lived in a small Himalayan home, up the mountain from the residency of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and received our big vision together, which provided the soil for our ideas to emerge and the writing of our award-winning books on feminine wisdom, Womb Awakening and Magdalene Mysteries. This was a time of revelation for us.
When we asked what medicine the world needed, and most importantly, what medicine we needed, the answer was clear as a bell: a new, yet ancient, feminine cosmovision. A retelling of an old, old story that could deliver us into a new future of love.
It sounds grand, but in fact it was rooted in everyday life, in the ordinary miracles of relationships, in our wonderous bodies, and in the daily companionship of nature and the singing earth.
It encompassed a remembering of the feminine mystery school traditions, the old “moon colleges” that honored the feminine aspect and the female body as sacred, and then unfolded out into a vision of an ensouled cosmos, with a divinized earth. This Sophianic dimension of consciousness integrates cosmology, biology and ecology, as entangled aspects of the ecosystem of cosmic creative consciousness. It is the primal gramarye of life.
In native worship this trinity was often known as the Tripleworld or Tree of Life, revealing the continum of cosmos and creation.
Deep Taproot of Magic
In October 2019, I birthed my daughter Orphea Branwen Rose, exactly a year to the day after my mother’s death. Under a Scorpio moon, I had midwifed my beloved mother back into the earth; and one earth-cycle later I birthed my daughter into the world under a Scorpio moon. Our precious little faery changeling baptized me as a mother, holding the red thread of the motherline, passed from mother to daughter, in an unbroken line of the ancestral womb, across thousands of generations until the present day. This is my pilgrim path, the old, old ways of feminine womb magic, where the chalice inside a woman is honored as the Star of Life, the portal of her witch-power.
As a lady of practical magic, it seems I am both mystic and muggle – I am a woman of hearth and home, who has a penchant for wild heretical ideas, brewed over cups of tea, where the simple treasures of ordinary life still stub my big toe with an ‘ouch’. My life is a weave of grief and gratitude.
As it turned out, my first literary agent also represented the visionary writer Ursula K Le Guin, who describes female power this way: “Ours is only a little power, seems like, next to theirs," Moss said. "But it goes down deep. It's all roots. It's like an old blackberry thicket. And a wizard's power's like a fir tree, maybe, great and tall and grand, but it'll blow right down in a storm. Nothing kills a blackberry bramble.”
There is work to be done. Stories to be retold. Wisdom that should never have been forgotten. So I’ve tied my red ribbon of allegiance around that old Faery Tree, and here I am now, in service to the stories that wish to be born through me once more. Our world is waiting for new metamorphic portals.
I think the Ancestral Witches would laugh at us right now; with all our pompous, self-righteous virtue; full of spleen and puritanical vigor. The blood witches are canny and cunning, sensuous and complex, able to ride through light and dark.
Shall we meet them out on the moors, and stir up that cauldron again?
The wonder of it frightened me at times. And I knew that in some marvelous way I had touched the hem of the unknown. And being me, I wanted to lift that hemline a little bit more.”
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