The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

Daughters of the Witching Hill

posted by Donna Henes

Last month I took a much-needed vacation in a small cabin on the Maine Coast where I did very little besides sleep, dream, read and eat for an entire week.

I read four books in six days from my overgrown cache of to-be-read books by and about midlife women. What bliss! My idea of paradise.

First was Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. I had been looking forward to diving into this novel ever since I attended a reading that she gave some months ago at Kris Waldherr’s Art and Words Gallery here in Exotic Brooklyn.

This fascinating book is a fictionalized imagining of the infamous Pendle Witch hunt, actual events that took place In Pendle Forest, Lancashire, England in 1612. It opens a window through which we can glimpse the religious turmoil and hardscrabble life in 17th century rural England.

The story focuses on Bess Southerns, an impoverished 50-year old widow, who is suddenly struck with visions and healing ability, which she embraces in good spirit and uses to benefit her neighbors. As she ages, Mother Demdike, as she becomes known, gains a reputation as a talented cunning woman who can cure livestock and people.

She practices her craft for several decades with impunity and much gratitude from the many folks who have experienced or witnessed her many successful healings. She was a practitioner of the quasi-Catholic folk magic and pagan herbal charms that were popular in earlier generations. But she had the misfortune of living at the cusp of the Reformation, when Catholics were persecuted.

When she approaches her 80s, Demdike apprentices her teenage granddaughter Alizon, with whom she shares her extensive wise woman knowledge. Alizon, though, is conflicted and has trouble accepting that she, too, is gifted in the old ways of healing.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate who fancies himself as witch finder, unleashes a wave of terror that ends in the arrest of seven women and two men. Our good stalwart Bess is accused of being the evil ringleader.

This is how Court Clerk Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster in his account of the trials:

“She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time no man knows… Shee was a general agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.”

Whoa! And all she did was make the sick better. What terrified him was that she was in no way repentant. She was secure in knowing what she knew. And she knew she had the ability to heal and to help. The Queen of her Self, she was proud of her Self and clearly owned her own power.

Demdike dies in jail before the trial, and all the others are hung. Alizon was last to be tried. Devastated by guilt, her final recorded words on the day before she goes to the gallows are an impassioned vindication of her grandmother’s legacy as a well-meaning and talented healer.

This true tale is spellbinding. And also maddening to know that Demdike and countless thousands — millions — of women though time have been slaughtered because they are wise. And just because they are.

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
-  Gloria Steinem

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

The Purposeful Queen

posted by Donna Henes

From Rosemary Lichtman and
Phyllis Goldberg:


Please join us anytime on Wednesday, August 25, when Donna
Henes stops by our blog, Mama Donna,
as she is affectionately called, is an internationally acclaimed spiritual
teacher, popular speaker, and award-winning writer specializing in
multi-cultural ritual celebrations of the cycles of the seasons and the seasons
of our lives. She is the author of four books, most recently, The Queen of My
Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife.


Donna, who also publishes a monthly ezine, The Queen’s
Chronicles, will be answering questions about her book and her vision of
midlife women as Queens. Be sure to come by and pose your own questions and
comments for Donna
about recognizing the wisdom and power you have achieved – and the liberation
that comes with it in your prime.


The Purposeful Queen

What distinguishes Queens is that they act with purpose and tenacity to further their own needs and desires as well as those of the greater good. Their courage in trying circumstances does not mean that they are not afraid, but they do not let their fear stop them from doing what they feel must be done. “I’m not afraid of storms,” wrote Louisa May Alcott, “for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Instead of depending on someone or something else to take care of business — a knight in shining armor, a successful husband, a doting parent, the class system, law and order — they roll up their sleeves and do what they knew needs doing. They take up the sword, the pen, the struggle, the cause, the responsibility, themselves.

When, in the first century AD, the Romans invaded her tribal lands in old Britain, the Celtic Queen Boudicca organized a massive general uprising by tens of thousands of men and women from different tribes in a united rebellion against the heavy-handed occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Boudicca’s armies succeeded in capturing and reclaiming London, Colchester and St. Albans, major cultural centers that had been Romanized. “It will not be the first time, Britons, that you have been victorious under the conduct of your queen, she proclaimed. “For my part, I come not here as one descended from royal blood, not to fight for empire or riches, but as one of the common people, to avenge the loss of their liberty, the wrongs of myself and my children.”

Though the peasant insurrection was ultimately lost and the rebel troops were slaughtered, Queen Boudicca escaped with her daughters. In the end, they poisoned themselves rather than allow themselves to be captured, but the result of her campaign was, while not freedom, a more lenient Roman regime.

Some Queens are political warriors, other take up battle in the spiritual and cultural realms. In twelfth century Germany, at a time when women’s roles were heavily circumscribed, the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen found extraordinary ways to express her talents and exercise her power.

Born of nobility, Hildegard was raised and educated from the age of seven by the Benedictine nuns. At the age of forty-three, she became abbess of her community. In addition to her extensive administrative and spiritual responsibilities, she managed to pursue and excel at a mind-boggling array of disciplines.

She was a visionary, theologian, prophet, exorcist, healer, natural historian, hagiographer, founder of two monasteries, correspondent, confident, political advisor to kings and popes, poet, performer, author of the world’s first morality play, creator of a new language and alphabet and composer of chants rich in mystical imagery and florid musicality that are popular even today.

A devotee of the feminine divine, she once received a vision that counseled her, “Therefore pour out a fountain of abundance, over-flow with mysterious learning, so that those who want you to be despicable on account of Eve’s transgression may be overwhelmed by the flood of your profusion.”

Never apologize, never retreat, never explain. Get the thing done and let them howl.
-Nellie McClung, Canadian suffragist



posted by Donna Henes

Several weeks ago I asked the question “What does power mean to you?” This piece about the empowerment of women was sent to me by Kali Fyre, a sister Queen and reader of The Queen of My Self. It is from her blog, “Awakening the Iris.”


For me, women’s empowerment is really about BALANCE, or at least how I teach it. Statistics show that a culture that marginalizes its women suffers in totality, and when these same women are empowered, the benefits are spread to the men of the community as well. It is my belief that men in our society are just as emasculated as women are marginalized. There are impossible “MACHO” standards to meet for men, just as women are bombarded with “BARBIE” ideals. Neither gender can really freely be themselves. In part, I believe this has helped to fuel the immense controversy around gender identity issues. Society has bombarded us for so long about what it means to be a man or a woman, it can be uncomfortable when someone openly crosses those “lines in the sand.”

It is always uncomfortable when someone speaks a truth that strongly questions accepted reality. That is exactly what women’s empowerment is for me. It is encouraging women to listen to their hearts, what makes their souls sing, and to follow that. It’s not simply about rising to the top of a Fortune 500 Company. Although that’s a wonderful thing, if it isn’t what your core is aching for, then it’s an empty victory. Coaching women, for me, is about shattering the expectations and conventions of society. The “Donna Reed” image of mom home with the kids may be considered a throwback to the 50s and early 60s, but do your insides melt when you put yourself in those images? Then THAT is your power! Maybe every dream you’ve recorded in your dream journal for six months has you riding motorcycles and wearing leather. Find a way to access that for yourself!

Typically, it IS the women who will initiate and impact change in a community or a culture, even if only as “pushing from behind,” especially if it is a spiritual redirection. When a woman finds her personal truth, her own North Star, she will most definitely impact those around her. We live not in a vacuum, but in relationships, households, families, communities. As I told someone recently, we exist in our own lily ponds; sometimes they are private, sometimes they intersect and overlap. When we change something, no matter how small, the ripples move outward and impact every other lily pad in our pond, ever so slightly. Those changes inspire others to their own shifts, and we all continue to impact each other. This is how I value women’s empowerment, as the initiation of ripples that will bring about even greater change.

One can indeed make a difference, even if it’s just shifting from one foot to the other. How did you make your impact today?

- Kali Fyre, NH

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

What Do You Have Time For?

posted by Donna Henes

Just as I posted the article about Mercury Retrograde, I received this message from Sister Joan Chittister. It is a great follow up.

I have taken the editorial liberty of changing all the “Gods” to God/dess.

What Do You Have Time For?
by Joan Chittister
One of the obsessive concerns of contemporary society is speed. Everything we produce we produce to go faster than the ones before it. Planes go faster than the speed of sound, though no one cares. Computer upgrades costing hundreds of dollars are downloaded every day to take milliseconds off the operating speeds of the versions before them. To be valuable now, everything must go faster, start up more quickly, work at speeds measured in numbers no mind can calculate. We want instant oatmeal, electronic ticketing, accelerated educational programs, weekend college courses and world news in thirty seconds or less. We are “a people on the move.” We want results. We are not a people who believe in process anymore, much as we love to talk about it.

But the spiritual life does not operate in high gear at high speed. The spiritual life is a slow, slow uncovering of the mechanics of the soul and the even slower process of putting it all back together again, of coming to see what we never saw before–God/dess everywhere and, most of all, in us. Ironically enough, in our haste, our generation has lost a sense of the value of time. Speed has not saved us time. It has simply enabled us to fill it with twice as much work as we used to do. The faster we go, the more we leave ourselves behind. We do not stop for sunsets anymore. We take pictures of them, instead, and then never take time to look at the pictures again.

But there are some things that cannot be hurried. We cannot hurry the process of grief, for instance. We cannot rush the project of growth. We cannot speed the effects of hurt. We cannot hasten the coming of love. We must not attempt to flit through the search for God/dess and then, failing in the enterprise of a lifetime, call it fruitless. Each of those things comes in stages. Each of them takes soul-work.

Time, the contemplative knows, is given not for the sake of perfection but for the sake of discovery. There is a great deal to be discovered in life before we are finally able to break ourselves open to the God/dess within and around us out of whom all life flows. …

To be a contemplative we must begin to see time, not as a commodity, but as a sacrament revealing God/dess to us in the here and now. Always.

- From Illuminated Life (Orbis)

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

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