Within these pages, the sisters of Belle Cœur crafted a collective life, a multicolored tapestry, woven with their hands and hearts, tears and laughter, blood and bones.
— From the author’s message, Ink and Honey, by Sibyl Dana Reynolds
Communities of women, like branches on the Tree of Life, grow from an ancient taproot. Perhaps women’s circles have withstood the test of time because they stem from an ineffable and invisible lineage of feminine, sacred wisdom winding backwards throughout history and herstory.
Could it be that women today are being called to revisit the past, to reclaim forgotten knowledge, to inform the present? Women experience numinous connections with one another when they gather as a circle of spiritual sisters. Together, in community, they share their stories, sit in silence, pray, create beauty, and break bread.
As a facilitator for the feminine spiritual/creative process, I have often imagined that when women in community join hearts and minds a clarion call goes out to the archetypal spirits of long ago sisterhoods. The inspiration of this thought no doubt influenced my initial vision for my novel, Ink and Honey.
The story of the sisterhood of Belle Cœur, depicted in Ink and Honey, ultimately invites the reader to contemplate a question. What if for a moment, the veil lifted, and a long ago community of women in medieval France, a sisterhood of mystics, healers, midwives, and prophets could speak to us today? What wisdom might the sisters of Belle Cœur, women who lived by their wits and their prayers, offer to contemporary women’s communities?
The mystical, historical novel, Ink and Honey, is also a kind of spiritual handbook. The stories of the Belle Cœur way of life, recorded by Goscelin (the sisterhood’s young scribe) paints a template for women today who are seeking practices to nourish their creativity and sustain their souls while they explore the concept of spiritual sisterhood. Within the pages of Ink and Honey, the reader is introduced to the sisters’ spiritual practices including: prayers, connections to the natural world, sacred crafts and artmaking, and dream catching. The way of Belle Cœur, as revealed in the book, is a model that can be adapted and applied to women’s circles and spiritual communities today. So, again the question is offered…what might the sisters of Belle Cœur teach us to enrich and enliven contemporary women’s communities? Here are a few examples of what we can learn from our ancient sisters.
In the middle ages, women who chose to live together as independent communities, free of church rule and doctrine, relied on and honored one another’s spiritual and creative gifts. The sisters of Belle Cœur were simple women with various skills and spiritual graces. The community, as described in Ink and Honey included: a midwife, carpenter, herbalist, cook and wet-nurse, scribe and illuminator, mystic and prophet, musician, needle-worker, and so on. Their abilities and interests were diverse but their hearts were unified through their prayers and shared devotion to God and to one another. As Goscelin, the scribe of Belle Cœur, tells us in Ink and Honey…
Each of us does her best to bring her prayers, wisdom, and sacred life art to each day… The beauty is in the blending of how each demonstrates her vision of the sacred.
As sisters of Belle Cœur, we believe God speaks to each of us in a unique way. Our rituals and prayers unify us and hold us in a common shared center. We are united through our practices that reflect our love for God, while the outward expressions of our spirits are often very different.
Goscelin’s message to us regarding community seems to be…Honor the specialness of each woman, embrace the diversity of personalities and spiritual and creative gifts. Unify your hearts, minds, and spirits through shared prayer, rituals, and practices. In the blending of shared gifts and prayer you will discover and encounter the Sacred.
The call to participation in a women’s circle is an ancient call that many of us are experiencing today. If you long to be part of a spiritual community of women, I invite you to apply for a very special autumn retreat offering, The Way of Belle Cœur: Sacred Prayers, Practices, and Sisterhood. Please e-mail me for an application at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May your creative spirit be renewed and inspired by the ancient ways of the “sisters” that have gone before you and may circles of women endure and thrive as we look to the past to inform the present.
For more conversation on Ink and Honey, feminine wisdom, and spiritual community, visit the Patheos Book Club here.
Sibyl Dana Reynolds is a Spiritual Director, Author, Visual Artist and Founder of Sacred LifeArts.com. Dana nurtures connections between soul work and creative expression. For the past twenty years, she has been a facilitator for the feminine spiritual/creative process. She is passionate about the importance of themes drawn from her study and research of the lives of medieval women including; pilgrimage, monasticism, art, craft, and mysticism.