by Felicity Warner
I recently had lunch with a fellow death worker.
It was our first meeting and we learned much from each other, revealing and sharing all sorts of intriguing practices, traditional and modern.
She confided that as a modern day wise woman she had planted her own “death garden” just outside her backdoor. In it was monkshood, deadly nightshade, some of the “banes” just in case she ever needed them to ease herself from this world to the next. She’d done some very serious research into how exactly to prepare the plants to do their job swiftly if she ever needed to. Fascinated though I was, I knew she was a braver (and more knowledgeable) woman than me.
I am a soul midwife, a holistic and spiritual companion to the dying. One of our golden rules is to never administer anything by mouth, but we do work with plants, harnessing them for their gentle yet powerful soothing effects, in the form of essential oils.
Soul Midwifery is very much a blend of traditional old ideas and new energy medicine techniques. Our holistic work involves working with gentle therapies such as massage, essential oils, sound, touch etc. The spiritual aspect is about supporting dying people on a deep, personal level, listening to them and “holding space”.
We work often from point of diagnosis, right through until the last days when we may vigil at the bedside. We also support families and loved ones and are educators on death and dying.
In the old days when people died at home, folk were much more familiar with dying… how it looks, sounds and smells. Now that most people die away from home, this familiarity has been lost and this lack of knowledge makes people much more fearful about what’s going on. Our society is very death phobic, and people choose not to think about their own mortality… until they have to. We also try to encourage people to think ahead and have conversations with their loved ones ahead of time.
I am also a “myrrhophore” (a woman who offers myrrh) a role evolved from an ancient temple tradition which is very much aligned to helping the dying and also preparing the soul for transition. Oils, as powerful tools of consciousness are the foundation of my sacred and spiritual work.
Many years ago I lived in Scandinavia, and was fortunate to meet an amazing old woman who worked with herbs and oils. She lived like a hermit surrounded by books, animals and plants and she introduced me to her work very gradually.
She was also a Myrrhophore and shared practices with me linking back to the times when priests were both healers and spiritual directors. Mary Magdalene is thought to have been a teacher of the tradition and in some esoteric circles is respected for her knowledge and teaching in working with the sacred Oils — namely Spikenard, Myrrh and Sandalwood.
I served my apprenticeship with her as she as she spotted my extreme sensitivity to energy. Through “smell” and her guidance, I discovered that I could also work intuitively with the oils. And by working with an oil I can visualise how it may help soothe certain “dis-eases.”
It’s a skill that has developed over the years and is now one of my most important tools, informing a great deal of my work with the dying.
I have spent years learning from the oils and at times, it’s felt like a challenging pathway. When I’m teaching, I explain that to students that the oils are powerful energetic beings with huge potential and knowledge to share with us. The knowledge is powerful; you have to have the wisdom and humility to work with them. It’s as if they lead you through a set of initiations which take you deeper and very slowly into the practice.
With each oil, there are energetic codes to be deciphered before you gain access to the deeper levels of understanding. When I am working with bereavement trauma or soul work I work with certain oils that appear to unravel blockages at a deep soul level.
Working with oils in this way is part of an esoteric temple tradition. The oils are working with the subtle body rather than the physical. If you consider the body to be a vibration energy form, the oils resonate with the energetic frequencies generated by the physical and also by diseases themselves. Oils have particular resonances with certain conditions. For example, Violet leaf has a link with grieving, Elemi works by allowing people to “let go”.
Dying people have a very sensitive energy field and essential oils, vibrational essences made from various plants have a resonance that enables both flow and release of energy.
When energy is blocked during dying, either by pain, fear or even a deeply entrenched “soul wound”, it blocks the flow and manifests sometimes as pain (both physical and spiritual) anxiety, agitation or distress. A skilled SM should be able to help to ease this.
I make vibrational essences with specific use to Soul Midwifery. Again these resonate with aspects of “transition”. For example an essence made from snowflakes has a correspondence with melting/dissolving and may a help a person to surrender during the dying process. Another essence made from Mistletoe helps with the connection between heaven and earth and also some cancer related disease.
None of these essences are taken by mouth. They are used on the hands of the SM and either stroked through aura of the patient, or sprinkled on the skin and dropped into the patients’ navel.
These are the oils that I always carry:
- Fragonia – for restoring balance
- Elemi – for holding vigil in the final days of life
- Spikenard – for the day of death
- Ravensara – for releasing soul wounds
- Rose oil – for soothing and tenderness
- Palo Santo – for protection
All these oils are diluted 10 drops to 10ml of rapeseed oil.
Generally we don’t apply these oils to patients, but apply them to our own hands and transfer the energy by touch.
I run a school in Dorset, The Soul Midwives School which offers a wide ranging programme based around and extending our core training. We also have various study days on aspects of the work e.g. working with the Sacred Oils, working with sound and voice, preparing the body after death, home funerals and also various CPD days for professionals.
Support, mentoring and supervision is crucial in this work. We have a very vibrant community and all help and support each other. We do this in a number of ways, with a large on line private forum, also small local groups who meet up regularly, with mentoring and supervision for those who are more active. Self-care is hugely important and without acknowledging the need and commitment for this we all run the risk of burning out. Learning to enjoy life and live life to the full is essential and seeing first-hand how very precious life is, is one of the gifts that the dying pass on to us.
I am totally passionate about helping people to die in the best way possible. With love, dignity, kindness and if possible, without fear and pain. To be able to embrace the last precious months and days of life is often a deeply rich journey… a very special time.
Felicity Warner is founder of Soul Midwives a pioneering movement in holisticand spiritual end of life care and is passionate about raising standards in compassionate care of the dying.
She runs the Soul Midwives School in Dorset, and is the author of three books on care of the dying. This year she was awarded End of Life Care Champion of the Year Award from the National Council for Palliative Care, Death Doula of the Year from the Good Funeral Awards and she is a visiting research Fellow of the University of Winchester.