The Ancestral Grove at Heartward Sanctuary
A Natural Burial & Ritual Grounds
Tending cycles of life and death
Heartward Sanctuary has the honor, responsibility and privilege to steward 37 acres of land in the Piedmont of NC. We have set aside approximately ten acres of forest, meadow and imminent orchard space to honor the natural cycles of life and death. This Ancestral Grove at Heartward Sanctuary will provide a beautiful home for natural burial for humans and animal companions alike. We are still in the process of finalizing the legal details for human burial.
In the meantime, we've spent the past year getting to know the land, consecrating the space and cultivating community shrines to honor a variety of human losses. One of our missions is to create space and meaningful rituals to honor the cycles of life, both the literal and symbolic deaths we experience on the journey of being human. Here at the Sanctuary, there are two Shrines to visit that honor these collective losses: A Water Babies Shrine for those lost in the watery realms of the womb and a Memorial Shrine for those lost in battle.
We welcome and people of all faiths, races, genders, orientations, ages, nationalities, classes, vaccination and military status. Given the terrain, some spaces may be challenging for people using a walker or wheelchair.
Water Babies Shrine
From the Japanese word mizuko, water babies are known as those who are lost on their journey to life inside the watery realms of the womb due to miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth.
Without names or rituals for this passage, our culture often forces womb-havers to experience this in private. Many face this challenging passage in hiding which can lead to shame, unprocessed grief or lack of closure. To honor this complicated passage, we have consecrated a shrine on the edge of the Ancestral Grove. A collective gravesite and place of remembrance.
On Ostara / Easter morning 2021, ten women in our community gathered at the base of a White Oak near a seep spring; shared and witnessed one another's stories; honored our unborn; beautified the space; and made offerings. Here, in this zone of forest near the source of fresh waters, blood and tissue can be returned to the earth. Other symbolic, natural offerings can also be made.
If you'd like to have a ritual here, honor the unborn or return your blood and tissue to the earth, please reach out to Julia Hartsell for support.
Heartward Sanctuary co-founder Julia Hartsell is the current steward of this shrine. Having lost wanted and terminated unwanted pregnancies, she is passionate about women and womb-havers having access to sacred space to honor these losses and compassionate about the complexity of feelings that can arise in these passages. If you're called to visit or return blood to the land here, we welcome you. We ask that you schedule a site visit with Julia before making an offerings or having ritual in the space. Ritual and emotional support are available if desired during that visit.
On Memorial Day 2021, a group of lovely humans gathered at Heartward Sanctuary to remember those lost in the myriad of ways in battle. Through prayer, movement, plantings, offerings and gratitude, we consecrated a shrine in their honor in the Ancestral Grove. There are layers of beautification yet to come but Lilacs and flowers mark the spot for now. We are making this space available year-round for those who care to visit, make an offering or have ceremony here in honor of these losses.
We pray this shrine can be a space for healing for wounded warriors, their loved ones and descendants. We welcome the remembrance of all soldiers on all sides of all battles. At this shrine, we also recognize the other-than-human loss in war.
May the impacts of war that live on in our bodies and in the earth be healed. And may we find paths for reconciliation, repair, sharing resources and respecting difference so that our loved ones, children and descendants may know peace.
Veteran Shane Hawkins is the steward of this Memorial and is available for support with a site visit.
Natural Burial in the Ancestral Grove
Over the past century and a half, our culture has dramatically shifted its way of tending our beloved dead. As medical and funeral industries have taken the place of traditional death rites and burial practices, the end-of-life passage has been packaged for profit and stripped of its sacrality, creating great economic strain on families in grief-stricken times. Some families cannot offer the desired rituals for body disposition due to lack of land or financial constraints. Our conventional burial and cremation options are environmentally toxic and disconnect our bodies from completing the life cycle: the return of our remains to the earth. There is a dire need for more ecological, relational, and ritually connective practices for meaningful transitions and soul processes.
The Heartward Sanctuary Ancestral Grove is on track to be an inter-faith, natural burial ground. This is one part of our organizational intent to decolonize the end-of-life processes, to honor the earth and be in harmony with natural cycles of life. It will be a place for earth-friendly burials--in simple shrouds, wood or natural materials--and also a place for transition, ritual, grief tending and celebration. Returning to ancient ways of honoring our dead, we seek to help restore balance, connection and wholeness for the living, the dead and the earth.
dead, we seek to help restore balance, connection and wholeness.