The following is an excerpt from Circle of Sisters, April 2009, a monthly email newsletter sent from Glenda Taylor to women who have expressed an interest in the mission of the Fellowship. Please contact Glenda by email if you would like to receive these monthly newsletters.

Many years ago, at a retreat at a ranch in Jacksboro, Texas, I asked a group of women to go with me outside, to stand in a spot on a high bluff overlooking the Trinity River valley, with millions of stars shimmering overhead in a clear night sky. And I asked the women to be as completely aware as possible of themselves, their bodies, their minds, their spirits, and their surroundings, to breath in the air, to listen to the gentle wind, to stand on the earth, all very consciously. And then I asked them to repeat, four times, just a few words, with as deep an awareness as possible. The words were, “I am woman. I grow out of the earth. I grow out of the earth, beautiful, powerful, and wise.”

We said the words aloud together, slowly. Some of the women had their eyes closed, others looked out across the broad moonlit valley, and some focused in on our little circle, so still and serious. It became a special moment for all of us.

Later that weekend one of the women made the words into a chant, and then another woman supplied simple movements. Our women’s circles have been doing that chant and those movements together ever since. Saying, singing, dancing: “I am woman, I grow out of the earth. I grow out of the earth, beautiful, powerful, and wise.”

A few years later, when Sheila was staying with her mentor, Rose, who was dying of cancer, Sheila sang and danced those words for Rose, there by Rose’s deathbed, and then Sheila added the next words that so fit the power of the occasion, “I am woman. I go back to the earth, beautiful, powerful, and wise.”

Today I want to spend a few minutes focusing on the significance of that simple statement: “I am woman, I grow out of the earth.”

I grow out of the earth. “Mother” Earth. It is easy to neglect the womanly gender designation of Earth as mother, as woman. But please focus on that right now.

Mother Earth.

And so: I am woman. I grow out of the Earth. Mother Earth—a feminine-powered essence. What does that mean?

Mother Earth. Mother Nature.

Or Grandmother Changing Woman, as the Navajo’s speak of her. Grandmother Changing Woman, with all her changes, her seasons that come and go cyclically, her bringing into life the plants, the flowers that bud and bloom and fruit, and then go to seed and fade way, seemingly completely gone forever, until the next seasonal renewal brings once again the plant, the bud, the bloom.. Grandmother Changing Woman. Mother Nature. Mother Earth.

I grow out of the earth. Like the plants and the trees, like the animals that feed on the plants, like the birds that nest on the trees, and like all that eventually falls, finally, to ground when they are done with their individual lives. I too grow out of and return to the earth. I too take my place in the great cycle of life here.

Now that first part of the chant seems pretty obvious, pretty easy. I grow out of the earth.

The last part of the chant is the catch. I am beautiful, powerful, and wise.

I am beautiful. Really? Beautiful? Am I allowed to say that? Are you? Do I believe it, that I am beautiful? Does that mean I am vain, silly, shallow?

No. I’m not talking about that kind of beauty. I’m talking about the kind of sacred beauty that the Navajo speaks of as “The Beauty Way.” To the Navajo, beauty is the vital life force, the essence of anything in its purest form—sacred, unique. Beauty is the medicine power of each unique individual thing, and it, furthermore and most importantly, in perfect harmony and balance with all else..

Beauty in that sense is not only delicious to behold and even to hold, but also beauty is, well, powerful. Power derives from the beauty, you see, for the medicine power of the unique, natural life force in each of us, when it is in balance.

Nobody else ever has been or will ever be a Maya or a Cindy or an Amy. Only Maya can be Maya, and in being her own unique self, her own medicine spirit, she is indeed beautiful. And powerful. Extraordinarily powerful.

How will she, how will I, how will you, use that powerful beauty? Wisely? I am woman, beautiful, powerful, and wise.

Am I wise in the ways of that essence that is my original state, do I acknowledge myself as a powerful and wise daughter of Mother Earth?

Our wisdom as women arises in large part out of our connection to earth, to nature, to beauty, to what is ecologically balanced.

Our wisdom arises out of our experience, say, of our menstrual blood, coming and going, cyclically, taking us from the innocence of maidenhood, to the fertile possibilities of the birthing mother or the creative matron, and finally to the vastly experienced crone who has passed through so many changes, seen so many stages and cycles, that she has the big picture of wisdom.. Hopefully. If she is, and is willing to be, beautiful, powerful, and wise, in that sacred sense.

So, how do we use that wisdom in our day-to-day lives? What are we, as women, uniquely as women, to do with the fullness of the knowing of that chant…I am woman, I grow out of the earth, beautiful, powerful and wise?

If I grow out of the earth, if life depends on earth, and if we look around and see what is happening to the earth today (need I go into the sad litany of the distress and peril she faces) when we see that, do we not know what to do with the wise power invested in us, women, made in the image and substance of her, Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Grandmother Changing Woman?

We do. Ecofeminism is the newest and most essential watchword of the long march of women’s liberation. It is the deep and profound awareness that what happens to Earth happens to us.

Think of the ancient reverencing images of Gaia, of Earth, those images of big-bellied pregnant women as the life-giving earth, the images of the goddess with plants and animals and birds and bees growing out of her (very feminine) body, Earth (depicted as woman) as life giver and sustainer.

And then, think also, of Kali and Coatlique, the images from ancient India and ancient Mesoamerica, of Earth as she takes down and takes back into herself the finished plant, the fallen bird, the dying warrior, all to be absorbed and renewed and sent back again, replenished, in the next spring, in the next generation, in the next life cycle.

Mother Earth. So sacred, so precious, so revered for hundreds of thousands of years, with countless statues and paintings and sacred groves and stone circles and hidden caves.

Onto the walls of those womb-like caves were painted the prayers of people who left their mark, their handprints, one over the over, generation after generation, in red paint, made from red ochre, made from Earth herself. Red paint, signifying red blood, birthing blood, life-giving essence, the creative power of Mother Earth, who could send the animals, the plants, the weather, upon whom the ancient people depended for their existence.

These ancient people knew the importance of the earth, and of the balance of nature. They honored it; they lived in such a way as to maintain the balance necessary for life to continue. They hunted in one spot and then moved on, they rotated crops, they learned to fashion their lives in harmony with the cycles of seasons and equinoxes and solstices, and they marked the passage of those changes carefully in their monuments and stone circles and cairns and temples, where the light of the rising sun on the summer or winter solstice would strike exactly right there, in that sacred spot, every time. They paid attention, close attention, honoring attention, to earth.

And now here we are. Modern people, so seemingly smart, so seemingly in control of so many of the elements, so non-superstitious.

Right. But actually so foolish. So deadly, dreadfully foolish. We have removed ourselves from these ancient wisdoms at our peril, and indeed, now, at the peril of Mother Earth herself. We cannot, we cannot sustain the ways in which we have violated the balance of life. The sacred earth cannot sustain the ways that we have pillaged and plundered her riches, raped her rainforests, oxygen-creating, life-sustaining rainforests. I could go on and on, but you know the story, all too well.

In short, the Earth needs our wisdom now. She needs our power now. She needs us as women now. I am woman. Beautiful, powerful, and wise.

When I started doing what we came to call “women’s clan retreats,” as we women formed ourselves into sacred committed circles, clans, we dedicated ourselves to three purposes: “to honoring and serving ourselves as women, to honoring and serving all women, and to honoring and serving Mother Earth.”

I speak today on behalf of the last of those purposes. Mother Earth is our true mother. She now is in grave danger. Will we rise to the occasion, as her daughters?

Will we be like Mary Elizabeth, who, when her own mother was threatened with cancer, was there for her mother, beautiful and powerful and wise, aiding in her mother’s survival and healing? In addition to being with her mother in comforting ways and ritual ways, Mary Elizabeth, among other things, trained for and completed a triathlon, raising money for cancer research to benefit others. And now, praise be, years later, Mary Elizabeth and her mother (six-years after her mother got kicked out of hospice) will be walking in a three-day walk to raise money for cancer research.

Each of you has also given devotion to your mothers, however much you might complain, at times, about their erratic behaviors or their ways we might not like so much. Well, Mother Nature has her own erratic behaviors, her ways we might not like so much, but which of us will turn our backs on her at this time when her life is in danger? Her life and ours. Ecofeminism.

We feminists of my generation, as we rediscovered those ancient images of what came to be called goddesses, we were not interested in, as one writer has put it, just

“ ‘Yahweh with a skirt,’ a distant detached, domineering godhead who happened to be female. What was cosmologically wholesome and healing was the discovery of the Divine as immanent in and around us. What was intriguing was the sacred link between the Goddess in her many guises and totemic animals and plants, sacred groves, and womblike caves, in the moon-rhythm blood of menses, the ecstatic dance—the experience of knowing Gaia, Mother Earth, her voluptuous contours and fertile plains, her flowing waters that give life, her animal teachers. For who among us would ever again see a snake coiled around the arms of an ancient Goddess statue, teaching lessons of cyclic renewal and regeneration with its shedding of skins, as merely a member of the ophidian order in the reptilian class of the vertebrate phylum?…At the beginning of that period (of my generation’s discovery of that ancient wisdom) ecology was not on our minds; since moving out of that period into activism, ecology has never left our minds. Today we work for ecopeace, ecojustice, ecoeconomics, ecopolitics, ecoeducation, ecophilosophy, ecotheology, and for the evolution of ecofeminism.” (Charlene Spretnak, Ecofeminism: Our Roots and Fowering.”

I am woman. Beautiful. Powerful. And Wise. You are woman. Beautiful. Powerful. Wise. We are women. Beautiful. Powerful. And Wise. Let us be about our Mother’s business.
Time is short. Life is precious. With every step we take we tread upon the body of the Earth Mother.

Once, many, many years ago, in my early days of discovery of all this, I dreamed one night of walking on the hard-packed ground of what appeared to be a circus or fairground, with lots of bustle and activity, with people everywhere, walking, running, jostling each other about in crowds, or riding in Ferris-wheels or on a variety of other rides; the sound of the motors and gears operating all those rides mingled with the cries and sounds of the caged beasts of the circus, and the rank smells of the place all around. And in the dream, as I walked, I looked down at the ground just as I almost stepped right on the face of a woman who was buried in the earth, buried so deep that only the oval of her face, upturned and looking right at me with anguish in her eyes, was visible; all the rest of her was completely buried in the solid, trampled-upon, hard-packed earth. And I had almost stepped right on her face!

The horror I felt in that dream has stayed with me for the rest of my life, informing everything that I have become. For I came to see that the woman in that dream represented woman, in general, in our time, and it represented our culture’s attitude, in general, toward Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and toward each of us as women, in the largest, archetypal, sense. The dreadful situation of the woman in my dream was the situation of archetypal femininity and earth-centered spirituality in the modern world at that time. In the dream, I began to scramble around, crying out to others to help me as I tried to figure out how to get that woman out of her dreadful circumstance, and I have been about that ever since.

One Native American tribe, maybe other tribes, had a ritual once, a sacred ritual. Just before a woman was married, she was purposely buried in the soft, warm, fertile earth of a garden spot, buried up to her neck, where she stayed for hours, maybe all day, so that she understood, in a profound way, how she was, in fact, embedded in the Earth, how she, like all else, grows out of the earth, how (as is indicated in the old Russian language where the word for mother and the word for earth are the same word, that humus and humans have the same root form) woman and earth are inseparably related. Earth.

But the Native American ceremony of burying the woman was a sacred ritual, with the woman going willingly into her time of conscious union with the earth. The woman of my dream was, instead, trapped, buried not up to her neck, but all the way around her head. It was, in the dream, as if she had been buried completely, and somehow the covering of her face had been brushed aside so that she could just barely be seen, by me, as I was passing casually by. Once I saw her, though, I could not move on, casually or otherwise. I had to do something.

What I unearthed in all the years since then is who you know that I am. A daughter of Earth, a committed child of Mother Nature, who has set about calling out to others, as I did in the dream, let us be about saving her, Her, and thus saving ourselves.

There are many things I’ve learned in that process, much that I could talk about in terms flowing and flowery, about what it means to be a woman. And I have, many times, talked about all that, at lectures, workshops, retreats, at universities and churches and convents and synagogues and feminist gatherings large and small in many states.

But never have I come up with a simpler, more exact formula that the one I asked that little group of women to repeat that night, under the stars, standing quietly on the earth, in north Texas: “I am woman. I grow out of the Earth, beautiful, powerful, and wise.”

I give thanks for this knowing, and I commend you to that knowing. I give thanks for this sharing of this knowledge, and for you.

Glenda Taylor, Age 70, Earthsprings, 2009

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