By Jeanie Johnson
Long ago the first human beings came to a land that was unspoiled and beautiful. There were creatures of every kind in abundance; fish in the clear streams, birds overhead, deer running the forest paths. They knew they had found a paradise that would nurture and sustain them. They lit fires and gathered sacred plants and made an offering to the Creator to thank him for their good fortune. Soon they were building homes and taking up a life of peace and happiness. But something festered in the heart of one of the members of the humans. He was angry and resented the joy he saw on the faces of his relatives. He had enough for himself. He had a home and he had access to the same clean water and abundant wildlife everyone did, but he was unsettled, irritable, envious of others.
The men and women of the human beings formed a well-functioning community. Each had specific tasks they performed for the health and well being of the whole. Women especially held a position within the community of high regard. The ability to create, hold and bear life was considered a sacred act and women’s bodies and rhythms were venerated in song, dance and sacred rituals. Women did not exert undue power over others but simply moved in the flow of daily life. They led ceremonies, gave teachings, accompanied the births and deaths of community members and kept the knowledge of sacred healing plants. Children drew their lineage from their mothers because mothers represented the body of the earth and life itself.
One day the community of humans gathered for a ceremony and feast. The celebration of spring renewal had arrived as the cold of winter was dispersing in the budding of willows and flowers. Everyone came to a circle dedicated to these social functions and waited for the woman who would lead them to arrive. She was an elder woman who had seen many winters. She was the mother of many children who had now gone on to have their own children. She stepped into the center of the circle to call the human beings to awareness, to mark the coming of spring and to ask for the blessings of the creator.
The angry and envious man had also come to the ceremony, but his heart was bad. He thought only of himself, only of the pain that lay like a stone in his gut. He wanted to strike something, lash out, make someone else suffer for his misery. And so he did. He ran to the circle center and struck down the elder woman. He turned then to the human beings and roared from deep within his anguish. He would be the center of the circle from now on. Only he would have the power to create and to destroy. Only he would speak for everyone. Only he would have the right to say what was sacred. Clouds gathered over the circle and the humans beings left. They were shocked at the frightening words the angry man had spoken. What would this tremendous ferocity bring to their world?
Many generations passed. The human beings were successful and moved over the face of the world. They were blessed with large brains and inquisitive minds. The humans who lived in one part of the world developed white skin and their inventions became the marvels of the world as it seemed there was no end to their abilities. The lineage of the children had shifted to the white fathers, those descendants of the angry and envious man from the beginning, who had fathered many, many children. He now ruled the world, much as he had shouted that day in the distant past. Women were no longer held in high esteem. Their place in the community was a shadow of the past. They no longer birthed on their own but had to be delivered of their child by a man. Women were not allowed to be in charge of their own reproductive lives. They had forgotten much of the sacred lore of the plant kingdom; healing was taken from them and given to the male priesthood appointed by other powerful men. There were rules and regulations that governed everyone from children to elders. The old ways had died the day the angry man had stepped into the circle with his rage at his side like a sword. The legacy of his envy and his merciless, unending frustrations brought sorrow and immense suffering to the entire world. The natural world was treated as a banquet, a smorgasbord where humans could take whatever they wished without consequence. Trees were no longer the critical filters of air and the majestic bringers of the earth’s weather; their importance was now measured in board feet and they were cut down at an ever-increasing rate. Fish had become simply food for the insatiable appetites of humans. They were not revered as beautiful relatives on the web of life. In fact, the web was ripping apart as more and more of the earth’s bounty was extracted, caught, caged, discarded and no longer respected. All animals and plants, trees, waters suffered. The insects, the reptiles and the birds suffered. Even the rocks and the soil knew the heavy burden of suffering.
In a forest, far from the cities which choked on the smoke of industry and desperate violence, lived the remaining genetic remnants of the original human beings. They lived in the simple and sustainable manner of the ancestors who had walked the earth before them. They hunted only what they needed and, in the event that they over-hunted an area, they paid a steep price within their own communities. Balance was a natural law they understood and they knew it worked without fail sooner or later. They had not developed technologies that withdrew minerals from the earth in gluttonous quantities. These humans looked upon the animals, birds, insects, fish and non-breathing others as relatives. They considered them as important as humans and their stories and art reflected the reverence in which they held their earth companions. Women were known to have a special place by virtue of their ability to create and birth children. Their monthly cycles were a mystery only in the sense that it simply was. These humans did not seek to explain away mystery but to hold it in their hearts and lift it up. Some of these humans called upon women to lead ceremonies, some chose men. As in the world around them where balance was a natural order, the humans believed balance was crucial to their survival.
The human beings of the old ways knew of the white humans. They knew there were happenings in the world that had come from the minds and always busy hands of these people who hurried everywhere chattering and changing the lands about them. They knew the balance of the world was being altered and that these termite people, who loved to dig into the mysterious places of the earth, were never satisfied with what they found. Each morning when the community woke, they sat together and shared their dreams. Slowly the thread of the dreams wove a picture that was painful to see. Balance was falling away. Fires where there should be none, lakes gone, trees dying, animals, fish and birds extinct, plants no longer able to grow. Some of the humans dreamed of places where there had long been a cover of white on the ground. Now there was none and the big waters whose taste was salty were rising against the cliffs that had always held them. Each morning the dream telling added weight to the day.
A man of the human beings of the old ways spoke one morning. He was a man of age who had seen many days on the earth. His dreams, too, had become black. He worried for his grandchildren and for the creatures who were his relatives and for the earth herself. So he spoke with intent, with the power that comes from the heart. He told the people that he had dreams of darkness but within those dreams he saw the women rising. He told them he remembered the stories his father had told him that had come down a far distance, stories of the ancestors, of a time when the women carried the blessing of the human beings. They conducted the rituals and gathered the people for ceremonies. They knew the healing plants, spoke their language. They healed the sick and accompanied women in childbirth. They were the givers of language, the walking symbols of the earth. And then all was in balance. He told the people that in his dreams the time of women had come again.
What does it mean to say that the time of women is again at hand? As I write this I am painfully conscious of the ratcheting up of anger against women in the form of eroding availability to birth control and the constant and rising attacks on Roe vs Wade and those places that provide reproductive healthcare to women. The number of so-called ‘personhood amendments’ being trundled before state legislatures is a dangerous signal that a woman’s ability to decide her own fate is being threatened once again. Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, looks like the structure for the state of affairs for these years of the 21st Century.
A friend of mine was blessed with a relationship with an old Narraganset gentleman. She took care of him while his wife was away at work, got his medicines, saw to his meals and listened to him speak the wisdom of a long life. It was this man whom I chose to remember when I titled this The Time of Women. He stressed to my friend that The Women must rise to restore balance to the earth. Too long, he said, men have had their way with the earth. It is good to tell stories, to ask ourselves to be creative and imagine our world in story form, allegory, metaphor, to see if we can describe what we live and see each day in a way that helps us step lightly to the side of our reality. This is what my friend’s ancient mentor did each time he lit his pipe and began to speak. He knew the benefit of walking a ways off the path for a moment and turning his head to one side to see if he could experience the world in a new way. Micheal Harner writes in The Way of the Shaman that while sliding through the waters of the Amazon in a canoe he learned how to look at the shoreline with his head turned and in doing so he also learned to see the world differently. There were spirits in the trees and faces reflected in the waters. Just so, if we can tell our own story in different ways we may see new things. We may see that to heal the earth we need the sacred feminine to rise once again and fill us with the life force which we have been so bent on destroying.
For the indigenous of the world who struggle with the anger and greed of the dominant culture, I dedicate this story.
Let the women rise!