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The Thirteen Grandmothers – in the time of women

By Jeanie Johnson

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in the introduction to her fabulous 1992 best seller, Women Who Run with the Wolves, “There are times when we experience her (the Wild Woman), if only fleetingly, and it makes us mad with wanting to continue. A sense of her also comes through the vision.”

Evenings in southern Colorado at the foot of the Spanish Peaks can be quite cold. They are also spectacular with stars overhead like a sparkling curtain flowing down onto the mountain tops. Everything feels sharp and clear with nothing to clutter the extravagant vistas. There is sky and there is ground and there is the rising line of mountains cutting through the atmosphere with jagged precision. It is a spare land in which power and vision mingle in equal proportion. Sound traverses vast distance easily as if the thin air at that altitude sweeps away any needless chatter. By midnight only the insistent question of a coyote or the singular call of a bird disturbs those dark hours. Simple, uncomplicated space, but alive with the unseen. This is what I know of that place on Mother Earth. It happened one night under the stars while others slumbered.

Sleep had captured the group by dusk. One by one flashlights had winked off and soft murmurs had tiptoed away into dreamland. I had elected to camp out under the stars curled around the sacred Sundance Tree which stood that third night awaiting its final day of sacrifice for The People. I stood for a long time facing the Peaks watching a storm billow up and slip towards the East, a show of giants somewhere higher up in the mountains and almost beyond sight, in a place where the Thunder Beings tossed their bolts from peak to peak. But not a sound from their game reached my ears. It was perfectly still except for the occasional voice of an animal in the far brush. Nothing I could sense of scent, or hear of the cougar who had been seen a few days before, or of the black bear who raised her cubs in a den down the tree line. All the Earth was quiet and at rest without protest that night.

The dark held much peace for me as the two o’clock hour approached. I was intrigued by lights flickering well above airline altitudes. Satellites which we cannot usually see here in the Midwest sailing above the earth. And who knows what else I was seeing? I was fond of guessing to myself what they might be. However, quite suddenly I became aware of something, an energy moving towards the outside of the circle in which I stood. It seemed to be more than one place where this energy was collecting; it was differentiating and taking up spots around the circle. I could “see” it, but could not see it. I could see with my spirit eyes; but still my sight was more than clear. The energy formed as thirteen distinct Grandmothers!

The Grandmothers of the Four Directions appeared first, carrying staffs. They all wore long robes and each had wild flowing hair. They were ancient and they were incredible as they took up their places. Wolf walked to the South wearing white; Eagle to the West wearing black; Bear to the North wearing red; and Raven to the East wearing yellow. Slowly the others floated to their places in the circle. Owl carried a wing; Coyote’s staff had a mirror; Turtle held a rattle; and Snake a medicine bag. Spider held a web-like wheel and Fish carried an earthen jug. Ant had prayer ties wound around her staff; Rabbit carried a blanket; and Otter a woven basket. The thirteen of them stood regally, not ten feet from me, and their energy was palpable, graceful, powerful and mesmerizing.

The Thirteen Grandmothers stayed for some time, quietly standing, holding their staffs. I cannot say they spoke, but I was aware that they had medicine they were gifting. They drifted away when singing began near the ground not far from the west side of the circle. Sometime later sleep took me and I dreamed of faces and my own Grandmother. The ground was hard and the dew settled on my blanket, but I was not conscious of that until first light. When I looked up from my spot on the ground, it seemed as if I could see the impression of the Grandmothers and still feel their presence. I may have not ever felt so refreshed!

After the Dance ended later that day, I spoke with the Sundance leader. I told him about the visit by the Thirteen Grandmothers. He listened quietly, nodding. He said they had come because they had felt called. I told him that my friend had sung a woman’s calling/invitation song that evening as the sky darkened. He smiled. He also told me that I was to share this story with others because all medicine is meant for all the People and one never knows who will benefit by it or how. I smiled.

So, I tell you this true story as it happened while I was present. It is a gift to you and to me and to any others we both may tell.

It happened in the Time of Women.

Note: Many people identify the four directions by a different set of colors; I “saw” what is familiar to me from years of being in ceremony with the Lakota people out on the Rosebud Reservation and in Colorado. There are also different beliefs about the directions and how various of our animal relatives relate to those directions. I simply pass on here what I was blessed to see that night. I believe the cosmos is flexible enough to incorporate differences as it continually amazes us with profound insights.

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