In a holistic view of the world phases of life (even life and death) are not separate; meaning in human terms, baby, child, adults, old and deceased people are all part of life. Life includes all, excludes none (as Swami Rama’s often used phrase indicates). This holistic perception is ancient and to be found around the globe, and is often preserved and cultivated by female Elders.
In my own way, long time ago, when I was pregnant, I became aware of the long line of mothers and daughters, which become mothers and daughters, which become mothers and daughters – from time immemorial. With this insight something opened in me to a wider understanding; there is no individual, separate existence – only life expressing.
If we stay with this point, we become aware that in most cultures the Divine Feminine, or HER manifestation in women, especially mothers has been/is recognised as special! They manifest life and significantly influence new life, i.e. children, whether male or female. Throughout time, mothers as first and significant teachers, pass on their knowledge, and some especially to their daughters; as the daughter will replace her in the chain of life, going through similar experiences. In the past, this relationship was special. Today the significance of this ancient wisdom has been pushed aside.
Men were (and still are) often, for much of the day, absent from the home. Traditionally men, old and young, went out in the fields while women cared for home, children, the sick, the old, even the animals or the gardens and fields. By doing so they acquired knowledge and wisdom about nature, about life in much of its variety and dimensions, and this knowledge was passed on from generation to generation and with that, it grew.
Today both men and women work outside the home supported by a technologically orientated environment, thus losing/having lost much of that wider knowledge and deeper wisdom.
In the past, due to their gathered life experience and wisdom, the older women were especially recognised and respected, whether Grandmother or crone. The terms ‘Mother’ and ‘Grandmother’ took on a wider meaning; (as a friend wrote) “…there are ways of being a mother: a coach, an adviser, a friend, an aunt. Some people talk of the wise elders as ‘symbolic grandmothers’. Different roles give many opportunities to pass on knowledge of life”. Today, all too often the older woman is disrespected and shut away in an Institution of sort, as she does little to contribute a materialistic society.
Indeed, the connection between female generations was not limited to the biological ‘mother’ – but never the less always had a special meaning, knowing that ‘daughters’, would become ‘mothers’ and eventually would become ‘Grandmothers’. Their knowledge being an expression of the female principle, which is said to be life giving and life affirming; the ‘knowing’ they gathered was about caring and supporting, about compassion and selflessly giving. Of course, these qualities are not limited to gender or roles in society but are principles; they are however naturally strong in the female of the species (albeit by no means exclusively so). Today these values are side-lined at best, as they do not create money and power that the competitive materialistic world needs to strive!
Especially in the ‘Western’ influenced world the male principle, expressing as competition (often as so called protection that actually turns to aggression), and as striving for individual success (rather than the wellbeing of the group/clan/humanity) and control over economic wealth (culminating in the greed we see today everywhere) has grown in importance and become the leading values.
By contrast, love, compassion, co-operation and surrendering for the good of others have lost importance. Power (originally referring to the sense of releasing potential) has gained a new, totally different meaning, as ‘domination’ over.
All this has a huge effect on the family structure of any society; different generations often do not live together; knowledge is not shared anymore.
Grandmothers in today’s world have their own life and jobs – or later in life are put away in care-homes. Even mothers find themselves often alone with their children or hand them over into care-homes. Precious connections, precious knowledge, about major experiences of life are no more shared; thus no knowledge, no true knowledge about life itself is gathered. Death is hidden and thus associated with fear. Knowledge of life itself, nature and relationships stay superficial.
Bridges between generations and the dialogue between the masculine and feminine principle gets out of balance; and with it all of Nature has become out of balance.
In the past, and today in many indigenous traditions, the role of keeping this balance and its root in spirituality fell to the Grandmothers; they were credited due to their long lives with the appropriate know-how.
In this way Grandmothers are not simply those that have been mothers, but women who, due to their life experience have become wise. These wise women (symbolic ‘grandmothers’) have knowledge and experience of both life and death, and that for many levels of existence on this earth. This included medical knowledge, as well as what we call psychology: i.e. skills and wisdom about relationships, cultural identity and even politics (what is good for the group/family/nation /world/ globe). They were the keepers of that knowledge which was helping and supporting life. In the global society of today, that includes knowledge about humanity and the environment, indeed existence as a whole.
In fact the word ‘Grandmother’ used to be equivalent with the concept of ‘powerful, older, wiser woman’. The ‘one who knows’ and had the ‘potential/power’ to advise. And she was heard! In many indigenous traditions, even the chiefs (male) asked ‘her’ permission before going to war (and that in various parts of the globe).
The Grandmother, i.e. the wise female Elder was also associated with the roots, the ancestors, and with that the power from which life stems, and thus eventually with the Divine Mother, which is the ‘Great Goddess’. The ‘Great Mother’ of all is the ‘Grandmother of all’ (including all, excluding none).
Many Goddesses in the past have been archetypal ‘daughters’ of the ‘Great Mother’. And this almost around the world; even in Siberia, where ancestors were called upon for help with the name: ‘Grandmother’. In Italy the archetypal sacred Grandmother was Marcia; in Ireland it was/is Cessair. The Anna Parenna (perennial/eternal time) was the Grandmother ‘time’. In the old European, Celtic, German and Roman past there existed several forms of this, which comes together in the word ‘Matrone’ that actually means ‘high or grand- woman’. She, who looks after is the care-taker of life; she, who has the knowledge of the cycle of life, she, who is a free and independent woman – untouchable in her dignity.
In many stories and fairy-tales of the Alpine lands, the Grandmother is still ‘alive’. The reason is that “what a woman, as Grandmother knows and does, can enrich the life of three generations. Hers, her daughters and her grandchildren” (see: Irene Fleiss, p. 291); “her experience encourages us, to appreciate life a new and think what will happen to future generations, beyond one’s own life-span.” (Jean Bolen i.b.a.n).
In many parts of Europe, the Grandmother has been the holder of life-affirming wisdom that affects three generations, in the Native American culture this is extended to 7 generations.
However, in most places in Europe, the tradition of respecting female elders as ‘wisdom-keepers’ was of course mostly destroyed in the years of the witches-hunt (in Europe it ended at the end of the 18th century; in the US it is said only in the middle of the 20th century).
The point is that historically speaking the extremes of a society totally dominated by the masculine principal and it’s almost exclusively patriarchal ways, are relatively young. Yet it has been so strong that it has become out of balance. One could say, with Irene Fleiss: “Patriarchal thinking denies the circular connectivity of life and death; it looks at life as linear. It does not understand itself as part of a whole, it does not share a holistic worldview, but exerts the knowledge of a separate individuality, which then of course needs to be protected and it demands progress, growth (in a linear fashion) land, possession, a multitude of oneself (many progeny), power and victory – including victory over others” – i.e. their country, their culture, their thinking.
This thinking, which has flooded the world especially over the last few centuries has brought the world, as we know it, to a state of extreme disharmony, suffering and possible catastrophe.
Amongst the indigenous people the respect for the wise female Elder has been maintained, and over the last 12 years a Council of Indigenous Grandmothers has travelled the world, to revive the wisdom of the elders, revive respect and love for Mother nature and all her creations!
This form has ‘birthed’ many other Circles that bring back the wisdom of ‘Life’, a life that is lived in harmony, that is based on love and understanding. In Europe too, a new way forward has been born, The “Council of European Grandmothers”. The Council is an open organism, which meets mid-September for the second time.
The intension is to inspire people in Europe. Especially the young generation who by and large have lost not only their own self-worth and identity, but also the link to ancestral wisdom which holds a key to many life-affirming questions and supports the growth of a more life-affirming culture. Hopefully this might help to carry humanity into a future where it can live in harmony with all of nature, excluding none – including all.
Some of the above is triggered through: Irene Fleiss; “Als alle Menschen Schwestern waren”