Note: See last post.
(BTW: even though everybody had to sign a waiver for use of photos before registering, one woman there objected, said we needed to get permission from every woman in any posted photo. Since all my photos are group shots, I’d rather not go through the laborious and time-consuming process of seeking permission. So I didn’t post any photos here.)
Besides our Honoring the Elders and other ceremonies, our small Crone Circles, our diverse afternoon workshops, and our final Saturday evening fling, the (Baubo-esque) Crone Follies, we crones “counsel” each other during our precious morning Storytime, partly through language, and even more powerfully through listening, with shared camaraderie and acceptance, of how, little by little, or in great gulps, we consciously “Changing Women” (also the theme of this gathering) evolve as we gather and knit together our varied experiences over time.
This dying culture of ours has not appreciated the crone or elder, phase of life for decades. Not since post-World War II, when returning GIs, thanks to the GI Bill, left home with their young families for parts unknown.
At that singular moment, post-World War II, the extended family was broken.
Fast forward to the ’60s when the nuclear family was similarly broken; no, better to say that this too-small-family-unit exploded, and the radioactive fallout from that rupture of isolated bonded mates detonated a sociological nuclear bomb in our society from which we have yet to recover. Especially, did the fallout from the explosion of the nuclear family affect the children, who were left in fatherless homes with mothers who went to work, or tossed back and forth between harassed parents. The parents in turn, supposedly adults, had been let loose, set free! — into the new sex, drugs, rock n’ roll era, an atmosphere that enveloped us without warning and turned the zeitgeist on its ear.
So here we are, in 2019, and some of us old ones from that storied era are attempting to knit our all-too-human bonds back together again, through both space and time. Here is one story, from the Crones Counsel that I just attended, which serves as an example of what is needed, of the kind of story that needs to be told.
MAHTOWIN AND THE GRANDMOTHERS
Way back when, during the AIM movement in South Dakota, Mahtowin was only ten years old. During the last Seattle Crones Counsel, about eight years ago, she told a story from that time that impressed us greatly, so much so that in fact it resulted immediately in a a surprising action of our own.
At this year’s Counsel in Tucson, Mahtowin told the story again, Between then and now much has changed. But not the way Mahtowin wanted things to change. At least that’s what she thought until she found herself immersed in the volcanic crone energy of this Counsel.
That first night, however, she had felt so frail to me that I insisted on accompanying her to her room for her medication before the evening’s Opening Ceremony.
The next morning, she thanked me for insisting on accompanying her, said it reminded her of the story of the grandmothers being escorted down the mountain.
But first, for context . . .
Native American Mahtowin, and her then partner Marta, a wonderful artist, came for the first time to the fifth Counsel, held in Boise, Idaho. I remember Mahtowin standing there, tall, long-haired, and stalwart, very much holding chieftan energy. Arms crossed, in judgment. Or at least it felt that way to me, and I’m sure to others.”Oh you silly white women,” I could just hear her thinking. . . Intimidating, to say the least.
But something in Mahtowin drew her back, year after year. And over the years, this couple’s presence at Crones Counsels was both palpable and beloved. Marta was a vendor, in fact she still shepherds the vendor aspect of the Counsel, and her beautifully painted drums (see above) are purchased by those who want to join our nightly drumming circles, held after the other events.
Mahtowin, however, has always told stories, to which we all lean in.
So, finally, here’s one of them:
In 1968 (smack in the middle of the Uranus/Pluto conjunction that defined the revolutionary energy of those times), Mahtowin was ten years old.
One morning, the grandmothers decided to go up a disputed hill and hold it as Indian territory. Walking up with the grandchildren, they sat down in the middle, surrounded by guardians, young male [and female?] warriors, itching for a fight. Meanwhile, the soldiers were approaching [police? military?]. “And I knew, even in my ten year old mind, that somebody was not going to make it down the hill alive that day.”
But then, the unexpected happened. The grandmothers, having assessed the situation, stood up together. No words were expressed, none were necessary.
One of the grandmothers then went up to one of the soldiers, stood in front of him, and asked, “Grandson, will you escort your grandmother down the hill?”
Just like that, the tense situation defused, as one by one, the grandmothers and children were escorted down the hill by the soldiers.
At lunchtime that same day in Seattle, many of the crones were eating lunch in the atrium of the hotel, probably ten tables full. I was among them. Directly across from us, the main doors of the hotel. Next to that, on the left, a room where a New Age Fair was being held.
As we sat and ate our lunch, still filled with the power of Mahtowin’s story during that morning’s Storytime, we turned to see a ruckus developing near the main doors. A bunch of men were arriving, some of them with protest signs. Don’t remember whether these were evangelical Christians, or what. All I knew, we all knew, was that they didn’t like the New Agers, and they were going to let them know.
The manager, sensing something was up, had come over to try to defuse the developing melee, with no success.
Then suddenly, without thinking and with no words, all the crones in that dining area stood up and linked arms. Moving slowly, we inserted our line between the protestors and the New Agers, right behind the manager. The protestors looked confused. What was this? Slowly, we advanced, to the point where one of the protestors cried out, “Stop touching me!” to the manager. “It’s not me,” said the manager, “It’s the women behind me!”
It didn’t take very long before all the protestors, looking confused and alarmed, made their way back through the glass doors to the outside.
Of course we were stunned at what had just occurred, and our collective part in it, how we instinctively acted as one, to defuse a developing crisis. Thanks to Mahtowin’s story.
Okay, fast forward to this year’s Crones Counsel. Mahtowin hadn’t attended for several years. Marta told us last year that she had heard Mahtowin was ill; however, she had not seen her since they went their separate ways, years ago. I think we all expected that Mahtowin would never come again, that she was too ill to travel. That she might even be dead.
Well, wouldn’t you know. As I approached the registration table on the first afternoon, there she was! No longer tall and stalwart, no longer looking like a chieftan. No, now Mahtowin was small, and frail, and walked with a cane. In fact, though I instantly intuited her presence, my perception of this woman was so divergent from the magnificent presence of before that I didn’t believe my own intuition. Someone had to say to me, “that’s Mahtowin!”
It turns out she had only just the day before decided to come, decided she could do it, despite only 20% function in her kidneys and 30% function in her heart. A much loved 100-year-old crone, at the last minute, couldn’t come, so 75-year-old Mahtowin took her place in the car with four others, driving to Tucson from the west coast of southern California.
And wouldn’t you know. At Storytelling that very first morning, she somehow mustered the energy to get off her chair and up, haltingly, to the podium for her five minutes. The room grew hushed. Having spent much time with her the evening before, I worried that she wouldn’t be able to breathe and talk at the same time.
But she did! And as she did, her voice got stronger, as if the only reason she can no longer speak is because she does not have people with whom she can speak her truth. And that may be true, given her current situation with well-meaning relatives. She told that story again, the one from the Crones Counsel in Seattle. She told us again, what grandmothers are capable of, especially when they act as one. I think she was hoping we would prove to be real grandmothers, in the Native American sense, and change the world, turn it from its violent, warring ways.
Later during that storytelling session, or was it the next morning’s session, can’t remember, someone who had been present in the atrium of the hotel in Seattle got up to tell what had happened as a result of Mahtowin’s story eight years before. How we rose, as one, without words, and, arms linked, escorted the thugs from the hotel.
At noon on Saturday, Mahtowin and I shared our meal during the beautiful lunchtime buffet that the hotel provided during all three days of the Counsel. And she shared another story with me, one which warmed her heart. But before she told it, she mentioned how her physical situation seemed to be changing during the Counsel, that she could breathe better. I nodded yes to this seeming miracle during the apparently terminal, downward slope of congestive heart failure.
Last night, she said, one of the women was outside of the hotel and ran into several soldiers. So she told them the story of the grandmothers, being escorted down the hill by the soldiers. By the end of the story the soldiers had tears in their eyes. One of them murmured, “That reminds me of my grandmother.” And, they confessed to the crone who had told them that story, “We too, are afraid.” Yes, even soldiers feel fear at the prospect of conflict.
Mahtowin was thrilled to hear about this result of her retelling of that old story. And she wondered, “Why am I the only one who knows this story?” She sat silent for a minute, and then said, “I think all the rest of them are dead, both the grandmothers and the young Indian guardians. The little kids wouldn’t remember.” But Mahtowin, ten years old, did. And who knows where this story will end up, or how its vibration will spread around the world.
Postscript: At our Closing Ceremony on Sunday morning, Mahtowin arrived late, in a wheelchair. She had fallen the night before. Luckily, she did not break any bones.