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Global Grandmothering

Author // Kate Srinivasan

Grandmothers are coming together, using their healing powers to create a better future for the world. They are succeeding.

The sun falls behind a mountainous range and the desert heat begins to cool. Families gather around an early evening fire while mothers, fathers and children take turns stoking the embers. They peacefully arrange themselves on woven mats and listen to the thumping beat of a drum as it rhythmically builds into a Pueblo song.

This Hopi village has come together to hear the stories of their ancestors and to learn about the Earth and life through the wise words of their elders. They lean in eagerly to fill their minds, hearts and souls with the rich living tapestry of stories passed down from one generation to another. Familiar favorites of the Grandmother and her creation, the universe, are whispered to new babies; young daughters are told of the prophecies that come to them in dreams on nights when the moon is full. The Hopi prophecy, “When the Grandmothers speak, the Earth will be healed,” echoes from father to son and from mother to daughter, and onward to meet the future Peaceful People.

For hundreds and thousands of years, humankind has celebrated the history and traditions of its cultures in a multitude of ways. Stories of the beginning have been passed down by word of mouth, or they have been written, drawn or painted as murals or even strummed as songs. Each story is told and shared to evoke purpose and meaning for the people who live here on Earth. The storyteller is the carrier of the torch who will light the way from our past and who will guide us toward our future.

Throughout the world, reverence has been held for the storyteller, who is oftentimes one’s very own parent or grandparent. In many Eastern cultures, this reverence for the family and its heritage is held as one of the highest moral values. The Confucian philosophy of filial piety is described as respect for one’s family and heritage, and places it as its primary tenet. Children are taught to love, respect and be courteous to elders and to conduct their lives in ways to build kinship and provide continuity to their family lineage and community.

Grandmother Tsering Dolma blessing the children at the Grandmothers Gathering in Nepal. 2012. Photo © Marisol Villanueva

This sentiment is shared in Western belief systems as well. In Judaism and Christianity, the religious commandment to honor your father and your mother is instilled. Arguably, as the Western world propels itself toward a modern life of ever-shifting philosophical reckonings, some feel that reverence for the family has been losing its hold. In the past hundred years, new theories about the nature of aging have emerged from the West, challenging traditional belief systems.

Coinciding with these ideas have been incredible societal transformations, such as the development of the nuclear family, giving credence to such arguments. As Western ideals and technological modernity merge and broach each continent, one must wonder what the future holds for familial reverence the world over. Perhaps uncertainty such as this is what has compelled elders across the globe to stir forth and create a new, loud voice?

Writer Paola Gianturco has captured this activism with her book Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon, which explores an unheralded grandmothers movement that is changing the world. Grandmothers are coming together, using their healing powers to create a better future for grandchildren everywhere, and they are succeeding. Grandmother Power profiles activist grandmothers in 15 countries on five continents, who tell their compelling stories in their own words.

Grandmothers in Canada, Swaziland and South Africa collaborate to care for AIDS orphans. Grandmothers in Senegal convince communities to abandon female genital mutilation. Grandmothers in India become solar engineers and bring light to their villages, while those in Peru, Thailand and Laos sustain weaving traditions. Grandmothers in Argentina teach children to love books and reading. Other Argentine grandmothers continue their 40-year search for grandchildren who were kidnapped during the nation’s military dictatorship. Irish grandmothers teach children to sow seeds and cook with fresh, local ingredients. Filipino grandmothers demand justice for having been forced into sex slavery during World War II. Guatemalan grandmothers operate a hotline and teach parenting. In the Middle East, Israeli grandmothers monitor checkpoints to prevent abuse, and the United Arab Emirates’ most popular television show stars four animated grandmothers who are surprised by contemporary life.

One dynamic group of women has united to help heal the planet with their ancestral prayers and rituals: the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. They have vowed to teach each other their ways of prayer and to share these with the younger generations. Their alliance began with a vision which came to Jyoti (Jeneane Prevatt, Ph.D.), a Cherokee descendent who has since been given the title of “traveling ambassador charged with the mission.” She and her community continue to serve the Grandmothers and the mission that called them all together. Her Indian name, Jyoti (meaning “light”), was given to her by the sage Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandasji, who explained to her that her life mission was to be one of service.

Jyoti’s visions came to her from the Divine Mother, shaman grandmothers of Africa and South America, and the voice of her own grandmother. At first she was not clear what was being asked of her, but eventually she understood that she was to bring together this circle of female elders. As a healer, spiritual advisor, and psychological consultant, Jyoti turned to her spiritual community to identify this circle. Her vision became the catalyst of the many experiences of this divine calling that were occurring throughout the community. Bernadette Rebienot, a shaman from Gabon, told Jyoti that she too had this vision, and thus they embarked on a journey which would culminate in the creation of the Council.

The First Council Gathering took place in 2004 at Menla Mountain Retreat, New York. Photo © Marisol Villanueva

In 2004, Emmy award-winning filmmaker Carole Hart, who had herself once been healed of cancer through an indigenous medicine ceremony sponsored by Jyoti, asked if she could make a documentary about the meeting of the Grandmothers. Although it is untraditional for native people to be filmed, Hart felt compelled to offer her filmmaking gift to help support the Council’s powerful mission, and as a token of gratitude for her own healing. She took this idea to the Grandmothers and got their permission to move forward. Her film, For the Next 7 Generations, follows the Grandmothers closely from their first meeting in New York in 2004, where they established the Council. It goes on to witness this global initiative for unity of all people through their travels around the world to each other’s homelands in a moving prayer for peace.

Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yup’ik Indian of the Alaskan tundra, introduces herself in the opening of the documentary and shares a story from her childhood. Grandmother Rita explains that when she was a young girl, her grandmother gave her 13 stones and eagle feathers, with the prophesy that she would one day share her gifts with 12 others and form a circle with elder women.

While each Grandmother is unique in her own cultural practices and rituals of healing, they all share a common purpose: to love and respect the Earth and its gift of life, and to share the knowledge they have inherited and gained through experience with the next generation.

The story of the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and the activism of grandmothers, which is organically growing worldwide, suggests a force greater than coincidence is at play. It appears vital to not lose the heart and soul of our ancestors and the power that their prayers, healings and stories offer. In the modern day, when human communication and interaction is increasingly abbreviated by technology’s efficiency, and humankind’s natural curiosity drives us to explore new philosophies, it seems possible that a devastating disconnect between people could manifest and grow, resulting in the loss of our ancestral knowledge. The actions of these grandmothers, who have come forth and who have looked beyond each other’s differences to jointly protect the Earth, is indicative of the powerful need to preserve cultural traditions, which at their core are traditions of compassion and unity with one another and the Earth we inhabit.

The promise of the Hopi prophecy, “When the Grandmothers speak, the Earth will be healed,” appears to be at the cusp of fulfillment. Grandmothers, brought together by shared visions, ancient sacred words and an innate call for human preservation, are speaking. They are speaking with one another and they are speaking with their children. Unbound from their homelands, using modern devices to bridge differences and cross cultures, grandmothers are coming together to heal the ailments of society.

As the world grows and changes, new opportunities to share knowledge, history and wisdom are created. Storytelling around the fire will continue to exist when a conscious effort is made to keep the doorway to the past open. Reverence for the family, the Earth and life itself will not be lost if we continue to open our hearts and souls as the Grandmothers speak their wisdom.


Pathways Issue 37 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #37.

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