Of Women, Wisdom, and Water

400 women from the four directions coalesced on Yavapai/Apache land near Montezuma Well in Arizona, answering the call put out by the The International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. It was a call for healing and prayers for our waters and for the next 7 generations.

There is something special about women coming together...something intensely sacred. We are strong, we are opinionated, we are meek, we are mild, some of us are broken and beaten down, and we can be as cruel as we are kind. We can stand on different sides of an issue with ferocity, but when a woman cries out for help, a sister steps up. There is an unspoken bond of womanhood of which I know no match; a compassion that rises unhindered when the cry is heard. 

To stand in this circle of women who agreed to come, pray, and listen to the wisdom of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers moved me. To realize that we not only showed up for a weekend of learning and work, we committed to a lifetime of it. By showing up at this gathering, we each consented to bring back the teachings into our lives and share it with others in the way we know best. Along this journey, we shared our stories with one another over meals as we met women from around the world. We wrote sentiments and prayers on squares of fabric that were sewn together as colorful prayer flags that were hung to fly in the breeze. We snuggled near fires to keep warm at night, and sat in awe of the sky that held millions of stars that most of us can never see at home.  

And, oh, what we learned. 

We learned community. We learned suffering. We learned about ego. We learned about loving ourselves and one another despite what we looked like and how we behaved. We learned to choose our words wisely. We learned about letting go of the past so we can reach out with both hands for a better future. We learned to crack open, feel raw, and embrace every single moment of it. Above all, we learned gratitude.

Every one of us seemed to struggle with something on a physical level as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual. I personally found myself grappling with food that I did not find to be sustainable for my body despite the organic fare, and was almost constantly hungry. (Chia porridge is just not my thing. I tried it - two bites, I really did. But the gelatinous mass could just not be convinced to slide down my throat and stay there). I was frustrated with myself, as many others were perfectly content and full with the offerings and some even swooned over the entrees. I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I'm normally a very positive person and grew weary of being miserable after a couple meals, so I finally accepted that I was being offered the gift of hunger and turned to gratitude to discern the lesson in it. The food still wasn't what I wanted, but I was thankful just the same for what was provided. A switch of perspective lightened everything. 

The extremes of the desert made impressions upon us at many levels. From the intense cold of the night to the heat of the day, from the chilling moments of sisterhood to the fire of impassioned prayers, we held space to feel our fears and stand in the face of them. We laughed, we cried, we danced and sang. We stood arm-in-arm with strangers in solidarity for our purpose: a call to action.

On World Water Day, we walked in silence to Montezuma Well, wrapped in the scents of bodies, anointing oils, and dry desert air. Arrangements had been made with the park service to do a water blessing led by the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, and the Park Rangers supported us in every way on our journey, with regards to our safety and holding our way clear to the well. Similar water blessings were held around the world.

Grandmother Agnes has always said to thank the water...it hears us. As the Grandmothers prayed, 400 women stood on the rim of the well at the four directions and down the stairway into the belly of the well, forming an umbilicus. We offered our thanks, our apologies, and prayed for blessings upon all the waters of the world, including the bodies of all living creatures. We held our hands outstretched before us, sending our love to the water below.

And it responded.

An Indigenous Elder who was standing next to me leaned over and asked, "Do you see the water moving?" 

And I had. What was a placid body of water with only occasional ripples from ducks had become a living entity, moving in relation to our willingness to reach out. It started as a zig-zag pattern across the surface...I saw a phoenix form in the pattern. And then there were small waves, actual waves. There was no wind to direct this movement, and there was a feeling that overcame us all as we saw with our eyes what we knew in our hearts - the water had heard us.

With the blessing ceremony over, we made the pilgrimage back to camp for nourishment, rest, and reflection. 

We gathered later for afternoon prayers to have our hearts ripped open, as we discovered that the son of one of the Grandmothers had suddenly passed away the evening before. The afternoon was scheduled to be a teaching of women's wisdom about our bodies and cycles. It instead became a ritual of grief. We released what was to be and sat in unity with what was. 

We cried with the Grandmothers and offered our prayers. We shed our tears, dropping our grief upon the dry earth. There is little to do or say to be of comfort when someone has a fresh and deep loss, especially when they are so far from home and family. And their loss reminds us of our loss. We wept. We hurt. We cradled the Grandmother and one another in song and prayer smoke. And then we reached into our pockets to donate whatever funds we each could to help her bury her son and cover the cost of her emergency flight home. We did what women do - we reached in deep at every level to support our sister. 

This gathering served to remind us that what we share in common is vastly more important than our differences. If 13 Indigenous Grandmothers from around the world with different traditions and medicine can work together while still honoring and respecting one another's needs, we all can.

We all share the need for clean water and air, food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. We all share loss. We all share fears, though our individual fears may differ. 

We share this world, and we share the responsibility for its care and well-being. As the species with the highest intelligence (and I use those words loosely) and the highest level of impact, we have been doing a poor job. 

We can do better, and we must. We have reached a critical point, for the health of our most basic need - water - is in peril. No water, no life. The moment is now to make the needed changes.

The work begins within, with changing our view. If we began to treat everyone and everything as if it were our equal and just as valuable, how would our world be? Some might say that treating non-living things with more respect would make no difference, but I would say that yes it does...it would make us different. We have the power here to literally change the world. When we begin to respect ourselves and all others - All Our Relations on this planet, for we are interconnected and interdependent - we change everything. 

When we can look one another in the eye and see the unique beauty and importance and relevance to our very existence, we will have come home. When we can find compassion for the weeds in our lawn and the deer that eat our garden fare, we will have returned to ourselves. When we can find the wisdom in the rocks and soil that form the structure of our planet and be grateful for the blessings of the rain and snow that drown us in sustenance, we will be whole.

When we can be the change we wish to see in the world, we will know peace. 

In Love and Light,


  1. Thank you for putting words to this amazing experience, Sue. I am still processing all that occurred for me, for the group and for the world during our gathering. Your writing is a gift to me. Thank you.


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