In October 2006, 13 Indigenous Grandmothers from the four corners of the Earth gathered in India in sacred council to pray together and forge their plans for peace. From the Arctic and the Amazon, from the North American plains, the lush jungles of Africa, and from the high mountains of Nepal, they came together in the home in exile of the Tibetan Grandmother Tsering Dolma Gyaltong. Each of the Grandmothers brought with them sacred ashes from the fires of their homelands, and with a spark from a fire that had circumnavigated the world in 1998, they lit a sacred fire and they began to sing praises to the Divine Spirit, each in their own language, each in her own way. For seven days they shared morning, noon, and evening prayers; sang their medicine songs; and opened their hearts and lifted their voices in hope for unity and healing for the Earth. Seers and medicine women and warriors, they were brought together by visions and by the prophecies of their people, and they defined themselves primarily as women of prayer. For seven days the light of those prayers lit the hearts of the 140 witnesses who had come with the Grandmothers to this place perched high above the Indian plains to invoke Spirit in every language.
I was there through the invitation of my friend Barbara Simmons, executive director of Peacetalks radio, a project under the care of Newtown (Pa.) Meeting. For five years, Barbara had been producing inspiring radio programs about people rising above violence for PRI and NPR. Through Peacetalks, Barbara offered both local and global stories that were an alternative to our ubiquitous diet of media violence and fear-based reportage. Through her work in the Native American community "way had opened," as we Quakers say, for this invitation to accompany the Grandmothers on their trip, and to cover their meeting with the Dalai Lama. I went along as Barb’s sherpa, production assistant, all-around easy-going travel companion, and delighted pilgrim. We would be recording sound for a radio special about the Grandmothers and their meeting with the Dalai Lama. As Quakers, we would be appropriately silent witnesses to the events to come, and we were waiting to be conduits for the Grandmothers’ message.
This was not the first time the Grandmothers had met. Their first Grandmothers’ Council was held in 2004 in Phoenicia, New York, when a group was convened through the inspiration and leadership of the Center for Sacred Studies, who sent out 16 letters and assembled 13 powerful indigenous women and an outer circle of 500, including Alice Walker, H.H. Sai Maa, and Gloria Steinem. At that first meeting the Grandmothers agreed to meet regularly in each others’ homelands, to become a legal entity, and to form a global alliance of prayer, education, and healing for our Mother Earth—for all her inhabitants, for the children, and for the next seven generations.
The meeting last fall in Dharamsala was their fourth, and signaled a new phase in their growth out into the world. In the first three days of private Council meetings, they had much to discuss: a new book about them was coming out, a documentary film was finishing filming, and they were participating in a live satellite "space bridge" between India and the Bioneers Conference in California that would unite these two groups of people searching for better ways to live in harmony on the planet: science and spirit. Peacetalks would tape the open Council meetings, whichever of the ceremonies and rituals the Grandmothers felt comfortable having taped, and Barb would have an opportunity to interview many of the Grandmothers privately as well. From these pieces we would weave our story for the radio.
At the opening ceremony the wide balcony was filled with smoke from sacred medicine and wet wood, while the sweet sound of Tibetan bells and twirly drums kept beat as the auspicious chanting went on and on, and the sun beat down, alternating with dark clouds and rainbows. By the end, 13 swallow-tailed Indian falcons called kites flew above us in lazy circles. I wondered: how can Peacetalks catch that for the radio?
As the week unfolded, it became clear that we were witnessing great power. How were they keeping up this grueling pace? And at their ages! There were ceremonies at the balcony sacred fire three times per day, two Council sessions per day (closed sessions for the first three days and open sessions after that, tightly run by Grandmother Agnes Pilgrim Baker), and then interviews, preparations for the LinkTV sessions, updates on their local projects, individual healings, and mingling with the gathered group. They visited the Temple for teachings, visited the Oracle and the Tibetan Medicine Institute, and were served yak tea in the new Nunnery down a precipitous mountain road. Barbara and I recorded everything, downloading files at night in the intermittent electricity of our hotel room and burning disks to safeguard our treasures.
The Grandmothers’ prayers were inspiring, their teachings simple and direct. Change is coming. As Grandmothers they are concerned about the unprecedented destruction of Mother Earth: the contamination of our air, water, and soil; the atrocities of war; the global scourge of poverty; the threat of nuclear weapons and waste; the prevailing culture of materialism; the epidemics that threaten the health of the Earth’s people; the exploitation of indigenous medicines; and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We must change or the coming time of Purification will be harsh. Mother Earth is angry.
The Grandmothers are here to defend the Earth Herself. They have been called through prophecy and vision, and they have come, strident and humble and full of righteous indignation. They assure us that it is not too late to turn our great human wisdom to the service of compassion. It is the eleventh hour, but it is not too late.
As we sat interviewing Grandmother Bernadette from Gabon, Africa, she spoke about the need to work for peace through the children, and, as an educator with many years of experience, she was familiar with her subject. Like many of the Grandmothers, hers is a world of both work and spirit, and her wisdom is practical and transformational at the same time. "Women must wake up this great force they possess and bring the world back to peace and harmony." It is time for the Divine Feminine to sustain the Earth, to help us remember the sacredness and interdependence of all life.
Oh, and the Dalai Lama? He was incredible in laughing spirit and teachings, despite having been ill and traveling extensively recently. He, of course, said that prayers for peace are not enough, that you must work for peace in the world. He came up into our crowd for a picture at the end of our private session with him and he actually leaned on Barb, just in case we didn’t get the message, cracking jokes and making everyone smile. "You must be the Peace. We must be the Peace. Learn the joys of interdependence and compassionate altruism." The grandmothers know this already. We all know it already. We just need to hear it again and again from our grandmothers, from our spiritual leaders, from our Grandmothers. We need to be reminded of the ancient songs, even if we can only hear them over the radio, and cannot quite smell the sacred smoke, or see the 13 falcons soaring overhead.
For air dates of the Peacetalks program about the Grandmothers’ Council, see http://peacetalksonline.org. For information on the Grandmothers, see http://www.grandmotherscouncil.com, or Carol Schaefer’s book Grandmothers Council the World, by Shambala Publications, 2006.