Returning to the Great Mother:
Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine
By Gail Straub
< back to Features
The following is from a speech given by Gail
Straub at the Women & Power:
Connecting Across the Generations Conference held at Omega
Institute, September 11-13, 2009.
Today I want to tell you a story. This is the story of returning
to the great mother’s house to take back the wisdom of our feminine.
This story reminds us that both men and women, boys and girls,
need the wisdom of the conscious feminine, just as we all need
the wisdom of the conscious masculine. But just as our brothers
are the natural protectors of the masculine lineage cultivating
the exterior life of intellect, reason, and the objective universal;
we sisters are the natural protectors of the interior life of
emotion, intuition, embodiment, and the intimate personal. Today
in our fast paced, logical, linear, outer oriented world, it
is all too easy for us to forget our female story.
But we forget our story at great peril. Great peril because useless
wars continue to ravage the world, our earth’s fragile eco system
is in grave danger, and too many members of our human family live
without the basic necessities that allow for dignity and empowerment
to flourish. So you see my dear sisters it is very, very, important
that we remember our story. This morning I am going to remind you
of the extraordinarily rich heritage that our wisdom comes from,
so that each of you can then remind the women in your life whom
you cherish, so that they won’t forget.
This story consists of four parts with each part being introduced
by the beauty of Erica’s cello.
Before I begin, I invite you to call in your female lineage.
Invite your daughters, your sisters, your mother, your grandmother,
and your great grandmothers way, way back in your lineage to be
present for you and surround you, as the story of our collective
wisdom unfolds. See if you can feel them and call them to you as
you listen to Erica’s cello.
Part One: The Imprint of Feminine Wisdom
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, in a mythic land
women lived with their female wisdom in tact. They were connected
to their deepest instincts and their intuition, their authentic
dreams and their heart’s clear voice. Women of every color in every
corner of the globe were committed to an ancient agreement where
they promised to protect the interior life for themselves, their
families, their communities, and their work places. Protecting
the interior life was a sacred oath to stand up for the wisdom
of heart and the emotions as an equal partner to the wisdom of
the head and the intellect; to ensure that the intuitive and the
imaginative had their rightful place next to the tangible and the
rational; and to cultivate beauty and the creative arts as an integral
part of everyday life.
And with this holy agreement women were bound to ensure that
the interior life of the spirit was as highly regarded as the outer
life of work, politics, or the marketplace. It was up to them to
assure that inner reflection and being, balanced action and doing.
Without contemplative practices such as prayer, meditation, silence,
or solitude, women knew that their sons and daughters could never
grow up into balanced, peaceful human beings, and that as a consequence
there could be little balance or peace in the world itself.
Along with protecting the interior life, the sisters were the
guardians of embodiment. Through the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth
women knew that reverence for the physical body meant reverence
for life itself. Instinctively, they also knew that this respect
included the larger body of the earth herself. Respecting the natural
world was the only way to insure that life as they knew it could
continue. So women made sure that their children found pleasure
in their bodies and sensuality as much as in their minds and ideas,
and that they spent plenty time outdoors in communion with the
natural world where they learned to respect and care for the earth.
It was a good time in lands far and wide as the imprint of the
conscious feminine was strong and true. Both men and women thrived
in these times with an equal partnership between masculine and
feminine, outer and inner, head and heart, linear and intuitive,
doing and being. The earth was in balance, and the world at peace.
But then, as in all stories, complicated dark forces came into
Part Two: The Loss of Feminine Wisdom
As dark forces infiltrated their communities, women began
to doubt their inherent wisdom. They stopped standing up for the
interior life, for the truth of their emotions. In ever so subtle
ways women began to close their hearts, betraying all the vital
feelings that come with the messy paradoxical nature of life; joy
and sadness, love and loss, light and dark. Slowly, inexorably
the only wisdom that counted was linear, right and wrong, rational
thought. Logic buried the voice of the heart. Living only in their
heads people lost the sacred connection with their physical bodies
and soon women’s bodies were no longer revered but abused. People
everywhere spent most of their days indoors stuck in their minds,
forgetting their bond with the natural world and her instinctual
wisdom. Without the voice of the heart or the voices of the earth,
human beings became blindly arrogant and selfish.
As women trusted their wisdom less and less, they abandoned the
vow to protect the interior life of their families, communities,
and work places. Soon the only direction that people valued was
outward towards activity and accomplishment, work and doing, always
doing, doing. The essential inner life of the imagination was now
considered unnecessary and in the way of progress. With no interior
to balance the exterior things became faster and faster, and more
externally driven. With this constant outer speed people could
never get enough, and they began to take more and more from each
other and from the earth. As the fundamental need for silence,
solitude, slowing down, and contemplative practice was lost, men,
women, and children all became hungry ghosts; dying of spiritual
and emotional starvation.
Finally one of the wisest and eldest grandmothers had an important
dream. In her dream she entered an ancient sacred chamber where
her entire female lineage was gathered. On the floor there was
a giant yin and yang pattern symbolizing the cosmic balance of
feminine and masculine wisdom. But the yin and yang were no longer
in balance. Now the yang dominated almost the entire symbol and
the yin was disappearing before her eyes. The wise grandmother
saw that all the women in her lineage were weeping. And then her
own mother turned to her and said, ever so tenderly, “ You must
return to the house of the great mother and take back the imprint
of your conscious feminine. You must go and balance the pattern
Grandmother awoke from her dream state, that realm of the unconscious
where the royal feminine reigns supreme. Now she felt strong and
clear. She understood that the loss of her wisdom was a complex
mixture of both what had been stolen from her, but also what
she herself had abandoned and betrayed. She must rally the other
women to take back what was theirs.
III. Part Three: Taking Back Our Wisdom
Grandmother put out a call to the women all over the land issuing
a challenge, a decree that it was time to reclaim the wisdom of
their birthright. Taking back their birthright was not easy when
the dominant culture of tidy logic, reasonable intellect, measurable
outer accomplishment and bottom lines, was profoundly threatened
by the return of messy emotion, mysterious intuition, un-measurable
paradox, and god forbid, the pleasure of the body. So the women
met secretly underground, helping each other to remember those
vows that they had taken so long ago to protect the interior life
along with a reverence for the physical body and the earth.
With each other’s solidarity and support the women became bold
and unstoppable. Soon underground mystery schools flourished where
boys and girls, men and women, were once again encouraged to open
their hearts. To welcome their emotions along with all the feelings
like love, joy, pain, or death that they couldn’t explain with
their rational minds. Understanding that it was often more difficult
for men and boys to open their hearts and befriend their emotions,
the women took extra care with their fathers, sons, husbands, and
The grandmothers taught how to embrace the natural paradox of
life which cultivated a stance of both/ and, rather than, either/or.
Dedicated to reclaiming the wisdom of the interior, these mystery
schools again held the inner life of the imagination in the highest
regard. People took back their inherent creativity and started
to paint, sculpt, dance, play the cello, and write poems and plays
and books. Contemplative practices were revived and now periods
of silence, solitude, prayer, and meditation provided a safe haven
for the interior life amidst the fast paced outer world. And once
again the wise women reminded people to cultivate regular practices
that engaged their bodies returning them to sensual pleasures as
well as enjoyment of the natural world.
Slowly, inexorably the cosmic pattern returned to a proper balance
as outer and inner, reason and emotion, mental and physical, universal
and personal, once again became respectful partners. But Grandmother
now knew that she must take careful measures to protect and pass
on the lineage of female wisdom lest it be endangered once again.
IV. Part Four: Protecting and Passing On the Lineage of our
Grandmother convened an intergenerational council of older and
younger women to discuss the protection and passing on of female
wisdom. With each generation the wisdom of the lineage deepened
and evolved to new levels. Understanding that this dynamic evolution
depended upon a partnership between what the olders had learned
and what the youngers were pioneering, they set out to update their
The women renewed their old promise to protect the life of the
interior, to stand up for the wisdom of the heart in their families,
their workplaces, and in the corridors of power. They agreed to
insure that inner life of the spirit and imagination was as fully
attended to as the outer life of accomplishment and action; and
that the physical body along with the wisdom of natural world had
their equal place next to the life of the intellect and the realm
of the human mind.
And then the younger women spoke out with their joyous clear
voices. To evolve the lineage of our wisdom we must vow to embrace
the other, to go towards whomever or whatever we are different
from—culturally, spiritually, sexually, racially, and politically.
In the highest celebration of our non-hierarchical feminine wisdom,
everyone has a voice in the council of life. And this pledge means
we need to help each other to refuse the temptation of taking simplistic,
either/or, right or wrong positions. We must all remember that
the conscious feminine respects that each woman makes her own authentic
choices about lifestyle, partners, bearing children, work, and
faith. And, the young women continued, we must include the men
in our dialog. We need them to help us learn to cherish our wisdom.
Grandmother was pleased with these updated vows. She felt confident
that they would insure that women stepped fully into positions
of power and leadership with their authentic female wisdom intact.
These agreements would allow for a balanced partnership between
the outer life of work where important things got accomplished,
and the inner life where spirit and emotions flourished; between
compassionate internal self-care and passionate caring for the
external world. As the years passed, the wisdom of the feminine
grew strong and true.
And then the day came when Grandmother lay on her deathbed, surrounded
by her family and loved ones. She shared with her grandchildren
that just as the wisdom of the heart and instincts of the body
understand the process of birth to be one of the greatest teachers,
they also know that the mystery of death is the other great teacher.
Encouraging her grandchildren to live with death as close advisor,
she reminded them that we die the way we live. As Grandmother took
her last breath she had no fear, for she trusted that her granddaughters
and her grandsons were ready to protect the voice of the heart,
the untamed territory of the imagination, the sensual joy of the
body, and the precious interior life of the spirit.
above is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by Gail Straub
at the Women
and Power: Connecting Across the Generations Conference held
at Omega Institute, September
To order audio CDs from this event or to
purchase recordings from past Women & Power conferences,
please order online at www.eomega.org/omega/mediaworks,
call 845.266.4444, ext. 317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
STRAUB Considered a pioneer in the field of empowerment,
Gail Straub cofounded Empowerment Training Programs in 1981.
Since then she has offered training to thousands of people throughout
America, Europe, Russia, China, and East Asia. She codirects
Institute Certification Program, a school for transformative
leadership. With her husband David Gershon, she coauthored the
best seller, Empowerment:
The Art of Creating Your Life As You Want It. The book has
been translated into five languages and is used worldwide as
the basis for empowerment life coaching and support groups.
A seasoned social activist and citizen diplomat, she has trained
Russian activists in the empowerment methodology helping them build
a visionary leadership model for social change. She has done similar
work in China where the empowerment model was adopted by the Chinese
Women's Federation, the largest women's organization in the world.
Gail served as the International Director for the historic First
Earth Run, a global initiative co-sponsored by the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) and ABC Television. In 1986 during the
height of the cold war, a torch of peace was passed around the
world mobilizing the participation of 25 million people, 62 countries
and 45 heads of state. The event raised several million dollars
for UNICEF which was distributed to the neediest children in the
In 1992 Gail created Grace: A Spiritual Growth Training Program
designed to integrate spiritual development with social and ecological
responsibility. Hundreds of students throughout North America,
Europe, and Russia have participated in this program of engaged
spirituality. Based on its success she wrote the critically acclaimed,The
Rhythm of Compassion: Caring For Self, Connecting With Society,
as well as Circle
of Compassion: Meditations for Caring for the Self and the World..
Her most recent book is the feminist memoir Returning
to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine,
which has won numerous awards, including the 2009 Nautilus Silver
Award and ForeWord Book of Year Award Finalist.
Gail received her bachelor degree with honors in political science
from Skidmore College. She has served in the Peace Corps in West
Africa and on the Board of Directors of the Omega
Institute and the Russian American Humanitarian Initiative.
She is a faculty member at The Edge International School for Leadership
and Spirituality in the Netherlands.
For more information, visit www.returningtomymothershouse.com.