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“THE GIRL GOD” — Seeking a female metaphor for greatness: Suggestions from indigenous peoples

Trista Hendren runs a publishing house for original work by women for women who celebrate the divine feminine—and who share practical ways to live that life. I believe that her enterprise started with a children’s picture book, The Girl God.  Hence, the company and website name: The Girl God

I enjoy Trista’s semi-regular newsletters (3-4 times per month) which always begin with a substantive quote by a woman and are never overloaded with items. This week’s quote moved me to reply, which I am posting here as a contribution to the public discussion posed by the quote’s author, Glenys Livingstone. I do not know Livingstone’s work but she is a member of The Girl God team; here’s a short bio.  

(Or is it a metaphor for female greatness?)

Here is the quote from the September 4, 2020 Girl God newsletter:
“Deep in the psyche even of great women, there has not been a female metaphor for greatness, for strength, for the wisdom which they themselves embodied. The female Deities had been so slandered, so stripped of essential integrity… this is not myopia. The millennia of patriarchal narrative has left our minds locked up, unable to grasp the Female Metaphor… that she may stand sovereign, not as greater than, but in and of herself: so that, when a woman or a man desires to express greatness, nobility, strength they are able to easily reach for a female image.” –Glenys Livingstone, PhD

I admit to being a little confused by this quote. Like many Baby Boomers (and other women), I have read hundreds of feminist works in which various authors use or coin new terms denoting “great” women. A short list off the top of my head includes terms like grandmother, Cosmic Mother, Goddess, crone, not to mention female deities and mythical figures such as Isis, Kuan Yin, Corn Mother, Lilith as well as historical women too numerous to mention. I assumed Ms. Livingstone knows all those terms and images, so I figured she was getting at something else.  

What that something else is I don’t really know, but I was moved to offer some terms from Indigenous America (both North and South) that are not well known and that resonate with me. Maybe The Girl God is just looking for some new terms.

Here is my email to Trista.


The body of my Sept. 4, 2020 email to Trista Hendren (lightly edited for clarity(
Subject: Re: Deep in the psyche even of great women, there has not been a female metaphor for greatness.

To Trista:

I have a brief comment about Glenys Livingstone’s quote at the top of today’s announcement, implying that there has never been a female metaphor for greatness. Maybe not in Western “civilization”, but I suspect that Indigenous cultures had (still have ?) such metaphors.

Here are two that I know about:

1. PROF. BARBARA ALICE MANN: Gantowisas, indispensable
Prof. Barbara Alice Mann is a member of the Bear clan, Seneca nation and is a professor of literature (humanities) at the University of Toledo (Ohio). Her major exposition of women’s authority in the Haudenosaunee League provides both an adjective and a noun that might qualify as terms for female greatness. On page 16 of her book,Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas,is this paragraph:

“An Iroquoian equivalent of “woman” is gantowisas, yet the term conveys more than woman. She is political woman, faith keeping woman, mediating woman; leader, counselor, judge. Gantowisas indicates mother, grandmother, and even the Mother of Nations, as well as the Corn Mother, Herself, whose shining new face lies beneath the ground to rise again, each year. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the revered Cayuga Chief Deskaheh (1873-1925) of the Canadian Six Nations Council at Grand River, Canada, defined gantowisasas a mature woman acting in her official capacity. Her official capacity was public in every way. Her duties were frankly political, economic, judicial, and shamanic. Gantowisas, then means Indispensable Woman.”

My own psyche resonates on a daily basis with “indispensability”. 

Unfortunately, this sense of indispensability has almost been co-opted during the current pandemic by the use of “essential” as in essential workers. As many observers have rightly pointed out, politicians, media, and others who throw that word around really mean “disposable” in our current culture. 

2. KAY CORDELL WHITAKER: Birthing paint
Kay Cordell Whitaker, author ofSacred Link: Joining Fortunes with the Unknown (2005), has a whole chapter that seems to search for metaphors for female greatness. All of her teachings she learned from an Indigenous Amazon shaman. Here are two brief quotes, in addition to her multiple uses of the word “sacred” in the ninth chapter, Power of the Forbidden Fruit:

p. 178 
“Women are the center. That is what it is to be a woman.”

“We are the center of the family…And the center of the tribe, the nation, even our species. Everything moves around us. It is the woman who naturally set the rhythm , the mood, the pace. We are the fire that is at the center of the hut, the smoke that rises up like a pillar to the Creator and the spirit nations. For the generations of the Humans we are the source—the key to the future, the survival of our kind. We carry the future inside us and we mold the makers of the world of tomorrow.”

p. 183
(describing indigenous peoples of the Amazon)
“…the one thing they all held in common was the belief that women and women’s blood are sacred. Women are always to be highly honored and cared for. Without women they are nothing. They have no future.”

p. 192
One last term that Whitaker learned from her teacher that we might want to popularize as indicating female greatness: “Birthing paint” (as opposed to “war paint”). It’s also defined as women’s medicine. The term comes up numerous times in this chapter.

I hope these are of interest, to you and possibly to others in your network.