November/December 2004 Living Now
Clan Mothers
Walking in Beauty With the Thirteen Original Clan Mothers

by Dr. Mary Courtis

A couple of years ago I was standing in the checkout line at a local supermarket and a couple behind me started to talk about a picture of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston on the cover of a tabloid. The woman went on and one about how pretty Jennifer Aniston was, remarking in detail about the beauty of her hair, eyes, face, clothes and figure. Her male companion listened quietly to the woman's monologue for awhile. Then he said in a depreciating tone, "Hmph, I think he could have done BETTER." There was a long and pained silence. Finally the woman said in a subdued voice, "Well, I can't imagine what you must think of ME then!"

Sadly, I'm sure many of us can relate to this story. It poignantly captures the way women in mainstream American society are acculturated to compare and judge themselves according to a narrow and largely unobtainable ideal of feminine beauty. Tremendous amounts of time, energy and money are spent by women in an attempt to conform to these standards or to maintain them. Yet, no matter how hard we work out at the gym or how many plastic surgeries we have, few of us feel really beautiful. Even the Jennifer Anistons of this world suffer from the same pangs. I have rarely read an interview with an actress or a super model who truly felt comfortable and sure of her beauty.

As an anthropologist I am aware that women in other cultures often hold a different concept of beauty than we do. It is not just that their ideas of physical attractiveness are different or more inclusive than ours. Beauty is also defined and measured by other standards altogether. In many tribal cultures to be beautiful is to be in alignment with one's true self and nature. Respect and honor are paid to the sacredness of femininity. So women in these societies are free to feel and express a level of personal and spiritual power unknown to many American women today.

One road back to this sense of peace and wholeness has been provided by Native American writer and shaman Jamie Sams. Her book "The Thirteen Original Clan Mothers" (Harper-Collins, 1993) is based on traditional tribal teachings about women's medicine that Sams received from her Kiowa grandmothers Cisi Laughing Crow and Berta Broken Bow.

Sams says that "To become a fully grown woman, which in Native American Tradition happens around the age of fifty-two, I was instructed to work on my personal journey by developing my personal talents and gifts, using the Thirteen Original Clan Mothers as role models. I was taught how to understand the Medicine of each of these ancient Grandmothers and how to relate to each as my teacher. Although I have many years to go before attaining my majority, I have come to love these Clan Mothers who have been my Spirit Teachers and I trust how they speak to my heart. The Clan Mothers were the Spirit Teachers of the female Elders who were my physical teachers in Mexico and have taught many spiritual lessons in the Medicine Lodges of Women for centuries. The Thirteen Original Clan Mothers represent the aspects of what I have come to find most beautiful in woman and in the feminine principle."

For the past two years I have been working with the Thirteen Original Clan Mothers in the way that Sams suggests. This Beauty Walk has taught me many lessons about myself and prompted a desire to share what I have learned with other people seeking to heal their feminine selves and reclaim their personal power. I invite you to answer the call of the Thirteen Original Clan Mothers and become the woman you were truly meant to be!

Dr. Mary Courtis and Karyn Armstrong, owner of the Body, Mind And Spirit center and director of Harmonic Spaces, have adapted the Clan Mothers teachings into a thirteen month training program. For more information contact Karyn at 503-525-2521.