On a dark autumn night with only a waning crescent moon lighting the sky, Cora made her way up from the subway and onto the streets of the city. She feared going out at night. But her desire to attend the meeting of her women's political action group was stronger than her fear.
Her confidence boosted by the high pitched emergency whistle she wore around her neck, the canister of chemical spray in her purse, and her recently completed beginner's course in Karate, Cora weaved her way among the men congregating on corners and the homeless shivering against the buildings and lying on top of the subway grates.
As she continued walking she became conscious of footfalls behind her, shuffling steps accompanied by a rhythmical pounding. Cora quickened her pace, too frightened to turn around and see who might be following her. When she had to stop for a red light and traffic, she was petrified. But, she consoled herself, at least there were other people in the cars passing by.
As she waited for the light, the shuffling and pounding got closer, louder, then stopped. And out of the corner of her eye Cora saw, standing next to her, an old woman carrying a large, stuffed-full, plastic shopping bag in her right hand, and in her left, a cane. Only a bag lady, Cora thought, relieved.
When the light turned green, Cora and the bag lady crossed the street, Cora walking briskly ahead once more. But as she proceeded down the block to the building where the meeting was being held, Cora heard a old, cracking voice behind her saying, "Wait, young woman, I want to speak with you."
Cora went on, ignoring the bag lady who she assumed wanted to hit her up for a dollar or two.
Turning to go into the building, she heard again the words, "Wait, young woman," but this time the voice was strong and commanding, frightening her further. Quickly she reached out to open the door to the building. But it would not budge.
"Cora," the commanding voice said once more, "wait for me."
Cora was confounded. How did the woman know her name? She whirled around to confront her.
The old woman stood before her, wrapped in what appeared to be a black blanket, her cane poised on sidewalk in front of her.
"Who are you and how do you know my name?" Cora asked.
"I am the one who seeks you. I know your name as I know many things," the woman said, her voice cracking once more.
Thinking that the other voice must have been fear making her imagination run wild, Cora withdrew a dollar from her purse and held it out to the woman to get rid of her.
But the woman only laughed and said, "I have no use for your money."
"What do you want then?"
"I want you to listen to me. For I have secrets to tell."
"I'm sorry, I have to go to a meeting. I'm already late," Cora said, trying and failing again to open the door to the building.
"Yes. You are late," the woman said. "Thousands of years late. But there is still time."
Cora felt exasperated. Here was this probably harmless but crazy lady harassing her and she couldn't open the door to the apartment building. She looked in vain for a telephone to call the apartment and get buzzed in.
"I can help you," the woman said, pounding her cane on the sidewalk.
"I know how to get into the building. But first you must promise me a promise."
"You must promise to take me to the meeting."
"Why do you want to go to the meeting? You don't even know what kind of meeting it is!"
"If I can guess what kind of meeting it is, will you take me with you?"
Cora felt like she was in middle of a fairy tale--and it was pretty grim. But if the old woman knew how to pick the lock or something, Cora figured it was worth a try. So she agreed that if the woman could guess what kind of meeting it was she would take her along.
The woman laughed and exclaimed, "It is a meeting about power. A meeting about women and power!"
Cora gasped, "That's right," as the old woman walked past her and pushed open the door with her cane.
Holding the door for Cora, the woman said, "Are you coming in?"
An astonished Cora walked into the building and went with the woman into the elevator, pushing the button for the third floor. Again she asked the woman for her name.
"My name is a secret," the woman replied, "And anyway, you wouldn't be able to pronounce it."
"Then how can I introduce you?"
"I don't need to be introduced," she said, "for they already know me in their hearts. But if they ask, you may simply say I am a friend."
When Cora and her friend arrived at the meeting, it had already begun. Taking seats in the back near a window, they listened as one woman spoke of trying to gain political power, as another spoke of gaining power over their own bodies, and as a third spoke of obtaining equal pay for work of comparable worth. As her ancient friend nodding her head in agreement with all that transpired, Cora was saddened and angered that such a woman had come to be wandering the streets without a home. And as Cora felt love toward the woman whom before she had feared, the woman turned to Cora and smiled and Cora smiled back.
The meeting had progressed to new business and the president was asking if there were any additional matters to be discussed.
The old woman winked at Cora, whispering, "Now I must speak." Then she stood up and all who were there sat in wonder.
"Yes, what is it?" the president recognized her.
"Greetings sisters," the old woman said. And to Cora's amazement it was not in the cracked old woman's voice, but in the strong, commanding voice she had thought she only imagined.
The old woman made her way to where the president sat at the front of the room. Then, setting her bag in front of her, she said: "I am happy to be at your meeting tonight for I have sought you for a long time."
She waited as the women whispered nervously among themselves and then said, " Listen to me and I will answer all your questions." The room quieted and she continued, "First I will tell you that I agree with all you have said here tonight. And I sympathize with your quest for political power, for your right to control your own bodies, and for your right to equal pay for your work. Too long have you worked harder and been paid less. Too long have you worked in your men's homes and been paid nothing. For they told you to be happy that you were being taken care of when in truth you were being taken advantage of."
"Right on," several women shouted.
"But I come tonight to tell you of a greater power than that of money or politics. It is the power that underlies all other power, and until you understand it, you will never be fully free."
"But before I tell you this secret I ask that you do something for me."
The women leaned forward in their seats, entranced now by this bag lady spouting rhetoric.
"When I tell you this secret, I want to be able to look into each of your faces, to see my reflection in your eyes. So I ask you to move your chairs so that you are sitting in a circle around me."
Like so many eager school children, the women moved their chairs around their teacher. Then, standing in the middle, she removed her black blanket and spread it on the floor revealing a silver luminescence. On her shimmering blanket, she stood before them now in a tattered lavender dress and necklace of clear crystal that danced with light.
She waited again for them stop whispering and then said, "Hear what I tell you this night:
"Though they call it politics,
yet do their laws begin in their denial
And though they call it economics,
yet do their policies start in their devaluation
Know then that the power you seek is not power over,
but rather power within
from She who has been with you from all time,
from She who is with you tonight.
And be assured that their power to rule you comes
only from the petty power of their god.
But Hers is a greater power.
And Her power is your power.
For just as they have made the male god to rule
over Our Great Mother,
so they have justified their rule over you.
Know from this that personification is political.
And thus the yoke of your oppression is their denial
of She who is the Source of all life.
Know also that as you seek to change your world
I am with you.
Have the courage then to change even what seems
fixed as the stars.
For just as the fixed stars are truly
So can the unmovable
For I am the greatest change;
I am the change that changes
I will be with you and all who return to me.
For as you liberate me,
so shall you be set free
and the balance of the universe be
And although the women did not understand all that She said, they were moved by Her words, even those whose reason led them to believe that the bag lady was probably a little crazy.
And the woman smiled at them as a grandmother would smile at her daughters' daughters. And She said to them in a voice that was neither cracked nor commanding but mild and filled with love: "Will you do one more thing for me?"
And the women whispered together, "Yes."
"Please take the hand of your sister and let us sit together in joy and in peace and feel the power that is within each."
And Cora reached out to the woman on her left and clasped her hand and so it continued around the circle until the woman on Cora's right took her hand. And Cora could feel a tingling, like a gentle electric current, traveling from the others, through her, and out again to the other women.
And standing in the center, the woman traced a circle around Her with the cane, saying: "May the circle ever be unbroken." And as She spoke, a spiral of light began spinning at her feet and continued upward around her body until it encircled her head. The women watched in wonder as the spiral spun faster and faster until all that was visible in the center of their circle was the cone of spiraling light.
Suddenly Cora shouted, "She has come!" And with her shout did the spiral vanish and gone also was the old woman from their midst.
But as the women unclasped hands, Cora glanced out the window to see a bag lady walking down the street and tapping her cane under the crescent moon.
Copyright © 1989 by Judith Laura. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
From Judith Laura's first book: She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother: Myths, Rituals, and Meditations.