People Systems

Part 3 – Wise Woman Ways

Invisible Old Women - Expanding on the Grandmother Effect

In sharing with us the stories of the whales and the trees (see the previous article in this Series), science confirms what indigenous people have always known: older women have critically important roles to play as way-finders, peace-makers, and care-takers. But these wise woman powers can only be expressed if older women are seen and valued.

Post-menopausal women on earth today number in the millions. 2030 is projected to see 1.2 billion of us, with 47 million adding to that number each year.

That’s a lot of potential for way-finding. (See the previous article’s reference to post-reproductive female whales as leaders and way-finders in their communities.)

But for our culture to benefit from the contributions older women can make there is a lot of work to be done, because it’s impossible for women to show the way if we are ourselves lost, undervalued, and unseen. In Jane Hardwicke Collings’ words:

“For post-menopausal women to be the women the earth needs now, there is a lot of healing, re-awakening and remembering to be done.”

Jane Hardwicke Collings

The healing, awakening and remembering need to be done individually, by each woman as she passes through the menopausal rite of passage.

And the healing and remembering also needs to be done collectively, by all of us. As a culture, we need to remember and embrace the power of the Wise Woman Tradition.


Image by Ye Zaw, Unsplash


An Invisible Tradition

Our culture tends not to see the contributions that older women (and older men) can make (perhaps this is partly why in developed countries, older adults are either driving around the country in camper-vans or sitting in old people’s homes rather than contributing to a richer community life).

Older women in our culture are in a sense “invisible” – unseen and undervalued.

“The Wise Woman Tradition is … rarely identified, rarely written or talked about. It is an invisible tradition.”

Susun Weed, Healing Wise


In Healing Wise, Susun Weed lists the many reasons why the Wise Woman Tradition (see Part 1 of this Series for a brief introduction to the Wise Woman Tradition) is today invisible[i]:

  • To say that a woman in the kitchen is engaged in healing her family and community and keeping her universe in balance is a lot to claim for making dinner, and most of us don’t see those connections. Nourishing is an invisible process. Nourishment through nursing and through gathering and preparing food, historically, was very often pushed into the background by white male anthropologists who were fascinated by the drama of the hunt.


  • Most healthcare given worldwide (up to 99% by some estimates) is provided by mothers caring for their families’ health. This is not measured or paid for, so it’s not considered significant.


  • Women, especially women of color, are invisible to white men and white male society. For hundreds of years, women have not been seen as powerful. Women healers, midwives, and herbalists are frequently written out of accounts, omitted when lists are re-copied, or known only by a husband’s name. (See also “Restoring Women to Cultural Memory” and other work by Max Dashu)And the lineage of the European Wise Woman Tradition was all but lost in the witch hunts, the systematic killings of millions of women initiated by the Church and the male-dominated medical establishment which spanned the 1300’s to the 1600’s. (See “Herstory[ii])


  • The Wise Woman Tradition is an oral tradition, and we have grown accustomed to believing things only if they are written down in books.


  • There is no visible structure in the Wise Woman Tradition. You can’t get a degree or a certificate in it; there are no tangible markers for it.


  • Each nourishing and healing encounter in the Wise Woman Tradition is unique. In the scientific worldview, a single instance of anything is worthless. The more repeatable and the easier something is to standardise (in other words, to strip it of its uniqueness) the more visible it is.


  • Commonness is invisible. It’s so familiar to see a woman tending, nourishing, supporting health. What’s to note about it?


  • Prevention is invisible. To prevent health issues via nourishment involves no drama, does not draw attention.


“Most history passes over women. Our names and faces are missing, our stories omitted or distorted, covered over by an endless masculine litany of kings, warlords, priests (with an occasional queen or concubine—often a woman blamed for ruining everything).”

Max Dashu, in her article “Restoring Women to Cultural Memory” (See The Suppressed Histories Archives for more)




Image by Tadeu Jnr, Unsplash

The Number One Rule

If a woman chooses to be visible in our culture today, the number one rule she is required to abide by is that she must appear to be young. And if she can’t look young? She must look masculine.

Women who conform to the dominant expectations about what important people look like can get away with being prominent.

But an older woman who doesn’t look young and/or powerful? Especially if her skin is dark? What could she possibly have to offer?



Coming Up Next

In the next and final article in this series, we’ll explore two co-existing ways of interpreting reality. One of them suppresses and sidelines the Wise Woman Tradition while the other invites it forth. We’ll also touch on how healing ourselves is an essential part of any effort to heal the world.




Kate writes at about thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life. Download this complete article Series and check out her other free downloads, here.



[i] You can find this list in Healing Wise, pages 8, 9 and 10. I’ve reworded it somewhat for brevity and clarity and added additional references.

[ii] Please note that this is extremely disturbing reading. Do not read it at bedtime. If you have a trauma background or are emotionally vulnerable in any way, do not read this without trusted support.

Kate Martignier

Kate writes at – an exploration into thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life.


  1. This makes for thoughtful reflection. So many people now consider if you are an academic, you are especially endowed with knowledge but hat a lifetime of living and life’s trials,tribulations is of much less importance.

    1. Maire, you are right: we have become a culture that values academic credentials very highly, and life experience much less so. Thanks for your comment.

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