Issue #4, December 2003


Welcome to the End-of-Year edition of the "Elderwoman Newsletter."
Our numbers continue to grow, as women in various parts of the world e-mail me and ask to be added to the list. I suppose eventually, if it all gets really big, I'll have to get new, interactive software and do the whole thing in a more high-tech way. But I'll resist that as long as possible. Right now, when someone asks to join the list, I manually update the database and also send that person a welcome message. I enjoy being able to "meet and greet" each new arrival that way, and I would miss it.


View from the Desk
Feature Article - The Visitor
Call for Submissions
New Year Message
Last Laugh


Dear Friends,

I have travelled at least ten thousand miles since the last newsletter (see below under "Reports") and it is hard to believe that only three months have passed since I last wrote to you from this desk.

It is an ongoing dilemma for me, this travelling thing. I feel the need to make and maintain connections and "spread the word" about the things I believe in so passionately. And it also seems especially important to spend time with my grandchildren, both for my sake and for theirs, even though they live thousands of miles away. Yet I know that air travel is one of the worst forms of pollution and one of the greediest users of precious fossil fuels. My partner and I make an effort to balance out our use of jet planes by not having a car, but even so that is not a complete answer to the problem. Life sometimes feels like a series of balancing acts, doesn't it? Or like hiking in a network of trails, with decision points every half mile or so.

It is winter here now, though the weather has been extraordinarily mild for the most part. This time of year, with its bare trees, its short days and its overcast skies, feels like a very cosy one to me. I think I must have been a bear in a past life, for once the nights draw in I feel like doing nothing more than snuggling up by the fire with a good book. Though I did enjoy the annual ritual of walking up to the village in the dark on Christmas Eve and singing carols with everybody else, under the Christmas tree in the Square.

Meanwhile, a friend who called me from Western Australia reported having enjoyed her Christmas dinner of cold meat and salad beside a swimming pool, at 32C in the shade. What an incredible contrast.

Christmas Upover




Christmas Downunder


Dangerous Food (US)

This is more of a health warning than an announcement. US readers - and there are many of you on this list - will no doubt be aware that BSE ("Mad Cow Disease") has been discovered in the USA. The Government will hasten to tell you that there is nothing to worry about and that American beef is still safe to eat, DON'T BELIEVE THEM. The British Government gave out the same sorts of false assurances when the disease was first discovered in the UK and before it was proved beyond doubt that humans could catch an awful, fatal disease (vCJD) from eating BSE-infected beef. 137 people have since died from vCJD and even though stringent preventive measures have since been put into place in the meat industry, new cases of vCJD continue to emerge, as the incubation period is anywhere from three years to twenty or more.

The FDA's own chief veterinarian was quoted in the New York Times of December 26th as saying that the testing of "downers" (animals who are too sick to stand up) in the slaughterhouses was not set up in a way that would prevent infected meat entering the food chain. In fact, parts of the first, BSE-infected cow had already entered the food chain before the tests on its brain tissue came back. If you are not already a vegetarian, reading all the details on this subject will be enough to turn you into one, I think. And if you have any sense at all, you most certainly will not eat beef, especially the sort, like hamburger, which often contains tissue from sick animals. Meat which is certified organic is much more likely to be safe, since organic guidelines prohibit the feeding cows on anything that contains animal ingredients. However, animal ingredients in cattle feed have only been banned since 1997 and some of the feed manufacturers have cheated. (2% of them are still putting it in). So to be 100% safe, don't eat beef at all.

(If you want more background info on all of this, let me know and I'll e-mail it to you).

A Rose About to Bloom in London (UK event)

Rose Rosetree, whom I have mentioned in this newsletter before, will be making her first visit to the UK in February and will be giving sessions and demonstrations of face-reading at the Mind Body Spirit show at Kempton Park Racecourse.


Elderly Roses To Be Honoured

I was so taken with artist Sandra Stanton's Goddess paintings that I ordered her beautiful Medicine Wheel calendar for 2004. As you may know, one of the creatures on the calendar is a flicker (a member of the woodpecker family), and Sandra tells me that after she saw and read about the rose hips on the Elderwoman website she decided to add rose hips to the border around the flicker in the next (2005) edition of the calendar, which she is already working on. I got such a kick out of that. Hooray for rose hips! I'll definitely be buying the 2005 calendar too.

"Wildness - Intimate and Infinite" (UK event)
(This one, I am really looking forward to - M)

A "GreenSpirit" weekend of inspiration and renewal (UK)
University of Leicester April 2-4, 2004
Cost: 140 (includes full board)
"This will be a weekend of seeking to experience the Wildness, within and outside us, of our living, breathing natural world. Wildness that inspires us and engages our passions wherever we are: in city, meadows, mountains ... Wildness that can free human culture to find a new relationship with the sensuous earth."
The speaker and facilitator for the weekend is David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous. David is a cultural ecologist and philosopher who has lived with indigenous sorcerers in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas. His work focuses upon the cultural, psychological, and spiritual aspects of ecological transformation, upon the changing relation between science and sensory experience, and upon the intertwined mysteries of perception and language.

For more details about the weekend, go to To read an article that explains more about David Abram's work, go to:


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Discussion Forum

I'm still working on this. I was planning to have it set up before I sent out this newsletter, but I fell foul of some confusing instructions on the Omplace website. I'll have it sorted out soon, one way or another. Sorry for the delay.





A Wonderful Gathering

For the first time, this year, I did something I have wanted to do for several years and attended the annual gathering of elderwomen known as Crones Counsel , which this year was held in Boise, Idaho. It was an amazing experience, right from the start.

I flew into Boise on a small plane. When we got there, all the passengers dispersed quickly and I was the only person waiting outside for the shuttle bus to the hotel. However, soon after the driver picked me up, he received a call to double back to the airport for another passenger, whose plane had just landed. She was a small, elegant woman with white hair in a long braid right down her back, and sparkling eyes, who took one look at me as she climbed into the bus and said, with a wide smile, "Are you a crone?"

"I sure am," I replied. By the time we arrived at the hotel a friendship had begun.

And it went on from there. Three days of sharing, laughter (oh how we laughed!) tears, stories, dancing, drumming and beautiful ritual, all honouring and celebrating the process of being a woman growing old. Crones Counsel is a huge, delightful tribe - a tribe of what one of this year's ritual leaders called "silver-crested snow leopards," i.e. women of beauty and grace who are living their third age to the full. Many of the women there had been attending these gatherings since they began, eleven years ago, and there were many others, like me, who were there for the first time and who were afforded a warm and loving welcome.

I met women there whom I had already begun to know, via the Internet. It was so thrilling to meet them in person. A number of people there had already read Elderwoman, but many had not, and - to my great amazement and delight - I sold four dozen copies while I was there. (I had ordered enough for my whole trip, but had to order some more as soon as I arrived in San Francisco!).

The last ritual of the gathering is called "honouring the elders," and for that, we sat in groups, according to age. It was an unusual - and marvellous - experience for me to find myself exactly in the middle of the age range, with women in their thirties, forties and fifties behind me and women in their seventies, eighties and nineties ahead of me.

By the time it was over, I already knew I would be back next year. I have already entered the date and place in my diary. October 7th - Las Vegas. I hope lots of you will be there too.




The Women Gather

From Crones Counsel in Idaho, I went on to San Francisco for the long-awaited
Gather the Women Congress

Three hundred women, from all parts of the USA and all over the world, came together to talk, to do ritual together, to share ideas and stories and to share the experience of powerful womanhood en masse and a vision of how this power can be - and already is being - used to create change in the world. And it was a powerful experience - so much so that I found myself exhausted at the end of each day's proceedings. Having, as you know, a strong preference for the simple life, I was glad that I had chosen to stay at my favourite SFO accommodation - the Fort Mason youth hostel - instead of at the conference hotel. Not only does it cost a mere $22 a night, and is always full of interesting travellers from all over (not all of them young, either), but it has the best location in town. I love the sea air, the huge gum trees, and the booming of foghorns at night. Sometimes, I can hear seals barking, too. And I like the fact that I can prepare my own meals there. It was great to walk the two miles back and forth between the hostel and the conference site in Japantown. The morning walk got my body's "engine" revved and the walk back at the end of the day gave me a wonderful opportunity to calm down and process. I always find walking such a great way to do that.

I was disappointed in the fact that so much of the sharing at the conference had to be done in a dining-hall atmosphere, rather than in small rooms, for I find it impossible to operate effectively when there is so much background noise that I have to shout. And the agenda was so packed and organized that there was little room for the organic emergence of new ideas. But it was certainly inspiring to hear about all the projects that women are putting their passion and energy into, right around the globe. One woman, for example, is organizing women's groups where Israeli and Palestinian women come together to discover and strengthen the shared humanity which connects them, seeing and feeling beyond those harsh politics that divide their two peoples. This is peace-making at its best.

For me, the most enjoyable part of the Congress was a lunchtime get-together of all the international delegates. We came from everywhere - Mexico, Israel, Iraq, Africa, Australia - and although our backgrounds were so different we felt an immediate connection. This connection is being maintained and strengthened still, via the Internet.

You may recall that in the previous newsletter I mentioned that we had all been asked to make and bring a "soul collage." The one I made contained many elderwoman-type images and included the Elderwoman poem I wrote last year (see below). On the last day of the conference, a young woman came to tell me how much she had loved my collage, and burst into grateful tears when I asked if she would like to take it home with her. She is just one of a number of young women who have told me, this past year, that they have no elderwomen in their lives and really crave that intergenerational connection. It reminds me, yet again, that one of the most important things we do, as elderwomen, is simply to "hold that space" for younger people. It is a being, rather than a doing.

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Perspectives on Community (US events)

Through Emily Kimball, whose website I mentioned last time, I have found out more about the group (mentioned in earlier newsletters) which is looking at " Creating Community in Later Life." There are three "visioning councils" being planned for next year in the USA, and all the details are on a great website called

If you are at all interested in this topic, be sure to check this one out and get yourself on to their (free) mailing list. I would love to go to one of the visioning councils myself, and in fact I was on the point of applying, but then I realized that the dates and venues don't quite work out for me. I feel disappointed about this, as it seems like such a wonderful initiative.

Powers of Ten

Whenever I start feeling either self-important or hopelessly insignificant, one of my favourite ways of putting everything back into perspective is to ponder on the thought that we are all what philosopher Ken Wilber calls "holons." In other words, each of us is a whole which is composed of parts which are also wholes composed of other parts, and so on down, all the way to the subatomic level. Likewise, as well as being wholes, we are also parts - of our families, our networks, our societies, the planet herself. And of course Gaia, our beautiful planet, as well as being a whole, is also a part of the solar system which is part of the Milky Way galaxy - and so on, all the way out to the edges of the Universe. To see this beautifully illustrated - if you haven't already - take a look at the "Power of Ten" website. You will find it at:

"The Meatrix"

If you haven't already seen this marvellous and totally hilarious Flash animation about the horrors of factory farming, be sure and have a look at it next time you are on the Internet. And tell your friends. To see it, go to (This issue is starting to sound like a commercial for organic food, isn't it? Do you think the fact I have recently been appointed secretary and Newsletter Editor for the Wholesome Food Association could have anything to do with that?!!)

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The Visitor

THE OLD buildings of Santa Fe, New Mexico are the colour of warm, red earth. Clay, baked in the desert sun, makes buildings strong enough to stand for centuries. Low, sturdy buildings they are, most of them, their sharp edges moulded and softened as by a potter's hand, standing under a deep blue sky.

It was to this Spanish colonial town in the then wild west that five nuns from the moist green landscapes of Kentucky came in 1852, to build a school and -of course - a chapel.

Only when it was finished, did the sisters discover an oversight. There was no way to get from the ground floor to the choir loft unless they removed most of the chairs to build a staircase - or scrambled up and down a ladder in their robes. They liked neither option.

Turning for help to their patron Saint, the master carpenter St Joseph, the nuns made a novena. Nine days of concentrated prayer.

On the ninth day, a mysterious visitor came to the door of the chapel, a wandering carpenter with a donkey. He carried nothing but three tools - a hammer, a saw and a T-square. The stranger told the nuns he could fix their problem if they would supply tubs of water in which he could soak planks. The tubs provided, he set to work.

The result - a spiral staircase of thirty-three steps. But this was no ordinary spiral staircase. Twenty-two feet tall, with two complete 360-degree turns and without a central support of any kind, it relied for its strength on nothing but its own geometric balance and design. And it contained neither nails nor screws. It was - and still remains - a thing of rare beauty and perfection.

The stranger asked no payment, and when the job was completed he immediately disappeared.

Wanting to thank and reward him, the nuns searched all around the district, but no-one had seen or heard of him. No-one knew where had slept, no-one had fed him. No timber had been purchased anywhere nearby. The timber he had used to make the stair was of a kind unknown in that area. Of the mysterious master carpenter there was no trace.

I read recently that in 1965, a tourist by the name of Oscar Hadweiber, himself a third generation master carpenter, saw and admired this magnificent piece of carpentry and remembered that his German grandfather, Johann Hadweiber, had come to the USA in the late 1800s and had spent two years in Colorado and New Mexico. According to family lore, he was said to have built a staircase somewhere in the west. The staircase had been constructed in 1878. The dates tallied.

Oscar sent a letter to the current Loretto nuns to say that he was fairly sure his grandfather had been the builder.

Although the nuns must have been disappointed at the thought of losing their legend, they said they were willing to accept his story, provided that he could produce conclusive evidence. Five years later, Oscar claimed to have found a faded sketch of the staircase in his grandfather's old toolbox. But the sketch was never authenticated and has since disappeared. Oscar himself died in 1980.

Much as I felt for Oscar who, like so many of us, was keen to deepen his own sense of belonging in the world by thawing out the frozen stories of his personal ancestors, I found myself feeling glad that he never succeeded in his quest to identify his grandfather as the stranger who built the staircase.

Miracles and mysteries are precious. The are the seasoning that gives flavour to a mundane life; the brush of sacredness that deepens the colours of all things ordinary. They frost the edges of a humdrum day so that it sparkles with new meaning.

If the wounds on the hands of St Francis were found by modern scientists to have been psoriasis, if the apparitions of Mary turn out to be collective psychosis or someone proves that it was really Johann Hadweiber, and not St Joseph, who built the spiral staircase of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, then something special will be lost.

Mysteries and miracles keep the door of reason propped ajar just a little. Just enough to remind us that we are not totally in control of everything under the sun. Let's hope that door never slams completely shut. If it does, then hopefully someone, somewhere, upon hearing the bang, will think of having us all do a novena. And let's trust that on the ninth day of our concentrated prayer, a strange visitor will come, on a donkey, carrying only a saw, a hammer, a T-square, to build again for us the possibility of miracles.


Don't be shy - send in your writings, your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an announcement that you think would be interesting to others, a comment on one of these articles, an anecdote, a new discussion topic - whatever snippet you want to share. I want this to grow into a forum for exchanging ideas and experiences, a place to network. So please - send me your words.

Also, send me your ideas on the sorts of things you would like to read in the newsletter. I had thought to run an article on dreams, and ways of working with them, but no-one has yet dared to send me a dream to work with. Have you had a really interesting/unusual/meaningful or puzzling dream lately that you would like to share? (You can remain anonymous if you prefer). 

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Her hands

bore flat, brown freckles, and a golden ring.

Her lap was a walled garden,

fragrant with lavender,

humming with bees,

as she hummed

her comfort songs in my small ears,

and her breath dried

my tears.

Those years

held home-baked bread and elderberry wine,

the quiet ticking of a mantel clock,

and evenings when we sat

around a real hearth to tell real tales.

Back then, the only thing

that brought us flickering pictures was the fire,

in front of which

the dogs and cats lay sleeping,

folded together on a worn, brown mat.

Those far-off days lie warm, like that,

in my heart space.

Now, my hands

bear flat, brown freckles and a golden ring,

and I can comfort too, and bake, and sing.

But there is more

to do - if I can dare

to go beyond the garden wall, into

an unfamiliar field.

And sing my song

out loud, and sure and strong, until

the weeping Earth is healed.


©Marian Van Eyk McCain 2002 



We elderwomen don't have to scurry around making New Year resolutions. We are old enough and wise enough to know the futility of trying to force ourselves into new shapes to suit our inner "shoulds." We are not ruled by "shoulds" any more. We are free of all that. And ain't that just the greatest feeling?

If anyone asks me what resolutions I have made for the New Year, I tell them the one I recite to myself every morning: "Have no expectations; just abundant expectancy."

I didn't create that - I borrowed it. Feel free to do the same.

With this newsletter, come wishes for a wonderful, interesting, growthful and fully alive New Year.





I love this "seed thought" from Pam Godman:

"I have a few women friends, " she writes, "Who are definitely on the same wavelength about this elderwoman age - who feel they have more to give now than at any other time of their lives - and the time to spend on the giving. So I imagine all these small cells of women friends, like sleepers embedded within society - waking up!"



Lizzie, from West London is looking to meet more elderwomen, particularly in her area. She writes:

"I have been sitting at home musing on life in general and realising that I have not been looking after myself as well as I could.

One of my needs I feel is to find a group of women who are my age (55) or more who I could meet/correspond with. I find on my journey so far in life, that most of my closest women friends are younger than me (average age 40), which means often that I am giving my advice/counsel from an 'older/elder' perspective. This is fine and we have had lots of fun, individually and collectively,

it's just that now I need more, as I am going through lots of changes. I need some 'older/elderwomens' perspectives!

Do you happen to know of women in the West London area who are around my age and older, and in sympathy with the aims of 'Elderwoman'?"



---If you would like to make contact with Lizzie - or with anyone else whose words have appeared in this newsletter - just send a message and I will pass it on to them. ---

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"The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they
are selling - their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their
notion of inevitability.
Remember this - we be many and they be few. They need us more than we
need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day,
I can hear her breathing
- Arundhati Roy

The Five Secrets to a Perfect Relationship:

1. It's important to have a mate who helps at home, who cooks from time to time, cleans up and has a job

2. It's important to have a mate who can make you laugh.

3. It's important to have a mate who you can trust and who doesn't lie to you.

4. It's important to have a mate who is good in bed and who likes to be with you.

5. It's often better if these four people don't know each other

The Elderwoman Newsletter © Marian Van Eyk McCain December 2003
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at)  (remember to replace the word "at" with an @) sign)

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