Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

With its unique mixture of American Indian ethnography, history, philosophy, storytelling, revisionary myth, spirituality, and personal narrative, Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman’s Sourcebook defies easy classification. Based on Allen’s belief in thought’s “magical” power and targeted at a wide, multicultural female audience, this text could almost be described as a mainstream self-help book. Allen implies that—read from the proper mythic perspective—the American Indian stories that she retells function as a guidebook for any woman interested in learning to develop her own shamanic powers and to “walk the medicine path, . . . to live and think in ways that are almost but not quite entirely unlike our usual ways of living and thinking.” Drawing on her extensive knowledge of American Indian belief systems, Allen creates a holistic, woman-centered epistemology and a series of revisionary myths that emphasize native peoples’ belief in a cosmic feminine creative intelligence. As she explains in the preface, the stories in Grandmothers of the Light provide women with guidelines enabling them to attain personal and collective agency. She implies that by fully participating in the “sacred myths” collected in her anthology, twentieth century English-speaking women of any ethnicity or cultural background can develop a spiritual mode of perception that empowers them to bring about psychic and material change. She combines theory, myth, and story to construct a twentieth century, feminist Pan-Indian worldview which she invites her readers to adopt.

Grandmothers of the Light can be divided into three parts: a preface and introductory chapter containing a brief discussion of Allen’s holistic worldview as well as her interpretation of North American Indians’ woman-centered metaphysical and social systems; a collection of mythic stories retold from...

(The entire section is 784 words.)