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massive sandstone bluffs in varying shades of red and pink, with a few evergreen trees and remnant snowHigh on the Mother in the Desert

Imagine, if you will, that you are traveling through the reddest, wide-open canyons, surrounded by blazing-red, towering cliffs — so red, in fact, that the color seems artificially enhanced. At the foot of the cliffs are dunes of fine powdery sand in the same rich, deep red. You drive for miles and miles through canyons and bluffs and sands, all the while aware that these rock sculptures are the painstaking work of water, earth, and wind, over millions of years. Your jaw drops and stays there because, around each curve and over each crest, a vista more intensely beautiful than the last awaits you.

Now you find yourself among sands in shades of pink — at first, a deep pink, a hue slightly fainter than the reds you just left. The pinks lighten as you travel, until you think you must have seen every possible hue between red and near-white. You realize that the cones in your eyes are tired from processing minute transitions from one shade of color to another. (In Bryce Canyon alone, over 60 tints of reds, yellows, and whites have been identified. [1]) This is hard work, this noticing.

Your eyes are tired from so much beauty? If your eyes are tired, your spirit and heart are spilling over from constant ecstatic communion with the physical world that surrounds you. You are aware — every minute — of the passage of time, of the power of the elements that constitute life on this planet. Those dunes of red sand gathered at the foot of sheer, deep-red sandstone bluffs? Those dunes represent one point along the steady progression from rock to sand, and from sand to rock, over millennia. They are visual proof of the natural outcome of wind, water, and earth acting upon and with each other. A circle... a cycle... perpetual cycling and reshuffling of element and form.

These desert sands, canyon lands, cliffs, and mountains cover the bottom third of the state of Utah, in the western United States. This is the “high desert” — very different from other deserts, such as Death Valley. Elevations run to 11,000 feet and higher. We found snow-covered, closed roads in mid-April, and streams flush with winter’s plentiful precipitation.

Utah, at least the bottom third of it, is almost continuous national park, national forest, and desert monument. The Navajo reservation runs along much of the border shared with Arizona, and the eastern edge of the state of Utah. Monument Valley (Navajo name: Tse'Bii'Ndzisgaii) — a stunning place to be at dusk as the full moon rises — is part of the reservation. In that valley, under that full moon, as the cloudless sky darkens from blue to indigo to black, goosebumps spread up my arms, up to my scalp; my heart swells and tears of joy fill my eyes. There is no doubt about why I feel the way I do about the Earth and her natural majesty. Being present in Her presence is a spiritual experience.

full moon rising over a massive flat-topped stoned formationMonumental Disconnection
Passing through these geologic wonders with an open heart, eye, and spirit is a humbling experience. You are at once aware of the magnitude of the power of the elements, the beauty of the Mother, the sacredness of this living planet. And then, unfortunately, you take a guided tour in Zion National Park, and you hear the driver describe a trinity of stone formations as “the three gossips.” Names attached to the Mother’s handiwork by men — white men, it goes without saying — and sexist white men, to boot. As someone who sees things through eyes that have witnessed the nature of colonization, studied the power of naming, and surveyed the damage done by the pervasive nature of racism and sexism, of patriarchal mind-fuck, I cannot un-see these things.

cluster of sharp, deep-red peaks, with evergreens and a tourist busThen you look at a map and see that the conquerors have named one of the living waters “Dirty Devil River,” and yet another, “Crossing of the Fathers.” Yet another, a cluster of sharp peaks in Zion National Park, is labeled “Court of the Patriarchs.” There is absolutely nothing patriarchal about this image, unless, of course, you are completely brainwashed by the patriarchy itself.

If I were naming this immense, majestic Earth cathedral, I’d select a name that embodied the communal nature of the grouping, the sheer majesty of the towers, the colors, their relation to the surrounding forms. Why, I might even try to understand what the “locals” called it. I would listen to them, look at them, and touch them, asking the rocks to tell me what they call themselves. red sandstone canyon with flowing water, altogether looking very much like female genitaliaBut that’s me, a lesbian-feminist Dianic witch, a lover of the Mother in all her configurations.

Trust me — I never thought about the “fathers” on the whole trip, other than when forced to do so by jarring verbal and written “historical” reminders of the Mormon “discoverers” and “founders”! I mean, when you are confronted by imagery this obviously female, what’s not to understand?

To be fair, there are still a few visible signs of aboriginal civilizations in Utah’s place names, including the Uintah Reservation. A few of the sandstone bridges in Natural Bridge National Monument have been renamed to reflect the Hopi presence in the area. And I love this name: “Ear of Wind.” But in Utah, like all other states in the country, the colonizers have defined most of the geography.

It’s time for us to strip off the labels attached to this beautiful land by the white, mostly xtian, ignorant, racist, and sexist ancestors who “discovered” it. We can start by doing the research required to ferret out the aboriginal names for precious natural sites.

For example, a little bit of Internet research turned up information about Navajo names for several Utah mountains important to the Navajo:

DzilDiloi (aka Abajo Peaks)
Naatsisaan (Navajo Mountain)
Shash Jaa (Bear's Ears)[2]

Further exploration reveals that aboriginal people have been in the area for at least 10,000 years. (So, no, white men did not “discover” anything in this area.) Anasazi artifacts several thousand years old have been found south of Bryce Canyon. Other artifacts from the Pueblo-period Anasazi and the Fremont culture (up to the mid-12th century) have also been found.

When Zion National Park was established in 1909, it was originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument. The Mormons, in their religious conquest, renamed it, like a lot of Utah. It’s time to return the landmarks to their pre-conquest identities. The fact that these natural areas are 2 billion years old should indicate that they were not put there for “discovery” by 19th Century Mormon missionaries or the Spaniards before them.

In Paiute mythology, the hoodoos (pinnacles) in Bryce Canyon are the Legend People, whom the trickster Coyote turned to stone. At least one older Paiute said his culture called the hoodoos Anka-ku-wass-a-wits, which is Paiute for “red painted faces.” [3]

sheer steep sandstone bluff in varying shades of red and pinkAnd after we uncover the ancient names, how hard would it be to include aboriginal names with every official reference to these natural monuments, these children of earth, wind, and water? It would demonstrate a bi-cultural consciousness, and stretch the imaginations of visitors. It would convey a reverence for the Mother, a connection with, rather than a domination of the Earth. It would go a long way towards reversing the colonizer mentality pervading U.S. and global patriarchal “history.” It would recognize the fact that humans lived in the area long before the white Mormons and other religious settlers “discovered” the area.

And this doesn’t just need to happen in Utah. In Wisconsin, for example, white people decided that one of our major natural attractions should be called “Devil’s Lake.” What did the Ho-Chunk nation call it? Why should racist, ignorant names stand for all eternity? We could take a page from the movement that organized to remove offensive, racist names from sports teams. We could address sexism, racism, and patriarchal naming power, while creating a mind-shift in the way humans view our relationship to the precious elementals surrounding us.

Beauty is all around us. Let us acknowledge it in how we address Her, how we feel, see, and hear Her. And how She touches, talks to, and sees us.

Blessed Be.


  1. Bryce Canyon Historic Resource Study.
  2. Utah History to Go, Chapter Seven - The Navajos of Utah.
  3. Bryce Canyon Historic Resource Study.

Graphics Credits

  • Red Hoodoos in Bryce, Southern Utah, © 2008 Justice Fire. All rights reserved.
  • Monument Valley, Full Moon, © 2008 Lance. All rights reserved.
  • Court of The Patriarchs, courtesy of the National Park Service.
  • Herself, © 2008 Justice Fire. All rights reserved.
  • Bryce Canyon “Hoodoos”, © 2008 Justice Fire. All rights reserved.
Copyright / Terms of Use: Contributors retain the copyright to their work; please do not take art or words without the author's or artist's permission. Other graphics and reference materials are used and attributed as per the Fair Use Provision of The Copyright Act and individual terms of use.

MatriFocus Cross-Quarterly
is a seasonal web journal (zine) for Goddess Women and others interested in Goddess Lore and Scholarship, Goddess Religion (ancient and contemporary), Feminist Spirituality, Women's Mysteries, Paganism and Neopaganism, Earth-based Religions, Witchcraft, Dianic Wicca and other Wiccan Traditions, the Priestess Path, Goddess Art, Women's Culture, Women's Health, Natural Healing, Mythology, Female Shamanism, Consciousness, Community, Cosmology, and Women's Creativity.

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