Everyday women are naturally leaders in almost all that we do. Whether we are the person in the office to whom everyone comes to fix problems, or the organizer of our families’ lives, or the quiet voice in our group or organization who comes up with the way out of a dilemma, so often it seems that without us things just wouldn’t get done. Yet, when it comes to holding official positions of leadership, whether in government or our communities or sometimes even in our own families, it goes without saying that women are still too often absent, left out, and decisions that affect the most important aspects of our lives are made without us.
Women and political leadership – a dance with so many steps as women throughout time have sought and gained and lost and regained the roles of councilors, tyrants, queens… and when those roles were not to be, found ways to influence anyway through family members or public opinion. “Doomed Queens” (www.DoomedQueens.com) is the title of Kris Waldherr’s new book and it’s all about women rulers from ancient times to the present and how so many of them have had their power, and sometimes their lives, stolen from them through intrigue, assassination, and other horrendous acts. You probably remember Kris from her Goddess Tarot and The Lover’s Path, as well as many other publications and artworks. The stories she tells of fifty “doomed queens”—including Cleopatra, Ann Boleyn, and Princess Diana—are frightening and compelling evidence of what seems like almost universal obstacles to acquiring and maintaining political power for women, even today. No wonder it seems like such a steep climb up the mountain to become official leaders.
Some women in history, though, have reigned successfully for decades without meeting any unfortunate end. While I’m sure there are more, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II all come to mind, each within the limitations of her own time and upbringing. It seems to me that what these women all have in common is a deep love for their countries and their people (though this is not necessarily what saved them from “doom,” and others who were doomed, like Boudicca, also showed this same characteristic). What was the source of their power? Is it that real leadership comes not from what position you hold, but how well and what you love?
Throughout history, queens and goddesses have been believed to embody the spirit of the land. At a time when the next drought could cause famine and death, speaking for the land meant standing up for the people. Scholars and others have described this connection from ancient times, when some kings ruled at the pleasure of the queens, through to stories like Guinevere, whose loss by King Arthur spelled the end of Camelot. Could it be that this is some of the reason why these queens were such powerful and successful leaders? That there is something about being the voice of the land and protecting the people that taps into some deep well of women’s spiritual leadership?
When I think of women leadership in these terms, of devotion to the land and people, I suddenly see so many “queens” around me who might not think of themselves as great and powerful leaders. Grandmothers who keep up the homestead where the family gathers, community religious leaders, the older woman in town whose opinion everyone listens to, and so many others already “rule” through giving and commanding devotion. When I ask women who was most influential in their lives, so often they will respond that it was their mother or grandmother. What an intense power this is, to transform even one life.
Too often, “leadership” is considered to be the same as the ability to force your will on others, precisely the opposite of what these women leaders, from queens to grandmothers, do. At a time when our world is threatened with ecological destruction and so many lives are devastated by violence and poverty, love of “the land” and “the people” is the only kind of leadership that makes any sense. It is, of course, not only women who practice this kind of leadership and not all women leaders operate this way. However, it is time for women and men all over the world in formal positions of political power to practice this kind of leadership. It is time for leadership based on love of land and people to be considered true leadership and those who practice it to be given their due recognition. It is time for there to be no more “doomed queens” or doomed women, men and children, but, rather, love and hope instead.