Decide who you are going to be and do it on purpose – Dolly Parton
When one of my colleagues asked about COW, the name that Color of Woman is often called, and how Cosmic Cowgirls came to be named that, I thought I should write down the story and the roots going back to Grandma and beyond.
In her asking, she wondered, if she didn’t feel like a ‘cowgirl’ in terms of how it is currently defined in our culture, could she still be a part of it? Was she included and how? She being a woman of color, wondered about the image and idea. And honestly so did the Australian and Denmark women – women and cows? How’s that figure?
Powerful women and cows go way further back than the founding of Cosmic Cowgirls in my lineage. And further still into the ancient female ancestors that most all of us came from….
My story is below – a work in progress – as I am!
4-12,000 years ago
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There is so much to say and share about the climate of change in regards to cultural appropriation, language and image usage. It is hard to get it right and in my attempt to get it right I am often then quiet for fear of getting it wrong. But today it was time to tell the story of the origins of the name/s as well as address diversity within the Intentional Creativity community. The landscape is ever changing as well as the language. And while it may be difficult to navigate right now from all views, I feel in my soul it is all ultimately a good thing and very important for us as a people to develop into who we need to be. Especially women working with women. Let us stand together and dance together and kick up our heals!
Here is a video of my teacher, Sue Hoya Sellars, having a conversation with Alice Walker, and you will note that it has the Color of Woman logo on it! Pull up a tab here to watch it later after you read my letter!! Watch the part where they talk about women sticking together :)
The women of Intentional Creativity are dedicated to doing our own work of making sure we are up to the conversations at hand, and is in as much integrity as we can be in what is truly just. All of us are LEARNING and changing and that is the great part about this super charged political landscape This will take time and we ARE paying attention as a circle of women.
In our work with Color of Woman we have talked about this topic many times in different ways – direct and indirect. And I am working with women of colorful lives of all colors to bring stories and messages forward, and always have when I knew what to do. I am in training and learning. There is much more work to do together. The proper stand as far as I am concerned is one of learning, not knowing. Asking not telling. Growing not hiding. You know this. We will learn and heal together. Okay?
Further our Color of Woman and Intentional Creativity team for the 2019 class is staffed with many women of color from our community. It has been before, but we are focusing on it more and more. And elders too! We have so many Intentional Creativity grannies. Women 70+ are taking the training! Can cowgirls and women of color go together? I think so, and I hope so and I am working it out in my article below. Living in the Bay Area, I may have more of a chance to be in diversity and celebrate than other places, I know that. And yes, plenty of women of color in my life do indeed don the cowgirl hat and boots!!!
Yes, we are still majority light skinned in our teaching community, but this is changing with focus, tenderness and care. You can see our gorgeous group here. Further, many women who appear light are women of color, just of a lighter color. This if often missed, which is why we need to be in conversation together and ask more questions about one another instead of assume. We will have a strong diversity model as part of our training in 2019. We have before, but this will be renewed with vigor. Even using the term “white” has issues, as it was an invention to divide us. There is no “white” nationality. More on that another time. There are women on that link in our group who look light, who are from indigenous roots not that far back. So let us all open our eyes.
So when a dear colleague, friend and Color of Woman graduate and a woman of color asked about the whole cowgirl thing, I got to thinking about the parts of the story that might not be so obvious. And what about how it might actually feel like it is excluding women of color or those who don’t identify with the whole ‘rhinestone cowgirl’ thing. I admit to feeling heart sick to think I was excluding anyone…but these days just not excluding does not equal including, you know?
So this is part personal story, part herstory and explanation/exploration of COW. Perhaps you will have something to share to contribute to my article or share something I am not seeing. I am willing to look. With you.
Here is a photo of part of my Cosmic Cowgirl self. Here I am in my cowgirl boots, a feathered ship on my head and sunglasses. It is about being playful and eccentric, and I am from time to time (wink). Yet it is more about the freedom of self expression. And. Frankly the power I feel wearing my cowgirl boots – feet flat on the ground – my mom, grandma and sister all wear them. I got the first pair very young and I won’t travel without them.
Let’s start with the ally of the cow and the horse shall we? BIG animals. When I shared with this woman, how all women since long ago had been with cows and horses, she got it. AH. Women and powerful animals. COW WOMEN! We had a good laugh and it sparked this sharing as I wanted to further be clear on my choice of Cosmic Cowgirls and allowing our course to be called COW!!! And also ready to change if I am shown what I am not seeing (happens all the time).
As a side note, as a bigger girl, I was often enough called a COW by boys. I wasn’t ever called a COW by boys in my schools in San Francisco that were African American, or Mexican or Chinese. I was one of less than five light skinned girls in the school – only the white boys felt brazen enough to call girls cows. There is something in here for me as I remember the horrific ways I have been criticized for not being a small girl. And how I learned to defend myself. And how having my cowgirl hat and kick ass attitude has made all the difference in my bad ass mystic archetype. At the age of 7, it was the light skinned boy who threatened me for the first time. The first time I felt that kind of fear. The first time I knew I had to learn to take up space and even learn to be scary if I had to.
To be more inclusive, I am not using images like this below to share the community aspect of our chosen tribe much anymore BECAUSE it isn’t as inclusive as we want to be and as we are. There is more work to do and I am up for the task at hand. I think, gulp. So much hidden stuff right? YET that does not make me love these vintage images of women of the early US rodeo any less precious for me and many of us. Yet when connected with community we are working together to create a more powerful diversity within our circles. I will need your support to make this change so that women are standing side by side, all colors together. The rainbow tribe as Carmen Baraka, Spirit Warrior, calls it. Who by the way will be leading with me in the Color of Woman Muse Gathering in California. We will also have Mandisa Amber teaching on diversity, a first year graduate of COW. And music from around the world shared by Lavender Grace, my childhood friend. . .
I hope you enjoy the article in process. Have a great day dear one! Thanks for tuning in…
What’s in a name?
Cosmic Cowgirls, a personal view
People sometimes ask me about the idea for our woman owned company, Cosmic Cowgirls. Most of the time I say – we are women between worlds, our head in the stars and our boots or bare feet on the earth and our heart on our sleeve. We are both/and paradigm straddling disruptive creatives. Our wild and sacred are one and alive within us. As a culture of women in deep inquiry, we re-invent our personal mythos: transforming lives into legends.
We have discovered that when one has a story they want to tell, they can come alive in new ways. Cosmic meaning we are stardust and cowgirl meaning we are close to the earth and animals.There are other reasons than our absolutely gorgeous metaphor. Performing cowgirls were some of the first professional athletes to compete in a man’s arena. Many coming from other countries to compete. And they took on personaes, handles for names, and had outfits made with hand tooled flowers, stars and their names. They were brave and extremely skilled in their horsewomanship. There was a claiming of a strong female identity and a lot of bad assery.
Many women dressed like men, which at the time meant you were too wild for words. Many left their homes and families and became a new kind of woman, leaving behind all traditional archetypes she knew. I love that. They made up their own legends, so from a philosophic point of view, this is consistent with our teachings.
On a personal note, my great Aunt Mabel rode in the Pendelton Rodeo, according to my Grandmother Eden. She remembers waving goodbye to her as she walked to the rodeo with her gear. And I grew up in cowgirl boots, wranglers and yes, rodeos. I rode horses and loved the ranch over the years but never had one of my own :( . I did have milk goats, however, and happened to be a milk maid at the time that Intentional Creativity came into my life at 23.
Thinking further back, as a teenager, some early bling I loved was a baseball hat with a glittering Tic-Tac-Tari. That was the name of prize winning horse I got to ride that belonged to a friend whose Grandpa owned a big ranch in Boonville. We lived there after I was ten. I loved wearing a hat with the name of a horse. It has a pom pom top.
I always had a punk side too – I was both cowgirl and punk – which to many seemed opposite, but for me, they were integrated. It was more than fashion. It was claiming country and city. It was my version of rebel.There’s more though.
Women and relationships with animals that are powerful. Humans have a special relationship with horses – they show up in some of the earliest paintings by humans – think of Lascaux, estimated to be 20,000 years old. My teacher Sue introduced those findings to me in my early twenties and it hugely impacted both of us. Yet they think horses were not domesticated until 10,000 years ago. Makes you wonder what was in their mind to paint them? Was it awe? Beauty?Studies show that horses and cows appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BCE. Early peoples began to name constellations after horses. Horses have evolved over time and once were hunted, then revered. At one time, horses were even milked. The ancestors of our current horse is said to have lived 140,000 years ago.
Horses have an incredible history of adapting, evolving and surviving when other species died off. They continued to evolve as their mitochondrial DNA shows. Many of our early peoples from many different parts of the world have lived alongside cows and horses.The winged horse in Greek mythology, from late 14c, and the unicorn, well even a unicorn is in the Bible. These two horse-like creatures are said to be the things of myth, or are they extinct? Certainly they have not left our consciousness. Thank goodness that the reindeer still exist in the North where many of my early ancestors are from. And I might add how awesome the zebra is, a relative of horses.
Regarding horses and North America “Scientific evidence suggests that they are genetically the same as the horses that became extinct on the continent between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. Had it not been for previous westward migration, over the land bridge, into northwestern Russia (Siberia) and Asia, the horse would have faced complete extinction. However, Equus survived and spread to all continents of the globe, except Australia and Antarctica.”
I won’t go into the history of the cow at this time :) yet cowgirl is connected with both horses and cows. A cowgirl is an idea derived from a woman who works with cows and horses, a ranching woman. Which my Grandmother Eden got a scar from being thrown from a calf and broke her arm. I called it her arm belly button as it was like a spiral hole going into her skin. I always asked her to tell me the story while I put my finger into it.
Later, the term cowgirl came to generalize women who were in that ‘world’ even if they didn’t ride or ranch. In the rodeos, the idea of women taking on an identity that they chose and designed really stuck with me. Could I do that too? Both playful, daring and innovative? Women today in the rodeo world have not lost that relationship with identity – that has remained – and I love it that it was not lost.
The early artists, even when it is possible that the cows and horses were not domesticated, painted them. As in this image in the post, in the Prehistoric-cave paintings of Ennedi-Plateau in Tschad in the Sahara Desert. (4-12,000 years ago) above. Isn’t it amazing? Early Cosmic Cowgirls if you ask me.
Ancient art also shows women riding, mounted, warriors and amazons. A woman’s relationship with big power, strength. Skill is part of the history that women need to know about. The art shows us what history tries to deny in so many cases.So my use of the term cowgirl, does not just connect with cowgirl americana, although that may influence some of our fashion choices with sparkly hats and rose tooled boots. Rather, the connection feels more ancestral in the roots of early human relationships with great creatures.
I continue to explore ancient paintings that show women in action. A Cosmic Cowgirl is indeed a woman in action. Our core training program, is called Color of Woman. And yes that spells COW. To my knowledge I have never called it COW but no matter how hard I try to just call it COLOR for short, COW prevails. People even find the training by googling, COW and my name lol. HAHAHA you can’t make this stuff up. So finally, I accept it, COW.
Color of Woman was the name of my first coloring book published at age 25 and my first gallery, my earliest brand and now, my magnum opus training in Intentional Creativity. Cow was a term used to describe big women as an insult when I was growing up, so I guess it is time to take on the cow in a good way. It was called Color of Woman, my mom’s idea I think, because it was a coloring book!
The culture of our community is uncommon. Our container shifts as we shift. Yet those of us who identify with this archetypal idea of being a woman between worlds know this tribe is just written in the stars. We feel more home in ourselves knowing there are others who, like us, are deep diving in the mystery, bucking systems, confronting fallacy and inviting celebration and creativity every chance we get.
In closing, one of my earliest allies of my imagination was indeed a horse. When I began to work in the visionary domain, horse was with me and me and my family and some of my closest friends have imaginary horses as part of our personal story. Mine takes me into the cosmos….to gather information and bring it back to this realm. I am a trick rider, just not in this dimension.
Your Cosmic Cowgirls handle is often a combination of the two parts of you, and sometimes pokes fun at one of those. My ‘handle’ is Chief Laughing Cloud. In my thirties I was painting a drum made by the Taos Indians. I was so honored to be painting it, and it was a sacred act. I was painting La Virgen de Guadalupe. While I was painting I found a spider web had wrapped around my fingers, woven, as it were. It was truly cosmic, as it seemed impossible the way it was woven between my fingers. No way to explain it. No one to show, no way to document, only this story to tell, long before Cosmic Cowgirls existed. When I signed that drum, I paused after Shiloh and before McCloud and just signed Shiloh Laughing Cloud, and that, as they say, is herstory. The drum was to be sold at a store in Colorado along with a whole bunch of others I painted. The others all sold, this one did not, and the owners, sent it back to me as a present, years later. You will see me often with that drum.
So Color of Woman came to be called COW because that is what the students choose to call it. I rather like it, after years of resistance, I think I will just have a COW :) Thanks for tuning in and blessings on your day dear heart.
Signed in stardust and cave wall echoes,
Shiloh Sophia aka Chief Laughing Cloud,
Co-Founder and CEO Cheif Excitement Officer
Cosmic Cowgirls®, LLC Founded 13 years ago in San Francisco
A woman and girl owned company with a 100 year plan so that we can go into the next seven generations as the Native American ancestors of the land where I live have taught me. We can’t just think of now. We have to think of the future.
P.S. Mom gave me a correction: Grandma was actually riding a calf when she got thrown and broke her arm, and my mom said she used to be a very skilled rider as I was practicing to run away and join the circus. That makes perfect sense momma.
I made this graphic from a photo of myself when I was 38 and just found it again when I was googling myself and cowgirls!
If you have questions about Color of Woman or are feeling on the fence about whether or not to apply, contact our Guidance Counselor, Sarah Mardell, at [email protected]. She’s happy to support you.
You likely saw this image recently – this is from Phyllis Taylor, 70+ year old Grandma who took Color of Woman last year. We commissioned her to creat an image of diversity for our community and our community calls that we offer for free called Red Thread Connect. Thank you Phyllis, and I know each woman has her own story of coloniziation in so many different ways…
In closing I want to share this song written as part of her COLOR of WOMAN Soul Work project, this is Juniper Mainelis, a talented musician, painter and Color of Woman graduate!! She created a song for each painting she created!
May Love Be At The Center of All Choices