My grandmother, Pearl, walked halfway across the world, from the Soviet-Ukraine of her birth, to the Ural Mountains of her youth. She came of age traveling across what was then Turkestan, the tattered remnents of the Golden Horde and into Uighur-controlled Northwest China, where she fell in love, married and began her own family.
Sixteen years later, she walked across parts of Mao Zedong’s China with my infant father and his brother to Shanghai, where she and her family sought religious asylum in the Phillipines. After four years in a refugee camp, she made her way to America with three children on her lap aboard a U.S. Navy vessel.
Her stories were often colored by her religious upbringing as a member of the highly persecuted Pentacostals. Like a flanelgram in church, she would paint her life in broad strokes characterized by the miracles she experienced along her journey, the austere nature of her faith dampening the otherwise brilliant nature of adventure like those fuzzy cutouts meant to depict things like Danial in the Lions Den or Balaam’s Donkey.
I often saw them as one sees the images in stained glass in church windows. They were beautiful but esoteric and sometimes symbolic rather than realistic. I was too young and too far away from the characteristics that would make me a good journalist to ask her deep questions about how she felt or to be able to see her journey through her eyes.
And I regret this.
That journey shaped me in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to account for all of them, even through I have crashed around this planet for 42 years and should, I would think, better undestand myself and the things that shaped me.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering where she came from. This Pearl.
If, indeed, our ancestry comes from Ukraine and not some other part of the Soviety Social Experiment that sought to quell dissidents by relocating them to the far-flung reaches of the empire, then it stands to reason we descend from the Scythians, a race of people that inhabited most of what is now Ukraine over to what is now Iran. They were an Iranian people, and they were skilled facilitators and traders who originally connected China to the Middle East and the West.
And if we’re related to the Scythians, then it stands to reason there’s a good chance that somewhere deeply embedded in our DNA, is the historical signature of the Amazon Women, a once mythical band of warriors that lived among and beside the Scythians and which colored already colorful Greek mythology with their courage and ferocity.
It’s funny to think that the Greeks had their own mythology, and that my ancestors might have been the stories that the ancient Greeks told each other about courage and valor in battle.
These women were not just ferocious, they relished warfare. It is said, and the truth of this still is buried in time, that they would cut off their left breast in order to better aim their arrows. They were renowned archers and exquisite horseback riders.
They didn’t swear off men, but they tended to live in large groups of women that trained and lived together for the soul purpose of a community formed around combat.
Amazon Women, as the myths tell, changed the course of battles, fought at Troy and along side Alexander The Great.
The cultural awakening of Christianity and its tremendous impact on the world, buried many of the stories of the mightiness of Scythian women like a tidal wave.
Generations were born with the same genetic markers, but without the stories, they no longer understood the significance or the achievements of their sex nor their contributions to history.
When the great empires that shaped the Western World, emboldened by the church, redistributed the equality of men and women, created in the image of God, they absolutely crushed goddess worship, women warriors and the female economy.
Women were manufacturers of goods as well as arts and crafts. Women were brewers and healers.
Looking back through the mists of time into the far distant past is not easy. The remnents of the Amazon Women are reduced to small incriptions on pottery and the writings of a few ancient historians.
If they were as it is said about them, if even a portion of it is true, then I have to look at my daughter, one quarter Ukrainian, descended from that women who walked halfway across the world for freedom, and see some of that spirit of valor and courage.
And if I can see that little Scythian spark somewhere deeply embedded in her DNA, then I know that she will accomplish or pass along the hope that is hidden there, which future daughters will hopefully know and understand. And revist.
History is powerful not just for knowing what not to repeat. But for knowing what can be repeated, what should be repeated. What wrongs should be made right. What gigantic turns the world has made as we come to terms with what being made in the image of God really means.