How Can Change Happen If We Can’t Imagine It First? by Darla Graves Palmer

More than one hundred years ago, a small group of women joined together and decided to create their own village, one rooted in relationship and guided by spirit. They weren’t the first such women-led town in the country – there was a web of sister villages throughout America, some formed as early as the seventeenth century – but Chantilly Lace was unique. Rising out of the dust of an abandoned Gold Rush era in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, a time when many women were abandoned by men seeking further adventures or widowed when husbands lost their lives in the mines, this mostly female community determined its own fate. Now the modern women (and a minority of men) faced new challenges in the twenty-first century: how would they adapt and thrive?

If this had been true, how might things be different now for all of us?

The above sets the stage for a fictional series of books I’ve been writing (the first book is complete). The locale was always going to be a small town in the Rockies (because I’ve lived there), but the broader ideas about the town’s development have been evolving steadily, especially since the last presidential election. I keep asking myself how a culture based upon principles of peace and values of belonging, established firmly upon a spiritual core, might function in our capitalist patriarchy.

How can change happen in real life if we can’t imagine it in fiction? I’m challenging myself to make it happen.

One of my first historical inspirations, even though the times were prior to capitalist extremism, was a combination of the lives led by nuns and beguines. The cloisters and intentional communities they created provided amazing opportunities for many women to live away from the day-to-day control of men (to some extent at least). The court beguinages were particularly intriguing since, although the women lived in private women-only communities, they owned property, produced commodities to sell, and provided services to people living in the cities near them. Of specific interest to me was that beguines agreed never to turn over their homes to an ‘outsider’ and that “funds from the sale or lease of these homes financed their infirmaries (also called hospitals or hospices) and other common buildings.”[i] That led me to discovering how to make a similar situation possible for my late nineteenth century founding mothers.

But what might the principles of life and government be for early twentieth century women, ones that they hoped could withstand the test of time and modernity? I’ve long been fascinated by Riane Eisler’s work and so I re-read The Partnership Way and The Real Wealth of Nations, hoping for insights I could translate into guidelines for my fictional town. If I didn’t want to resolve problems through force and domination, how might that look? Eisler noted, as one example, that instead of using “fear and scarcity as the primary motivators for work,” in a partnership system we could look instead to “stimulation of creativity, self development … and concern for the larger community.”[ii] This was great especially since Eisler also pointed out that “partnership society is not a leaderless, laissez-faire, or unstructured society.” I wanted my story to feel like it was possible and not a fantasy so every bit of practical advice was helpful.

This still seemed too theoretical, though, so as I wrote, I continued to read and research, returning to earlier materials for what I might have missed. Thanks to Societies of Peace, edited by Heide Goettner-Abendroth, and Women and the Gift Economy, edited by Genevieve Vaughan, I finally found some grounded guidelines that could be reimagined to build my fictional village. It was when I read Barbara Alice Mann’s comment — “I often wonder, however, what the U.S. would look like had the Iroquoian model been truly followed”[iii] – that I knew I was on the right track. What would women-led towns look like if they were following some of the ideals of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) such as “women alone decided the agenda of the nation” and “women held and distributed all goods and services necessary to life”?

Another pivotal source of comparisons between types of societies and their values was The Values of Belonging by Carol Lee Flinders. Flinders shifted my thinking back and forth between what Eisler had called partnership and domination to her perspective of the values of belonging and enterprise. Flinders provided a list to see her values side-by-side, noting that some of the values of enterprise don’t have to move into their extreme manifestations as domination, that these values are on a spectrum. Flinders, like Mann, found herself asking: “What would American society look like … if that fundamental shift [of what life can be like when personal liberty is not everyone’s ultimate ideal]  were to begin taking place?”[iv] This was definitely pertinent to how my fictional town still needs to operate within the greater American culture of excessive materialism.

While I wrestle with creating a fictional village that might seem realistic and, hopefully, inspirational to readers, how are other women seeking to develop real communities – beyond those of ashrams or isolated intentional communities — based upon the values of partnership, peace, a gift economy, and belonging? Can you imagine a new world, or one that emerges town by town?


Darla Graves Palmer is a seeker and healer through her blogs at On the Gaia Path and HolistiCARE, and her books are available at Solitaire CARE Press and on; her latest novel, the first in the feminist series described above, is Pie in the Sky: a Chantilly Lace novel.


[i] Swan, Laura. The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement.

[ii] Eisler, Riane and David Loye. The Partnership Way.

[iii] Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Editor. Societies of Peace. Mann, Barbara Alice. “They Are the Soul of the Councils.”

[iv] Flinders, Carol Lee. The Values of Belonging.

Categories: Community, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender and Power, General, Patriarchy

Tags: , , ,

13 replies

  1. I love the idea. But why do you have to have men in it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting. Why men in it? Because I’ve been living with a feminist man for 20 years and our relationship is amazing, that’s one reason, but the other is because I hope to show that men can be intimately connected (to themselves, other men, and the women they surround themselves with) and participatory in a different kind of life-way. I do, however, make it clear that women are in charge, they are the leaders and primary decision-makers for the greater good of their village — not that men cannot achieve that, or deny that many women are blindedly caught up in patriarchy, but it’s simply the perspective I’ve chosen.


  2. How can change happen in real life if we can’t imagine it? This is a question I have been struggling with for a while because in this climate I can no longer imagine a real change… As a woman with Passamaquoddy roots I hoped for a long long time that if this country could become accountable for the takeover by white male supremacists (the founding fathers) we might have a chance -other life sustaining Indigenous models were/are available to lead us towards some kind of sanity. For years I wrote about these peoples but I see now that those in power aren’t the slightest bit interested in changing anything….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your poignant comment, Sara (and for all your marvelous posts, whether written in pain or joy). The only way I’ve been able to imagine the change is from the ground up, from the roots of partnership and belonging; toppling the patriarchal capitalist paradigm from the pinnacle of its power is not something I can imagine and I don’t see how “beating them at their own game” is going to resolve anything either.

      My intention with the series is to provide a glimpse into a different way of living, a window into possibilities of being, but lightly, gently … no good for me to make the stories heavy or focused on preaching the choir if I want to reach a broader audience. My characters are flawed and get confused and sometimes caught in the materialist fears that are rampant in American culture; my hope is to provide them with a way to return to, as you put it, “some kind of sanity” in spite of their stumbles and falls.

      Much love and blessings to you!


  3. Imagining change in times like ours when hate crimes are on the rise is a major challenge. Maybe if we all work on such imagining together, we can build a core belief and expand it? That’s a worthy goal. Thanks for this post.


    • My pleasure and thank you for commenting. Fiction has always had such a powerful impact upon me, showing me ways into change, that it feels a familiar way to share a different and possible future. And I’m in awe of those who are acting in more concrete ways to effect change.


  4. I love all your references Darla: I am familiar with them. I guess you know of the Transition Towns movement? There are a lot of towns around the globe doing it.


    • Glenys, thank you for mentioning Transition Towns – I didn’t know a thing about the movement. After reviewing some of the sites and articles, the concept certainly provides me with some pragmatic ideas to consider. They seem secular, without a “sacred earth” foundation, though, which leads me to wonder if that’s a sustainable effort in the long run?


  5. Thanks Darla — the question, in your title, turned something wonderfully upside down for me, and opened my mind to something new. Normally I would think that dreams, at night, are trying to work out problems encountered in the past. But what if our dreams are provoking a deeper understanding of events we might meet in the future, that is, as an outcome of our current activity?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you – and this is one of the tenets of peacebuilders, is that we must be able to imagine the world we are trying to build/birth. I have been reading interesting new physics theories about biocentrism – the idea that all of creation exists because of consciousness, which actually imagined it into being. It isn’t fringe, it is world famous physicists exploring these ideas. Dream on, prophet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh! A quick google produced Robert Lanza’s work — thanks for introducing me to this! Since I’m unfamiliar with that work, do you know if it is similar to the theories of Samkhya and the Vedas? Sounds like it is. Can’t wait to explore it! (Wish I was as fast a reader as I was in my twenties! LOL)

      Liked by 1 person

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