"I am old now: gray, wrinkled, tired, and bloated, and my joints ache, too. But I am ready to come into my full destiny—as my childhood dreams predicted—as a Neo-Amazonian Pirate Queen of my own vessel: firing cannonballs at the worldwide culture of patriarchy in the name of all that does not suck." - Roseanne Barr
Because I had written a book on turning 50, I was curious about what turning 60 would bring up for me. Mostly, I could feel my energy slowing down, but ironically, I felt younger. I was finally doing work (in my 50’s) that I loved, sharing my creativity, knowledge and self-care practices with mid-life women in transition, but most importantly I felt valued and appreciated more than I ever did as a stay-at-home mom. (I know, work to do there!) However, it’s been two years now, and I’m just beginning to guess at what becoming an Elder is really about, and I certainly don’t want to be called Crone yet.
But just as I wrote a poem to reclaim and recycle that ugly word 'cunt', to re-empower myself after feeling dishonoured, shamed and diminished by that word, lately I needed to reclaim the Crone word.
Fortunately, I have many books on my bookshelves that address this issue of aging, this fear of growing older and the dread that some women feel at seeing wrinkles, gray hair and saggy body parts appear. It’s not just about the cult of youth and beauty in our culture; apparently it’s also a fear ingrained in our DNA after 500 years of witch hunts and a deadly inquisition. The following is a brief summary of the gist of some of these books any take on accepting the "crone" word.
“Our cultures official rejection of the Crone figure was related to rejection of women, particularly elder women. The gray-haired high priestesses, once respected tribal matriarchs of pre-Christian Europe, were transformed by the newly dominant patriarchy into minions of the devil. Through the Middle Ages this trend gathered momentum, finally developing a frenzy that legally murdered millions of elder women from the twelfth to nineteenth centuries....As a rule, the real offenses of such women were (1) living, or trying to live, independent of male control; and (2) being poor. Barbara G Walker, The Crone, Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power
Today we just make old women invisible, socially and professionally handicapped by wrinkles and gray hair in a way that men are not. As Walker notes, the “‘beauty’ industry exploits women’s well-founded fear of looking old (& not fit to be seen in public).” But as we know, elder women used to be oracles, read omens, were attached to temples of the Goddess as spiritual wise women and healers, were doctors and midwives, health care advisers, scribes, ceremonial leaders, religious and secular teachers, educators of the young. They were honoured and valued members of society in many cultures.
This book The Crone is a compendium of the history of how old women (crones) became witches in the Middle Ages (burned, drowned, killed during the Inquisition) as well as some mythology of the Dark Goddess under her various names. It explains how women lost their spiritual and healing role when the pagan earth-based religions were outlawed. Walker’s book is a good primer.
“To envision a deity in the true female tradition, it is necessary to purge the image of simplistic or unrealistic male interpretations” ...for example “sex goddess”, “virgin Mother” “witch” or crone.” (p 174)
Another excellent resource on aging is the book by Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses in Older Women, Archetypes in Women over Fifty, Becoming a juicy Crone. I love the term ‘juicy crone’ better than just plain old crone. Our creativity after menopause goes into creating things other than babies, and that’s where the “juice” comes in, creative flow. It’s important to look at what we gain as we age, not only what we lose. We’ve gained important life lessons, from facing challenges and obstacles, and amazing life-changing inner journeys from which we return with gifts of wisdom. Reading the chapter on Hecate helped me come to terms with my fear of Hecate, the ‘witch’ or crone archetype, and reminded me of the value of the descent at mid-life.
“If you return from your own descents into the underworld, you have learned that love and suffering are part of life. By making it through the hard times, you grow in depth and wisdom. A wise Hecate then becomes an inner companion. Women friends or women in support groups gain this perspective by listening and witnessing and caring about each other as well.”
“Hecate is the goddess of Intuitive and Psychic Wisdom, often pictured at the fork in the road, at transition times. Hecate is at the crux of the situation when a woman enters the third phase of her life and heeds a pull inward. She appears indecisive or as if her energy is lying fallow, when she is in this luminal phase. If she stays at the crossroad until she intuitively knows what direction to take, she emerges renewed and replenished.”
Another favorite part of Bolen’s book is the section on Lionhearted Women where she includes a look at some goddess archetypes that are not in the Greek & Roman pantheon, except for warrior goddess Athena, (who is however, more cerebral strategist than warrior).
Some of the primal animal images may seem overly scary to us, but she explains it as a necessary fierceness that stands up for and cares for the underdogs and underprivileged: “the archetypal energies of Kali/Sekhmet are expressed as ‘the fierce compassion of the feminine’ that China Galland found in women who are addressing major evils in our contemporary world. They have qualities that I think of as being ‘lionhearted.’ The fury of a lioness is that of a protective mother or a bereaved mother whose response is retaliatory. Kali rides out on a lion to defeat the demons, while Sekhmet is both a lioness and a woman. Theirs is a heart-motivated fury at evil that threatens to overwhelm and destroy what they hold sacred. To be a woman who is outraged and protests against powerful authority takes courage – a word derived from Coeur or ‘heart’.
....Unless a woman has become callous or has armored herself against having feelings and can live in her head, it is uncomfortably easy to mentally and viscerally imagine how it feels at a body and soul level to be so treated (victims of incest, neglect, abuse). And be helpless and totally vulnerable....Without the archetype of Sekhmet/Kali, however, brutality and vulnerability result in becoming numb, passive and docile. To be moved to overcome such evils, women need to be lionhearted in having empathy and courage, fury and restraint. While a dark goddess might do this alone, women need the support of each other; like the mothers and the Grandmothers of the Disappeared, there is some protection in numbers....The ‘enough is enough’ goddesses may bear unfamiliar names and inhuman faces, but their energy and outrage are no longer foreign to us.”
We are all Warrior Goddesses at heart. Chameli Ardagh has a TED talk online about the Fierce face of the feminine – and she suggests that when Shiva is with Kali, his calm presence and centered being makes her fierceness into medicine, and is not destructive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcDCXzX_HQA
Looking at goddess mythology is helpful in identifying archetypes that may exist in our own psyches. We can empower ourselves with these images of wise, powerful, and fierce feminine deities who are more than copies of male heroes, who embody the whole of the female experience in their cycles and energy.
But what to make of the ugly old crones and witches? They represent the third phase of Maiden Mother Crone – the sacred mysteries represented by the Moon Goddesses of ancient ritual. Looking up the Crone in the Baba Yaga myth, I came across an article that seemed to be asking the same question.
“When a culture's language has no word to connote ‘wise elder woman,’ what happens to the women who carry the "Grandmother" consciousness for the collective? Prejudicial (prejudged) attacks throughout history against older women symbolized patriarchy's feminization of fear: the ultimate fear of annihilation, to be nonexistent (no existence). Centuries-long indoctrination limits our imagination so that we see this ancient aspect of the feminine only in her negative forms. We see her as the one who brings death to our old way of being, to our lives as we have known them, and to our embodied selves. Our fear of the unconscious makes the Crone or Baba yaga into an image of evil.” http://www.mythinglinks.org/BabaYaga.html
I think our fear of the Old Woman, the Crone, is in part related to our fear of trusting our own intuition, our inner knowing. We have been trained to control our feelings, contain them by using the rational mind. But in so doing, we have devalued this important embodied wisdom which comes from women’s rootedness in the body, our knowledge of cycles, and the rules of nature. Most of us have no training or education in this - the old rituals are rusty from neglect, the rites of passage have been waylaid, the feminine principal itself persecuted and driven underground by fear and loathing of 500 years of inquisition.
In the olden times, the oracles and seers interpreted dreams for kings, priests and leaders, the herbalists gave out remedies for healing, and illness was seen as “an invitation from body wisdom to reconsider lifestyle choices, and help us become more conscious and aware,” says Paula Reeves, in her book Women’s Intuition. We must learn to become seers again, to understand the language of intuition, the signals from the body which come to us in metaphor, as in dreams. Using all the resources of the internet available to us today, can also help us learn to decipher the metaphoric language in symbolic code. Tuning into our bodies, we can listen to our symptoms and learn to hear their healing messages. Many books, beginning with Louise Hays, have been published to give us a lexicon to begin the work. The author of Women’s Intuition proposes spontaneous contemplative movement as a technique for listening and awakening the knowledge stored in the body.
“The subtle healing intentions of your bodymind’s metaphor language will be overridden-ruled out as irrational-unless you intentionally turn your conscious attention to the nonverbal realm of the metaphor-to the images and spontaneous movements that are your body’s way of signaling you.”
Can we learn to believe and understand that, “Beneath every mood, each symptom, dream image or feeling, lies some unclaimed remnant of the true self, the original and as yet undiscovered, soul-filled Self.”
As for me, I want to lose my fear of the unknown, and reclaim the power of intuitive knowing, as well as revalue the sacredness of my own body’s wisdom as I am getting older. The more I practice knowing, and following up my intuition and my fierce compassionate love, the more solid it grows. The less fear I have of the future. Ageless goddesses, (not witches) that’s what we are, and once we tune into our own empowerment, we withdraw the plug from fear of the Ugly Old Hag or Witch. Dance with life, dance with beauty. Do you want to be a juicy Crone? I want to keep on living my authentic truth until the end. Happy, healthy, dead, as Christiane Northrup says in her book Goddesses Never Age.
Who’s afraid of the big bad witch? Not me.