Cronnie Wisdom

Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Old Woman and Bucca Dhu

This folktale[1] comes from Cornwall where it was believed that two spirits resided.  Bucca Dhu was a spirit of darkness and Bucca  Gwidden, a spirit of the light.  The tale begins with the old woman living happily, but perhaps she was a bit too happy.  For in one version she was seen gambling, in one dancing, and in still another, she was acting “unseemly.”  Either way, her children were embarrassed by her behavior.  They decided to trick her into submission.  One night on the way home from one of her escapades, her son came upon her dressed as a Bucca.  The old woman naturally recognized him. She convinced her son that the Bucca Dhu was coming for him instead. From that day on, the children allowed the old woman to behave any way she wanted.  

The experience shared in this story is a universal one, for parents often embarrass their teenage children. In their youthful arrogance, the children attempt to stifle the creative expression of the crone. They wish her to follow the established social norms. But this she does not do, although it would be easy enough to appease them.  Instead, she frightens them away by turning their trick against them. Now she is free (as her children are not) to live authentically without fearing the opinions of others.

[1] From Ruth Manning Sanders book Peter and the Piskies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958).

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Devil and Kitta Gray (Swedish Folktale)

Kitta Grau (Kitta Gray) is a character from Swedish folktales.  As an old woman, she becomes the “unlikely hero” of these stories.  Most often she is pitted against the Devil and wins each skirmish through her own cleverness. In one story she makes a bet with the Devil, telling him she could beat him in a race. And sure, enough she wins because her twin sister is standing at the finish line, just as the Devil crosses it. 

In another story, the Devil wants to bring dissention to a newly married couple. Kitta Grau tells him she will do so for a pair of shoes. By simply talking to each spouse separately, she is able to breed distrust in the relationship. She wins her shoes. 

In the final story, it was a merchant who made the pact with the Devil.  The Devil agreed that anything that came into his shop would be sold within three weeks at a profit.  He promised that if he became prosperous, the Devil could take him after seven years.  The Devil was true to his word, but the merchant wanted out of the deal.  Kitta Grau agreed to help.  She rolled herself in tar and feathers and laid in a cage as if she was a bird. When the Devil came for the man’s soul, he told the Devil that he had one item that didn’t sell in three weeks and so the deal was broken.  The Devil saw Kitta Grau in the cage and cried out, “No one would buy you, Kitta Grau!”   

This old woman, like all tricksters, is both good and evil, hero and villain. Trickster are clever and disruptive.  They tend to behave outside of the norms of social behavior.  All of these are qualities of the Wise Woman archetype, fearless in her independence, bravely willing to face evil, and confident in her ability to control the situation.

This story is found in The Swedish Fairy Book, Clara Stroebe, editor (2011) and in Jane Yolen's, Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World (1999).

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Old Woman Weaves the World

There are several Native American tales that refer to the old woman as the Creator.  She weaves the world into creation and then ... something happens.  The Sioux say her dog comes and tears out all that was woven.  As Michael Meade tells the tale a single pulled thread starts the unraveling.  Either way she is at some cross-roads.  Do nothing and the world ends.  Do something and it begins again. But what to do?  It is only through the continual rebirth of creativity that she has a vision of what to bring forth.  This is the Creator archetype that embodies all women from birth until death.  It is not limited to her childbearing years but goes with her always.  She keeps that spark safe within and ignites it to bring forth a new vision, reweaving the world and protecting the future for all generations. 

This is the generative task of all women.  The task is to care and protect seven generations forward and honor seven generations back (as the Iroquois say).  It is a wise teaching and one forgotten in the Western world today that honors only the good of the individual and the present moment.  Women have been enculturated to believe they can no longer make a difference, but the wise crone knows better.  She calls to all of her children to bring forth a brighter future even if it can't be envisioned today.  All we need to do is to pick up that single thread to begin.

For more information on this lovely story read:

Friday, January 5, 2018

Just A Snippet of the Wise Crone

I recently found this lovely snippet of text in Martin Shaw's book Scatterlings - a reminder of the wise crone as the keeper of the old stories.

The Old Peasant Woman by Giacomo Ceruti

" And one day, just a moment ago, an old woman came from her place at the edge of the village, her ears replete with listening, a mouth of fresh-cut meadow flowers, and told us to light the kindling.

Once it was dark and the little ones were drifting under the antelope robes, the strange one loped forward into the light of the flames and stood in front of the village.

She said:

Once upon a time.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time.
So she said.
and she told us the story of ourselves back to ourselves."

Monday, December 11, 2017

Old Woman Nature

Old Woman Nature
naturally has a bag of bones
                tucked away somewhere.
                a whole room full of bones!

A scattering of hair and cartilage
               bits in the woods.

A fox scat with hair and a tooth in it.
               a shellmound
                      a bone flake in a streambank.

A purring cat, crunching
               the mouse head first,
                       eating on down toward the tail--
The sweet old woman
               calmly gathering firewood in the
               moon . . .

Don't be shocked,
She's heating you some soup.

Zen poet and environmentalist, Gary Snyder, is the author of the poem "Old Woman Nature."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Benizara and Kakezara: a Folktale from Japan

Although this tale is a Japanese variant of  "Cinderella," it also reminds me of "Frau Holle."  The story continues a pattern we have seen in other folktales. The wise crone is the one to help those youths who are found worthy (usually through acts of kindness).

This story begins with a stepmother sending her daughter (Kakezara) and stepdaughter (Benizara) into the woods to gather chestnuts.  As in many of these tales, the stepmother wishes for her stepdaughter to fail.  Perhaps she will become lost in the forest, or worst yet,  killed. In this story, Benizara is given a basket with a hole in it.  Kakezara goes into the forest, quickly fills her basket and then returns home.  But at night fall, Benizara is not even close to filling her basket.  Alas!  If she returns home without the chestnuts, she will be beaten. Although afraid (and perhaps being followed by wild animals), she continues walking until she finds a cottage in the middle of the woods.  She knocks on the door, and who do you think she finds?  Why it's the wise old woman, of course, spinning thread. The woman takes her inside but tells her she can't stay for  two sons are ferocious Onis (terrible Japanese monsters). 

The wise old woman in this story like so many others, serves two functions. First, she determines if Benizara is worthy, and second, she offers help.  So before Benizara leaves, the old woman fills her bag with chestnuts, gives her a magic box and also some rice. The Onis soon found Benizara on the trail. She remembered that the old woman said to chew the rice and spit it out on her face should the Onis track her down.  "Lie on the ground quickly, child," the old woman said, "and cover your face with the chewed rice."   This she did; and when the Onis stood over her, they though Benizara was dead and her face covered in maggots!

The rest of the story is in Cinderella fashion.  Everyone is going to a play but Benizara is left at home to clean the house.  Then she remembers the box, and asks it for a beautiful kimono which appears before her magically.  She discovers her pockets are filled with candy and she shares it with her friends.  Before the play begins she hears her stepsister crying out for some candy.  Benizara throws her a hand full.  These acts of kindness are noticed by a wealthy man, who makes his way to Benizara's house. Naturally, her stepmother insists the beautiful girl he saw was her daughter, Kakezara. Fortunately the wise man asks each girl to compose a poem using specific objects. Only Benizara has the heart to compose and recite a poem of great beauty.  She is taken to his palace to marry.  On the way there, the unworthy girl, Kakezara, perishes.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Old Woman and the Giant

The wise old woman archetype often portrays wisdom and cleverness in folktales.  In the “Old Woman and the Giant,” a Philippines folktale,[1] an old woman finds herself lost near a giant’s cave.  A giant threatens to eat her unless she can make a louder noise than he can.  This giant may have been the Manangilaw who was thought to have lived in Bicol.  With a vicious looking face, deep voice, body  covered in black hair and big feet; he makes a frightening image. The old woman replies that she is too skinny and bony to eat (children often say this in stories too).  She says that if he lets her go, she will return with her daughter.  Together they may be able to make more noise.  Later, the old woman and her daughter make their way back to the cave, drum and a gong in hand. Their noise causes the giant to flee.  He runs into his cave and immediately falls into a hole. The wise old woman prevails yet again! 

[1] Jane, Yolen, Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World.  New York: Penguin Books, 1999.