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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Seven Leavenings" a Palestinian folktale

In "Seven Leavenings," a Palestinian folktale, we discover a story of an unlikely hero and helper.  An old woman starts on an adventure while she waits for her bread to rise.  Boats pass her by and refuse to take her aboard until she threatens to curse them if they don't.  The story then moves into two similar situations (perhaps two separate stories), in which the old woman is befriended by a wealthy family.  The old woman soon discovers that the wives are being physically abused by their overly jealous husbands.  The old woman kindly and cleverly speaks her truth to the men and starts to open their eyes.  In one of the stories, she crafts a plan to make the man believe his wife is pregnant.  Ultimately through the old woman's patience and belief in the "Universe," the wife is given a child and all is well.  By the time the old woman leaves, the women are no longer mistreated.  In this story the old woman is assertive and threatening while also being patient, kind and compassionate. She knows through her long experience how to maneuver the world of relationship between men and women.  She understands her own role within her culture and uses it well.  The wise old woman is able to make the invisible (the unjust mistreatment of the wives) visible and we are unable to see the worth of an unlikely source (an unexpected old woman who is their house guest).  See a discussion of this tale in Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What the "Wise Old Woman" Can Teach Us


             The “Wise Old Woman” archetype is found within many folktales, myths and legends.  The importance of this archetype is essential to our understanding of aging and wisdom.  We see examples of the deplorable treatment of our elders within these stories.  We search within to discover our own discomfort  with that which is not young and beautiful.  We examine ourselves for times when we have marginalized others and found them invisible.
               The “Wise Old Woman” archetype teaches us who we can truly be: someone who embraces both our light and our darkness, our education and our experience.   She is a woman who can maneuver deftly through the mire of her culture, who can speak truthfully and is unafraid of the opinions of others.  She makes the invisible visible.  She shows us the worth in unlikely sources.  The “Wise Old Woman” archetype continues on the journey as the unlikely hero, while providing service to others as the helper.
                Clarissa Pinkola Estes may have expressed this the best when she said, “Though I myself find perils and challenges of age to be true, we must disavow the old prejudices about women and age. The true vision of the wise woman is one of bounty of love and age and wisdom. As she gathers years, like an ancient tree, she grows ever more arms, even more flowers and fruits. She is more rooted, more vast, more sheltering—developing her callings to be throughout life, maiden mother, medium, crone, elder, healer, teacher, artist, knowing woman.”[1]

[1] Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Dangerous Old Woman, Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2010, compact disc.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pretending to Be the Old Woman

Listen to these wise words from the crone, "If I’m no good at pretending to be a man and no good at being young, I might just as well start pretending that I am an old woman. I am not sure that anybody has invented old women yet; but it might be worth trying."  Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Old Woman & the Oni - a Japanese Folktale

Once long ago in Japan, there was a poor old woman.  She lived in a small shack in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful cherry trees.  She was hungry for most of her days.  But whenever she had a bit of rice, she made dumplings.  They were quite tasty and her family and friends said she made the best rice dumplings in all the land. One day, she was busy in her small kitchen making dumplings, when one fell from her pan and landed on the floor.  It rolled out of her house and down the hill.  These dumplings were like precious gems to the old woman.  She screamed, “My dumpling!” and began to run after it.  The dumpling rolled to a stream.  She continued to follow it into a cave filled with Jinzo statutes. The Jinzo, you see, often show up at the cross roads. They are the patron deities who protect travelers helping them to take the right path. 

“O-Jizō-Sama,” the old woman said.  “Have you seen my dumpling”?  
“Be gone, old woman.  It’s not safe here. This is the land of the Oni.”
“I’m not worried about the Oni,” she said, “I just need to find my dumpling!” 
Suddenly and without warning, the old woman found herself face to face with a wicked Oni.  The Oni are one of the most frightening creatures in all of Japanese mythology.  Onis look at bit like a troll mixed with the devil.  It has a gigantic red body of a man, the head of a monster, two horns, wild hair, and pants made from tiger skin.  Curiously, the old woman was not afraid.
“Don’t hurt her!”  the Jinzos cried out.
“I have no plans to do that,” the Oni smiled, “I just want her to make some more of these delicious rice dumplings.” He licked his fingers as he ate the last bite of the dumpling that had landed right at his feet.

The Oni led the old woman into a kitchen.  From the doorway she could see a hall filled with hundreds of Onis all waiting for their dinner.  
“Make us dumplings,” he said. 
“There is no rice here for me to do so,” she replied.
“Watch me.” He lifted the large pot and filled it with water from the stream.  He brought the water to boil and into it he dropped a single grain of rice.  He stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.
Soon she had enough rice to make the flour to form the balls, and to steam the dumplings to feed all the Onis in the room.  But just as soon as they finished eating they wanted more.  

“More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.   Onis, you see, are always hungry.   And so she took the pot to the stream, filled it again with water, brought it to boil, and into the water dropped a single grain of rice.  She stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.  Again she made the rice dumplings but when she served them, the Onis cheered with delight and bowed before her.
“More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.  

This time when she took the pot to the stream, she began to sing a beautiful Japanese lullaby.  The Onis who had not heard a lullaby since they were babies, were soon fast asleep. 
“Here is my chance,” the old woman thought, “If I don’t leave, I’ll be cooking forever.”  She wanted to go home and rest her feet on her mat.
But how was she to make her way home? She looked at the water and knew the quickest way home was to float downstream but there was no boat nearby.  All of sudden, she had an idea. Maybe she could float down the stream in the large rice pot.  She pushed it into the water, climbed into the pot, and started to make her way downstream, by paddling with the large red spoon.
It wasn’t long before the Onis awoke and saw the old woman escaping.

 “More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.   The Onis quickly moved to action.  There was only one way to stop her now and that was to drink all the water in the stream.  Together they knelt by the shore line, slurping and swallowing all the water until their cheeks were full.  All the water was gone and her pot rested in the mud.  The fish splashed around her.  The old woman stepped out of the boat and found herself stuck in the mud.  In desperation, she reached for a fish and threw it at the Onis.  As she did so, she slipped, fell and was covered with mud.  All she could do was laugh, “Hee, hee, hee!” “Hee, hee, hee!” “Hee, hee, hee!”

The old woman looked so ridiculous covered in mud with fish flapping all around her that Onis too began to laugh.  All the water in their mouths was spit out into the stream filling it again.  Quickly the old woman jumped back into the pot, floated out of the cave and was soon back in the sunlight.  She made her way home with both the pot and the red spoon. 

Now the old woman was able to make enough dumplings for the entire town.  She would simply take the pot to the stream, fill it with water, bring it to boil, and into the water drop a single grain of rice.  She stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.    With the red spoon she was always able to make dumplings fast. And quite cheaply too. She sold them and soon became the richest woman in all of Japan.

The Oni is the “Other.”  The "Other" is someone who is not like us. He or she looks different, thinks different, acts different. Today some see the "Other" in people of a different race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  In the island culture of Japan, long ago, having a fear of the "Other" was quite common.  It was the unknown and became symbolic of great evil and destruction. Onis are found throughout Japanese culture filling their plays and dance. Most often they are represented by wearing a ferocious mask.  But what is behind that mask? This is the question that the wise old woman asks.

In this story the old woman is the "unlikely hero."  She is both kind and fearless before the Onis.  Their difference does not scare her.  She sees who they are behind their fearful mask.  She soothes them with her lullaby.  And when opportunity presents itself, she finds a way home. When almost captured, she doesn't yell threats  or cower in fear.  She laughs at the silliness of her situation; an old woman, slipping and falling and covered in mud!  Home at last, she doesn't rest out her days in a rocking chair,  Instead she starts a business and becomes the richest woman in all of Japan.  She is the wise old woman archetype: fearless, clever, kind, and industrious.  She sees beyond the surface to find an unexpected solution to the trials that are before her.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Three Spinning Women - a Grimm Folktale

In the "Three Spinning Women," we see how the image of the crone as ugly and disfigured, contrasts against her kind heart and magical power. She is the helper once again.

Here is the Grimm story found in Household Tales as translated by Margaret Hunt in 1884.

THERE was once a girl who was idle and would not spin, and let her mother say what she would, she could not bring her to it. At last the mother was once so overcome with anger and impatience, that she beat her, on which the girl began to weep loudly. Now at this very moment the Queen drove by, and when she heard the weeping she stopped her carriage, went into the house and asked the mother why she was beating her daughter so that the cries could be heard out on the road? Then the woman was ashamed to reveal the laziness of her daughter and said, "I cannot get her to leave off spinning. She insists on spinning for ever and ever, and I am poor, and cannot procure the flax." Then answered the Queen, "There is nothing that I like better to hear than spinning, and I am never happier than when the wheels are humming. Let me have your daughter with me in the palace. I have flax enough, and there she shall spin as much as she likes." The mother was heartily satisfied with this, and the Queen took the girl with her. When they had arrived at the palace, she led her up into three rooms which were filled from the bottom to the top with the finest flax. "Now spin me this flax," said she, "and when thou hast done it, thou shalt have my eldest son for a husband, even if thou art poor. I care not for that, thy indefatigable industry is dowry enough." The girl was secretly terrified, for she could not have spun the flax, no, not if she had lived till she was three hundred years old, and had sat at it every day from morning till night. When therefore she was alone, she began to weep, and sat thus for three days without moving a finger. On the third day came the Queen, and when she saw that nothing had been spun yet, she was surprised; but the girl excused herself by saying that she had not been able to begin because of her great distress at leaving her mother's house. The queen was satisfied with this, but said when she was going away,"To-morrow thou must begin to work."

When the girl was alone again, she did not know what to do, and in her distress went to the window. Then she saw three women coming towards her, the first of whom had a broad flat foot, the second had such a great underlip that it hung down over her chin, and the third had a broad thumb. They remained standing before the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was amiss with her? She complained of her trouble, and then they offered her their help and said, "If thou wilt invite us to the wedding, not be ashamed of us, and wilt call us thine aunts, and likewise wilt place us at thy table, we will spin up the flax for thee, and that in a very short time." "With all my heart," she replied, "do but come in and begin the work at once." Then she let in the three strange women, and cleared a place in the first room, where they seated themselves and began their spinning. The one drew the thread and trod the wheel, the other wetted the thread, the third twisted it, and struck the table with her finger, and as often as she struck it, a skein of thread fell to the ground that was spun in the finest manner possible. The girl concealed the three spinners from the Queen, and showed her whenever she came the great quantity of spun thread, until the latter could not praise her enough. When the first room was empty she went to the second, and at last to the third, and that too was quickly cleared. Then the three women took leave and said to the girl, "Do not forget what thou hast promised us, -- it will make thy fortune.

When the maiden showed the Queen the empty rooms, and the great heap of yarn, she gave orders for the wedding, and the bridegroom rejoiced that he was to have such a clever and industrious wife, and praised her mightily. "I have three aunts," said the girl, "and as they have been very kind to me, I should not like to forget them in my good fortune; allow me to invite them to the wedding, and let them sit with us at table." The Queen and the bridegroom said, "Why should we not allow that?" Therefore when the feast began, the three women entered in strange apparel, and the bride said, "Welcome, dear aunts." "Ah," said the bridegroom, "how comest thou by these odious friends?" Thereupon he went to the one with the broad flat foot, and said, "How do you come by such a broad foot?" "By treading," she answered, "by treading.""Then the bridegroom went to the second, and said, "How do you come by your falling lip?" "By licking," she answered, "by licking." Then he asked the third, "How do you come by your broad thumb?" "By twisting the thread," she answered, "by twisting the thread." On this the King's son was alarmed and said, "Neither now nor ever shall my beautiful bride touch a spinning-wheel." And thus she got rid of the hateful flax-spinning.


In the "Three Spinning Women," another Grimm telling of a German folktale, a lazy girl is given an impossible task of spinning a large amount of flax.  She enlists the assistance of three hideous, old women.  The nature of their disfigurement becomes an essential part of the story.  One woman has a large, broad flat foot that she drags behind her, another a lower lip that is stretched to her chin and the third an overly large thumb.  They agree to help the girl saying, "If you will invite us to your wedding, not be ashamed of us, call us your aunts, and let us be seated at your table, we will spin all the flax for you, and in a very short time at that."  

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells an expanded version of this story in her "Dangerous Old Woman" audio series.  In this story, the girl is saved and then falls in love with a prideful soldier.  As they plan marriage, she sends a message to the old women, who meet up with the arrogant young man on the road.   He returns to his finance with disparaging comments about the three old women he met on his journey.  She tells him these were most likely her "aunties" and shares with him how they saved her life.  But the young man is not worthy, he can only see the "surface" of who these women are.  In anger he refuses to allow them to attend the wedding.  The girl, who remembers her promise, breaks off the engagement.  The finance storms off and then finds himself in three harrowing events, to which the old women come to his rescue.  Each time the women ask him to let them attend the wedding.  Each time, the young man promises and then recants. Finally he agrees and sees their true nature.  He is now proven worthy and the wedding occurs. Estes version portrays the old women as both helpers and also those who mete out justice (similar to the Frau Holle story).

These wise old women are mysterious and magical, but appear with many years of spinning skill and experience. They offer their selfless service to the girl.  Her test is only to recognize them, and show their worth to the world.  The invisible is made visible in this story and the girl discovers worth within an unknown and unlikely source.