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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Wise Crone Fortune Teller - The Trickster Archetype

The Fortune Teller is a Trickster tale from Russia.  The story goes something like this. A poor old woman and her son were starving, until one day she had an idea.  She told her son to go find some horses, untie them, and then take them to another location.  She was known as a fortune-teller, so she just waited.  Soon the owner of the horses came to her for a reading.  He couldn’t find his horses anywhere. The Fortune-teller pretended that she too sick to leave her bed.  He promised her a great reward, if she would only help.  She read the cards and “predicted” where the horses could be located.  When the man got there, he discovered that the horses had been moved yet again.  He returned to the Fortune-teller who was now in bed, coughing and wheezing.  After much cajoling and promises of even greater riches, she agrees to another reading.  This time he found his horses easily.  Her fame as a fortune-teller then grew and she did many readings.

One day, two men came and took her away.  A rich man had lost his stash of money and wanted her to find it.  She didn’t know what was happening and began to cry out.  The men guiding the carriage thought that she was talking about them and knew that they were the ones to rob their master. They ultimately told the old woman where the money was hidden in exchange for her silence.  To the rich man, she pretended to be old, feeble and sick.  He fed her and cared for her and promised her riches, if she would only do a card reading.  During the reading, she told him the location of the money that the two robbers gave her.  When the rich man returned he kept his promise and was so happy he even gave her something more.  Further, the two robber-servants were relieved that she had not identified them and also gave her a reward.  She returned to her son wealthy and together they lived happily ever after.

The Trickster is a figure that causes chaos and often disruption. It comes during times of transition. It is more amoral than not.  It brings doubt into what was once certain. The Trickster achieves its childish (or hedonistic) self-serving goal through trickery of some sort – lies, manipulation, fraud or a scam.  Does this sound familiar? Yes!  We live in the world of Tricksters.  This is a world that continually gets up-ended because it seeks stability when the ground is shaking.  The Trickster thrives in chaos and in the unexpected. It enjoys bringing forth the upheaval of individuals or societies. 

There is a wonderful Coyote tale   in which the Coyote goes to his favorite town to cause some havoc.  When he gets there he discovers the town is empty, for the people have been eaten by a monster.  Instead of being distraught for the people, he is upset because they aren’t there for him.  It is only for that reason that he seeks them out and ultimately rescues them.  And so, what do we do when we are a people governed by Tricksters? Do we wait until they rescue us from some great calamity or do we take action ourselves? 

The natural inclination is to try to find the moral high ground.  Certainly the Trickster can understand a logical and well-reasoned argument, we think. Certainly the Trickster can be swayed by those suffering and in need.  Sadly, its all a waste of time.  Remember, the Trickster has the ground shaking.  It’s a shape-shifter who can change positions as easily as appearance. The lies and treachery of the Trickster polarize and hide the Truth.  The common bonds between us are shattered until we become morally bankrupt ourselves.  

And so, what does that wise Fortune-teller have to say about the world today?   In the Fortune-teller, we see an old woman willing to upset the status quo, but only when needed.  We also see someone who unleashes her inner Trickster as a means to a “good end.” She is the conscious Trickster. The conscious Trickster knows there is unfairness and injustice in the world. There is no clear moral compass, no infallible scale to determine what is right or wrong. Everything in this world is seen in continum, all in shades of grey. 

The Fortune-teller is ready, willing and able to do what it takes to save her family.  She is in survival mode. She uses her wisdom and knowledge of people to move events in her favor.  She didn’t steal the horses, she simply asked her son to move them.  She didn’t steal the rich man’s money.  She simply used her wisdom of human nature and the luck of the moment to uncover the truth.  She didn’t claim to be the best Fortune-teller, she just sat and waited. This might sound a bit iffy from an ethical or moral perspective, especially if you wish to see the world in absolutes.  But I ask you, how many times do parents manipulate their children into making a better choice? How many times do we flatter our mates to control their anger?  How many times do people lie or deceive for the greater good?  

This type of energy is common in the stereotypical woman. In its Shadow form it can be seen as the "wily female." Manipulative actions are sometimes taken by women having little or no real power in the world.  It is the ability to use their intellect, their words and emotions in their favor.  It is the "tricks" some use to survive in this world. (By contrast, the sterotypical man in stories tends to act out violently in such situations.)

Sadly, just like the Fortune-teller, we have many a hard choice to make. Some of us may find ourselves equivocating on moral positions (perhaps even voting for people we opposed in the primaries). We no longer can be self-righteous, when the flaws of self and others are spotlighted.  These are grey days in a broken, liminal world.  Is a “lesser” sin justified if it avoids a greater one? In a Trickster world all that divides and polarizes us is simply for sport.  Each of us must ponder how to use this archetype in our own lives.  Each of us, like the Fortune-teller, must make the Trickster conscious.  In doing so, we can use this chaos for our own end and for the greater good. The conscious Trickster, who showcases its own hypocrisy, just might move us safely through the land mines that lie ahead.  

Thank you to the Fortune-teller who shows us the way!

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Making of Baba Yaga

My current fascination with the character Baba Yaga came during a kitchen clean-up.  Hanging in the corner was my kitchen witch, a stuffed doll I had made many years before.  I knew she needed dusting but something about her seemed “off.”  This benign figure flying on a wooden spoon no longer seemed capable of providing any protection or blessing to my kitchen at all.  This was no Chinese “kitchen god” after all. The world today, struggling with so much carelessness and cruelty could not be protected by a mere kitchen witch.  I needed something more and she needed to be more.

That’s when I remembered Baba Yaga, the larger than life witch found in the Russian fairy tale.  If I needed a talisman, Baba Yaga fit the tenor of the times.  It was then that I decided to transform my kitchen witch into Baba Yaga.  In the process, I discovered more about the story and the two wise crone characters within in it than I could ever have imagined. 

As the creator of one-of-a-kind art dolls, I was used to my dolls “speaking” to me.  But it soon became clear that I was not making one doll, I was actually making two.  In the story of Baba Yaga, the heroine, Vasilissa, was guided by two crone figures.  The first, was Baba Yaga, who lives in a forest Helen Pilinovsky describes as “a traditional symbol of change and a place of peril, where she acts as either a challenger or a helper to those innocents who venture into her realm.”  In this way, Baba Yaga corresponds to many of the other crone archetypes seen in fairy tales.  Although dark, ferocious and dangerous, she lives by her own code of ethics. It seemed that in her world, keeping your word was more important than taking a life (of which there was plenty of proof).  The second character is the grandmotherly figure who facilitates Vasilissa’s ultimately meeting of the tsar.  “In Western tales, these two roles are typically polarized, split into different characters stereotyped as either ‘witch’ or ‘fairy godmother’,” Pilinovsky writes. “Baba Yaga, however, is a complex individual: depending on the circumstances of the specific story, she may choose to use her powers for good or ill.” 

To me, there was something unsettling about that part of the story.  Baba Yaga simply allows Vasilissa to leave after meeting her part of the bargain.  It all seems too easy and the reader wonders whether it is a trick.  Is the grandmother figure kind or is she really Baba Yaga in disguise? There is an uneasy tension here for many folktale motifs concern transformation of the seemingly good into the frightful (Snow White’s step-mother, for example) or the evil into the appearance of good (the Wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood”).  Holding on to the edge of the seat, the reader is waiting for Vasilissa to slip up until the story ends.

That tension is what unfolded for me as I transformed my kitchen witch into Baba Yaga.  I tried to make her face into something more fearsome but the more I tried, the more I saw the blurring of the witch with the crone. To me she looks as if she has tried to “pretty” herself, but underneath the Shadow appears.  In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is the part of us that remains unknown.  It might be our darkness and it might be our greatest potential. There is much power in Baba Yaga, so I think that rings true.  Around her neck I placed a necklace of colored beads and human skulls. Without being aware I created the necklace with the same dichotomy that I did her face. On her apron I sewed a new pocket.  Into it I placed a wild looking wooden doll.  Although this was not true to the story, it seemed needed.

In the story, Vasilissa is given a doll by her dying mother.  It was a doll that had magical powers and allowed her to complete all the tasks given to her by Baba Yaga. Without the tiny doll, Vasilissa would never have completed the tasks given to her to prove her worth. Maria Tartar writes an explanation, “Whereas Cinderella and her folkloric cousins usually receive assistance from nature … or from a fairy godmother, Vasilissa is given a cultural artifact, a figure that can be seen as a miniaturized version of herself or as a symbolic form of her mother. While the doll protects and helps Vasilissa, it is also something to be nurtured and cared for, thus strengthening the fact of her own agency in escaping from villainy at home.” Accordingly, this wooden doll also became Baba Yaga’s source of power.

Most witches in Western folklore ride on brooms, instead Baba Yaga rides in a mortar, rowing with a pestle, and using the broom to erase her tracks.  I placed my doll in a mortar I fashioned, complete with skulls hanging around the handle. She holds a twisted branch that both serves as a broom and a pestle.  Duality seemed the key to her recreation on an intuitive level.


Baba Yaga’s house stands on chicken legs.  Around it is a wall made with human bones and on top is a human skull. I crafted a smaller version of this house which I hung from her arm.  The skulls on the fence were fiery to represent the light she gave to Vasilissa to take home. Inside the house you can see a nest with an egg.  Again, this is my addition, for the contrast of light and dark ring strong in this tale.  The egg is the potential for something more.

It is uncertain how many tasks Vasilissa would have been given if she did not disclose that “the blessing of my dead mother helps me.” Baba Yaga replies, “I want no one who bears a blessing to cross my threshold!” Marie-Louis von Franz writes, “Baba Yaga, who here is almost completely evil, though when she hears that the girl is a ‘blessed daughter’ she tells her she does not want her in her house.  So in a hidden way, she is not thoroughly evil, and sometimes even helpful…” Remember, at the end of the story, Vasilissa meets one more crone. This one serves as her surrogate mother. Marie-Louise von Franz describes her as portraying the Great Mother in her double aspect. Here she facilitates her meeting and ultimate marriage with the tsar.

While transforming the doll, I did not consciously seek to have her embody both aspects. It was the tension I found in reading the story that led me to this discovery.  Not the tension in the fearsomeness of the Baba Yaga witch, but in the quiet, helpfulness of the grandmother figure. It’s not just the Shadow and the Light of these two opposites that makes one uneasy.  That is the norm for the archetypal.  It is instead the living potential for an unexpected appearance of the “other” that seems so unsettling.

When it was all said and done, it was this unpredictability that made Baba Yaga so attractive to me.  In a world filled with climate change, raging wannabe despots, injustice and cruelty; she is sorely needed – both in her mortar flying self with unlimited power and rage and in her kindly and compassionate alter ego.  Each of us as women today may need to connect to these two archetypal forces.  The crone’s ferocious strength and her compassion to serve those needing help, are required in a world in crisis.

The wise crone continually asks, “Who is worthy?”  “Who is worthy?” The answer always rings true to the crone.  For the rest of us, the Baba Yaga tale answers this question thus. “Well, said the old witch, “only remember that every question does not lead to good.  If thou knowest overmuch, thou wilt grow old too soon.  What wilt thou ask?” Marie-Louise Von Franz explains “How much evil can one afford to see without losing one’s appetite for life?  If one has to, if one’s destiny forces one into it, one has to take it, but to load the boat with evil which is not in one’s own fate and has been picked up out of sheer curiosity is not recommended.”  Such is the challenge for all of us living today.