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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

"Old Rinkrank" A Grimm Brothers Tale


There was once on a time a King who had a daughter, and he caused a glass mountain to be made, and said that whosoever could cross to the other side of it without falling should have his daughter to wife. Then there was one who loved the King's daughter, and he asked the King if he might have her. "Yes," said the King; "if you can cross the mountain without falling, you shall have her." And the princess said she would go over it with him, and would hold him if he were about to fall. So they set out together to go over it, and when they were half way up the princess slipped and fell, and the glass-mountain opened and shut her up inside it, and her betrothed could not see where she had gone, for the mountain closed immediately. Then he wept and lamented much, and the King was miserable too, and had the mountain broken open where she had been lost, and thought he would be able to get her out again, but they could not find the place into which she had fallen. Meanwhile the King's daughter had fallen quite deep down into the earth into a great cave. An old fellow with a very long gray beard came to meet her, and told her that if she would be his servant and do everything he bade her, she might live, if not he would kill her. So she did all he bade her. In the mornings he took his ladder out of his pocket, and set it up against the mountain and climbed to the top by its help, and then he drew up the ladder after him. The princess had to cook his dinner, make his bed, and do all his work, and when he came home again he always brought with him a heap of gold and silver. When she had lived with him for many years, and had grown quite old, he called her Mother Mansrot, and she had to call him Old Rinkrank. Then once when he was out, and she had made his bed and washed his dishes, she shut the doors and windows all fast, and there was one little window through which the light shone in, and this she left open. When Old Rinkrank came home, he knocked at his door, and cried, "Mother Mansrot, open the door for me." - "No," said she, "Old Rinkrank, I will not open the door for thee." Then he said,

"Here stand I, poor Rinkrank,
On my seventeen long shanks,
On my weary, worn-out foot,
Wash my dishes, Mother Mansrot."
"I have washed thy dishes already," said she. Then again he said,

"Here stand I, poor Rinkrank,
On my seventeen long shanks,
On my weary, worn-out foot,
Make me my bed, Mother Mansrot."
"I have made thy bed already," said she. Then again he said,

"Here stand I, poor Rinkrank,
On my seventeen long shanks,
On my weary, worn-out foot,
Open the door, Mother Mansrot."

Then he ran all round his house, and saw that the little window was open, and thought, "I will look in and see what she can be about, and why she will not open the door for me." He tried to peep in, but could not get his head through because of his long beard. So he first put his beard through the open window, but just as he had got it through, Mother Mansrot came by and pulled the window down with a cord which she had tied to it, and his beard was shut fast in it. Then he began to cry most piteously, for it hurt him very much, and to entreat her to release him again. But she said not until he gave her the ladder with which he ascended the mountain. Then, whether he would or not, he had to tell her where the ladder was. And she fastened a very long ribbon to the window, and then she set up the ladder, and ascended the mountain, and when she was at the top of it she opened the window. She went to her father, and told him all that had happened to her. The King rejoiced greatly, and her betrothed was still there, and they went and dug up the mountain, and found Old Rinkrank inside it with all his gold and silver. Then the King had Old Rinkrank put to death, and took all his gold and silver. The princess married her betrothed, and lived right happily in great magnificence and joy.
Did you catch what happened at the end of the story?  The princess returns to the real world as an old woman.  It's now clear that the cave in the glass mountain is a "portal" into an otherworld where time slows down. And (are you ready for it?), she then marries the prince. The prince we know is young, for the King is still alive.

I'd like to say that the princess is some glamorous woman, a Helen Mirren figure of sorts.  But I doubt there were any such women in 19th century Germany.  She probably looked more like my grandmother - plump with white hair, hunched back, sparkling eyes and an knowing smile.  In our culture, one of the greatest taboos is for an older woman to take a younger man in marriage. Yet, in this story it's a sign of true love. So instead of the young prince winning the hand of the beautiful princess, the old princess wins the hand of the handsome prince!  Perhaps that's the greatest surprise of all.
From Household Stories. Collected by the Brothers Grimm. Newly Translated. With 240 illustrations by Edward H. Wehnert. Vol. 2. London: Addey and Company.

Friday, July 28, 2023

“The Old Woman of Spring: The Origin of the Buffalo and of Corn” - A Cheyenne Myth or Pourquoi Tale


As a storyteller I always pause when I consider sharing a Native American story on this blog.  I do not tell these stories myself for I am not of that culture and so much has dishonored their traditions during the early recording of these stories by “white men.”  Yet many of these stories would have been long forgotten if not recorded in some fashion by the anthropologists and ethnographers of old.

The first version I found of this story was by George A. Dorsey in his 1905, two volume book “The Cheyenne.” This is the version found on the Internet and within several compilations of folktales (including Jane Yolen’s “Gray Heroes”). I thought to include it but then did some research on Dorsey. I discovered some criticism that he might have engaged in grave robbing, so I looked further. Fortunately, I found another version written about the same time by George Bird Grinnel (“Early Cheyenne Tales.” 20 Journal of American Folklore,169-194 (Jul-Sept. 1907)).  Grinnel spent much time with the Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and Pawnee tribes and wrote books and articles about their stories and culture.  I was impressed to find him mention that there were stories that could not be told. According to Cheyenne custom, only certain people can tell certain stories and even then, they can only share what has been deemed appropriate to share. His is the version that I will share, for this wise and powerful grandmother offers much to us today.

The next day they [the Cheyenne] camped near a little knoll, where a spring came out of the rock. This spring is called "Old Woman's Water."  They camped near this spring with the opening of the camp towards it. There was a fine place for the camp in the plain there. There was a little brush near the spring. Nothing happened that night.

In the morning two sets of hoops and sticks were taken to the center of the camp, and they rolled them there and gambled on the game. Two games were going on. They selected the head of the hunting party as one of the men to keep the count. While they were gambling, a man came from the right side of the camp to the center, where they were playing. He was naked except for his breech cloth and was painted yellow all over and striped down with the fingers; on his breast was a round circle, in red, and on the back a half-moon of the same color. His face under his eyes was painted black, and there was a red stripe around his wrists and ankles; he had a yellow down feather on his scalp-lock and wore his robe hair side out. He stood for a time and watched them playing. While he stood there, a man came from the left side of the camp, whose paint and dress were just the same as his. While they were rolling the wheel, the man who had come from the right said to the players, "My friends, stop for a moment." He walked toward the other and asked him to come towards him, so they met in the center of the camp and stopped a short distance apart. They stood facing each other, and the first one said to the other, "Why do you imitate me? This is spiritual paint." The second said, "Mine also is spiritual paint." The game had stopped, and all the players were listening.

The first man said, "Who gave you your spiritual paint, and where did you get it? " The other replied, " Who gave you yours? " The first man pointed to the spring and said, "My paint came from there (meaning that at the spring he was instructed to paint himself in that way). The other said, " Mine also came from the spring." Then first man said, "Let us do something for the hunters, the old men, old women, young men, young women, girls and boys." And the second said, "Yes, let us do so." By this time everyone in the camp was listening. So, the first man said again, "Soldiers of all societies, every one of you shall feel happy this day," and the other said, "Yes, you shall all feel happy this very day." The first speaker walked toward the spring, and the other followed close behind him. When he came to the spring, he covered his head with his robe and plunged under the water into the opening out of which the spring came. His friend followed him closely and did the same thing. All the people in the camp watched them and saw them go in.

The first man came up under the spring, and there under the knoll sat a very old woman. As he stepped in, she said to him, "Come in, my grandchild." She took him in her arms; held him for a few minutes and made him sit down at her left side. As the other man came in, she said again, "Come in, my grandchild." She took him in her arms, held him for a minute, and set him on her right side. Then she said to both of them, "Why have you not come sooner? Why have you gone hungry for so long? Now that you have come here, I must do something for your people." She had near her two old-fashioned earthen jars. She brought them out and set them down before her and also brought out two earthen dishes; one was filled with buffalo meat, and one with corn. She said, "Come, my children; eat the meat first." They ate it very fast, for it was very good; but, when they had eaten all they could, the dish was still full; it was the same way with the corn. They could not empty the dishes; they were full when the men stopped. They were both satisfied, but the dishes did not show that they had been touched.

The old woman untied the feathers they had on their heads and threw them in the fire. She painted each man with red paint; striped him, and repainted his wrists and ankles, and the sun and moon, yellow; then she stretched her hand out over the fire and brought out two down feathers painted red and tied them to their scalp-locks. After that, she pointed to her left and said, "Look that way." They looked and could see the earth covered with buffalo. The dust was flying up in clouds where the bulls were fighting. Then she said, "Look this way " (pointing partly behind her), and they saw immense cornfields. She said, "Look that way" (pointing to the right), and they saw the prairie covered with horses. The stallions were fighting and there was much movement. She said, "Look that way again," and they saw Indians fighting. They looked closely, and among the fighters recognized themselves, painted just as they were then. She said, "You will always be victorious in your fights; you will have good fortune and make many captives. When you go away from here, go to the center of your village; call for two big bowls and have them wiped out clean. Say to your people, women, and children and all the bands of the societies, “We have come out to make you happy; we have brought out something wonderful to give you. Tell your people that when the sun goes down, I will send out buffalo.” To each of the young men she gave some corn tied up in sacks and told them to divide this seed among the people. She told them to take some of the meat from the dish with one hand and some corn with the other and sent them away. So, they passed out of her lodge and came out of the water of the spring.

All the people of the village were sitting in a circle watching the spring. The two young men walked on together to the center of the village, where the one who had first appeared said, "Old men, old women, young men, young girls, I have brought out something that is wonderful. Soldiers, I have brought out something wonderful for you. When the sun goes down, the buffalo will come out." The other young man repeated these words. The first man stood ahead, and the other right behind him. The first man said, "I want two wooden bowls, but they must be clean." A young man ran to the right and another to the left to get the bowls. They set one down on each side of him, and with his right hand he put the meat in the right-hand bowl, and with his left hand he put the corn into the left-hand bowl. The bowls became half full. The other man did the same, and the bowls were filled.

Just before leaving the old woman, she had said, "The medicine hunter is to eat first," so the medicine hunter performed the ceremony making a sacrifice of a piece of the meat at the four points of the compass - and the first man said to him, "Eat all you can."

The old woman had told them that the oldest men and women were to eat first. They all ate, first of the meat and then of the corn; then the young men, young women, and the children ate, but the pile in each dish remained nearly the same. After that the people in the camp ate all they could, and after all had eaten there was but little left. At the last came two orphans, a boy, and a girl; they both ate, and when they had finished the meat was all gone and also the corn. It was just as the young men had said, everyone was happy, for now they had plenty to eat.

As the sun went down, all the village began to look toward the spring. After a time, as they watched, they saw a four-year-old bull leap out. He ran a little distance and began to paw the ground, and then turned about and ran back and plunged into the spring. After he had gone back, a great herd of buffalo came pouring out of the spring and all night long they could hear them. No one went to sleep that night, for the buffalo made too much noise. Next morning at sunrise the earth, as far as they could see, was covered with buffalo. That day the medicine hunters went out and brought in all the meat they could eat.

The village camped there all winter and never lacked food. Toward spring they sent out two young men to look for moist ground to plant the seed in, for the old woman had told them that it must be planted in a damp place. They divided the corn seed; everyone got some, for there was enough for all. They made big caches in the earth to hold the meat they had dried, and then went to the place the young men had found and planted the seed. They made holes with sticks and put the seed in the ground. Sometimes when they were planting the corn, they would go back to get their dried meat, for the buffalo had moved to another place. Once, when they returned with their dried meat, they found that some of the seed had been stolen, and they thought that it was the Pawnees or the Arickarees - and that that was the way these tribes got their corn.

There is much more to unpack in this story about the Cheyenne culture for the story is filled with symbolism and reference to spiritual beliefs, but I’m not learned enough to do so. Here is the little I do know.  There were two branches to the Cheyenne tribe (the northern and the southern Cheyenne), and these were often represented in stories by two young men or culture heroes.  One is called Sweet Medicine or Sweet Root or Sweet Root Sanding and the other is called Red Tassel, Straight Horns, or Standing on the Ground. Each helped feed their people through a time of starvation. They moved into southwest Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas, where they planted corn and built permanent villages.  After they had acquired horses, the Northern Cheyenne went to live in Montana and Wyoming, while the Southern went to Oklahoma and Colorado.  This story references the move of the Cheyenne from an agrarian existence to becoming hunters.  This is thought to have occurred in the 18th century.

Julian C. Rice writes that Sweet Root is an orphan.  His creative soul is free of conventional authority and identity. His name suggests “the source of all creative development, both the male and female principles, and especially the idea of spiritual nourishment, since the “sweet root” stimulates the flow of mother’s milk.  The teller of stories about Sweet Root sprinkled sacred sage upon a hot coal and purified his body in the smoke before beginning.”

The Great Spirit of the Cheyenne tribe is known as Maheo.  He named the earth as the Grandmother.  When the two young men enter, the old woman greets and embraces each in turn. She asks “Why have you not come sooner?  Why have you gone hungry so long?”  It’s a question we might ask ourselves today as we face one natural disaster after another due to climate change.  Why have we not come sooner? Why haven’t we asked “Grandmother earth” for her advice? Why do we choose to suffer instead?

The two young men want to do something for the “hunters, the old men, old women, young men, young women, girls and boys.” They don’t come for themselves.  This is a spiritual quest, and they are marked in spiritual paint. In the story, Grandmother loves all her creations and wants to help. “I must do something for your people,” she says. She shares a prophecy of their future filled with horses and buffaloes and of their success when fighting neighboring tribes. Finally, she brings forth a never-ending supply of buffalo meat and corn to feed the people. Each eats according to their status, the medicine hunter first, the oldest to the youngest and lastly the two orphans.

At sundown the buffalo appears, and, in the spring, they plant the seeds.  In one version of the story the tribe fails to honor the words of the Grandmother.  They let others steal their seeds, so they lose their ability to raise corn.  They must now live on the plains and hunt bison.  Grandmother is loving and kind.  She’s willing to help if they will only ask.  But asking requires humility. It also requires respect.  Grandmother earth is powerful.  She knows exactly what to do.  The two young men come to her. They dress as the spring has asked them to. They have followed her words and are worthy of her counsel. They embrace the old woman and in doing so they show her the love and respect she is due.  In return she offers them food enough for all the people.  Perhaps Grandmother earth would do the same today, if we would only ask and listen for her reply.

"Old men, old women, young men, young girls, I have brought out something that is wonderful. I have come to make you happy!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Britain's Wise or Cunning Woman

Tammy Blee

I’m currently taking an interesting class on British folklore taught by Mark Norman. One of our many topics was witches. In Britain, old women witches are called either wisewomen or cunning folk.  They are called "wise" because they have skill in herbs or divination.  Cunning folks might be able to cure you of a malady, help you find a lost object, or protect you from a curse. From medieval time onward, these women (and men) supplemented their income by using their “craft” for others.  

We’ve been exploring the archetype of the wise old woman for some time  here.  But even so, perhaps a reminder of the core elements of this archetype might be needed. The “Wise Old Woman” archetype has two primary roles within folktales.  The first is as a helper, tester of worth and guide.  The second is the role of the unlikely hero.  The “Old Woman Helper” and the “unlikely hero” motifs are both found within two models for analyzing the structure of folktales. In addition, we are looking at wisdom rather than knowledge or skill. The cunning woman of Britain may or may not embody the “wise old woman” or “wise crone” archetype.

Let’s look at a real-life example. Tammy Blee (1793-1856) was a 19th Cornish wise woman. She was known as the white witch and is said to have cured people with spells and magic powders.  The film “Tammy Blee – The Notorious Witch of the West” tells her life story.  As the film states, “Widely celebrated for her skills throughout the Duchy, Tammy Blee's reputation as one of the most gifted of 'wise woman' ensured a steady stream of visitors, to her home in Helston.” As you watch the film, pay special attention to the ending.  It will help you determine if Tammy Blee was the wise crone or simply a cunning woman after all.

Tammy Blee - The Notorious Witch of the West”


“You must know it is a dreadful thing to undertake [to summon a spirit]!”  Tammy said.  And so it was! Even though the event was staged and her fraud  uncovered (for the spirit was her husband), Tammy’s suggestion as to how to share this story left the client with treasure.  And so, was Tammy a witch, a cunning woman, or the wise crone (as defined here)? I think there is evidence enough to identify her as all three. She certainly knew how to keep her clients happy and how to turn a very bad situation into a good one. Tammy had knowledge of the "old ways." She was a helper and a guide too.  But wise?  Well, I’ll let the reader make that determination.

Previously, I’ve discussed the wise woman as depicted in Irish folklore.  In Ireland, she is known as the bean feasa. In my podcast covering the folktale “The Brewery of Eggs,” the wise old woman saves the day in a changeling tale.  If you listen to the podcast, you’ll discover how folktales can be coded to mean much more than what’s on the surface.