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, April 7, 2021

"Goldenrod and Aster"

 




It’s spring in the Sonoran Desert when new life returns again to mother earth.  For humans living through a long and isolating pandemic, the hope of spring is sorely needed today. Just as the crocus flower can break through the snow, the cactus flower reminds us of how little is needed for flowers to blossom. Each calls out for us to wait. For even in the darkest, most barren, and coldest (or driest) of times, new life will appear. We only must wait to observe the miracle unfolding before us.

The spring flowers we love the most are those that sneak up upon us. They are with us for just an instant.  If we are too busy, if we blink, the flowers are gone.  The fields of wild, California poppies, and the flowering, desert cactus are here for only a moment in time.  Just like the blossoming cherry blossom trees, we must be on the alert to catch their splendor. The Japanese, who are great nature lovers, track the blossoming trees on their nightly news. They call this moment “muju” which means impermanence.  There is a bittersweet quality to a beauty that is so fleeting, so transient and so ephemeral.  The beauty of the flowering cherry trees soon becomes the beauty of the falling leaves in autumn. The Japanese celebrate the blossoming cherry trees, for they understand that this moment won’t last.

Change is inevitable.  If we are lucky and have been paying close attention, we too can awaken from a long sleep. We hold the memories of spring within us and keep the metaphor close to our hearts.  For no matter how dark the time, nature cries out that new life will appear.  Maybe only for a moment, maybe only for that single blink of an eye, but it’s here and it will return again. So, may it be for each of us.

In the story of “Goldenrod and Aster,” we see that the wise old woman understands the singular importance of this beauty. The children in the story say, “We would like to become a pleasure and a joy to everyone who meets us." The wise crone’s response is a powerful reminder of what is truly important.

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Two little girls once lived at the foot of the highest hill in the world. One little girl had hair as yellow as the golden sunshine. The other little girl had eyes as purple as the violets of springtime.

"Do you know who lives at the top of this hill?" asked Golden Hair one day.

"No. Who?" said Blue Eyes.

"Don't you really know?" asked Golden Hair.

"No, I really do not know!" answered Blue Eyes.

"Well, then, I will tell you," said the little girl, shaking out her golden curls. "Up at the top of this highest hill in the world lives an old woman. In her orchard are beautiful ripe apples, which anyone may have for the picking. In her garden are fluffy-tailed, tame squirrels, which one may play with all day long. In her cupboard are jars and jars of sweet cakes, of which one may eat as many as she chooses."

"Oh, let us visit the old woman," said Blue Eyes, springing up.

"But listen," said Golden Hair. "There is something very strange about the old woman. They say she can change rabbits into frogs and birds into fish and little boys and girls into whatsoever she chooses."

"Oh, let us go and see her!" again cried sturdy little Blue Eyes.

"Are you not afraid?" asked Golden Hair.

"Oh, no," said Blue Eyes, "she would not do us harm, for she is kind to the squirrels in her garden. Perhaps she will change us into something very lovely. Let us go!"

So the two little girls set out. Hand in hand they traveled up the great hill. There was a curious smoky haze in the air, and the sunshine fell through the haze in long golden rays. The wind stirred the oak boughs, and the acorns dropped to the ground. The golden and red leaves fell at every breath. They rustled beneath the feet of the children as they walked.

The mellow apples hung on the boughs, yellow and russet and red, or fell with sharp thuds to the sod below. Everywhere was the late summer sunshine.

At length, the children passed the brook and the oak grove and the orchard lands and came in sight of the tiny old hut where the witch lived.

In the doorway sat the old woman, and about her, the squirrels played and the flowers bloomed.

"What do you wish?" asked she, looking up kindly at Golden Hair and Blue Eyes.

It was brave little Blue Eyes who spoke, while Golden Hair shyly hung her head until the curls covered her face.

"We have heard," said Blue Eyes, "that you are very wise and very powerful, and can do wonderful things. Is it true that you can change rabbits into frogs and birds into fishes and little boys and girls into whatsoever you wish?"

"And if it were true," said the old woman, quite gently, "what would you like me to do? Do you wish me to change a bird into a fish or a rabbit into a frog?"

"Oh, no," cried Golden Hair, at last looking up. "Indeed we did not come to see that. We came to ask you how we may do much good."

"We would like to become a pleasure and a joy to every one who meets us," said little Blue Eyes.

"Ah," said the old woman, "then you shall indeed have your wish. But first, stay a while and play in my garden. When the sun sets you may set out down the hill."

So all that long golden afternoon the children played in the old woman's wonderful garden. When the sun set she kissed them both and herself led them partway down the hillside.

"You shall have your wish," she said, at parting, "you shall become a pleasure and a joy to everyone who meets you!"

The next morning on the hillside two flowers were found, growing side by side. One was fluffy and soft and yellow as the curls which fell over the cheeks of little Golden Hair. The other blossom was bright and purple and looked bravely and fearlessly out on the world and the sunshine, like the blue eyes of the other little girl.

You may still find the little girls climbing the hills side by side. They bring pleasure and joy to all who meet them.

You may call the sisters little Golden Hair and Blue Eyes, or, if you really wish, you may name them goldenrod and aster.

Phyllis' Field Friends:  FLOWER STORIES by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets. (Boston, MA: L. C. PAGE & COMPANY, 1903, 1904).


 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook

Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook:  From Aphrodite to Zeus, a Profile of Who's Who in Greek Mythology by Liv Albert (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2021).



Mythology explains of the beliefs of the ancients.  It answers the most important questions of life and death. How was the world created?  What is the role of humans in that creation?  Who are the gods?  What is our relationship to these gods?  Greek mythology was part of the oral tradition and only later written in stories, poetry and plays. Rather than providing a moral guide or code, the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology often teach us more about what not to do than what to do. These stories of heroes, thwarted love, pride and jealously continue to be referenced today in popular culture (from Harry Potter to Percy Jackson).  Truthfully, there are a plethora of books on Greek and Roman mythology.  What’s different about this one?

Think of this book as a Who’s Who of Greek Mythology. The book is organized by character: the Olympians, Deities (for example, Hercules or Prometheus), Heroes and Mortals.  The author, Liv Albert is a podcaster (“Let’s Talk about Myths, Baby!”).  She provides a contemporary take on these stories, explaining confusing issues, answering common questions and commenting on despicable behavior.  Each “bio” is divided into sections: “What’s his/her deal?”  “The story you need to know,” and “Now you know.” The book a fast way to unravel the story of these characters.  We all know that stories vary depending upon which version you hear.  Accordingly, the author references the reader to other versions of the same story as presented by different characters.  The book is illustrated by Sara Richards.  A short list of resources for further reading is provided but there are no direct references throughout.  This guide is best for teen readers or adults who just want a fast way to maneuver this world.

 

 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Andrew Lang's "The Steel Cane"

 


ONCE upon a time there lived an old woman who had a small cottage on the edge of the forest. Behind the cottage was a garden in which all sorts of vegetables grew, and, beyond that, a field with two or three cows in it, so her neighbors considered her quite rich, and envied her greatly.

                As long as she was strong enough to work all day in her garden the old woman never felt lonely, but after a while she had a bad illness, which left her much weaker than before, and she began to think that now and then it would be nice to have some one to speak to. Just at this moment she heard of the death of a shepherd and his wife, who dwelt on the other side of the plain, leaving a little boy quite alone in the world.

                'That will just suit me,' she said; and sent a man over to bring the child, whom she intended to adopt for her own.

                Now the boy, who was about twelve years old, ought to have considered himself very lucky, for his new mother was as kind to him as the old one. But, unfortunately, he made friends with some bad rude companions whose tricks caused them to be a terror to everyone, and the poor old woman never ceased regretting her lost solitude.

                Things went on in this way for some years, till the boy became a man.

                'Perhaps, if he were to be married he might sober down,' she thought to herself. And she inquired among the neighbor what girls there were of an age to choose from. At length one was found, good and industrious, as well as pretty; and as the young man raised no objections the wedding took place at once, and the bride and bridegroom went to live in the cottage with the old woman. But no change was to be seen in the husband's conduct. All day long he was out amusing himself in the company of his former friends, and if his wife dared to say anything to him on his return home he beat her with his stick. And next year, when a baby was born to them, he beat it also.

                At length the old woman's patience was worn out. She saw that it was quite useless to expect the lazy, idle creature to mend his ways, and one day she said to him:

                'Do you mean to go on like this for ever? Remember, you are no longer a boy, and it is time that you left off behaving like one. Come, shake off your bad habits, and work for your wife and child, and above all, stop beating them. If not I will transform you into an ass, and heavy loads shall be piled on your back, and men shall ride you. Briars shall be your food, a goad shall prick you, and in your turn you shall know how it feels to be beaten.'

                But if she expected her words to do any good she soon found out her mistake, for the young man only grew angry and cried rudely:

                'Bah! hold your tongue or I will whip you also.'

                'Will you?' she answered grimly: and, swift as lightning she picked up a steel cane that stood in the corner and laid it across his shoulders. In an instant his ears had grown long and his face longer, his arms had become legs, and his body was covered with close grey hair. Truly, he was an ass; and a very ugly one, too!

                'Leave the house!' commanded the old woman. And, shambling awkwardly, he went.

                As he was standing in the path outside, not knowing what to do, a man passed by.

                'Ho! my fine fellow, you are exactly what I was looking for! You don't seem to have a master, so come with me. I will find something for you to do.' And taking him by the ear he led him from the cottage.

                For seven years the ass led a hard life, just as the old woman had foretold. But instead of remembering that he had brought all his suffering on himself, and being sorry for his evil ways, he grew harder, and more bitter. At the end of the seven years his ass skin wore out, and he became a man again, and one day returned to the cottage.

                His wife opened the door in answer to his knock; then, letting fall the latch, she ran inside, crying:

                'Grandmother! grandmother! your son has come back!'

                'I thought he would,' replied the old woman, going on with her spinning. 'Well, we could have done very well without him. But as he is here I suppose he must come in.'

                And come in he did. But as the old woman expected, he behaved still worse than before. For some weeks she allowed him to do what he liked; then at last she said:

                'So experience has taught you nothing! After all, there are very few people who have sense to learn by it. But take care lest I change you into a wolf, to be a prey for dogs and men!'

                'You talk too much. I shall break your head for you!' was all the answer she got.

                Had the young man looked at her face he might have taken warning, but he was busy making a pipe, and took no notice. The next moment the steel cane had touched his shoulders, and a big grey wolf bounded through the door.

                Oh! what a yapping among the dogs, and what a shouting among the neighbours as they gave chase.

                For seven years he led the life of a hunted animal, often cold and nearly always hungry, and never daring to allow himself a sound sleep. At the end of that time his wolf skin wore out also, and again he appeared at the cottage door. But the second seven years had taught him no more than the first--his conduct was worse than before; and one day he beat his wife and son so brutally that they screamed to the old woman to come to their aid.

                She did, and brought the steel cane with her. In a second the ruffian had vanished, and a big black crow was flying about the room, crying 'Gour! Gour!'

                The window was open, and he darted through it; and seeking the companions who had ruined him, he managed to make them understand what had happened.

                'We will avenge you,' said they; and taking up a rope, set out to strangle the old woman.

                But she was ready for them. One stroke of her cane and they were all changed into a troop of black crows, and this time their feathers are lasting still.

Macler, Frederic, "The Steel Cane," in The Olive Fairy Book, ed. Andrew Lang (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1907).

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While the story is named “The Steel Cane,” it begins with the life of an old woman and ends with the life of a crone. This woman lives in a small cottage at the edge of the forest. This is where the forest meets the plains.  She is not at the center of the forest where most of these characters reside.  She is creative and hardworking, keeping her garden and livestock thriving. Many older women still wish to live in two worlds.  This is especially true if they live alone, for age brings with it a sense of vulnerability.  One world is peaceful and comfortable – an ideal life away from the stress and anxiety of the workaday world.  The other, still holds on to that busyness for fear of losing touch or being disconnected.  “Who will help me if I fall, if I move far away?” she asks. “I’ll live on the edge of the forest instead, so I can still get some help if I need it.”

Her neighbors think she is rich and envy her.  They must be unable or unwilling to keep a garden or cows as well as she does.  Sadly, the world for her (and for many today), is not filled with kind and generous people.  No one befriends her, they only grumble and envy her at a distance.  Still, she is not willing to give up yet. The crone has a strong connection to life and nature.  That connection filled and enriched the old woman, so she never felt lonely.

But after a bad illness, she was weaker and could not work as long in her garden. With the bond broken, she now becomes lonely. When a shepherd and his wife die, she decides to adopt their son.  It seems like the perfect solution to both of their problems.  The boy had lived on “the other side of the plain.”  This indicates a life quite different from hers.  The forest, you see, is full of green life.  Its soil is rich. The old woman is a part of that landscape. The plain, however, is filled with grasses that dry in the heat of summer.  Nothing grows without tilling the soil that is harden like clay. We will soon discover this does not bode well for the boy.  His parents might have been those who grumbled and envied the old woman after all.

Even so, she was kind to the boy.  Perhaps she thought she could tend him with the same care and skill she did her garden.  Sadly, it did not turn out that way.  Her son was rebellious and ungrateful. Rather than helping her, he took up with a bad crowd, and together they began to terrorize the community.  The old woman soon was sorry she took him in.  Life was not turning out as she planned.  Solitude was better than turmoil. We might say, it’s not the “retirement” she expected.  The old woman allows the young man to sow some wild oats, and then attempts to settle him down, by marrying him off.  It seemed the logical and expected solution to his youthful outburst. And so, her son was married to a good, industrious, and pretty girl.  (She sounds a bit like the old woman might have been years ago.)  Marriage did not change him. He spent most of his days with his lazy friends, leaving his wife to work and care for their baby alone.  Whenever he returned home, he beat them both badly.

Finally, the old woman ran out of patience and confronted him.  She asked if he would change his ways. “If not,” she said, “I will transform you into an ass, and heavy loads shall be piled on your back and men shall ride you.” Instead of offering forgiveness or agreeing to change, this lazy man threatened to beat the old woman! Really?  After all she had done for him?  What an ingrate! But does she feel this way? Perhaps, but she doesn’t let her feelings get in the way of becoming a good mother.

The old woman’s words are magic. Her son may believe he can harm her, but she knows better.  She picks up her steel cane and laid it across his shoulders.  Instantly, he became an ass.   For after all, he was already the most foolish of animals and deserved to become a beast of burden.  The old woman wisely knew that the best way to build empathy was to walk in the shoes of another.  The man would learn what it felt like to be beaten.  He would learn what it is like to be downtrodden.  Soon a traveler came by the cottage, found the ass, and led it away.

Did you pay attention to the word “laid” in this story?  The old woman “picks up her steel cane and laid it across his shoulders.” She didn’t slap him, spank him or strike him.  She merely laid the cane across his shoulder, which by definition, means that she “put [it] down, especially gently or carefully.”  This might be where the old woman becomes a crone.  She does not strike her son.  She does not meet violence with violence.  Instead, in the words we use today, she spoke “Truth to Power.”

But this experience taught the man nothing.  He stayed entrenched in the bitter thoughts and beliefs of the “plain’s people.” After seven years, he returned home behaving even worse than he did before.  His wife doesn’t go to the men in the village for help.  She doesn’t even call out to the neighbors.  She cries out to the old woman.  Again, the old woman doesn’t rush in, she lets things settle a bit.  She gives him a chance.  But to no avail, he is even more violent than before.  When asked to stop, her hateful son threatens her with more violence.  This time the old woman turns him into a wolf, an animal as wild as he is.  He is hunted by man and beast, never feeling safe – just like his wife and child.  Still, he is stubborn. He refuses to learn the lesson.

When he returns seven years later, his behavior was even worse. (How can it be worse, you say?  Well, it was!)  Once again, for the third time (things always happen in threes, you know), he comes home to beat his wife and child.  “Grandmother! Grandmother!” the wife calls out and the old woman runs to their rescue. Do you spot the irony here?  The hero of this story is the old woman who is weak from illness.  She may seem harmless, but she is the only one wise enough and powerful enough to confront this man.  For you see, while the old woman did not find love and companionship with her son, she found it with her daughter-in-law and grandchild.

When his wife cries out again for the old woman (who lives with them), she no longer tries to reason with the man.  She simply turns him into a crow. A crow is a quarrelsome, noisy bird, that often steals from others. Crows hold a grudge and pass that grudge on to other crows.  We see that in this story as the crow sets his human friends off to kill the old woman!  But they found her waiting. She touches each with her steel cane.  One by one they turn into crows – never to take human form again.  They live out their days, complaining and squawking forever.

What does this old woman have to teach us about the wise crone archetype?  First, she chooses to live at the edge of the forest, where she can still see and connect to community. It’s sort of a liminal space between two worlds.  We know little about this community except that the people are envious of her “wealth,” even though it was acquired through hard work and a deep connection to the land. The people don’t befriend her. They are not worthy.  She learns to manage on her own.  When the boy becomes orphaned, when the need is great, no one else steps in to help.  The old woman adopts the child and cares lovingly for him, even though he “grew up on the other side of the plain.”  The old woman shows compassion and hopes she can tend him for good.  Sadly, that didn’t happen.  Some people (how many we just don’t know) can’t be turned to good, no matter how hard we try.  'So experience has taught you nothing!" she says. "After all, there are very few people who have sense to learn by it."

What is the moral of the story? No matter how well we plan for our golden years, the unexpected can happen. The crone is wise enough and experienced enough not to rush into a situation.  Neither should we.  Hopefully, our children and grandchildren can figure out how to solve their own problems.  But patience runs out eventually, even for those we love.  When that happens, remember your inner power. You aren’t invisible.  The old woman finds the power within to confront the evil in life. She is not frightened. The wise crone may be the smallest and the oldest in the cottage, but she is also the mightiest, just like the trees in her forest.  The old woman wanted to give the boy a better life, but when that didn’t work, she knew exactly what to do.  She spoke Truth to Power, working hard to spark empathy in her son. She did not respond to violence with violence. “Protect the vulnerable and the innocent any way you can.  Keep them safe at all cost,” she says.   While the story did not end happily ever after, the old woman did find love and companionship.  Perhaps that is the greatest miracle of all but only the wise crone knows for sure.