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

Monday, June 8, 2020

Wise Women Also Came by Jan L. Richardson

Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.

From Jan L. Richardson's Sanctuary of Women

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Tulip Bed and the Old Woman

The “Tulip Bed” is an English folktale recorded by Mrs. Bray in The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, Vol. 1, (1879).  This version comes from the Internet Sacred Text Website

NEAR a pixie field in this neighborhood there lived on a time an old woman who possessed a cottage and a very pretty garden, wherein she cultivated a most beautiful bed of tulips. The pixies, it is traditionally averred, so delighted in this spot, that they would carry their elfin babies thither, and sing them to rest. Often at the dead hour of the night a sweet lullaby was heard, and strains of the most melodious music would float in the air, that seemed to owe their origin to no other musicians than the beautiful tulips themselves; and whilst these delicate flowers waved their heads to the evening breeze, it sometimes seemed as if they were marking time to their own singing. As soon as the elfin babies were lulled asleep by such melodies, the pixies would return to the neighboring field, and there commence dancing, making those rings on the green which showed, even to mortal - eyes, what sort of gambols had occupied them during the night season.

At the first dawn of light the watchful pixies once more sought the tulips, and though still invisible could be heard kissing and caressing their babies. The tulips, thus favoured by a race of genii, retained their beauty much longer than any other flowers in the garden; whilst, though contrary to their nature, as the pixies breathed over them they became as fragrant as roses; and so delighted at all this was the old woman who possessed the garden, that she never suffered a single tulip to be plucked from its stem. At length, however, she died; and the heir who succeeded her destroyed the enchanted flowers, and converted the spot into a parsley bed, a circumstance which so disappointed and offended the pixies that they caused it to wither away; and indeed for many years nothing would grow in the beds of the whole garden. But these sprites, though eager in resenting an injury, were, like most warm spirits, equally capable of returning a benefit; and if they destroyed the product of the good old woman's garden, when it had fallen into unworthy hands, they tended the bed that wrapped her clay with affectionate solicitude. For they were heard lamenting and singing sweet dirges around her grave; nor did they neglect to pay this mournful tribute to her memory every night before the moon was at the full; for then their high solemnity of dancing, singing, and rejoicing took place, to hail the queen of the night on completing her silver circle in the skies. No human hand ever tended the grave of the poor old woman who had nurtured the tulip bed for the delight of these elfin creatures; but no rank weed was ever seen to grow upon it; the sod was ever green, and the prettiest flowers would spring up without sowing, or planting, and so they continued to do till it was supposed the mortal body was reduced to its original dust.


If we deconstruct this folktale a bit, the meaning in the story becomes clear.  Let's start with tulips. What does a tulip represent?  Are tulips different in any way than other flowers? When I began to research tulips, I found some interesting folklore. Tulips first came to Europe from the Middle East. There is a Persian Romeo and Juliet type tale of thwarted love. The tale ends with a Princess taking her own life and drops of her blood turning into a tulip.  In France, giving a woman a yellow tulip was one way to warn her of her husband’s infidelity.  I also read that at one time a single tulip bulb cost more than the average European earned in a year. These flowers were both prized and treasured. Historians once called this period “Tulipomania!”

The old woman in the story is a caretaker.  She worked in a garden growing, not vegetables to feed her family, but tulips for their beauty and her pleasure.  The pixies and elves agreed, enchanting the flowers with fragrance, song and beauty. In one version of this tale, the wise crone crept out at night to watch a fairy mother singing and rocking her baby to sleep in a tulip cup.  After that, she never allowed a single tulip to be picked.

We can see the difference for after her death, her heir pulled out the tulips to grow parsley instead.  (Parsley? Really?) Perhaps parsley was a more practical use of the land, but it was an herb also associated with death in England. In Surrey and in other southern English counties it was said, “Where parsley’s grown in the garden, there’ll be a death before the year’s out.” The pixies cursed the land so that nothing ever grew on the plot again.  The heir was lucky that the pixies didn’t curse him instead. Pixies and elves were notorious for causing mischief.  Their favorite pastimes were leading travelers astray and frightening young maidens.  Elves were thought to steal human children and substitute changelings.   This would have been a fitting punishment to the heir that destroyed the pixie nursery.

The message of the story is clear.  The wise crone does the unexpected.  Her priority is beauty over practicality.  She knows who the elves and pixies are and is not frightened by their difference.  As a mother herself, she respects the pixie mothers by protecting their homes. In her death, she is honored by them when her own heir destroys her legacy. The pixies maintain her grave site with green sod and beautiful flowers.  They dance and sing on her grave. No more lovely tribute could be given.

Both the crone and the pixies are characters outside the norm.  In many ways they are the “other” in society, but even so, they are shown to be far more honorable than the crone’s heir.  The crone doesn't worry about what other people think.  She cultivates beauty and lives in harmony with others. In doing so, she is honored with the "queen of the night."

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Old Woman Weaves the World

There is an indigenous story, some tell, of an old woman who weaves the earth into existence.  I have shared it here before. She sits on a rug, loom before her, and weaves the pattern of life as we know it.   Day and night, she works until her task is finally finished.  Her creation is more beautiful than anyone could imagine.  The old woman looks at her work and smiles.  She rises to leave, but before she can do so, her faithful dog catches his paw on a loose thread.  He struggles to free himself, pulling at the thread and unraveling her work. The creation of the world remains unfinished. In one version, the old woman patiently returns to the loom, picks up the thread and begins her weaving again.

If I could, I would change the ending of the story to this: “The old woman looks at her creation and smiles. She walks out of the cave she’s been working in for so long and disappears.”  Now, when the thread is pulled, there is no one assigned to make repairs. The Creator is gone, and chaos ensues. It is up to the elders (and the crones) to make things right.  The oldest woman in the tribe comes forth and resumes the weaving.  She has been studying the webs of spiders and knows exactly what to do.  Her weaving is not as good as the Creator’s, but it will do. That is the version I’d tell if I could.

There are many stories of old women weaving the world together.  Women historically are the weavers, the sewers, the keepers of handicrafts and the builders of homes and families. It is an historical duty (not an evolutionary one assigned to our gender).  It’s a skill set passed down from one generation to another by the patriarchy, that likes to keep women’s hands and feet busier than their mouths and minds.  And even today, when many of the handicrafts like embroidery and quilt making are being forgotten, women still weave together the lives of those in their families.

Stories of weaving and spinning fill mythology and folklore.  These are the life skills of poor women.  Many make a living for their lazy stepmothers and stepsisters, forgotten aristocracy waiting for an invite to the ball. Many of these stories share teachings of humility. Athena turns the prideful young Arachne into a spider after she boasts that she can weave better than the goddess.  In another tale, the silly boasting of a mother leads to a young woman’s capture and punishment.  She is asked to spin more than is humanly possible.   Sadly, she does not know what to do and is rescued by either three deformed old women or, more commonly, Rumpelstiltskin.  The young woman cannot spin or weave, even though it’s an essential skill to have. In her youth, she lacks more than experience.  What must she give up for this knowledge? In one story, she agrees to invite three weird old women to her wedding, while Rumpelstiltskin asks for her first-born son. Without this skill she is a child.  With it, she can marry a prince.

Native American stories speak of Grandmother Spider.   The spider spins and weaves the web of existence.  She is one of the earth’s creators.  In many of these stories, she guides and advises those who face trials and challenges.  She would be the first to help the silly girl trapped in a room and needing to spin straw into gold. The Navajos see her as a helper and protector of humans.  In fact, traditional Navajo weavers rub their hands in spider webs to absorb her wisdom and skill.
Spiders and women use the threads of creation to bring forth life and beauty.  Spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, embroidery, darning, quilting, were all women’s work (or so they said).  Not the great artistic achievements of painting or sculpture which were the purviews of men, but practical and beautiful, nonetheless.

The world comes undone, unraveled to its core.  An old woman sits down and starts over. The shuttle moves in and out.  She skillfully works, long and hard to keep the traditions of the past alive. When the thread is pulled, she starts over again.  Sometimes she drops a stich and a hole forms in the weaving. She’s not Grandmother Spider after all.  This crone is fallible to error. Sometimes she untangles a knot with a pat on the hand.   Sometimes she tries to help or give advice.  She misspeaks or missteps and the wrong color is used.  The pattern is skewed when she does too much, if only a hug or a kind word was needed. The old woman reweaves the world continuously: in war and peace, in times of health and pandemics.  If you listen, you can hear her singing.  She is telling the stories as she weaves. She will share her skill with you if only you ask.  There is much to learn and little time to do so before her dog is at it again.