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

Friday, September 6, 2019

Must be the Season of the Witch

I’ve been pondering the stories of the old witch since I recently completed a class at “Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic” on Seeking the Witch.  As we explored the qualities of the witch in folktales and literature, I began to note how often the crone presents herself as a witch in stories.  We see the witchy crone in the character of Baba Yaga and also in Snow White’s wicked stepmother, when she disguises herself as a hag.  So, who or what is a witch and how might she compare with the character and qualities of the crone? The answer most certainly changes through time.  In the long ago past, characters such as Ceridwen in the “Birth of Taliesin” might be seen as a goddess or as a sorceress, but certainly not as a witch.  The witch stereotype as we know it probably did not congeal until the 15th century when witchcraft became associated with magic and flying.  Prior to that time, these characters were sometimes seen as remnants of pagan goddesses (for example, Arianrhod or Morrigan).

The crone is a character most commonly found in folk tales and fairy tales. She presents herself as an old woman.  In some of these tales she is magical and may be disagreeable and even dangerous.  Sometimes she appears frightening.  “Suddenly the door opened, and a woman, as old as the hills and leaning on a crutch, came creeping out.  Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they dropped what they were holding in their hands.”  Frau Holle was also frightening to behold and appeared mysterious, if not dangerous, throughout the story.  So perhaps the crone’s hideous appearance is seen as a warning in these stories.  All young, innocent protagonists are put on notice when she comes to the door.  What ever happens in the story from this point onward will certainly test their worth.But is the crone really a monster?  In many of these tales, the true monster is the one who is without honor – someone who is mean, selfish or lazy. The monster is often not the hideous witch or crone.  The monster is the one who lacks a heart. Yet, there are most certainly monstrous witches.  The witch in “Hansel and Gretel” kills (and eats) children and the wicked stepmother demands Snow White’s heart. 

So is the crone just a synonym for a witch?  I searched through a handful of Grimm fairy tales hoping for an answer.  Because these are folktales there are few written descriptors.  Those would have been filled in orally by the storytellers. In several of these stories, the word “old woman,” “witch,” or “sorceress” appears.  The word “crone” itself is not used at all.  Nevertheless, that might just be an issue of translation or semantics.

This debate of who’s a witchy crone, becomes a part of the story entitled “The Goose-Girl at the Well.”  While the old woman is described as active and pleasant, she is thought to be a witch by those in the village.  They tended to avoid her whenever possible.  Throughout the tale, much magic occurs at her hands, but still the narrator does not call her a witch.  The story concludes with this disclaimer. “This much is certain, that the old woman was no witch, as people thought, but a wise woman, who meant well.”  Perhaps the Grimm Brothers are referencing all the tales in which the old woman is seen both as wise and as helpful.   That old woman is the crone, an archetypal character identified by many feminist scholars.  The bottom line is, if she is old and magical, she was once seen as a witch.  Today, however, we have other options. 
The wise old woman with magical powers who serves in a generative capacity (as either guide or helper) is more rightly called the crone.  Claire Hamilton in her book Maiden, Mother, Crone describes the crone goddess in this way. “In her Crone aspect, the Goddess finds herself in the darkness, having been defeated by humiliation and death.  Yet in this place she discovers new powers.  There are riches here, the hidden secrets of new life.  At this time, the Goddess becomes wise-woman and prophetess.  It is now her role to initiate the hero into these spiritual mysteries. So, in these tales, we see her become strong and fearless.  She is ready to test the hero for the tasks of kingship, on the battlefield or in the face of death itself.  And though she has been much feared and maligned in this role, those who understand her know that after the time of challenge comes rebirth.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wise Crone Cottage Podcast #2

Frau Holle

In this episode, Kathy tells the story of “Frau Holle,” a German folktale, recorded by the Brothers Grimm.  We explore the relationship between its young and old characters - especially the role the wise crone plays in the initiation of the young woman. We also look at the symbolism found within this story to see what it has to offer from a psychological perspective.   Finally we discover what Frau Holle can teach us about living today as an elder today.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Michael Meade's Pulled by Fate

This month I'm sharing Michael Meade's "Living Myth" podcast entitled "Pulled by Fate."  In this episode Meade shares the story of the old woman who weaves our fate from birth to death.  She is the old woman of the world who waits at the threshold between this and the Otherworld. We see her at the end of life when we try to match our life path to the one that was destined for us.  "Freedom," Meade says, "is consciously living out the hand that fate dealt us."  The old woman makes no moral judgement of the path we have taken.  For where there is no love, no morality will suffice. And where there is love no morality is needed.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Place for the Wise Crone

In Japan, there are many folktales about the wise crone.  In one story, an old woman is taken away by her son.  He carries her on his back up into the mountains and leaves her there to die.  This mythical practice was known as ubasute or “abandoning an old woman.”  Ubasute is the theme of many stories. 

In one version, the old woman was the caregiver of a young couple.  The wife found the hag disgusting, with her crooked spine and wrinkled face.  After considerable cajoling and whining, she convinced her husband to take the old woman far away and abandon her in the mountains.  This he did, but his actions ravaged him with guilt.  In his dreams, he remembered the old woman’s many kindnesses and finally decided he could not live with his action.  So, the man went back to the mountain, found the old woman and brought her to his home. The mountain described in these stories is now known as Obasuteyama or “Mountain of the Deserted Crone.”  

In another version, a son carries his mother to the mountain on his back.  She willingly went with him.  She reached out along the way, breaking twigs to mark the path.  Her ungrateful son accused her of plotting her return.  She lovingly told him that she broke the branches so he would not get lost as he made his way home. 

The version I prefer is found in “The Wise Old Woman” as told by Yoshiko Uchida. In this derivation, the land was ruled by an evil lord.  He proclaimed that anyone over 70 was worthless and a drain on resources.  (Sound familiar?)  Children must take their parents to the mountain top and leave them there to die.  When one kind woman turned 70, she knew she must leave her family.  Her son placed her on his back and began to climb the mountain but halfway up he returned.  He just couldn’t do it, for he loved his mother too much.  Instead, the son brought his mother home and hid her in an underground room. She lived there for several years.

One day a warring tribe came to the land and threatened to overtake it, if the kingdom could not answer three questions.  Not surprisingly, the lord (who was not a very clever man) was unable to answer the questions himself.  So, he asked everyone in the kingdom for their advice, starting with the most educated and finally turning to the common people.  Sadly, no one knew the answer.  In desperation, the dutiful son asked his mother to help. After some reflection, she puzzled out the solution.  When the warring tribe heard the answers, they decided the village was worth saving and left them in peace.  The lord wanted to thank the person who had saved the land. The son confessed that it was his aged mother. Eureka! The lord discovered the error of his thinking and rewarded both mother and son.  From that day onwards, the elderly lived in peace and (hopefully) their wisdom acknowledged.

Many cultures today reward youth at the expense of aging.    Western culture is no exception.  Television and film depict elders as befuddled “old coots” unable to keep up with new technology or changes in the world.  The archetype of the elder, sage or wise woman is ignored along with the wisdom and experience that aging can bring.  From age discrimination in employment, to invisibility, many elders feel devalued.  Some seek the fountain of youth through surgery and beauty aids. Few proudly share their age with others.

While taking mom to a mountain top today is out the picture, finding a “place for mom” continues to be big business. Children looking for housing in a retirement home or assisted living facility often do so without much parental input.  While the West nostalgically desires to hold on to family values, it does this at the expense of living in an extended family setting. What do we lose in such an environment?  We lose both life experience and a bit of living history.  We forget what it is like to fight unjust wars, take land without adequate compensation, pollute the environment, enslave people and limit their rights. We forget about the dangers of totalitarian regimes, and the annihilation resulting from nuclear war.  History when forgotten is doomed to be repeated. Without the participation of the elders in society, people are more likely to forget.  

Fortunately, this is not true in all cultures.  In India the roles are flipped with families of all generations living together and the elders giving advice and resolving family disputes. In Native American tribes, elders are revered and respected.  “I know how my father saw the world, and his father before him. That’s how I see the world,” said N. Scott Momaday of the Kiowa/Cheroke tribe. Elders are the keepers of their traditions and the guardians of their history.

Remember the wise crone in this story?  She accepted her fate with grace. She selflessly cared for her son at the expense of her own life and safety.  She shares her wisdom and experience for the good for all, but only when she is given the opportunity.  Perhaps before we hide mom away, we should all take a moment to reflect on what she has to say - even when it is uncomfortable (or inconvenient) to hear.  As a living example, wise crone and Holocaust survivor, Sonia K. speaks out against hate in this YouTube video. “Silence is the first thing after hate that is dangerous,” she wisely says.  

Just remember, when our elders become expendable, we miss out on their teachings.  When our parents are too much of a hassle to remain in our lives, we lose our ability to love and give compassion to others.  Further, we are modeling behavior that may be reflected back on us by our own children.  Fortunately, the wise crone continues to break branches to show us the right way home.

The poet writes:
In the depths of the mountains,
Who was it for the aged mother snapped
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so
For the sake of her son.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

No One Expects Baba Yaga!

Just when you think you are safe from the wise crone, Baba Yaga takes to the streets!

Believe fairy tales aren't true?  Think again, she's watching and waiting for you.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Michael Meade's "Wise Woman at the Crossroads"

Michael Meade's podcast "Wise Woman at the Cross Roads"  (Living Myth Podcast #112) discusses the role of the wise old woman in story and her archetypal wisdom in life.

"In what turns out to be a treatise on the Wise Old Woman of the World and the importance of the feminine mysteries of life, Michael Meade tells an old wisdom tale from Africa.  The story offers a pertinent reminder that we all wander on the road of life and death, and that each crossroad in life is an opportunity to awaken further to the deep gifts and precise mission of our souls.  

The old story reveals that the Holy Spirit was once considered the bird of Sophia, the feminine source of wisdom.  The Wise Old Woman turns out to be the sage in the heart, the immediate spirit of awakening and an instinctive connection to the enduring song of life."