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, December 23, 2016

The Old Woman & the Oni - a Japanese Folktale

Once long ago in Japan, there was a poor old woman.  She lived in a small shack in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful cherry trees.  She was hungry for most of her days.  But whenever she had a bit of rice, she made dumplings.  They were quite tasty and her family and friends said she made the best rice dumplings in all the land. One day, she was busy in her small kitchen making dumplings, when one fell from her pan and landed on the floor.  It rolled out of her house and down the hill.  These dumplings were like precious gems to the old woman.  She screamed, “My dumpling!” and began to run after it.  The dumpling rolled to a stream.  She continued to follow it into a cave filled with Jinzo statutes. The Jinzo, you see, often show up at the cross roads. They are the patron deities who protect travelers helping them to take the right path. 

“O-Jiz┼Ź-Sama,” the old woman said.  “Have you seen my dumpling”?  
“Be gone, old woman.  It’s not safe here. This is the land of the Oni.”
“I’m not worried about the Oni,” she said, “I just need to find my dumpling!” 
Suddenly and without warning, the old woman found herself face to face with a wicked Oni.  The Oni are one of the most frightening creatures in all of Japanese mythology.  Onis look at bit like a troll mixed with the devil.  It has a gigantic red body of a man, the head of a monster, two horns, wild hair, and pants made from tiger skin.  Curiously, the old woman was not afraid.
“Don’t hurt her!”  the Jinzos cried out.
“I have no plans to do that,” the Oni smiled, “I just want her to make some more of these delicious rice dumplings.” He licked his fingers as he ate the last bite of the dumpling that had landed right at his feet.

The Oni led the old woman into a kitchen.  From the doorway she could see a hall filled with hundreds of Onis all waiting for their dinner.  
“Make us dumplings,” he said. 
“There is no rice here for me to do so,” she replied.
“Watch me.” He lifted the large pot and filled it with water from the stream.  He brought the water to boil and into it he dropped a single grain of rice.  He stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.
Soon she had enough rice to make the flour to form the balls, and to steam the dumplings to feed all the Onis in the room.  But just as soon as they finished eating they wanted more.  

“More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.   Onis, you see, are always hungry.   And so she took the pot to the stream, filled it again with water, brought it to boil, and into the water dropped a single grain of rice.  She stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.  Again she made the rice dumplings but when she served them, the Onis cheered with delight and bowed before her.
“More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.  

This time when she took the pot to the stream, she began to sing a beautiful Japanese lullaby.  The Onis who had not heard a lullaby since they were babies, were soon fast asleep. 
“Here is my chance,” the old woman thought, “If I don’t leave, I’ll be cooking forever.”  She wanted to go home and rest her feet on her mat.
But how was she to make her way home? She looked at the water and knew the quickest way home was to float downstream but there was no boat nearby.  All of sudden, she had an idea. Maybe she could float down the stream in the large rice pot.  She pushed it into the water, climbed into the pot, and started to make her way downstream, by paddling with the large red spoon.
It wasn’t long before the Onis awoke and saw the old woman escaping.

 “More dumplings! More dumplings! More dumplings!” they shouted.   The Onis quickly moved to action.  There was only one way to stop her now and that was to drink all the water in the stream.  Together they knelt by the shore line, slurping and swallowing all the water until their cheeks were full.  All the water was gone and her pot rested in the mud.  The fish splashed around her.  The old woman stepped out of the boat and found herself stuck in the mud.  In desperation, she reached for a fish and threw it at the Onis.  As she did so, she slipped, fell and was covered with mud.  All she could do was laugh, “Hee, hee, hee!” “Hee, hee, hee!” “Hee, hee, hee!”

The old woman looked so ridiculous covered in mud with fish flapping all around her that Onis too began to laugh.  All the water in their mouths was spit out into the stream filling it again.  Quickly the old woman jumped back into the pot, floated out of the cave and was soon back in the sunlight.  She made her way home with both the pot and the red spoon. 

Now the old woman was able to make enough dumplings for the entire town.  She would simply take the pot to the stream, fill it with water, bring it to boil, and into the water drop a single grain of rice.  She stirred the rice with a large red spoon.  One grain became 10 and with another turn it became 20, 20 became 40, 40 to 80 until the pot was full.    With the red spoon she was always able to make dumplings fast. And quite cheaply too. She sold them and soon became the richest woman in all of Japan.

The Oni is the “Other.”  The "Other" is someone who is not like us. He or she looks different, thinks different, acts different. Today some see the "Other" in people of a different race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  In the island culture of Japan, long ago, having a fear of the "Other" was quite common.  It was the unknown and became symbolic of great evil and destruction. Onis are found throughout Japanese culture filling their plays and dance. Most often they are represented by wearing a ferocious mask.  But what is behind that mask? This is the question that the wise old woman asks.

In this story the old woman is the "unlikely hero."  She is both kind and fearless before the Onis.  Their difference does not scare her.  She sees who they are behind their fearful mask.  She soothes them with her lullaby.  And when opportunity presents itself, she finds a way home. When almost captured, she doesn't yell threats  or cower in fear.  She laughs at the silliness of her situation; an old woman, slipping and falling and covered in mud!  Home at last, she doesn't rest out her days in a rocking chair,  Instead she starts a business and becomes the richest woman in all of Japan.  She is the wise old woman archetype: fearless, clever, kind, and industrious.  She sees beyond the surface to find an unexpected solution to the trials that are before her.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Three Spinning Women - a Grimm Folktale

In the "Three Spinning Women," we see how the image of the crone as ugly and disfigured, contrasts against her kind heart and magical power. She is the helper once again.

Here is the Grimm story found in Household Tales as translated by Margaret Hunt in 1884.

THERE was once a girl who was idle and would not spin, and let her mother say what she would, she could not bring her to it. At last the mother was once so overcome with anger and impatience, that she beat her, on which the girl began to weep loudly. Now at this very moment the Queen drove by, and when she heard the weeping she stopped her carriage, went into the house and asked the mother why she was beating her daughter so that the cries could be heard out on the road? Then the woman was ashamed to reveal the laziness of her daughter and said, "I cannot get her to leave off spinning. She insists on spinning for ever and ever, and I am poor, and cannot procure the flax." Then answered the Queen, "There is nothing that I like better to hear than spinning, and I am never happier than when the wheels are humming. Let me have your daughter with me in the palace. I have flax enough, and there she shall spin as much as she likes." The mother was heartily satisfied with this, and the Queen took the girl with her. When they had arrived at the palace, she led her up into three rooms which were filled from the bottom to the top with the finest flax. "Now spin me this flax," said she, "and when thou hast done it, thou shalt have my eldest son for a husband, even if thou art poor. I care not for that, thy indefatigable industry is dowry enough." The girl was secretly terrified, for she could not have spun the flax, no, not if she had lived till she was three hundred years old, and had sat at it every day from morning till night. When therefore she was alone, she began to weep, and sat thus for three days without moving a finger. On the third day came the Queen, and when she saw that nothing had been spun yet, she was surprised; but the girl excused herself by saying that she had not been able to begin because of her great distress at leaving her mother's house. The queen was satisfied with this, but said when she was going away,"To-morrow thou must begin to work."

When the girl was alone again, she did not know what to do, and in her distress went to the window. Then she saw three women coming towards her, the first of whom had a broad flat foot, the second had such a great underlip that it hung down over her chin, and the third had a broad thumb. They remained standing before the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was amiss with her? She complained of her trouble, and then they offered her their help and said, "If thou wilt invite us to the wedding, not be ashamed of us, and wilt call us thine aunts, and likewise wilt place us at thy table, we will spin up the flax for thee, and that in a very short time." "With all my heart," she replied, "do but come in and begin the work at once." Then she let in the three strange women, and cleared a place in the first room, where they seated themselves and began their spinning. The one drew the thread and trod the wheel, the other wetted the thread, the third twisted it, and struck the table with her finger, and as often as she struck it, a skein of thread fell to the ground that was spun in the finest manner possible. The girl concealed the three spinners from the Queen, and showed her whenever she came the great quantity of spun thread, until the latter could not praise her enough. When the first room was empty she went to the second, and at last to the third, and that too was quickly cleared. Then the three women took leave and said to the girl, "Do not forget what thou hast promised us, -- it will make thy fortune.

When the maiden showed the Queen the empty rooms, and the great heap of yarn, she gave orders for the wedding, and the bridegroom rejoiced that he was to have such a clever and industrious wife, and praised her mightily. "I have three aunts," said the girl, "and as they have been very kind to me, I should not like to forget them in my good fortune; allow me to invite them to the wedding, and let them sit with us at table." The Queen and the bridegroom said, "Why should we not allow that?" Therefore when the feast began, the three women entered in strange apparel, and the bride said, "Welcome, dear aunts." "Ah," said the bridegroom, "how comest thou by these odious friends?" Thereupon he went to the one with the broad flat foot, and said, "How do you come by such a broad foot?" "By treading," she answered, "by treading.""Then the bridegroom went to the second, and said, "How do you come by your falling lip?" "By licking," she answered, "by licking." Then he asked the third, "How do you come by your broad thumb?" "By twisting the thread," she answered, "by twisting the thread." On this the King's son was alarmed and said, "Neither now nor ever shall my beautiful bride touch a spinning-wheel." And thus she got rid of the hateful flax-spinning.


In the "Three Spinning Women," another Grimm telling of a German folktale, a lazy girl is given an impossible task of spinning a large amount of flax.  She enlists the assistance of three hideous, old women.  The nature of their disfigurement becomes an essential part of the story.  One woman has a large, broad flat foot that she drags behind her, another a lower lip that is stretched to her chin and the third an overly large thumb.  They agree to help the girl saying, "If you will invite us to your wedding, not be ashamed of us, call us your aunts, and let us be seated at your table, we will spin all the flax for you, and in a very short time at that."  

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells an expanded version of this story in her "Dangerous Old Woman" audio series.  In this story, the girl is saved and then falls in love with a prideful soldier.  As they plan marriage, she sends a message to the old women, who meet up with the arrogant young man on the road.   He returns to his finance with disparaging comments about the three old women he met on his journey.  She tells him these were most likely her "aunties" and shares with him how they saved her life.  But the young man is not worthy, he can only see the "surface" of who these women are.  In anger he refuses to allow them to attend the wedding.  The girl, who remembers her promise, breaks off the engagement.  The finance storms off and then finds himself in three harrowing events, to which the old women come to his rescue.  Each time the women ask him to let them attend the wedding.  Each time, the young man promises and then recants. Finally he agrees and sees their true nature.  He is now proven worthy and the wedding occurs. Estes version portrays the old women as both helpers and also those who mete out justice (similar to the Frau Holle story).

These wise old women are mysterious and magical, but appear with many years of spinning skill and experience. They offer their selfless service to the girl.  Her test is only to recognize them, and show their worth to the world.  The invisible is made visible in this story and the girl discovers worth within an unknown and unlikely source.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Story of "Frau Holle" (Further Analysis)

For the last few months, I have been discussing the folktale "Frau Holle." If you are unfamiliar with this story as it was recorded by the Grimm brothers, please refer to the May 8, 2016 post. 

The folktale of "Frau Holle" is filled with rich symbolism.  The story begins with a discussion of spinning. Jacob Grimm stated the "the spindle is an essential characteristic of wise women" making it an essential symbol for this story."  She jumps into a well and emerges into a lake: all the symbols Jung identified with the Mother archetype.  Each of her tasks move us further into this archetype, opening the oven ( a womb symbol) and gathering apples from a tree (symbolic for fertility.)  The symbol of snow is the element of purity represented by the innocent child.  Reviewing these symbols it appears that the entire story was crafted from the wise woman and female perspective most likely on an unconscious level.

Carl Jung theorized that all elements of a dream or a story are parts of the Self.  In the path to individuation, we seek to integrate our subconscious mind into our conscious reality.  This includes bringing light and awareness to our shadow side.  The following interpretation of "Frau Holle" is the author's based on her current knowledge and understanding of Jungian theories.

The girl seeks to find a spindle, an element essential both to her value as a female and for economic sustencance.  Symbolically that is the journey to the Self.  She lives in a world that is discordant with a highly critical step-mother and a lazy step-sister.  Jungians would identify all of these as parts of the girl.  We can seeher own internal desire for perfection when she mindlessly jumps into the well after the missing spindle.  She was unwilling to face the consequences of being less than the "good girl."  She finds herself falling through the deep shaft of the well, an obvious reference to the unconscious mind and enters into a lake.  She is now in the otherworld, a place foreign to her as is her unconsicous mind.  It is here where the language of symbols and metaphors prevail.

We see all of her tasks as symbolically referencing the Great Mother (or Wise Old Woman) archetype.  The Great Mother is the one who represents the duality of light and shadow, embracing both sides.  These are the archetypes of integration and the archetypes of the Self; for Frau Holle is the Self, that part that is both shadow and light, and contains inner wisdom.  The girl is a youth and in many ways this is a story of maturation; but it is also the story of the innocent, naive self, becoming awake and aware of her full potential.  As she seeks a return to her conscious state, Frau Holle praises her and grants the girl the gift of golden knowledge, for she brings the wisdom of Frau Holle back with her.

After her return, she is changed and seeks to tell others of her experience (an act found often in the hero's journey (see Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and described in detail in Carol Pierson's book Awakening the Heroes Within.  The girl attempts to do so when she shares her story with her step-mother and step-sister.

In the side story we see the step-sister fail miserably in her attempt to win favor with Frau Holle.  The step-sister could be seen as the "Shadow," the negative part of the psyche which is unaware of the ways of succeeding in these tasks.  She comes back showing her true nature (covered in tar) as does the first girl (who was covered in gold).  The journey to individuation is this very journey to discovery.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Wise Woman Archetype within the story of "Frau Holle"

In this post we begin an in depth examination of the folktale "Frau Holle" ( note, the story is provided in the previous post).  "Frau Holle" is a folktale collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and included within the 1812 and the 1857 editions of The Grimm Brothers' Children's and Household Tales.  This story has had significant impact on the people in Germany and continues to be seen within their current culture.

"Frau Holle" is the Grimm tale KHM 24.  It is the Aarne-Thompson tale type 480: "the tale of the kind and unkind girls."  Motifs found within the story are many and include N285.3 Old Woman Helper (although a more indirect, rather than direct helper), A1135.2.1 Snow from Feather or Clothes from a Witch; F475.1 Night Spirit; and F93.02.1 Otherworld Journeys (entrance through the well).  It is the story of an unlikely hero and its plot fits well within both Joseph Campbell's and Vladimir Propp's story structure.  Stith Thompson identified over 600 variants of this "good girl - bad girl" tale, found from Europe to Asia, Africa, North and South America.

Geographically the "Frau Holle" story is said to originate in Hesse, Germany.  The actual "Frau-Holle-Pond" is in Hoher Meissner a forested, mountain area with a pond.  At the end of the pond is a statute of Frau Holle in her mythological state, as a young woman with a long white dress.  According to local lore this is a place of offering to Frau Holle from ancient times.

The Frau Holle character is believed to have derived from an ancient Germanic goddess known as Frau Holda, Hulda, Huld, Hulee, Holl or Holle.  She may also have a connection with the goddess Perchte and Berchta in southern Germany and in the Norse goddess Frigga.  Her name means "benevolent, faithful one" or "hidden one."  This is a goddess associated with birth, death, the seasons, the underworld and household chores.  She is also connected with spinning flax and water.

The goddess has a dual nature.  Myths describe her as traveling on cold winter nights with a band of witches while also protecting children as they sleep.  She determines the worth of children and metes out their rewards and punishments.  Norman Cohn describes Frau Holle in this way, " a supernatural, motherly being who normally lives in the upper air, and circles the earth.  She is particularly active in the depths of winter; snowflakes are the feathers that fall when she makes her bed.  She travels in the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany and this brings fruitfulness to the land during the coming year...She can sometimes be terrifying - she can lead the furious army which rides through the sky on the storm, she can also turn into an ugly old hag with great teeth and a long nose, the terror of children.  Yet in the main she becomes terrifying only when angered...She is also concerned with childbirth - babies come from her secret places, her tree, her pond...She is accompanied by...the souls of the dead, including the souls of children and babies who have died unbaptized."

Scholars believed that this ancient goddess became Frau Holle within the oral tradition and her myths were transformed into folktales (and later recorded by the Grimm brothers).

In the next post, we'll look at the symbolism found within this story and the psychological analysis of the tale through the lens of depth psychology.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Frau Holle ( a Grimm fairy tale)


THERE was once a widow who had two daughters -- one of whom was pretty and industrious, whilst the other was ugly and idle. But she was much fonder of the ugly and idle one, because she was her own daughter; and the other, who was a step-daughter, was obliged to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house. Every day the poor girl had to sit by a well, in the highway, and spin and spin till her fingers bled.

Now it happened that one day the shuttle was marked with her blood, so she dipped it in the well, to wash the mark off; but it dropped out of her hand and fell to the bottom. She began to weep, and ran to her step-mother and told her of the mishap. But she scolded her sharply, and was so merciless as to say, "Since you have let the shuttle fall in, you must fetch it out again."

So the girl went back to the well, and did not know what to do; and in the sorrow of her heart she jumped into the well to get the shuttle. She lost her senses; and when she awoke and came to herself again, she was in a lovely meadow where the sun was shining and many thousands of flowers were growing. Along this meadow she went, and at last came to a baker's oven full of bread, and the bread cried out, "Oh, take me out! take me out! or I shall burn; I have been baked a long time!" So she went up to it, and took out all the loaves one after another with the bread-shovel. After that she went on till she came to a tree covered with apples, which called out to her, "Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!" So she shook the tree till the apples fell like rain, and went on shaking till they were all down, and when she had gathered them into a heap, she went on her way.

At last she came to a little house, out of which an old woman peeped; but she had such large teeth that the girl was frightened, and was about to run away.

But the old woman called out to her, "What are you afraid of, dear child? Stay with me; if you will do all the work in the house properly, you shall be the better for it. Only you must take care to make my bed well, and shake it thoroughly till the feathers fly -- for then there is snow on the earth. I am Mother Holle.

As the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took courage and agreed to enter her service. She attended to everything to the satisfaction of her mistress, and always shook her bed so vigorously that the feathers flew about like snow-flakes. So she had a pleasant life with her; never an angry word; and boiled or roast meat every day.

She stayed some time with Mother Holle, and then she became sad. At first she did not know what was the matter with her, but found at length that it was home-sickness: although she was many thousand times better off here than at home, still she had a longing to be there. At last she said to the old woman, "I have a longing for home; and however well off I am down here, I cannot stay any longer; I must go up again to my own people." Mother Holle said, "I am pleased that you long for your home again, and as you have served me so truly, I myself will take you up again." Thereupon she took her by the hand, and led her to a large door. The door was opened, and just as the maiden was standing beneath the doorway, a heavy shower of golden rain fell, and all the gold remained sticking to her, so that she was completely covered over with it.

"You shall have that because you have been so industrious," said Mother Holle, and at the same time she gave her back the shuttle which she had let fall into the well. Thereupon the door closed, and the maiden found herself up above upon the earth, not far from her mother's house.

And as she went into the yard the cock was standing by the well-side, and cried --

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!  Your golden girl's come back to you!"

So she went in to her mother, and as she arrived thus covered with gold, she was well received, both by her and her sister.

The girl told all that had happened to her; and as soon as the mother heard how she had come by so much wealth, she was very anxious to obtain the same good luck for the ugly and lazy daughter. She had to seat herself by the well and spin; and in order that her shuttle might be stained with blood, she stuck her hand into a thorn bush and pricked her finger. Then she threw her shuttle into the well, and jumped in after it.

She came, like the other, to the beautiful meadow and walked along the very same path. When she got to the oven the bread again cried, "Oh, take me out! take me out! or I shall burn; I have been baked a long time!" But the lazy thing answered, "As if I had any wish to make myself dirty?" and on she went. Soon she came to the apple-tree, which cried, "Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!" But she answered, "I like that! one of you might fall on my head," and so went on.

When she came to Mother Holle's house she was not afraid, for she had already heard of her big teeth, and she hired herself to her immediately.

The first day she forced herself to work diligently, and obeyed Mother Holle when she told her to do anything, for she was thinking of all the gold that she would give her. But on the second day she began to be lazy, and on the third day still more so, and then she would not get up in the morning at all. Neither did she make Mother Holle's bed as she ought, and did not shake it so as to make the feathers fly up. Mother Holle was soon tired of this, and gave her notice to leave. The lazy girl was willing enough to go, and thought that now the golden rain would come. Mother Holle led her also to the great door; but while she was standing beneath it, instead of the gold a big kettleful of pitch was emptied over her. "That is the reward for your service," said Mother Holle, and shut the door.

So the lazy girl went home; but she was quite covered with pitch, and the cock by the well-side, as soon as he saw her, cried out --

"Cock-a-doodle-doo! Your pitchy girl's come back to you!" 

But the pitch stuck fast to her, and could not be got off as long as she lived.

(Story comes from SurLaLune Fairy Tales


What can we discover about the wise woman archetype from this fairy tale? “Frau Holle” or “Old Mother Holle” is a Grimm folktale from Germany.  Holle is a mysterious character living within an underworld.  She is repulsive and hideous in appearance with long, knotted white hair and large, yellow, buck teeth. A young girl disturbs her existence.  As the girl searches for her lost item, she is required to perform certain tasks.  Each of these tasks has a magical component, and it is unclear the source of the magic; for Holle herself remains kind, and fair, but mysterious. This is a “good girl, bad girl” tale in which Holle metes out justice based on the worth of each girl.  At the end of the story, their worth is determined accordingly.  Holle is the helper, judge and jury for those who come seeking something lost within themselves.  The one who is worthy will see beyond Mother Holle’s hideous appearance, which threatens to make her invisible (for no one wishes to look in her direction).  The worthy girl will make visible both Mother Holle’s  true nature and her own.  She will discover the value of hard work and selfless service for others and be rewarded in kind.