I had the good fortune to participate in a workshop at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library led by the talented Claudia Ricci. What a relief to leave behind research and early twentieth century America for a few hours!
I sit in the summer house at the back of my garden while the red squirrel cuts half-ripe cones from the spruce tree high overhead. In the distance, I hear the first calls of the geese taking this year’s brood for a practice flight. The sound brings with it the smell of golden leaves lit by low sunlight.
The plants that surround me are pushing out their last flowers in a rush to make seed before a frost cuts short their leafy lives. All this beauty underlain with desperate determination – all life writ small.
I hear a rustle in the viburnums. Suddenly, she’s there, still as a statue. Only her ears move. She takes a step, then another, and then behind her are this year’s fawns.
I stay so still, so quiet, and the doe begins to move along the border, delicately snipping flowerheads one by one, thoughtfully masticating. The fawns are less discriminating, trying plant after plant.
“Deer resistant!” they seem to say. “Take that, allium, and that, you prickly holly!”
Enough, I think, and sit up straight. A startled look, a quick retreat, and I am alone again.
For almost four weeks, we’ve been struggling with our non-functional l.p. gas stove here at Meadowgreen Cottage. This has involved representatives of four businesses, two generally rational adult residents, and a colony of displaced mice.
It’s time, I think, to put my inner child to bed, to send my inner Aphrodite off for a well-deserved rest, and to embrace my inner crone. Even though I am far from retirement, I am collecting social security benefits and enjoying the relatively low health costs of Medicare. This must be old age.
I sense among my fellow travelers on this life’s journey a reluctance to identify with the Crone. This I can certainly understand. Crone / Hag / Witch – older women have not enjoyed good press.
On the one hand, we have the ugly old woman who lives alone in a tumbledown cottage in the woods with one or more cats, one or more warts, and one or (slightly) more teeth. On the other hand, we have the New Age bastardization of Robert Graves’ triune goddess, an aging earth mother, long gray locks loose on her shoulders, smoothing her sigil-spangled skirts while dispensing wisdom to her younger sisters.
What woman of mature years can truly be drawn to either image? What have we learned in life if not nuance?
I propose another, more balanced understanding of Crone-dom, one based on more modern models which can be envisioned through the sometimes cloudy lens of Carl Jung’s archetypes. We know this Wise Old Woman from myth, story and our own experiences. She is the Delphic oracle, the fairy godmother, the grandmother who believed in us no matter what. But how can we come to understand her nature well enough to wear her clothes?
Jung and his followers are helpful, if somewhat analytical in their approach. The wise woman is a manifestation of wisdom, instinct tempered by experience, the priestess. the helper of heroes of either gender.
English author Terry Pratchett takes a more practical line. The crone (or witch) takes care of the boundaries in life, the times when things are neither here nor there, neither good nor bad, and could go either way – the births, the marriages, the deaths. She speaks for those who have no voices – the powerless, the poor, the forgotten. Her magic is mostly hard work and common sense gleaned from a lifetime of experiences thoughtfully considered, plus a gaze that can transfix a stack of wood until it bursts into flame from sheer embarrassment. She stands up to bullies, stoops to tend the sick, and sits with her neighbors down the pub for a pint at the end of a long day – as long as they are buying.
For those of us who are post-menopausal, who have wrestled with our so-called masculine drive to power, who have come to accept our own worst nature, this role of the crone as wise-woman may be a good fit. If we need further encouragement, let us look to Golda Meier, Mother Teresa, Madeline Albright, and yes, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let us embrace our power, put on our “mother” voices, and embarrass our society into righting a few wrongs.
And then let’s make a cup of tea, take a chair into the garden, and stroke our cat by the light of a waning moon.