In the first chapter of The Celestial Ship of The North (Straiton, 1992) it states that in the Vision of Hermas the Holy Spirit was called ‘The Old Woman’ who was the first of all creation.
Tonight We Celebrate THE ANCIENT CRONE MOTHER GODDESS
We are honoring the aging woman’s value to society.
Who is Crone?
We use the term crone to reference, and to reclaim, the name of the wise woman of ancient times. The concept of crone existed tens of thousands of years ago when women’s life patterns were conceptualized in three stages — Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The Maiden was the youthful, independent woman. The Mother was a woman who guided others–as a biological mother or as a teacher. The Crone was the postmenopausal woman who enjoyed a special, revered status. The elder woman was viewed as a fount of wisdom, law, healing skills, and moral leadership; her presence and leadership were treasured at every significant tribal ceremony and each personal occasion from birth to death. In that light, we three Sister Crones consistently focus on the empowerment and well-being of older women and claim the honored status of the ancient crone for contemporary women.
We use the Crone to assist us in transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and entering the next. This brings us into the Womb of the Mother to assist us in being reborn once again. For it is through Her Wisdom and guidance we learn lessons from experience past and begin life anew from the wisdom gained.
The Crone is a symbol of inherent wisdom that comes from experience. She has lived through love, sorrow, hope, and fear, coming out of it all a wise and confident spirit. Through these experiences she has learned the secrets of life and death and of the mysteries beyond this world.
The Crone is the Grandmother, the Old One, the Earth Mother, the Wise One we turn to when we need advice. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go in order to move on.
The word Crone, in its most simplistic sense, designates an old woman, a woman past her childbearing years, a post-menopausal woman. Today, the most common definition of a Crone is a “wise old woman.” Thus, a Crone is a woman who has moved past mid-life and who acknowledges her survivorship, embraces her age, learns from the examined experience of her life, and, most likely, appreciates the wrinkles on her face.
A Crone is a woman concerned with housing, social security, pensions, healthcare, her relationships with children, grandchildren, and siblings. A Crone is a retired woman, a soon-to-be retired woman, a widow, an empty nester who desires good health, energetic living, and independence. A Crone is a woman who is adapting constructively, often gracefully, to the process of aging. A Crone is a woman who is comfortable with her spiritual self, her intuition, and her creative power.
A Crone may be a woman of any color, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, educational level, lifestyle, or political persuasion. She may be disabled or abled, introvert or extrovert, single, married, widowed, or partnered. She is like you and me. What does set the Crone apart, however, is her willingness to tell the truth about her life.
Crone women fly directly into the face of ageism and sexism. They refuse to be put down. They do not walk meekly on the road to old age. They are keen to assert their presence if not their influence.
Crone provides an energetic consciousness, a radical aliveness, which fuels the fierceness of women’s strength in old age. Crone is a framework for honoring the wisdom of elder women. Crone is a template for communication, community, and communion. Crone is a basis for cooperation and compassion for all living beings. Such a consciousness allows for action in the world or for deep, quiet peacefulness with all that is.
Thus, a Crone is an older woman who has learned to walk in her own truth, in her own way, having gained her strength by acknowledging the power and wisdom of the totality of her experience. She is “a wise old woman.” As a woman moves past youth and midlife into old age she consciously takes on the mantel of Crone – a woman who celebrates her survivorship, willingly choosing to continue forward in life with all the gusto she can muster. A Crone is a woman burnished bright by an inner fire that sharpens both her wit and her intensity, her passion and her power.
The mythological Ancient Crone Mother comes to us from the mists of ancient times. The goddess was revered as one all-encompassing mother goddess who controlled birth, death, and rebirth. As patriarchy began to arise after c.7000 BCE, this concept began to change as women themselves became increasingly under the dominion of men. The one mother goddess image was split into three aspects reflecting the stages of women’s lives – maiden, mother, and crone. The crone goddess represented the older woman aspect of a woman’s life.
The connection between women today and the ancient goddesses, according to Jung’s psychology is that “women are influenced by powerful inner forces, or archetypes, which can be personified by … goddesses.” These attributes live on today in the collective unconscious as an archetype. An archetype is a pattern of instinctual behavior that is contained in the collective unconscious – a part of the unconscious mind – that is not individual but universal, with contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same in all cultures and in all individuals. The crone goddess represents the archetype of the older woman.
When patriarchy became the dominant mode, when the divine was imaged solely as male, and as women became second-class citizens, the ideas about goddesses and the archetypes they represented went underground. Archetypes can be submerged, but they never disappear; and as women today are reclaiming their power, these archetypes are re-emerging. There is a burgeoning interest in this ancient part of women’s herstory, and the crone archetype is resurfacing as a model for elder women. Women are coming into their own as individuals, stronger and more comfortable with who they are and in speaking for themselves. Women are joining collectively as well in what some are calling a new Crone Movement.
Crone, hag, and witch once were positive words for old women. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and witch comes from wit meaning wise. Crones, hags, and witches were leaders, midwives and healers in their communities. The meanings of these three words, however, were distorted and eventually reversed during the 300 years of the Inquisition when the male-dominated church wanted to eliminate women holding positions of power. Women identified as witches, who were often older women, i.e. crones and hags, were tortured and burned, and the words witch, crone, and hag took on the negative connotations that continue in our language. The Crone Movement, however, is re-claiming the positive meanings of these words.
The Crone began re-emerging into our consciousness in the early 1980s, and today many older women are embracing this connection. We are tapping into the ancient crone’s attributes of wisdom, compassion, transformation, healing laughter, and bawdiness. The ancient crone archetype strengthens our belief and confidence in age-accumulated knowledge, insights and intuitions enabling women to stand up for their rights.
We will not be invisible, ignored, or treated unfairly. We are coming together in circles and gatherings to support each other.
The Crone Goddess or dark mother is the last aspect of the Triple Goddess, together with the Mother and the Maiden she represents part of the circle of life. In today’s society where we worship youth and beauty, this aspect of the Goddess is the most frightening and misunderstood of the three, as she represents our destruction, decay and death. Traditional societies however, view death as part of a cycle. Here, as in nature, the death of Winter is Spring.
In her book, The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power, Barbara G. Walker discusses just how disturbing the image of the old woman, and thus, the Crone, has been to patriarchal religious worldviews. She points out that in many ways, the Crone was the female equivalent to the image of God, as a wise-looking old man with his white beard up in heaven. While Christianity could include a version of the Virgin, and even a Mother (both found in Mary), there was no place to include a Crone that was not threatening. So, over time, Her image became perverted. But it could not be destroyed. She became the Wicked Old Witch, an archetype that is so deeply engrained in the imaginations of us all, beginning in childhood that is it difficult to undo. But this is not the only negative propaganda aimed at the Crone.
Old women in our society are the least-valued members of the population. We see the aging process as something to be avoided at all costs, or at least hidden. And in particular, our prejudice against age is focused on women. Ultimately, Walker believes that this is a continuation of the suppression of the Crone, and reflects deep fear of the wisdom and power of women as well as a fear of something that cannot be controlled nor avoided – death.
The Crone Has Many Names. Here are a few of the well-known Crone Goddesses:
- HEKATE a very ancient pre-Greek goddess of the dark moon, She may have been a form of the earlier Egyptian Heket, and assimilated into the Greek pantheon as Hecate. She is the goddess of the Crossroads, and presides over the underworld, magick and ritual, prophecy, and childbirth (as protector). Originally seen as a threefold goddess, she was later demonized by early patriarchal religion as the Queen of the Witches, and an ugly old hag.
- CERRIDWEN is a Welsh crone, best known for her cauldron of regeneration, transformation, and inspiration. She rules over death, but over rebirth as well. Cerridwen was also a Triple Goddess; in her crone aspect, she is seen as a “white, corpse-eating Sow representing the moon.” (Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encylopedia of Myths and Secrets).
- Demetra -“The dark goddess of many names was the prophetess and holder of mysteries. She bestowed dreams, visions, and magickal knowledge whereby one could fathom the mysteries of the unknown, and this understanding of secret and hidden things brought power in itself.”
- KALI: the Indian goddess of death, destruction, and transformation. Kali is rather fearsome and terrifying, but She also has Her nurturing aspect as well. We might think of her as destroying what needs to be destroyed so that something new can take its place. Kali is often shown wearing red, and is strongly associated with blood, representing both life and death. (A more detailed discussion of Kali can be found in Barbara G. Walker’s The Women’s Encylopedia of Myths and Secrets).
- The MORRIGAN: Ancient Irish trinity of war and death goddesses, strongly associated with magic and the battlefield. Most commonly associated with the image of the crow or raven. The Crone aspect of the Morrigan is Macha, sometimes called “Mother Death.” (Patricia Monaghan, The New Book of Goddessess and Heroines, and Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encylopedia of Myths and Secrets).
- CAILLECH: The Winter Hag of Scotland and Ireland. In her mythology, she is often portrayed as deceptively strong and outliving many husbands. She is sometimes associated with disease. (Walker, The Women’s Encylopedia of Myths and Secrets).
- Grandmother Spiderwoman (Native American) – An old wise woman who gave man the sun and fire.
- Ereshkigal (Sumerian) – Goddess of the Underworld
- Estsanatlehi (Native American) – Goddess of life, death and immortality.
- Lilith (Hebrew) – Adams first wife and guardian of women’s mysteries.
- Nephthys (Egyptian) – A funerary Goddess associated with death, magic and reincarnation.
- Sedna (Inuit) – Mistress of life and death.
- XochiQuetzal (Mexican) – Goddess of the cycles of life celebrated on the Day Of the Dead.
The Orishas of Ifa
Eleggua Erzuli Oshun Yemaya
Seeking the Crone
The most natural time for a woman to seek the Crone is at menopause, as she approaches her own cronehood. However, the Crone has great relevance and significance to women and men, of all ages.
- When there is a need to end something
- When some project or cycle has come to completion
- When there is the need or desire to do “shadow work,” exploring the unconscious realm, some trauma, negativity, depression
- To improve psychic skills and abilities – mediumship, contacting guides, meditation journeys, prophecy and divination, and especially scrying, which is a Crone art
- When there is a feeling of being threatened, outcast, or maligned
- When there is a need to put the past behind you and start anew
- When there is a need to retreat, rest, and hibernate
- When dealing with the aging process, in yourself and in others
- When facing death, your own or that of a loved one
- When there is a desire to explore the deep mysteries
- In order to connect with the ancestors
- During the menstrual period, when faced with the “inner hag”
- When there is a need for deep wisdom and advice
- She can help you remember the cycles of life, if you are experiencing a loss.
Invoke these Goddesses to help you face your deepest fears. Despite their fierce ways and appearance, they offer great wisdom to those prepared to look upon their faces.
The Crones encourage us to be wild and free, they show us the strength and courage within us all.
I Proclaim these words to the Ancient Mother:
Celah Eliana Bey
They have largely forgotten you and follow gods … but in the stillness of the moonlit night you are there … the one who is She.
Ancient Mother, I hear you calling. Ancient Mother, I hear your song.
It dawned on me that part of the spiritual task of accepting ourselves as we are is to accept ourselves at the age we are. Wishing we were younger – or older – is not only ridiculous, since there’s nothing we can do to change our age, it’s also a total waste of time. The past is gone, the future hasn’t happened and the only true reality is the present moment. Living fully in each moment is, as all the sages from every wisdom tradition agree is the only key to happiness and contentment.
Now, as the baby boomers start turning sixty, I notice a lot of ‘Eek! Freak! Squeak!’ going on. A lot of denial, too. Plug the phrase ‘anti-aging’ into Google and you get an unbelievable 2,670,000 entries. Cosmetic surgery, Botox, thousands of dollars are being spent every day by women trying to look Younger than they are, while half the world’s children starve. What’s wrong with this picture? But I must try not to judge my sisters harshly. I mustn’t forget how I felt, that day I saw myself in the mirror and realized that my hair was two colors, black with a lot of gray.
Since we live in a culture that is fixated on youth, all of us, to some degree, have absorbed the (erroneous) message that young is beautiful and old is ugly, even though, deep down, we know that the only true beauty comes from within. I believe instead of pandering to it we owe it to ourselves and to our daughters and granddaughters to change this stupid, outdated conditioning. We owe it to ourselves to strip away the shallow standards of ‘beauty’ that the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry and most of all the advertising industry all feed on. We’re being exploited, and it is time we stood up and said a huge “NO!”
Nobody warned me that menopause is a passage into another form of life. Maybe it is as well they didn’t. After all, how do you go on feeling smart, sexy, capable, confident and all around good about yourself if you know you are gradually turning into an elderly woman, a hag, a witch, a crone. It bothered me and I panicked. My pre-menstrual syndrome was no longer pre- anything. It was most of the month, with a few good days scattered here and there like islands in a large ocean. My normally sharp thought processes were going blunt so alarmingly fast that I thought I was getting Alzheimer’s. In place of a brain, I now seemed to have what felt like a wodge of thick cotton. Worst of all, my libido was going through the floor. No-one had warned me about any of that. My mother had sailed through menopause – or so she said – with no symptoms at all except that her periods stopped one day when she was fifty-five and never came back. That was it. End of story. Not even one hot flash. All my friends were the same age as me or younger. There was no-one to reassure me.
It was the mid-1980s, and the “medical model” ruled. HRT was rapidly becoming the flavor of the month. But I was an alternative health nut sort of a person and I instinctively recoiled from the idea of messing with my hormones. I decided to tough it out. The more I thought about it, though, the more I started wondering if I could do more than simply tough it out.
On the outside, I was trying to keep my “normal” life together, while this other stuff was happening on the inside. Hot flashes happened, wherever I was. So on the outside, I just made jokes about it like everyone else, took my jacket on and off, fanned my face and drank lots of cold water. On the inside, I was saying to myself: “Steady, girl. You’re doing fine.
That way, each hot flash, rather than being a pesky nuisance, was a transformational process, bringing me one step closer to my new self. Would that new self ever emerge?
My periods stopped. After I had not had one for a while, I started to regret that I hadn’t marked their ending with some sort of ritual. But how can you mark the last of something if you don’t know it is the last? When I realized that I would never see my own menstrual blood again, that thought made me inexplicably sad. Yes, I, too, had often referred to it as “the curse.” But it was part of my womanliness, for all that. Now it was over. So I had to grieve.
During that long time in the menopause, I discovered that there were many things which needed to be consciously mourned and let go: my ability to bear children, my youthful looks, my sexual juiciness and so on. There was a lot of work to do. And as I let go of these old definitions of myself, I had no idea what would take their place. It was as though I had to clear the space, first. So sometimes, it was scary.
I was fifty-five years old. A whole new energy seemed to be stirring within me. I went back to school to get a degree in Architecture and Interior Design. I was entering a completely new phase of my life.
The most radical thing we can do – and the most beneficial – is to dare to be ourselves, as we are, old, gray and proud of it. I earned every one of these gray hairs I see in the mirror and the tiny wrinkles forming near my eyes. I love it. It actually suits me better than black ever did and the whiter it gets, the better I look in my favorite black dress. And I like wearing glasses when I read or use my computer. They really suit me – and they disguise the fact that I really have no eyebrows worth speaking of. They make me look intellectual.
At 72, I’m not as fit and trim as I used to be, but I’m happy and full of vitality. I love being old. I’m having the time of my life. So are lots of the other, ‘natural’ elder women I know, in their sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, even beyond. We are being ourselves. And we are beautiful, each in our own way, just the way we are, wrinkles, white hair, glasses and all.
I love being a Crone. ‘Please Call Me an Old Hag.” As Crone means crowned one. And hag comes from the Greek hagia, or sacred. Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to claim being a Crone?
When I fill out forms, I don’t mark Single (though I am widowed), Married (though I have been twice), Divorced (though I have been once, ), nor Head of Household (though I am, me and myself ). I make and mark another box and I put FREE Crone.
Even with fixed income, ill health sometimes, my life is an adventure, for the flower still awaits, not necessarily to be picked, but to be savored for its fragrance.
So what if our youth-worshipping society has written us off? We’re told we are decrepit and powerless, but actually we’re just invisible. And because we’re invisible, we can do ANYTHING and no one will notice.
Not only can we wear purple, we can wear neon green, hot pink, orange stripes with polka dots, or nothing at all. We don’t have to dye our hair or set it in short tight curls; we can wear it long, loose and uncut, locs, braids – or in a brush cut, bowl cut, or shaved off completely.
We can be outrageous, flaunt ourselves and demand attention. We can be Maudes and take young lovers. We can go places alone, do what we’ve always wanted to do, be what we’ve always wanted to be—now.
But often we don’t. For it’s hard to believe the opposite of what we’ve been spoon-fed for years: that older women are pitiful, useless no-good hags. It helps to be surrounded by others who have chucked off such narrow notions. Crone Circles are the answer.
We need Crone Circles to strengthen ourselves, and to reclaim our rightful roles in society. Crones were once midwives of both birth and death, and leaders of puberty, marriage and other ceremonies honoring fecundity and life.
We are the anchors, watchers, guardians, healers, storytellers. We are also Baubo, of the bawdy wise sexuality. We are roots, trees, mountains; we are the web of the world.
So what if our youth-worshipping society has written us off? We’re told we are decrepit and powerless, but actually we’re just invisible. And because we’re invisible, we can do ANYTHING and no one will notice.
In Crone Circles we can validate ourselves–our existence, our lives, our feelings, our truths. We can share our wisdom and experience. But how can we find each other? We’re not likely to find companions in bars, churches, bridge clubs, senior centers, or inside the covers of Modern Maturity.
I found my particular Crone Circle with Crone Sisters Joan and MyRah.
We began with several different purposes. Some women are scared by menopause, some seek role models. Some professional counselors and caregivers seek support and renewal. Others simply just seek fun with other confessed crones. But all of us should seek the wise women who can teach us from their experiences. We’ve been meeting weekly via conference calls. We share leadership, each bringing insights from our talents and gifts. After a lifetime of being ordered around by parents, husbands, children, and bosses, it’s so relaxing to have no set leader. We are at a time in our lives when we are all leaders. Usually whoever hosts the gathering convenes the circle, and may set a topic. Joan has been initiating the calls.
The talking circle is the essence of crone support. Its structure is both simple and empowering. Whoever holds the talking stick (mentally) has the floor. When finished, she passes to the next until all have had a turn. No one interrupts. Everyone listens with respect. Thus the sharing goes deep.
It is a concept which is all about that ‘rapture of being alive’ in an aging woman’s body.
The Crone, the Great Grandmother of us all. We salute her wisdom and experience, her calm and her grace, her steadfastness and her love. She has much to give and teach us.
Our intent, the Crone Trinity, is to gather with young and older women to share their histories and counsel with each other. Our notion is that we learn most, and probably best, as older women by sharing the wisdom borne out of our life experiences in an environment which promotes equality, encourages diversity, and supports personal empowerment. Our thought is that our personal and collective wisdom helps us grow and learn through discussing our similarities as well as our differences.
So Ancient Mother, I hear you calling. Ancient Mother, I hear your sound. Ancient Mother, I hear your laughter, Ancient Mother, I taste your tears. I close by wishing all of the Mothers on the call “A Happy Mother’s Day” and for those of you who are not yet Mothers or have decided not to be, I Wish You Peace and love and I yield.
This is a ritual for Crones to raise their spiritual level and also a poem about Crones.
Ritual: Invoking the Crone Within
Intent and Purpose: To meet the wise and powerful Crone, and to acknowledge and embrace Her deep presence already within.
- 13 black votive candles
- One large black Crone candle
- Incense: Hecate or any incense associated protection, psychic ability, and wisdom
- Cinnamon, clove, lavender, and sage
- A shallow bowl or dish of water for scrying
- A black cloak or cloth large enough to put around your shoulders (optional)
- White powder for hair and face, black eyeliner pencil
- Small mirror
- Your journal and pen
Preparation: To be performed on the night of the Dark Moon, for this time belongs solely to the Crone. You might like to fast for several hours before you plan to do the ritual, and also to observe a period of silence beforehand. Before you begin the ritual, take a bath. Use whatever procedures you like to focus on cleansing and purification. Also think about opening up your psychic self. You might like to use a specific incense and/or essential oils that feel appropriate for this purpose while you bathe. Remove all traces of make-up and shampoo your hair. Come to the sacred space cleansed and open to the Crone within. Sacred Space: Prepare yourself, take your ritual bath, dress in something black. Arrange the candle votives in a circle, large enough for you sit in the center. Place the Crone candle inside the circle at the North, with the dish of water, the mirror, the powder, the eye pencil, the black cloak or cloth, and your journal. Smudge the area around your circle of candles with your incense. Smudge yourself, then step inside the circle of candles and sit down, putting the incense down and facing North and the Crone candle. You are ready to cast the circle.
Cast the Circle: You cast the circle by slowly lighting the ring of black votives in a clockwise direction, beginning with candle #1, where candle #13 is directly at North. As you light the candles, one by one, say these words:
Crone of Power, Ancient One
I light the fires
The circle begun
Crone of Dark and Mystery too
Within the circle
I’ll find you
Crone of All, oh Holy One!
So be it done!
You may wish to call the elements to watch over your circle.
Body of Ritual
Light the large black Crone candle, saying:
I light the fires of Wisdom. I invite you in, my Crone.
Take the black cloth or cloak and wrap it around your shoulders, or simply visualize yourself wrapped by the Crone’s black cloak of protection, wisdom, and inner strength. You are embraced by the cloak of the Crone. Know that you are safe here and protected from all harm.
Pick up the mirror and gaze at your own reflection for a moment. Then, put some of the white powder in your hair, then on your face using fingertips. Now take the black eye pencil and gently trace all the fine lines you see, around eyes, mouth, and wherever you see them. Know that as you do this, you are invoking the Crone, and bring forth the Crone within. This is Her face. Look at your Crone reflection. What do you see here? How does your reflection make you feel?
Put the mirror down, and place the bowl of water in front of the Crone candle. Scrying (foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface) is the Crone’s art! Simply gaze into the water. Let your eyes soften as you gaze into your Crone reflection there in the water. Take your time. What do you see? Make note of any images, thoughts, or feelings that may come to you. Be open to whatever impressions come and don’t try to analyze them now. Just let them come.
When it feels you are finished with the scrying, put the bowl of water aside and look back to the Crone candle. Feel the power that comes from within you. Feel the wisdom that radiates from your Crone self. Feel the protective cloak of the Crone around your shoulders. This is the time to pray, meditate, or talk to the Crone.
Closing the Ritual: Know that She is already within, and you can call upon Her anytime you need Her.
Thank the Crone for Her presence, guidance in this ritual, and whatever is appropriate as a result of your ritual as you extinguish the Crone candle.
Thank the elements for watching over your ritual and bid farewell.
The circle candles are extinguished counterclockwise, one by one, as you chant these words, over and over until all the candles are out:
The circle is open, but never broken
The wisdom of the Crone is within
Ground any excess energy by writing in your journal now and using other grounding techniques of your choice as necessary.
I Am The Crone
I am the Oldest of the old, Wisest of the wise, the Power behind power.
I am Hecate, Heqt, Cerridwen, Kali, Caillech, Hel, Cybele, Morrigan, Ala, Mara,
I am the Old Hag of many names.
I am the light in the dark and the dark of the moon.
I am the One behind the veil, the Threshold to be crossed.
I am the dealer of Death, giver of Rebirth.
I am the greatest of Teachers, with the deepest of lessons.
I am Transition and Connection, the spider in the web.
I am Dusk, Midnight, and the dark before Dawn.
I am Surrender when you need to let go.
I am the chill wind in Autumn, the whisper of Winter.
I am the Three-Way Place, the center of the Crossroads.
I am the all-seeing Owl, the Frog under the mud, the flesh-eating Vulture, the Raven and the Wolf.
I am the Destroyer, and your Protector as well.
I am the One to lead you through the Dark, through the Fire, into a new day.
I am the Crone, Oldest of the old, Wisest of the Wise, the Power behind power.