I’m sitting with my friend, Kim, in a noisy pub in Northern Virginia. I am giving Kim a “Crone Stones” reading. She pulls 3 stones for a “Crone Throw.” One of the stones is “the Listener.” The by-the-book message for this stone is to listen to what the universe has to say; it’s speaking boatloads. The stone is ruled by Merseger, a goddess who silently guards the gates of the necropolis (aka, burial grounds) in Egyptian myth. Kim is an easy-going person, always cheerful and upbeat, but then Kim shares a part of herself I have never met.
Kim wonders aloud how she will ever move beyond the grief she is experiencing. A good friend just passed away. Be it because we are sitting in a public place, or because she won’t let herself further reveal the weight of her sadness, Kim is still looking cheerful and upbeat while she is telling me this. Her circumstances bring to light another interpretation of the Listener stone. As we talk together about her feelings of loss, Merseger’s message takes on new meaning for Kim: We realize together that Kim guards the gates of her own necropolis, shielding herself and others from her grief in a quiet stoicism.
Similar stories have unfolded during other readings, for other stones. When pulling the “She Who Knows” stone, its meaning initially was the wisdom that we all possess deep within, a pretty homogenous message with other crones in the set. However, She Who Knows has developed into a message about the wisdom of the body. The pain and discomfort we often endure can be a signal to get in touch with emotional stress which can be linked to physical disease.
When I first developed Crone Stones, I wouldn’t have considered such a message because I had yet to read Christiane Northrop’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom which explores how much our bodies can teach us. This has been one of the most fun aspects of Crone Stones for me over the years – watching them continue to take on new meaning and then offer wisdom from a variety of sources. My intent is to provide a system for guiding intuition, something I hope to make appealing for an increasingly wider audience.
Talk about a niche market – in 1994, tarot and runes — like yoga — were still pretty obscure. The metaphysical/new age/pagan studies section in Borders hadn’t manifested yet (but it was close). Neighbors and co -workers thought I was from another planet (“What was all that whooping in your back yard last night, Carol?”). At that time, as now, I felt a strong conviction that a very spiritual part of women’s consciousness had been sequestered to an almost forgotten corner of living, the part of our consciousness as women that remembers our place in the “creation business,” the part that remembers that our bodies weren’t always a one-size-fits all. Since I was five years old, I felt that everyone who prayed to the god of Abraham had been sold a bill of goods regarding how human beings first arrived on the scene. I wasn’t convinced that the story of Adam and Eve added up. I also had a private and deep belief that people hungered to discover the part of themselves that could be realized by unraveling this denial of the female, or what would later be called the “Sacred Feminine.”
I was in my early twenties when I started yearning. I needed answers and didn’t feel satisfied with traditional sources. I became a book-read eco-feminist, devout Starhawk and Z Budapest follower, a prayerful practitioner of Vicki Noble’s Motherpeace cards, and self-described scholar of Marija Gimbutas’s great philosophies of everything they weren’t teaching in schools. My alma mater in Virginia didn’t offer a Women’s Studies BA option until my senior year. The words “slavery,” “venereal disease” and “smallpox” were not used in association with Native American history until my junior year. Nothing in the Anthropology field offered anything about God the Mother. Shamanism was considered cool and was semi-accessible, but, somewhat like today, was relegated to lesser belief systems. Still, I sensed there was a wider universe out there.
Moving forward a few years: I came this close to packing up my things and moving to San Francisco because there were times I felt terribly out of place in the dominantly conservative commonwealth of Virginia. I was blessed to meet some amazing women, friends, and friends of friends who seemed to share a similar outlook. One women I met who was raised Catholic understood and respected the connection of the Virgin Mary and the goddess Diana and the symbols that they shared. She and I had many good talks about the moon. Another woman, very much a solo practitioner of both Buddhism and goddess worship, was the kind of friend that seemed to enchant you with everything she said or did. She’s the kind of friend you always feel like you wished you brought a gift to, no matter what the occasion.
We started out as a book club, but right away we found that we wanted to live what we were reading about, we wanted to put into practice all of these ideas we had been talking about. One friend was very talented at yoga and meditation, another was a craft goddess. I, of course, loved anything of goddess lore and so around 1991, six of us created a women’s group we called, “Electric Lady Land.” My circle sisters were a grounding and supportive influence and we shared many years practicing ritual and meditation together that quenched my yearning for the west coast.
Since this was way before we had kids, we had planning meetings and we met on hinges (solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days), new moons, full moons, birthdays, and of course, the every-so-often initiation ceremony which was always elaborate and otherworldly. It usually took over an acre of someone’s wooded back yard or in a basement. Practicing magic helped to bring the cerebral knowledge to the heart and live the richest life possible because the spirit just clamors for a chance to play. Electric Lady Land was a contributing force that helped me birth Crone Stones into the world. But there was something else as well.
So many of life’s developments culminated into a very transitional time between age 27 and 30 – in less than 3 years, I lost my mom to cancer, got married, changed jobs and quit smoking. It probably isn’t surprising that I became more reflective of my life in the months that followed and I found myself walking in the woods near my home. A lot. In retrospect, it was more like pacing long distance.
Quitting smoking is one of those things that you do for all the right reasons, but it also forces you to confront the demons that caused you to start in the first place. There was a certain insanity to face after smoking for over fifteen years, especially since I started smoking at age 14 for every stupid reason you can think of.
My meditation circle helped but it didn’t fill in those endless moments of craving. Yoga and meditation had a positive effect but walking became the coping mechanism of choice, rather than go out with friends, many of whom smoked (cigarette trigger). Trying to tap creative juices by practicing guitar (cigarette trigger) and sitting around doing nothing (cigarette trigger) were also out of the question.
I hit the woods with fervor. And after weeks of this, when days changed to shorter afternoons with purpling clouds heralding winter skies, I started making some connections. Connections with myself and life and everything, which is connected to everything. I felt energized and that translated into awareness.
Pretty soon I felt better, I could see more clearly, my libido went up (a happy husband loved this new me!) and, okay, this is going to sound weird – I made a connection with the trees in the woodland where I went walking every day. I had read in a book on Celtic shamanism that the ancients once made certain gestures — like those carved on the famous Gunderstrup cauldron, a 1st century CE silver vessel found in Denmark — — to connote praising, invoking, or blessing.
Before I walked down these dense pathways for hours at a time, I would hold my hands in some of these postures when I entered the wood: Praising looks like you are crossing your hands and placing them over your heart, invoking looks like you’re holding your arms out on either side, as if you’re lifting a large bar bell. I’d enter the woods invoking and praising the spirit of beech, holly and oak and then I’d lower my arms but keep my hands opened wide as I went deeper into the forest. This resembled a walking meditation, I suppose. The results were intoxicating. So much so that I felt like branches were shooting out of my arms and my head and below my feet. This was beyond novelty. This was transcendental.
In that window of growing awareness, I started thinking about the imagery of women and how one might personify the energy cycles – energy cycles that are everywhere in nature and which have reflected art since the dawn of humankind.
Seeing everything in its totality is part of what I consider a crone’s awareness. It is the wisdom that all things wax and wane. That life is cyclical, not linear.
This first image, “The Connector,” became a powerful visual metaphor for the energy I had been witness to. There was liberation in this image as well as the depiction of flowing energy. I began to think about what brought me to this new state of consciousness – where was the path before and where was it going afterward?
“The Seeker” stone, which shows the pathway disappearing over the horizon, reflected the road to now. But what was on the other side of the new freedom, new awareness, new empowerment? It was letting go.
Letting go of the things I couldn’t control, like losing my mom, being unhappy in a job and the addictions, like smoking, that go with the need to hold on to things. The “Letting Go” stone is portrayed by a ceremony of casting a boat into the water and sending it on its away journey. The boat contains things we know we must let go of.
And so the reality of the human journey, a universal story, began to plant itself in my mind. I knew my experiences were not unique. It was certainly like the hero’s journey, the quest we are on in life represented by the knight’s noble aspirations and the promise of the Grail cup. The story that came before the hero’s journey, though, the ancient Great Mother religion that for the bulk of our human existence told a cyclical tale of birth, death and rebirth: How can art reflect this? The personification of those cycles fell quite easily into the guises of maiden, mother, and crone.
Tearing through old photographs held new meaning for me. I came across a friend’s picture in which she was breastfeeding her infant son and her body seemed to be surrounding him in a circle, a protective oval, becoming She Who Nurtures.
The pot of imagery grew and stewed and began to form a structure of its own. Eleven stones represented “the Maiden,” a category of stones where all the messages reflect growth and development. Eleven stones represented “the Mother,” a powerful grouping of stones that reflected the achievement of connection and our source of fulfillment; lastly, “the Crone” stones showed images of closure, transformation and wisdom.
My mother was an artist. She discouraged me from focusing too much on art because she said it is a lonely profession. My images stayed pretty rudimentary, sketchy. I had loved playing with tarot cards for over ten years by then, and I had considered developing these sketches into a feminist tarot deck. But since quitting cigarettes, I had begun playing with runes and their tactile nature was very soothing for my restless hands.
I wandered the aisles of a local arts and crafts shop looking for a way to turn my sketches into a divination tool, feeling pretty frustrated. This was before the days of Sculpe where all that you could find was paper mache and old fashioned clay. There was not much invoking and praising going on along these trails. Finally I came up with something to get them off the paper and onto a medium to experiment with. Small oval wood chips about 1” x 2” and a couple of millimeters thick. I shrunk my images, glued them onto the wood chips, stained and Polyurethaned them. Voila! Crone Bones, the precursor to Crone Stones, were born.
I used them with my circle sisters, developed lay-outs and messages. Definitions took root while sorting through life’s issues, and I began working on the accompanying booklet that would aid the user in tapping their insights.
I enjoyed the Crone Bones but wanted them to be more like stones, something that could ground you, that carried weight and had a good feel when they were handled. Crone Bones felt hollow.
I had such a sense of urgency to get them out the door and off the ground. I had no money, but I had friends that were artists and knew artists. One expressed an interest in making molds for me which I filled with liquid porcelain and then inscribed with iron oxide. I fired the stones at a local ceramic shop until finally, finally!, I could afford a kiln of my own. I called her Pele, after the volcano goddess of Polynesian myth.
One of my initial orders with Pyramid catalogue called for 164 sets (that’s 33 stones per set…). That order came in the middle of winter while we lived in a tiny rambler in Springfield, VA. The sanding of the stones caused so much dust that I had to prepare the stones for the kiln outside in our carport. We bought a small heater and used a blue tarp over the front of the carport secured with duck tape to try to keep the cold and wind out. It was tough, but I was in heaven.
I don’t really have any big secrets to offer the reader. This journey was one of healing and self-discovery for me. The hardest part today is the business aspect of promoting the stones, but I still feel this urgency to share them with the world. It really takes all I have not to impose them on any old Joe or Joanna, like pull them out at wedding receptions or a local bar or restaurant. Oh, wait! I do bring them out everywhere…
The more they’re used, the more I grow and learn about the human experience, a rich broad spectrum of living a life that reaches all of our corners of potential. It is this we strive for.
My heart is full of gratitude.