Crone

Perhaps one of the most fascinating of all crones is Cailleach Bheur, the “divine hag” and possibly an ancestral deity or deified ancestor. Throughout Scotland and Ireland she is considered the oldest of the old. Not much has ever been written about her. Folklore of Cailleach (kay-lick) is found through oral tradition and place names across the countryside. She is also known for playing tricks on the unsuspecting. Hiring young men to do work for her, hunched over and frail looking, she tells the workers she will only pay them if they can outlast her in moving rocks. It was rare indeed for Cailleach to ever have to pay her workers.

One way we can pay homage to Cailleach is to observe the changing landscape. While the trees become bare and the grass fades to straw during winter’s long stretch, take a moment to reflect on the spirit of rock, tree and hill. They all have a story and maybe long ago, had an old woman’s name.

The crone today is mostly pictured like Cailleach, an old woman with supernatural powers. Pop culture has maintained this character from folklore and fairy tales since historic times. The core aspect of the crone’s role in society and her power, however, can date back to the prehistoric.

The crone of ancient times was a revered figure. Excavated funereal sites in Eastern Europe (c 8,000 BCE) show many instances where the matriarch of the household was buried beneath the threshold of the front door. Scholars believe this would ensure the deceased’s continued protection of the home. (Gimbutas)

Mature women up through the Middle Ages had significant roles as caretakers of their entire community. Having survived childbirth themselves, they had the luxury of time and knowledge, of what plants worked best and the experience of watching patterns in nature. With the advent of the new church fathers in Europe who proclaimed that only through prayer and God’s grace could people be cured of their ailments, women’s contributions became increasingly marginalized, as was their involvement with helping women determine the number of children they would bear and raise. Limiting childbirth also conflicted with the teachings of the church in that families were encouraged to be as large as possible (Mor).

How did she get so frightening when her origins as caretaker, midwife, and healer of her community were intended to produce only healthy outcomes?

As societies grew in population, the role of the crone became more and more marginalized. Europe, for example, created a social stratum that included a legal and medical system and excluded the valuable contributions of the older women of the community. As this reassignment advanced, the truths behind the once-revered caretaker of the village began to fade into the realm of folklore and legend, and the fear of what the crone represented grew. As a result we now have a culture weighted by our obsession with youth and a debilitating fear of aging. (Daly)

In our culture there has been very little visual imagery demonstrating the power of the aging female, for she is no longer able to fulfill her role as baby-maker and she still retains a wisp of a threat from an older pagan religion which contrasts with the newer Christian religion’s objectives.

The Crones Counsel hosts conferences and other organized forums to help older women’s voices be heard, their stories be known. Such groups are intended to reclaim the crone archetype and “promote equality, encourage diversity, support personal empowerment, honor the value to society of older women’s wisdom and accomplishments.”

Likewise, an emerging movement world-wide called Crone Consciousness is helping women over the age of fifty reclaim the dignity, support, and reverence that the crone has earned in society. Crone Consciousness is shaping the beliefs about how women age, how beauty resonates in wrinkles, and how power is not limited to only a small sliver of the populace.

Here are some websites to jumpstart your crone journey:

Cronemagazine.com
Moondance.com
Cronescounsel.org

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She Who Remains: An Unfolding Chronology of the Sacred Feminine

Goddess of Laussel
Goddess of Laussel

Pictured is one of the oldest images of the Sacred Feminine – the Goddess of Laussel.  Located in a cave in Dordogne, France, this relief dates to 27,000 BCE.  Laussel demonstrates the mystical relationship betwen a woman’s body and the cosmos.  The ancients knew this importance – thirteen lines inscribed on the crescent moon denote the thirteen months of the lunar year and (it can be argued) the thirteen nights between menstruation and ovulation.  With one hand the figure holds the crescent and in the other she points to her pelvis;  she seems to say, “Aha!  I see the magical connection between the moon (the universe) and my own body.”

With all of our current health issues surrounding body image, Laussel reminds us that there is a history of reverence for the female form. The cave in Dordogne is not the only prehistoric sacred image of the female. In ancient times, female images abound. Thousands of figurines and images have been found from Southwestern Europe all the way through the Russian Steppes.
 
Though in the last generation  many of us have found ways to love our bodies, we are all of us hard pressed to not criticize our features in some way.  We live in a culture that promotes an unrealistic picture of beauty.  Constantly bombarded with messages of how we look (blondes have more fun, shave your legs, wear higher heels, etc.),  Mary Pipher responds, “This relentless ideal of beauty is quite literally just short of starvation for most women.”   
 
Here’s an example of today’s challenges with the female body:  The average woman is 5’4″ and weighs around 140 lbs.  The average supermodel is 5’11” and weighs 118 lbs.  The average woman has a 7 percent chance that she will be as slim as a catwalk model and a 1 percent chance of being as thin as a supermodel, according to Web site healthyplace.com.  But that doesn’t stop a woman or a girl from trying to be closer in image to a supermodel. The average age of female dieters starts at the age of eight years.

Here is a bedtime story for your young daughters: Once there was a beautiful woman named Yemaya.  She looked into the waters of the ocean and saw her own reflection.  She wondered, “Who is that beautiful woman?  I thought I was the most beautiful.”  As she looked at the woman in the water there came a rumbling in Yemaya’s belly and it grew and grew until it broke open and filled the world with lakes, rivers and streams.

 
Yemaya looked into the new river she had created and saw her reflection looking at her. “Who is that woman in the river?  She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
 
And again her belly grew and grew until she gave birth to the heavens and the stars and the full moon. In the moon she saw herself and said, “Who is that beautiful woman?  I thought I was the most beautiful.”
 
And again her belly expanded larger and larger until it exploded.  Standing before her  were thousands of beautiful women.  Yemaya said again, “Who are you beautiful women?  I thought I was the most beautiful of all.”
 
The women looked deep into the eyes of Yemaya and there they saw their own reflections. They said to her, “You are!  We are you!  We are just you!”
Please visit www.cronestones.com to learn more about integrating goddess myth into the everyday.

Myth Speaks to Women

demeter

Demeter is reunited with Persephone

In our traditional education of mythology, mostly found in English Lit class, mostly Greco-Roman in region and time period, certain insights and wisdoms have been lost. When we study goddesses in secondary roles, that is, roles where a supreme male god presides over lesser gods – think Zeus and Thor – the women’s stories and characters will always leave us wanting. These stories have been handed down to us through various incarnations. Many of the credible messages for women were discarded long ago.

Our main perception of goddesses from anywhere in the world nowadays gets funneled into two stereotypes; namely, virgin and mother. These goddesses are as safe and simple as fairy tales; indeed, one could argue it is through fairy tales and their childish fables that myths of the ancient fem are spoon fed into our culture.

By the same token, when we explore ancient goddess myth and play connect the dots with other neighboring or earlier civilizations, we find rich, complex messages that are much more satisfying to our psyches. For instance, Aphrodite, Hera and Demeter may offer more insight from their pre-Hellenic origins rather then after. Each had histories of preeminence in the agricultural societies that worshipped them. All demonstrated strengths beyond love, marriage and childbirth, including leadership, wisdom sharing and equality among men and women.

Why is goddess myth so important? What can we gleam from goddess myth that hasn’t been examined already? Case in point – Few people know the earliest stories of Demeter and Persephone contained no male characters. The whole shebang had to do with a daughter leaving her mother’s home to find her own life. This is a perfect message for the Empty Nester.

The Human Connection

The kidnapping of Persephone has become the central focus of the story, underscoring the powerlessness of a young girl and the negative response of her mother. When we look at the earliest record of this myth, however, a more human story emerges. Demeter says good-bye to her daughter who is ready to enter adulthood. Her journey is a step into the unknown by way of darkness in the underworld. Demeter faces her own emotional challenge and journeys in her own right by figuring out how to cope with the loss of her daughter, thus all life withers and winter begins. Certainly Persephone’s is the proverbial hero’s journey, a precursor to Christ’s decent into Hell and the old standby – a girl’s initiation into adulthood through menarche.

What distinguishes the female from the male version of the myth is the human element. The separation of mother and daughter is a milestone in every parent’s life. This ancient goddess myth, then, validates Demeter’s emotions and gives value to her role in the story. When her daughter returns in the spring, Demeter is reunited with Persephone. Spring Equinox demonstrates the literal and figurative rebirth of the characters, even though things will never be as they once were. Both women have survived, but they are changed. By telling this story in its human version, we honor the challenges of what mothers and their adult children face.

A Mother and a Daughter

In our society women and their daughters struggle. Mothers worry about their daughters growing up too soon and daughters yearn for freedom to be treated like they are older. It is argued that for thousands of years prior to the Golden Age of Greece, women wielded power as heads of financial institutions and spiritual leaders. The relationship between women might have been different. Our relationship with our children as they age can be different. The separation of mother and daughter in the Demeter myth, which yields the start of a new season, Autumn, shows the unfolding of the human drama, reminding us to let our children become adults. The steps along this path are sprinkled with the seeds of understanding.

Annual Rites

The myth of Demeter and Persephone was celebrated for over two thousand years in an annual rite called the Thesmophoria. A woman centered ritual, participants walked a fourteen mile pilgrimage over three days, chanting, praying, fasting and acting out the perennial myth of Persephone’s journey. At the end of the trek, the congregants shouted, “She is risen, She is risen.” Sound familiar? A Mother/Daughter religion plays precursor to a Father/Son religion.