The season of the Crone

This is the witching time of year, the season of the Crone!

In ancient times, the Goddess as Crone or ‘Queen of Witches’ ruled the autumn harvest festivals. Hekat in Egypt, Hecate in Greece, Latin Proserpina, Semitic Lilith with her sacred totem the owl, Celtic Cailleach, Welsh Cerridwen – these are just a few of the many manifestations of the  Crone Goddess.

The words we use

It is interesting that many of the words we apply to Crones have been twisted from their original meanings to represent something vile, ugly or evil. Hag derives from the Greek ‘hagia’, meaning ‘holy one’. There is little agreement as to the derivation of witch, but suggestions include the ancient Indo-European word ‘weik’, which connects to religion and magic; the Anglo-Saxon witega, a prophet or seer; a relationship to wit, or wisdom;  a root meaning ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’.  Some people believe that the word Crone is rooted in the meaning ‘crowned one’, though standard etymology still has it as a Middle English term of abuse.

The Golden Bough - by Jeroen van Valkenburg (This picture could represent the triple aspect of the Wiccan Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The three manifestations are symbols of the cycle of life, of reincarnation and of the three phases of the human life.)

Halloween and Samhain

Halloween has its roots in these ancient traditions, particularly Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) Samhain is the most important of the Celtic festivals, the end of one year and start of the next.

It is a day on which to remember, to commune with and honour the dead. At the same time it was a celebration of the eternal cycle of rebirth.

It is a time of endings, of coming to terms with the many small deaths, the losses that are part of every life. But it is also a time of beginning, of transition and change. It is a time to go within, a time to come to know yourself, to celebrate the growth you have realized over this last cycle and release all that was in preparation for what will be.

Samhain night exists outside time and between worlds, deeply rooted in mystery and enchantment.

Visual exploration of the season of the crone
A visual exploration of the season of the Crone, October 2010, research for the Halloween ‘Crone’ I created

Crone nature

As an archetype, the Crone assists us in transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and entering the next, hence her association with Samhain.

I find this illuminating as to the nature of the Crone. For me it creates a sense of her as a midwife of the soul. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go if we are to move on.

 Looking back at the my visual exploration of the crone in 2010, I love the idea of the season of the Crone as a time to harvest experience and to become a way-shower.

In her article The Ancient CroneAnya Silverman describes the Crone as

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’.

A Crone is a woman burnished bright by an inner fire that sharpens both her wit and her intensity, her passion and her power.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her wonderful book Crones Don’t Whine, notes that ‘to be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance’. She writes of the Crone as a potential,

much like an inherent talent, that needs to be recognized and practiced in order to develop. This wise presence in your psyche will grow, once you trust that there is a crone within and begin to listen. Then in the quiet of your own mind, pay attention to her perceptions and intuitions and act upon them. Crone qualities are the distinguishing features by which a crone (as a woman or an archetype) can be known.

 

Crone qualities

As I embrace my own season of the Crone, I have been exploring and considering what Crone qualities I would wish to make manifest in my life. These include

  • earned wisdom
  • compassion without the illusion and sentiment of youth
  • non-judgement
  • inner beauty
  • confidence
  • honesty
  • authenticity
  • self-knowledge balanced with self-compassion
  • humour
  • courage

Jean Shinoda Bolen’s list has an earthy practicality that offers some useful guidance. She says Crones

  • don’t whine and don’t indulge their whining inner child;
  • are juicy – and what makes life juicy is being deeply involved in life;
  • have green thumbs – they nurture growth, weed well, prune and build strong boundaries;
  • trust what they know in their bones – they transform their bad experiences into wisdom and embrace mystery;
  • meditate in their fashion, developing heartfulness and nurturing inner life;
  • are fierce about what matters to them – a crone is a woman who has found her voice;
  • choose the path with heart, understanding that choosing one path means giving up another;
  • speak the truth with compassion, increasingly knowing when to speak and what to say;
  • listen to their bodies, responding to their needs and hearing the underlying messages between the emotional and physical body;
  • improvise, adapting to change;
  • don’t grovel – for approval, love, acceptance;
  • laugh together, the deep belly laughs that come from a well of feeling;
  • savor the good in their lives, knowing how fortunate they are still to be alive.

Embracing the role of modern Crone

In an awesome blog post, The Rise of the Modern Crone, Diana Frajman suggests that

It takes a woman with an understanding of two of the most basic of human needs to evolve into a modern Crone. Those needs are connection and community.

She suggests that it is only with an understanding of connection that wisdom can have an impact and goes on to define the role of modern Crone:

. . .  This is an amazing time to embrace your inner Crone. More than ever the world needs the comfort and certainty that wisdom and experience from a life well lived can give. The voice of expertise and mastery combined with the sageness of maturity and wisdom assures us that there is hope. We need these enlightened guides to bring us safely into the future. That is the role of the new modern Crone.

What a challenge!

Meditating today, I remembered the sense of metamorphosis as I emerged from the stage of maiden to mother.  I had a vivid image of pouring all the learning, the experiences, the insights from my life into a great cauldron set amongst the flames and brewing an elixir of transfiguration.  I was aware of the Crone as the most powerful embodiment of the feminine, freed from earlier responsibilities and constraints, connected to mystery and a kind of primal wildness.

I am excited to embrace the season of the Crone,  to discover in myself its potential and consciously to recognize and practice those ways of being that manifest it most fully.

 

Transformation, mystery and water

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

~ John O’Donohue

I look out onto my beloved lake as it transforms, very visibly, from the illusory immobility of ice to its fluid state and I listen to what it has to tell me.

Water is the true stuff of life,
The deep mystery at the centre of all that is.

Water exists in a continuous state of flow,
a constant state of transformation.

Confronted by heat or cold, it turns shape-shifter;
mysterious mists weave their enchantments,
clouds build castles in the air,
Jack Frost traces ferns across the glass,
the land is pelted by hail and graupel,
and blanketed by a quilt of snow.

The lake freezes and, later, thaws;
watching the ice come in and leave
teaches me patience with the ebb and flow,
the unseen nature of transformation.
After days of retreat and revelation
a clear sheet forms over the returned water,
once – oh joy! – with the exquisite,
unexpected blooming of frost flowers.

Yet the process of change
continues inexorably,
moment by moment rewriting
the relationship between ice and water
in patterns of constriction and release,
of return to rigidity, then surge and flood.

Transformation exists
in every moment.
What is now
is not the same as what just was
or will be.

Out on the lake,
the ice lets go as we watch;
the clouds race across
the new-blue sky
casting shadow spells
or float in the emerging reflective stillness.

Clouds on ice and water

Beneath all is the constancy of water
and a process of transformation
without beginning or end.

Water is the true stuff of life,
but life is all transformation!

 

My inner transformation,
in this body that is more than 60% water,
is similarly complex.

There is much that goes unseen.
Just when it seems the ice is melting,
something inside rigidifies once more.

There are moments of unexpected joy and light,
but also times of constriction and the flood of overwhelm.

The lake reminds me that 
all is unfolding, in its own time,
exactly as it should.

As I embrace my own transitions,
may I remember that this moment is all that I have,
is all that I am or need to be.
Let me inhabit it fully,
wrap it round me like silk
then allow it to slip away . . .

Lake in transition

Not ‘still’ winter – perhaps the deepest transformation

When I look out at the white expanse of frozen lake, I no longer see winter as a small death, a time of darkness, a pause for breath.

I see a continual and wondrous process of transformation!

Ice is not static, but constantly changing.

In early winter’s deep cold, it was confusing that, this year, the ice seemed slower to come in. But with the cold came blankets of snow.

Each rock or dock intruding into the ice creates its own disruption.

Sometimes there is just whiteness, sometimes pools of lavender; sometimes the smoke that isn’t smoke billows around the islands. There are times of diamond brightness. Sometimes the world disappears.

Even in the heart of winter, somewhere, unseen, life goes on beneath the surface, even if I only know this by the presence in spring of turtles, frogs and fish.

The slow seeping of water bubbling out of the ground seeks its way through the ice creating a path – or a fault line?

A fallen oak leaf, absorbing light rather than reflecting it like the white surface that surrounds it, carves out space around itself.

 

What astonishes me is not just the overt shift from the fluidity of water to the apparent solidity of ice; nor is it the the purity and clarity of unbroken white, the illusion of stillness.

It is the awareness of a profound process of constantly occurring change.

Perhaps winter’s is the deepest transformation of all.

 
Snow-down

Snow Meditation 

Snow falls silently as large crystals,
each, unimaginably, different, unique;
remains like goose-down,
softly blowing.

With thaw, the feathers congeal.

Freeze creates of them
a crisp shell,
hard and resonant.

Then, nothing.

March 2018

Flexing very stiff poetry muscles, exploring eternal life

In a still very tentative flexing of underused poetry muscles, the idea behind the poem below came to me so vividly that it had to be written, even if not well! It speaks to a sudden deep internal awareness that particles are more or less constant in the universe; so all of us, in a way, have an eternal existence.

Eternal Life

When my human days are done

and I walk the path of the long goodbye

I will not be gone.

 

Will some particle of me take form

in rock or stone,

ruby’s heart or emerald’s gleam?

 

Or will my flash of green and red,

touched with gold,

draw your eye to the blur of hummingbird wings?

 
Lake and sky
 
 
Within the flow, catching the light

of the lake’s constant changing –

Is it there I’ll be?

 

Perhaps, in the creaking of branches

and the susurration of leaves,

you’ll sense a trace of me still.

 

Or maybe I’ll be a sprinkling

of stardust on indigo

somewhere far out in the universe.

 

It’s somehow comforting to know

that the particles that make up ‘I’

may scatter, but they (almost) never die!

 

February 7, 2018

 

I wrote my first poem before I could actually transcribe the words onto paper.

Then, in my teens, poetry and my deep connection to the natural world saved my sanity in an era when no-one considered the impact of significant loss and grief on an adolescent.

Every now and again, amid the roller-coaster demands of just living a life, the poetic impulse has bubbled briefly to the surface.

Now it feels as if it is time once again to tap into this part of me. But oh how rusty I feel, how hard it is not to become self-conscious, to lose the flow, to try too hard or not enough – I’m not yet sure which!

 

Flying Free

Monarch Butterfly

A dear friend gifted me with the wonder of a Monarch butterfly chrysalis – exquisite in its own right; blue green, studded with gold. But the gist of his gift was the opportunity to witness the process of transformation.

We hung the ribbon to which the pupa was attached above our dining table, watched it through breakfast and checked back regularly over the course of the day. Needless to say, we missed the moment of transformation, which must have taken place between 6 and 8pm!

It struck me that this suited the metaphor of our own transformations extraordinarily well. We are rarely fully aware of a single moment of transition from one stage to another. Only in hindsight is the shift apparent.

Of course, the truth is that transformation is not a single moment – for a Monarch Butterfly or a human being. It is a continuous, lifelong process, punctuated by periods of struggling to break free of what we have been and those wondrous, joyous times when we find new wings!

Thank you, Real, for a beautiful gift.