I have just launched a small book, Poetry in Nature, which includes musings, poetry and images on the themes of transformation, connection and more in both inner and outer worlds.
In the first half of 2018, it was a delight to explore the rich territory of nature and poetry with Mary Lou van Schaik and my fellow wanderers during the course Nature’s Poetry
This was a lovely opportunity to connect with nature in a very focussed way. It also reconnected me with reading poetry and with my own poetic impulse. This in turn became something of a deep meditation on the transition between winter and spring.
After the course, a dear friend who had enjoyed some of my writing that emerged from it, asked ‘where’s the book?’
So I honoured what had felt to be a truly special experience for me by drawing together and slightly re-editing many of the posts and poems that I have already added to my Passage to Joy blog. These now form a slim volume, available from Blurb.
The book brings together poetry, musings and images around the themes of nature, connection, transformation, stewardship and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
compassion without the illusion and sentiment of youth
self-knowledge balanced with self-compassion
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.
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.
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
moment by moment rewriting
the relationship between ice and water
in patterns of constriction and release,
of return to rigidity, then surge and flood.
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.
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 . . .
I think there are multiple layers to the manifestation of inner seasons.
The internal season
On occasion in the past I have been very conscious of a specific internal season, particularly of winters of the soul as times of dormancy, retreat, grieving even. This is one layer and, from this perspective, I see myself now as in a transition from a winter that has been a time of mystery, of deep and subtle transformation, of stillness and silence, of hidden growth requiring patience and faith.
What has been interesting is that, in paying attention to the shift in nature these last weeks, I sense that it is not some human failing that we rarely transition smoothly; if this is the path nature takes then it seems to me that the two-steps forward one-step back dance is an inherent aspect of the character of change.
I see the land, still frozen, steeping in the thaw water that it is not yet ready to absorb, grungy, muddy, yet with hints of the possibility of spring. And I realize that I am content to live this within my own transition, to steep in a flood of insights that I am not yet fully able to soak up. I see the lake existing as thick white ice, clear glass and sparkling open water simultaneously and something inside me whispers ‘yes!’ in affirmation and recognition. In focusing on the subtleties and nuances of this time between winter and spring, I am newly comfortable in my own space of between.
Carrying all the seasons within
At another level, I am aware that I carry all the seasons within me, and can draw on the riches of each as I need or choose at any given time.
The turning of the year
Finally, there is the part of me that responds to the turning of the year, increasingly delighting in the changing rhythms that inform my living in both the exterior and interior worlds.
Now, in this time of increasing intimacy with both the natural and the inner world, each season, each new manifestation, each day of brilliant sunshine or unrelenting rain, each moment, is becoming equally precious. This is becoming almost as true for the seasons of the soul as those of the year’s turning. I try to sit with each, knowing that all things pass.