She cackles and crows, her sounds call to me. Sounds that vibrate within. I feel a quickening that pierces my soles, moves up from my toes, through my spine into my pelvis. I am a cauldron of fire, the vapors spreading within. I am moved to dance, to swirl. As I turn in a dervish of sacred dance, I look to the mirror. Looking back is the image of an old, old woman. She stares at me, through me and back again. Her dark eyes tell me that my time is coming. “Prepare yourself!” I almost hear her say. I am startled. Then, as quietly and mysteriously as she appeared, she is gone. This old, old one–the Crone– is a harbinger of what is yet to come.
A decade later she comes to me again. This time I invoke her, call her to me on this special occasion. Incense wafting, curling up my nose. I inhale deeply, lifted to another state of being. Candles flicker and the procession moves toward me. It is the celebration of my 50th year and my initiation into the last phase of womanhood.
The women enter the sacred temple, created out of my transformed workspace, each carrying a candle denoting the bearer’s phase of womanhood. White is symbolic of the premenstrual, virgin-maiden; menstrual red the procreative, mother-adult woman, and black for the postmenopausal, crone-elder. The circle forms, revisited over the millennia. Introducing myself as the daughter of Adelaide and the granddaughter of Sara, we each say the names of our maternal Mother and Grandmother, re-connecting to our personal and collective matrilineal ancestry.
This is not an isolated incident. Mass Croneings are taking place from Coast to Coast. Women come forth, in similar circles, proclaiming their Cronehood, one after another. This is no witches’ coven; no black magic is conjured up. It is a time of reverence for a major transition. And this elevated state is no longer limited to women over 70; now “Baby Crones” are being initiated as they turn 50 or so.
As the last wave of female Baby Boomers edges further into midlife, they are at first grasping, then demanding, that patriarchal definitions of an older woman be redefined. They are not satisfied with the traditional dictionary definition of a Crone as withered old woman, a beast-hag creature. This is, indeed, a term of abuse!
Now, many women are reaching back in history to claim a lost female identity that views women in a positive light. Mythological defined, she is the Wise One, the one who knows. Personified in myth by Hecate, Medusa, and Kali Ma she carries the darker mysteries. As La Lobe and Sophia, she represents Mother of all. Whatever persona she embodies, she is our midwife into life, death and rebirth mysteries. She is both the creator and destroyer of life.
In my search for the elusive phantom-like Crone of the mirror, I have come to find that Cronehood is not limited by chronological age, but is rather a summation of feminine life experience. The onset of midlife accelerates the emergence of this aspect of womanhood. Menopause may be the initiatory bridge into Crone time.
In the olden times, the Crone represented the post-menopausal time of a women’s life. It was believed that women became very wise when they no longer shed the lunar wise blood, but kept it within. Perhaps now, as then, it is these women who will serve to midwife us into this last phase of life’s journey. Ultimately, the taking on of the mantle of Crone is a sign of a personal transformation of great magnitude created from each woman’s soul journey.
The symbol of the old woman is the most widespread archetypal personification in the world. In fairytales, she is portrayed as an old hag witch, as in Hansel and Gretel or as the kindly wise archangel, as portrayed by Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. In our culture, the image of the powerful child-eating witch is conjured up when referring to an older woman’s power. The innate fear around this power is residual from the burning times. As Jung pointed out, when the figure of the Virgin Mary became most important, society was cut off from the Great Mother’s shadowy destructive side, and then the witch burnings took place. All that was denied and repressed was projected onto women, especially those older women who lived their womanpower as healers, midwives, teachers and guides.
The kindlier version of the Crone has kept us jailed in the invisible background. Banding together to reclaim both aspects of the Crone, women are beginning to mobilize for change. It is this shadow aspect that Hecate of Greek mythology carries. She is the third aspect of the Triple Goddess and is most well-known as Goddess of the Crossroads. She guides us as we come to choose points on our life journey and she acts as midwife for our life, death and rebirth. In the story of Persephone, the abducted daughter of Demeter, Hecate is the one who accompanies the virgin-maiden when she returns each year from the underworld.
If Cronehood has no proscribed steps and is not suddenly conferred based on age or ritual, then what does it hold for us as maturing women and as a society undergoing great chaos? As a symbolic summation of feminine life experience, the Crone may be more a state of being than a time of life or specific age. True Cronehood may be bestowed on those women who serve as our teachers, healers and guides to our inner spiritual terrain. And, as we move towards our individual and collective crossroads, they are the wise ones who guard the vision for the future of our children and our planet.
The work of the Crone today is not very different than that of our historic mythological role models. Cronework can unfold in many ways. What remains the same over the millennia is that Crones are motivators and activators bringing forth life affirming moral wisdom. Rooted in tradition and values passed on generation to generation, they are the ultimate truth tellers.
As guides bearing the light of truth on our inner dimensions and as midwifes to death’s door, these wise ones have learned to tend the fire in their own bellies. They are moved to their Soulwork in answer to the Old One’s cackle and caw at major crossroads in their own lives.