I've been working for a while on a post inspired by the lovely Lane (thank you, Lane!) about the relationship between women and the moon. I've found so much amazing stuff, that I can't do any justice to it as a single post, so this is Part One of the story.
I've really enjoyed looking at the whole Crone Goddess thing and it's got me thinking about 'the Crone' from the perspective of a feminist. I'll do a post about society's misjudgement and mistreatment of the crone on the new women's blog: Towards 2011.
A blog by women, about women and for women (but not to the exclusion of men), Towards 2011 is a way of promoting the centenary of International Women's Day in 2011.
It's a very new blog, but aliqot has already put up some great posts one of which triggered a conversation about wolf-whistles!
Check it out and leave a comment, or a suggestion about anything you'd like to see or do on there. We'd love to hear from you!
Women and the Moon (Part One): The Crone Goddess
The Crone Goddess, linked to the New Moon, is an excellent place to start - contrary to the popular image and concept of her as the goddess of death and destruction. In ancient times, the Crone Goddess was embodied by older woman, who were revered as keepers of wisdom, experienced healers and powerful symbols of creativity, transition and rebirth.
The crescent moon was most often associated with a virgin goddess like Artemis/Diana; the full moon, or 'pregnant' moon with a mother goddess like Juno; the new moon with a crone goddess, like Brigitte.
The Crone is the most misunderstood aspect of the Goddess/Woman. Often feared or reviled, she is most often associated with death, yet she is also a symbol of new life.
The Crone Goddess therefore often symbolises all three aspects of the Triple Goddess, as she is associated with three phases of the moon: the waning moon, the dark moon and the new moon.
All three of these moon phases are linked to wisdom. The dark moon is a time of particular power. The Crone Goddess was seen as both wise and powerful. Sadly, her powers have been diminished over the centuries; she has become misunderstood, feared and reviled. This negative perception of the Goddess beyond maidenhood and motherhood, has been transferred to women (or is it perhaps the other way around?)
Older women in our society, particularly post-menapausal women, are often seen as "past their sell-by-date." (Overheard quote passed on by an irate Juicy Lucy!) They are often referred to in derogatory terms such as "old hag" or even "old bag."
It seems the power of women is recognised only in youth and in child-bearing abilities. When women no longer have these, they are seen (they often see themselves) as having reduced powers.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth!
The Power of the Crone
The power of the crone lies in wisdom and experience; she is often referred to as the 'last' or 'final' aspect of a triparte goddess. However, in her representation of life and death, she in fact completes a cycle; she is an end and a beginning.
She is the cycle.
The death she symbolises is that which is necessary for rebirth, as Winter is necessary to Spring, in the same way that the new moon begins the waxing to full moon.
To value youth and productivity above wisdom and experience makes no sense. Yet it is the general attitude prevalent within modern Western society.
The Crone Goddess usually represents all three aspects of the goddess - maiden, mother and crone - just as older women, past the age of reproduction, still represent both the vibrancy of youth and the nurturing of motherhood. Wiser with her years, an older woman is experienced at being young and carefree, at being a mature woman and perhaps a mother, but is now adding extra experience, which adds to her richness.
She is more, not less.
We can all learn a thing or two from the Crone Goddess, who represents both negative and positive aspects of the Goddess and therefore of women; our dark selves. She is the complete Goddess as we strive to be complete, to balance all aspects of ourselves. As we strive to be recognised by others as complete beings, beyond the labels of society, beyond restrictions and constructs.
Women are beautiful, complex beings with amazing powers. The beauty, the complexity, the power increases as we grow older.
A Few Crone Goddesses
The Crone Goddess is represented in various forms in many mythologies and religions. Here are a few of my favourites:
It is important in the Hindu faith that Kali represents all aspects of the goddess:
"As a Goddess who rules over both life and death, the Dark Goddess or Crone holds within her all aspects of the Triple Goddess. She is the mature and aged Maiden and Mother, who possesses the wisdom and experiences of youth, adulthood and old age and who stands as a bridge between death and rebirth."
Kali is always represented wearing 50 skulls around her neck, each inscribed with a letter of the sanskrit alphabet, which are collectively known as the matrika (mothers.)
Kali is hideous and frightening. She is a warrior goddess. Yet she is also capable of dispensing grace to her followers. The Hindu faith teaches that creation and destruction arise from the same source.
As with all crone goddesses, Kali represents balance; the balance between birth and death, warrior and healer, creator and destroyer.
Hecate/Hekate - Greek Goddess
Hecate again represents all three aspects of the goddess, as Hekate Triformis, the goddess who rules over the three phases of the moon.
She is complex and awesome. Like Kali, she is also fierce and fiercesome, she is also called 'Agriope' meaning "savage face."
"She was the Goddess of the three-ways (crossroads), where she protected people from taking the wrong road. And she protected the Gates from any evil spirit to enter. She also guides travellers in general and sailors in particular. She held the keys to three roads: to Hades, to Heaven and to a lucky life on earth."
Today, Hecate is often viewed as 'the evil crone' but she is in fact a fantastic example of the complexity of all women. Early examples are of Hecate as a young maiden, others have her as a mother. She is in fact all these and so much more.
"... this distorted image originates in the twisted minds of those who fear Her power: Those sad souls who have lost their connection with the chthonic, who shun their own shadow, & fear what they do not understand. Even though some emphasise Hekate as ‘wise crone’, rather than scary ‘Dark Goddess’, the fact remains that most modern pagans are drawing on a view of Hekate that resulted from hundreds of years of misogynstic distortion.
Part of the fault lies with the modern need to classify everything. An influential variety of psychologies find it convenient to allocate the three roles of Maiden Mother and Crone to a Goddess energy that is actually far more complex. In the original story of Demeter, Persephone and Hekate there is no Crone, but psycho-pagan theory requires that there is, and because of historical misrepresentation, Hekate fits the bill."
In the same way, I suppose, as classifying young women as innocent maidens, mothers as nurturing and crones as wise, we deny the awesome power and beautiful complexity that lies within all women. I know a 25 year-old woman who is one of the wisest people I know. I know a 60 year-old woman who is one of the most vibrant and energetic people I know.
Lilith is represented in many different cultures. There may even be an indication of her in the Christian Bible. She is included in Jewish Mysticism and Hebrew Myth:
"Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offence at the recumbent posture he demanded. 'Why must I lie beneath you?' she asked. 'I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal.' Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him."
"Originally the Sumero-Babylonian Goddess Belit-Ili, Lilith was Adam's first wife who refused to be submissive to him, according to ancient Hebrew myth. She stole power from Yahweh, grew wings and flew to the Red Sea where she remained. This myth reflects the attempts of the patriarchal nomadic invaders to subjugate the agricultural people of the Great Goddess religions."
The Morrigan - Celtic Goddess of Battle
The Morrigan is a warrior, but she is also protector and healer. A Celtic goddess of war, death and justice, she is the epitome of crone as symbol of the full circle of life.
She is crone and "shining tall woman," she is a goddess of life as well as death, she is a shape-shifter, beyond limitations and labels.
The Morrigan was another tripartate or Triple Goddess: Badb, Macha, and Nemain. In the form of a raven or a crow, she flew above battles and chose her souls from among the soldiers who were fighting, returning once the battle was finished to lead them away.
"The Morrigan known in Irish legend and mythology as a red-haired goddess of battle and pro-creation, often appearing in triple form. She combined the threshold energies of life and death, sexuality and conflict in one terrifying goddess."
She is a healer as well as a bringer of death. Represented by Morgan le fay, she dooms Arthur to his death, then takes him to Avalon to heal him.
Baba Yaga - Slavic Crone Goddess
Baba Yaga is Witch, Crone and Archetype and, in many ways, she is very relevant to today's women:
"The story of Baba Yaga is prime among many images of the Black Goddess. The Black Goddess is at the heart of all creative processes and cannot be so easily viewed. Men and women rarely approach her, except in fear. Women are learning of her through the strength and boldness of elder women who are not afraid to unveil her many faces."
A friend of mine told me about Neil Gaiman of Sandman fame and his tale of Baba Yaga and her hut on chicken legs.
(There's a long list of Crone Goddesses on The Goddess Guide.)
Embracing the Dark Goddess
Winter is the season of the Crone Goddess. She is associated with the colour black, the colour of death and grief. Yet black is also associated with power, elegance, strength and authority. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown.
The Crone Goddess is said to help with "the ending of things (quitting a job, divorce, etc.), moving out of a home, extreme protection or retribution (assault, abuse), passing through menopause, or dealing with a death."
Female energy represented by the Crone Goddess is wild and unrestrained, often intensely emotional and chaotic. Men and women alike have been taught to fear this energy.
"The Crone is instinctual in her actions, but this does not mean that they have a lesser purpose than those of the male gods. It is because she is instinctual and emotional that she is able to guide us through the mysteries which may not be fully understood and yet can still be known. The realm of dead, magic and the unknown can best be known by one who does not rationally think of them but instead allows them to be revealed without conscious thought with the aid of the Goddess."
The Power of the Crone
Reclaiming the word "crone" empowers women:
"Crone, hag, and witch once were positive words for old women. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and witch comes from wit meaning wise. Crones, hags, and witches frequently were leaders, midwives and healers in their communities. The meanings of these three words, however, were distorted and eventually reversed during the 300 years of the Inquisition when the male-dominated church wanted to eliminate women holding positions of power. Women identified as witches, who were often older women, i.e. crones and hags, were tortured and burned, and the words witch, crone, and hag took on the negative connotations that continue in our language. The Crone Movement, however, is re-claiming the positive meanings of these words."
The crone is also seen in a positive light in traditional Chinese Medicine:
"Perimenopause and menopause are significant experiences for women, both physically and emotionally. Ideally, menopause can feel like a natural evolution from the previous roles of daughter, and/or wife/mother. In the psychology of symbolic archetypes, the menopausal woman is represented by the Crone. The Crone does not imply that a woman will be withered. Rather, she is at a point in her life in which she is less reliant on others, and less concerned about their opinions about her. Hecate, the Crone, evolves from the two Grecian mythical figures used to represent other stages of a woman's life in Jungian psychology: Persephone, the passive, obedient daughter, and Ceres, the devoted and nurturing mother. The Crone brings as her gifts independence, a salty sense of humor, and hard-earned wisdom. Nor is this stage necessarily a time of waning sexuality. Some women actually feel more relaxed about sex, and experience more enjoyment. Menopausal women who are healthy and nurture themselves, can radiate an accepting sensuality, and look great, as well."
The symbol most often associated with the crone goddess is the triple moon: "The triple moon is a Goddess symbol representing the Maiden, Mother, and Crone aspects as the waxing, full, and waning moon. The triple moon symbol is associated with feminine mystery, energy and psychic skill, and often adorned jewellery worn by High Priestesses."
SpiralSkies explains that the wisdom of the crone is that of perfect harmony and balance:
"Once in a Blue Moon, all things come into perfect harmony and balance. . . . . We are living in a time when such a thing is possible. . . . The wisdom of the Crone is emerging. Ancient wisdom from many lands is revealing itself, moving, connecting and blending, as never before. . . . The Crone teaches lessons of patience, using resources wisely, and compassion. We can open ourselves to total transformation, if we listen."
If you are a crone (of any age), check out the fab resources at Croning.org:
"For millennia women’s wisdom was honored; crones were revered. Today women are reclaiming the identity and status of the ancient crone. We are coming of age, accessing our wisdom and acting upon it. Croning is the process of becoming active wise women.
Croning can begin at any age and is particularly relevant for women 45 and older. Personal experiences of aging and ageism provide the impetus to recognize and reverse the negative images (internal and external) of old women. We can activate our potential as wisdom carriers and guardians of the future by learning of our ancient crone heritage, honoring the cycles and seasons, respecting the web of life.
Engaged in the process of Croning, we can act in ways that embody the changes we want to take place in the world, in our communities, families, relationships, and within ourselves. When we apply our wisdom to effect positive change, we improve our own lives and leave a legacy for future generations."