Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Surprise - Crone Lore

Picture Courtesy of Lora Craig-Gaddis, SciFi Fantasy Art

It's June. Summer approaches, the weather has (mostly) gotten warmer, and we are looking forward to the "lazy days of Summer". Granted, most of us have to work, be it at a job outside of the home, or as a stay at home parent, but Summer still offers a plethora of opportunities for enjoyment and relaxation - theoretically, at least.

But all too soon Summer will pass to Fall, then to Winter, as the Wheel of the World turns. With the ending of Fall, and the coming of Winter, comes the time of the Crone. The Crone, in my opinion, is (or should be) the most revered of the faces of the Lady. She has survived maidenhood, excelled at motherhood, and has now earned the right to be respected and honored. She has gained knowledge over the years, and is a wonderful source of advice & ideas.

Many, however fear the Crone, and even more becoming the Crone in their world. I for one look forward to that day! No more will I have to be subject to the whims of my body, and I will have earned the right to be a crotchety old bitch if I feel like it :)

The Crone is also a representation of the "darker" side of the Goddess. Death & Destruction are part of her domain. The Crone Moon is also the Dark Moon, when magic of a darker aspect should be performed. Bindings, banishings, endings. While many refuse to acknowledge that in order for there to be Light or "good", there must also be a Dark or "bad" it doesn't change the reality. The Crone is the Goddess aspect that should be addressed when we need to do any of these things. Awakening the dark side is a great responsibility, and banishings are best when performed "with harm to none." However, we do have the right to protect ourselves from those who would harm us, and sometimes it is necessary to perform Bindings, or spells to stop someone from destructive
behavior, or healings to change their consciousness. But spells involve our own energies, and in a way we become a part of the one upon whom we are casting our magic.

Interference with free will is wrong, unless in dire emergency. In most cases it is best to have the consent of all involved. We become what we hate, even as we become what we love, and people who spend all their energies grappling with the evils of the world may find that they eventually become the very things that they rail against.

In an attempt to change the opinions of many about the Crone, I am going to provide what information I have on the lore associated with Her, and with "cronehood." This information is taken in part from both Waning Moon and The Coming of The Crone.

As Summer and Fall approach, the Mother Goddess takes rule as the Goddess of the full moon and Summer season which moves towards Fall. The Mother Goddess is the life-giver and nurturer of the Earth and her people. The waning and new moon are the symbols of the Crone or Dark Goddess. She is the older Goddess who is full of the wisdom and experience of life and death. The Fall and Winter are the seasons of her reign where the circle of life moves towards and through the stage of death. She rules the Underworld, which is a place for all spirits no matter what their earthly behavior had been. Monotheistic theology transformed what the concept of the Underworld was into the more commonly known Hell full of everlasting torments. Pagan belief still holds true to the initial concept of the Underworld as a place for all to rest and prepare for physical rebirth.

When someone says the word "Witch," the Crone in her modern depiction is the image which will most likely appear in one's mind. But it must be understood how patriarchal society and monotheism has portrayed the general idea of the Witch in such a negative manner because in a society where the patriarchy rules, the Powerful Woman is seen as a threat. The Witch is strong, wise and self-sufficient if she so chooses to be. The image of spinster is often connected to the Crone. In its derogatory aspect of "old maid" it has been used to oppress those women who chose not to marry or bear children, or those who are forced by circumstance to remain single. Again we see the prejudice that loves only the wedded and birthing aspects of woman, and despises the singular independent woman who knows her own power. The Crone possesses all of these wonderful qualities, along with a lifetime of experiences and encounters to draw from. She holds within her the greatest mystery of all which is the mystery of death and of the afterlife. Visual representations of the Crone Goddesses are usually frightening in appearance. She is the Wicked Witch who is seen in abundance during Halloween, in fairy tales and in the movies. Because of her frightening appearance, she is often feared and ignored by pagans who see her as being evil and destructive.

She is not, however, someone to fear, but a helpful and insightful guide who should be called upon to aid us in confronting our fears and feelings of being powerless. For pagan men, study and encounters with the Crone can help in understanding the strength and emotion of women as well as getting in touch with men's own feminine natures.

Masculine and Feminine energies are both extremely powerful, but significantly different in their qualities. When viewed through the myths of masculine heroes, masculine energy is a force with strategy and purpose. It is represented by the hero who plans his actions and takes a logical and rational progression towards his goal. Feminine energy differs in that, as seen through the myths of the Crone Goddesses, it is often intensely emotional and chaotic. Kali dances the wild Dance of Death without logical reason and Lilith mates and murders often indiscriminately. 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.

When one is overwhelmed by emotions, fears and the desire to take actions which may not seem logical, the Crone Goddess can be called upon to guide and aid in understanding the darker desires one may have. A woman cannot fully understand herself and a man cannot fully understand Woman or his own feminine nature without understanding the Crone. As a holder of the deepest mysteries, the Crone is an obvious choice for those wishing to understand magic and ritual as well as the art of divination. The Crone knows all phases of the circle of life, death and rebirth and is therefore able to disclose that which we as mortals may not foresee and also aid in molding energy so that it may manifest into our desired goals. It would be appropriate to call the Crone the Goddess of the Witches for these reasons.

Maiden-Mother-Crone is a three, and therefore becomes a circle, through which we can flow around and around forever, as do all the natural rhythms of the universe. The foremost interpretation of this trinity is that of Birth, Life, and Death, a perpetual cycle of experience. In order to fully understand the Goddess, we must understand all aspects of her. 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.

The Crone is the third and final aspect of the three-fold goddess. She is the dark moon, the wintertime, old age and knower of mysteries. She is associated with the color black, death, and transformation. The Crone time brings the harvest of experience, when we reap the accumulated benefits of all that we have learned. We begin our crone phase with the first appearance of silver hair, and embark with her fully with the coming of menopause. The Crone is a teacher or wise one, sometimes called the "wayshower" as she shines the light of wisdom for all to see. She passes her learning on to the next generations, thereby giving roots and continuity to cultural tradition. She brings patience and seasoning to the raising of children, healing of the sick, and the deciding of community issues. The Crone has many names and is included in the pantheons of many cultures. Cerridwen, Baba Yaga, Wind Woman, Morag, Hag o' the Mill, and Morrigan. She is Kali in India, Hekate in ancient Greece, Eresh-Kigal in Sumeria, Morgana in Britian and Lilith in the Near East. She is associated with the cat, the snake, and psychedelic herbs.

In myth and legend the Crone is often seen with her great black cauldron, stirring up brews for magical transformation or bringing the dead back to life. She appears in many fairytales with a gift of wisdom for those who will receive with reverence. She is the fairy godmother who has just what we need to overcome the obstacles in our Paths. She is the old woman of the woods, who lives alone in a humble cottage and can teach many secrets. In Native American tradition she is Wind Woman or Medicine Woman, and heals both body and soul with her knowledge of magic and herbs. In The Sleeping Beauty she is the thirteenth fairy whose rejection causes Beauty's hundred years of sleep. She is as necessary and integral to our lives as the Maiden and the Mother

The Crone is a knower of mysteries, secrets of existence, or hidden things. She presides in the dream worlds, guiding us through the unconscious labyrinths of our deep minds. She teaches us the symbolism of our dreams and helps us to understand and shape them to our choosing. Along with the dream worlds, the Crone guides us into the land of memories and the past. Some say that memory is the only treasure we can carry with us into the next world. Our memories are precious indeed, teaching us the many lessons of experience, and aiding us in making decisions for the future. As the wheel of life turns again and again, we begin to recognize what we have known before, and to plan or rearrange our responses, so as to create a different outcome. Thus the Crone becomes the Seer or prophetess, as her skill in recalling the past guides her in divining the future. The association of loneliness with old age is a common one. A wise crone understands the power that can be attained in solitude. She knows that all-one-ness is the true meaning of being alone, and is actually what the word "alone" is made of. The Crone teaches us to withdraw from the world to find peace and sustenance for our return journey into the struggles of living.

The Underworld, realm of the Crone is defined by lack - no lover, no relatives, no clothes, no decent food, no sympathy. That is a place all of us go, sometimes. The abyss. Nothingness. We would rather not be there. But do we get nothing from going there? I think when we face nothingness we see in heightened relief what defines us. For some, it is our love for our children. For some, it is the value of our work. Against the grey, the colors of our lives stand sharp, and we learn why to stay alive. Or not. One thing is certain: The Crone's realm is nowhere to tell white lies. Some people come to the edge and throw themselves off. We may not think their reasons good, we may wish them back, but they are gone. That is part of what is.

Fear is part of her insignia. She's the handmaiden of death. It is right that as warm-blooded living creatures we fear death - along with feeling curiosity and, possibly, acceptance. None of us can be positive what will happen when we enter that country, from which no one returns to report. We can learn ways to approach death; we can learn ways to transcend our fear. But before we transcend it, we must recognize and honor it. In her webbed hands She holds death toward us, a cat's cradle of soft black yarn. It is no wonder that the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess is the most feared and misunderstood. She represents the most frightening aspects of our humanity; destruction and death, fears we have yet to face and mysteries that we have yet to know. While most of us would love to dwell in the youth and light of the Maiden and Mother Goddesses, we cannot deny the Crone's presence. Though we may try to push her to the backs of our minds, the Crone makes herself known by emerging in the horrifying forms of our nightmares and deepest fears. But it is only because most of us dread to look her in the eyes that she emerges in such terrifying forms. If we could learn to truly face her and therefore our own dark natures, we would see that she holds within her the wisdom and strength which we need to heal ourselves emotionally and to become more spiritually complete.

In facing the Crone, we face death, despair and destruction and honor them, because they are part of all that is. Despair, depression and death can be honored as a gift, and not just in a superficial chirpy way that assumes they can thus be placated and avoided. No life exists without death. No light exists without darkness. No colors play without the abyss to show them up.

But the Crone is also helpful in understanding the death processes and in dealing with the grief over the loss of a loved one. Since she rules the Underworld, she has knowledge of these areas which we least understand. When we approach old-age, the Crone is there to comfort and guide us to a better acceptance of this stage of life. It is for all of these reasons that the Crone should not be feared or denied. She should be faced and recognized as one of the balancing forces of nature and as a means to balance the spiritual natures within ourselves.

All of us are, or will be, crones one day. We can choose to work on our expectations and images of old age, and do what we can to ensure that we grow old with the grace of the goddess. We do not have to resign ourselves to ill health and loneliness, or dreary conformity, especially if we begin now to develop positive images for the future. By the same token we have the option to connect with crones living in our communities. We can reach out to them, make friends, find the love and the wonder that are there to be shared. And if we are crones, we don't have to isolate ourselves; we can reach out too! Older women are often isolated and ignored, shelved in old age homes, suspected of evil doings. During the Burning Times a single older woman was automatically assumed to be wicked, and in those days accusation was synonymous with condemnation. "Old" has become synonymous with "ugly," and old people are considered no longer worthy of love or sexual desire. It is time we begin to see beauty in the aging process, the wrinkles that tell the stories of our lives, the silver hair that crowns us with honor.

Ideally, the crone times of our lives are the most fulfilling and powerful of all. In an enlightened society we would be consulted for our wisdom, relied upon for our psychic attunement. The appearance of silver hair would be a crown of honor instead of a sign of shame.

To be old is to be kissed
By the moon ...

For those of us who worship the Triple Goddess, whether or not we fear the uncomfortableness of Her piercing, discerning gaze, it is time for us to bid welcome to the coming of the Crone. For us, All Hallows is preeminently the Sabbat of the Crone, and when She is invoked, the practitioners of the Old Ways dare to enter the somber solemnities of the Supernatural which lie solely within Her domain. This is the time known among the pre-Christian Celts as Samhain, the Season of the Dead, and ironically, the beginning of their New Year. For those of us who follow the Lady's Path, it signals the beginning of the reign of the Dark Goddess of Winter, the Crone-Queen of the Ghostworld. From open field to secluded wood, and in a thousand dwellings far and wide, the Queen of the Dead will hear the secret revel of the Witches, everywhere blending in strains of unearthly harmony as they invoke Her, the Night-Crone of the Crossroads

Outside, in the local, secular, American world, Halloween is the time of the Crone. Along with black cats, skeletons, ghosts, jack o' lanterns and brooms, cardboard old women with green and warty faces, joints connected by brass pins, hang on doors and windows all around us. They're drawn in special paint on grocery-store fronts. Caricatures of witches; crones. The time of the Crone, the harvest moon, the pumpkin lantern, the mask and the idea of witches. They helped make me a witch. So let the cardboard Crone dangle, in her black Puritan hat, or better yet draw Her as you like. But tell the kids why She's scary.

*****I'd like to add a bit of personal opinion here. Many modern day pagans are offended by the depiction of the Halloween Witch, or Crone, as an ugly, bent-backed, gap-toothed, green-faced, scary hag. I am not. I embrace that image as a reminder of the freedoms I enjoy today, and of the horrible things that (hopefully) will never happen again. This is a realistic depiction of our ancestors and ancestresses.

Oh my! I've just pissed off a whole bunch of people!

But let's stop and think for a few minutes. During the horrid times of the witch hunts and the Inquisition, there were no video cameras, there were no cameras of any kind. Any pictorial depictions of news were hand drawn. The hangings and burnings were heavily covered by the media of the day, and the "witches" were shown being taken to the gallows or stake. Now, it wasn't really news until they were convicted, right? No one was there to record the events of the arrest...But carrying out of sentences was usually a festival atmosphere. All the "media" of the day was in attendance. And of course the trip to the place of execution would be recorded - being taken through the crowds, jeers, weeping of the convicted.

Now here's my point. Usually when these women, and men, were arrested, they were normal citizens. Clean, decently clad, perhaps slightly overweight, whole and healthy - for the times. Then they were taken to a filthy, vermin infested cell, lacking even the basic necessities such as light, heat, fresh air, a place to void their bowels, a way to cleanse themselves, and left there. For weeks. Or months. Fed rotten food, if they were fed at all. Beaten. Tortured. They had their feet broken or burned, their fingernails torn out, teeth forcibly removed - all in an effort to get them to "confess."

Once they did confess, they were then paraded through a crowd of people - one time friends and family for many - as they were led to their deaths. This is what the media recorded. These are the images of these poor people that were retained for posterity. Seriously now, how do you think they looked? How do you think you would look? Maybe like an ugly, bent-backed, green-faced, scary hag? Unable to walk, because the bones in both feet are broken? Hunched over because you've had various metal & wooden items inserted into bodily orifices? Gap-toothed, due to having teethe removed with pliers? Green-faced due to all the bruises from the beatings received? Do you think even a beautiful twenty year old woman could suffer all of that and not look like a hag..?

Some witches militate against this version of crone as a negative stereotype, and I understand this fight. Neither do I want to be reduced to some half-mad figure leering into the steam of a cauldron plotting evil, perhaps worshipping Jehovah's dark twin. I have no interest in turning anyone into a frog (usually - although I do have a spell to accomplish turning someone toadlike...). I appreciate the efforts of those who've worked to de-demonize the Craft. But for me this does not involve taking the crones off the grocery store windows. Rather the opposite.

This is one one of the things that will piss me off quicker than anything - to hear a "pagan" or "witch" complain about these "decorations." I say hang 'em high and often, so the self-righteous, narrow-minded, judgement people of today can view them with shame. Not that they will, but they should...

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