Reclaiming the Crone
In today’s society, postmenopausal women are often negatively portrayed as crones.
An infamous example would be the iconic Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, with her putrid green skin, crooked nose, warts, pointy chin, and shrill laugh, who wants to destroy the beautiful young Dorothy.
Another would be the witches in the movie Hocus Pocus, who chase down teenagers in an attempt to drain their youth and life force, making the witches younger and more beautiful. What underscores both of these tales is the idea that youth is innocent, therefore desirable, but to be old, is to be evil and undesirable.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of crone is a withered old woman. And hag, which is often used synonymously, is an ugly, slatternly, or evil-looking woman.
In no uncertain terms, crone is an insult and there’s no male counterpoint to the word. In essence, simply being an old woman is offensive, even threatening. Why is that?
According to the etymology of the word ‘crone’ from the 14th century Anglo-French word ‘carogne,’ it literally meant carrion, which is a noun for decaying flesh of dead animals. Nice, huh?
When we look into ‘hag,’ we find that while it meant ‘repulsive old woman’ in the 13th century, it may have come from an earlier Old English word ‘hægtes’ or ‘hægtesse,’ which meant ‘witch, sorceress, enchantress, [and] fury.’ Now we’re talking!
It is thought that the first part of ‘hægtes’ is derived from the Old English word for ‘haga,’ meaning hedge, which correlates to both Old Norse and Old High German words which translate literally as ‘hedge-rider,’ but were used to describe witches. Solitary practitioners of witchcraft are known as “hedge witches’ as they follow no set religious tenets save their own path. The ‘hedge’ can represent an inner landscape, with its secret boundaries, that witches use to change the hand of fortune, and those who ‘ride the hedge’ are able to traverse between the world of the mundane and the supernatural realm.
Hag is “one of the magic words for which there is no male form, suggesting its original meaning was close to ‘diviner, soothsayer,’ which were always feared in northern European paganism, and ‘hægtesse’ seemed at one time to have meant ‘woman of prophetic and oracular powers.’ (Ælfric uses it to render the Greek ‘pythoness,’ the voice of the Delphic oracle), a figure greatly feared and respected. Later, the word was used of village wise women.” (Douglas Harper, www.etymonline.com)
Thus the idea of the crone or hag has morphed over time.
Once they were venerated as wise women, now they are stigmatized as the old, bent witch with warts.
Once they were respected for their advice and knowledge, now they are belittled and shunned.
Patriarchal Christianity may be partially to blame for this phenomena. In the eyes of the church, the only value of women is as family caregiver and babymaker. Once those roles are finished, a woman has nothing else to offer. Our contemporary youth obsessed culture is equally culpable. Billion dollar industries let us know night and day through advertising and television that only youth and beauty matter. Age and experience is relegated to our male counterparts. Where age is considered handsome and commands respect as man, it’s something awful and to be avoided at all costs as a woman.
This is the lie we’ve been told for all of our lives. But the truth is — growing older is empowering. As women, we’re stronger, more comfortable in our own skin, and less concerned with what others think. We’re more our authentic selves. Why can we not celebrate this phase of our lives?
There’s an old adage — ‘there are no old fools’ — suggesting that with age comes experience and, if one lives long enough, one will have learned from one’s mistakes, thus becoming wise.
“A crone is a woman who has found her voice. She knows that silence is consent. This is a quality that makes older women feared. It is not the innocent voice of a child who says, ‘the emperor has no clothes,’ but the fierce truthfulness of the crone that is the voice of reality. Both the innocent child and the crone are seeing through the illusions, denials, or ‘spin’ to the truth.” (Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women)
However, the wisdom of the crone and the innocence of the maiden are not consigned solely to certain ages. Youth can find wisdom, too, in the harshest circumstances.
“Take this as a gift from a crone to a maiden, and know there is not so much difference between the two. For even a tottering granddam keeps a portion of girlish heart, and the youngest maiden a thread of old woman’s wisdom.” (Lloyd Alexander, The Chronicles of Prydain)
Anyone can reclaim the crone at any age. Though, we need more menopausal mentors to shine a light on their paths instead of hiding behind cosmetic surgery and PhotoShop. We need to celebrate strong women of a certain age as the goddesses they are. We need to reclaim the word ‘crone’ to mean strong and wise, instead of old and ugly. Once enlightened, anyone of us can carry that torch, and that is something we can aspire toward.
Simply look to women in India who stood their ground after learning that a politician blamed a young woman for getting chased by men at midnight. He said, “The girl should not have gone out at 12 in the night. Why was she driving so late in the night?”
He didn’t question the men’s actions, which is the rightful part to address. Why not ask, “Why did a group of men think it was cool to chase a young woman alone after dark?” No, instead he victim shamed her. However, the young women of India weren’t having it. They started a social media campaign to shed light on the misogyny. They found their crone voice.
Now more than ever we all need to stand up and reclaim the crone. With politicians in America, and around the world, attempting to shunt us back to the Dark Ages by stripping away women’s rights, we mustn’t give up. We must look to our ancestors and celebrate our matriarchs.We must value the voice of the wise women. Learn from them and carry the flame of wisdom for ourselves and for future generations. If you feel the call, join us. #reclaimthecrone
“We are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.”