The painting is called "Circle of Life" and is by Frank Howell. It is a limited edition serigraph. Copies are available at FrankHowellGallery.com
My mother tells me that something has happened to her memory. They have a name for it, she says, but she's forgotten what they call it and then she laughs, with a kind of glee that is such a new side to her personality. After witnessing her struggles with depression and hearing an underlying tone of despair in her voice through much of her life, this gleefulness is pleasing to me. The archetype of the Crone is alive in my mother's life.
Her doctor told her she has dementia. They tell me that it's Alzheimer's disease. I've never been interested in categories; they limit rather than expand my understanding of things. I know that she's laughing more than she ever did; that's what is happening right now, today, and I choose to count that as a blessing. My mother has become a Crone in her own unique way. I see this lightness in her spirit as a new level of wisdom. It is a new kind of joy and isn't wisdom also joy?
She sends me some recent watercolors. Although the colors are muddy, dark, and blurry, there is still more than a thread of similarity to the abstract images she has painted all her life. She loved to paint landscapes of moonlight on the Hudson River, and sailboats in early morning mist. She still goes to art classes at local colleges in Woodstock and finds it amusing when she discovers that she has worn two different pairs of shoes to school.
I look at my own resistance to the idea of one day being a Crone. A part of me wants nothing to do with it. But I also know that it's possible to let go of resistance and see that stage of one's life as an opportunity.
On May 16, 2002, I had the privilege to meet and talk with Dr. Hillary Anderson, whose work includes therapy, rituals, and ceremony to help women enter, with peace and joy, that time of life symbolized by the archetypal Crone.
Adams: Now that baby boomers will soon be entering the third stage of life, how will this affect the Crone archetype?
Anderson: I think that those of us who have been studying human nature and human behavior over the years will see that the baby boomers bring in new technologies to lengthen life so that they can continue to look very young. They have taken up yoga, and have developed all kinds of supplements.
One wonders what the Crone will become. Maybe she will be a wonderful, aging beauty rather than the wrinkled old witch that we have always known. I think the baby boomers will probably bring a new richness to what we mean by the Crone. They've had the advantage of the goddess work and psychology in their early years, so they're probably ready to psychologize what the Crone might mean and to look at it in a deeper way, knowing full well that it means wisdom.
It's important to see the Crone as an archetype. It is an ideal form, it has a function in our psyche, and many of us participate in that archetype when we do deeper studies.
Adams: When you do your rituals, do you encounter women who resist the conception of the Crone as it stands now?
Anderson: Some women don't want to become a Crone, because the Crone has meant "old woman." As you know, in our culture we are very much wedded to the idea of being forever youthful.
Of the Triune or Trinity Goddess which consists of the Maiden, the Matron, and the Crone it is the Maiden who is most honored in our culture. We like the younger look. A woman who ages tries to look as young as she can. We don't like the word "matronly," much less Crone. So it's interesting how we must stay in the Maiden as far as our looks are concerned. And the Maiden is basically known as the unmarried woman.
It's quite astounding for women in my generation to look at the younger women, because I see that it's quite possible for them to go from Maiden to Crone without ever becoming a Matron. That's because many of the women aren't having children and haven't experienced motherhood. They remain Maidens, all the way up until they go into Cronehood, missing the Matron level, which is having a family, children.
Adams: How would you break down the archetype of the Crone into her different aspects?
Anderson: By looking at her in the different myths and wisdoms that have come down to us through time. In the Triple Goddess, we have the three stages. The Crone would have different levels, worthy of study.
Crone means the woman of wisdom, the old and wise one. As a woman, you come into Cronehood after you finish menstruating. There would probably be stages of going from one level of wisdom to another. There are different schools and different ways of looking at this issue.
Many goddess groups work with one goddess instead of working with many. In our group, you work with eight seasons of the Celtic calendar. One of those seasons is Hallowmass or Hallowe'en. That one particularly honors the Crone.
Adams: What are some of your favorite myths about the Crone?
Anderson: My favorite is the old Latvian/Russian story of Baba Yaga. In Russian folklore, stories abound of the witch Baba Yaga. She is an old Crone and she is a frightening figure. On occasion, Baba Yaga is portrayed as kindly, but for the most part she is the essence of wickedness. Her teeth are made of iron so that she can eat children. In Russia, parents sometimes tell their children that they will be eaten by Baba Yaga if they misbehave. She gets around on a giant mortar that she beats with a pestle to go faster. The hut that she lives in stands on chicken legs, and it can move about at whim.
There is a wonderful story about a young woman confronted with the Baba Yaga. Throughout this confrontation, the young woman matures and miraculously overcomes all hardships and outwits her negative sisters. She wins a new level of her life. The story of the Baba Yaga is discussed in Clarissa Pinkola Estes's book Women Who Run with the Wolves.
If we look at the story of the Three Fates in the writings of Liz Greene we can read a discussion of the different levels of a woman's life. The Maiden is spinning the yarn, the Matron is measuring, and the Old Woman is cutting the thread of life. When we talk about fate, we're really working with the Crone. The Crone can represent many aspects, such as the old fate and the old witch, in legend and story. This can be looked at with fright, or you can laugh and have a good time with it on Hallowe'en.
Up until quite recently, calling somebody a witch would be derogatory. Today, with our goddess work, we think that being a witch might be very important. Being a witch doesn't frighten us at all since it goes hand-in-hand with having a deeper wisdom.
Adams: Are women developing new images of the Crone in their art and rituals?
Anderson: Absolutely. Art and rituals are going on all over the country to honor people coming into Cronehood. It's a beautiful thing to become a Crone now, whereas many years ago it would've been frightening. The recognition and honoring that you are making a passage into another stage of life an initiation into an age of wisdom is very important.
The Crone is not just an old woman now. She is sort of an ageless Wisdom Goddess, not necessarily the ugly old witch with a very long nose who lives close to the ground. People would go to her and she would be able to do certain ceremonies for them. This aspect comes up through old witchcraft and tradition.
Adams: I note that in this new millennium there seems to be a cultural shift from yang to yin energy and perhaps from the Warrior to the Magician as a central cultural archetype.
Anderson: Yes, that's happening. I think we have the Magician, or the mercurial Hermes idea, coming in, so all things are possible in the Magician capacity. That also brings in the capacity to realize all the different levels of femininity and all the different shades, meanings, and beautiful things that the feminine principle has to offer.
The Crone is a magician, a shapeshifter from a magical heritage. She's older and wiser, and she understands the ways of the human world. She also knows the ways of the earth, the whole earth consciousness. We have a wisdom coming through that is definitely magical; a level of intuition is definitely there.
Adams: Can you describe the kinds of rituals that you lead for people entering Cronehood.
Anderson: It's a time of celebration of a woman's life.
In a small group, we allow a woman to take the stage for a good amount of time. We ask her to talk about the high points in her life. She might tell us how important it is for her to have reached this stage and what she expects to accomplish in the future. The whole group honors her and there is a celebration in which we study one of the Crone goddesses. We usually do this ceremony in the fall of the year, so that it coincides with the stories of Hecate and Baba Yaga, and all those other wonderful Crone goddesses.
We feature the study of one of the Crone myths and the psychological perspective that goes along with the myth. Each woman being Croned fits into part of that myth and brings in a personal story of her own. Then we honor all those becoming Croned or crowned, and then we have a lovely feast. It's a beautiful ceremony.
Women like Betty Friedan, who broke many of the rules, brought us into a new idea of who we could be, and changed our lives forever. Many of those women are powerful role models for a new kind of consciousness that has sparked many of us to go into academic and spiritual work, outside of politics. It's all wonderful work, and it is unleashing the power of the feminine that was cramped and held back for so many millennia. It's been a Crone's work to bring through what we have today. Pulling on the Crone archetype, we are breaking old systems and creating new ones.
Adams: What kind of breakthroughs would you like to see Crones have in the political system.
Anderson: Equal pay for equal work. I think we still make a lot less money, and it's still very important to look at that and the reasons why. I think the Crone energy is here to help us answer questions about what the feminine really is and what it can contribute. We've had few major leaders that were women, but en masse, we haven't become great political figures. We've had important figures that have come down through history, but we haven't stayed in power that long or taken our place in that arena. There are other arenas where we have served, and I think we're slowly breaking down old roles.
Still, it comes down to equal pay for equal work. That's what we started out trying to get. I think if you don't have economic power, you simply don't have a lot of power. Not that economics is the only measuring stick, but it's a big one. As you get older, it's important to be able to take your place. We're not as well off financially as we would be if we had had equal pay for equal work all along. That's the big one. In the sixties the new provisions were not in place. Many of us left our marriages, but never enjoyed affirmative action procedures, and no true advancement from one level of the company to another. We stayed where we were, with no equal pay for equal work.
Many women do entrepreneurial pursuits. We would rather have our own companies than come under that reductionism that goes along with being in the workplace. We're very creative and gifted. There are many maverick ladies out there doing incredible things.
Adams: Can you describe the male counterpart to the Crone?
Anderson: That's the Wise Old Man. In the Tarot tradition, we have the archetype of the Hermit, who is the "ancient of days" and who has Saturnian influence. The Wise Old Man can give you the wisdoms of your own destiny.
Now that we have some feminist decks that have opened up new ways of looking at Tarot imagery, we sometimes have the Crone as the Hermit figure. It's the aging person, the wisdom person of age and experience. It's the old sage that you would visit for advice. An example would be the old Taoist sages in the ancient Chinese heritage, where they would know many days in advance that a person was coming to see them, and would know all about the person. Actually, the wisdom of the old man and old woman is a part of many cultures over the ages.
In the Eastern cultures, the woman is revered as she gets older. Reverence is given to advanced age since age has something important to give. I think we have a long way to go in our culture to appreciate the older woman in her Crone time.
Adams: Can you describe some of the Crone goddesses?
Anderson: In the pictures of the Witch of the Wild Wood, there is a full moon in the night sky, and she has a cauldron, a fox and a toad, and a little voodoo doll. These all have mystical connections to her. In portrayals of the young witch, there is a crescent moon in the sky.
From the Indian tradition, Kali Ma is one of the great Crones of the world. She takes away old identifications that are not working, strings skulls around her neck, and is associated with death. In other representations she dances upon Shiva.
There are also portrayals of Eve, the mother of all, as an old Crone. She holds a pomegranate in her hand, which says that there is new life after death.
Goddess Dhumavati, from India, is the old one who rides a crow, which is a carrion bird that carries wisdom. Her appearance resembles that of an old woman always tormented by great thirst and hunger, and she is considered to possess great powers.
Hecate is the old three-faced goddess that represents past, present, and future. She never comes up from the Underworld. When we need wisdom, we speak to Hecate.
These are just some of the many Crone goddesses, there as many others.
Adams: Which women do you feel are doing important work about the Crone?
Anderson: We could list a lot of women. There is the Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Miriam Robbins Dexter has contributed with her books, particularly Whence the Goddesses. Barbara Walker wrote the The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets and a book on the Crone. Christine Downing is another scholar who has written many important books. Erich Neumann, with his The Great Mother, portrayed years ago an interesting paradigm featuring the feminine principle.
Marija Gimbutas is probably the most significant, with her books The Civilization of the Goddess and The Language of the Goddess. We always honor Marija Gimbutas in our groups at Candlemas time in early February, since this is the time she passed away. She is a great scholar who wrote in some twenty-five languages and brought through a new tradition called mythoarchaeology.
Gimbutas had to deal with an old, established tradition that had looked at the feminine in a certain way over the centuries. Through archaeological evidence, she showed how women were seen differently in early civilizations. There has been a great deal of argument about whether her thesis was true or not true. She brought through a major basis for our Goddess tradition and many of us have been enriched with her wisdom.
You could say that all these major women writers and teachers participate in the Crone archetype by bringing in the wisdom of the Goddess and the great feminine face of God. To be a woman today is truly multidimensional, and we can no longer be reduced to a small definition of the past.
Hillary Anderson, Ph.D., is a well-known lecturer, scholar, therapist, and seminar leader who utilizes a rich synthesis of East-West mythology and psycho-spiritual symbolism to promote healing and a deep cross cultural understanding of the human condition. Her unique perspective is rooted in a deep appreciation of our common cultural values and ideals expressed in the language of myth, symbol, and ritual.
She recognizes the gods and goddesses of the great world myths as archetypal energy patterns, and has developed a profound process through which we can identify the major mythic themes that play in our daily lives.
Dr. Anderson has served as a founding board member and faculty of California Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco. She founded the Universal Way Foundation to support studies, programs, and festivals that promote self-sovereignty and cross-cultural respect for all spiritual pathways. Her books include Sri Aurobindo's Yoga of Transformation
and Be Your Own Psychic Reader with Tarot Imagery.
Dr. Anderson lives in Los Angeles where she maintains a private practice, facilitates seasonal festivals and seminars and lectures extensively throughout the country. She can be reached by email at UrbanLady1@aol.com
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