BELLOWS FALLS — DesertCrone53.
“What a weird username,” I thought to myself.
Back in the early days of the internet, I was appalled the day my mother showed up on MySpace with that strange combination of words.
(Thinking back, maybe it wasn't so much the name as it was the fact that she'd followed me to MySpace and was now commenting on every aspect of my life and interactions and photo evidence of stupid decisions I was making that I never wanted her to be a part of. But that's a story for another time.)
But it was also the name, if I'm being honest.
At the time I thought it funny that she'd choose “crone” in her moniker - it was such a loaded term and, as a younger woman in my 20s, a large part of me couldn't reconcile why my mother would use it. On purpose. As her public identity.
Wasn't calling herself a crone one step from admitting the fruitful part of her life was over and she was one drab shawl away from being a hermit on the edge of some village somewhere?
* * *
“Crone” can be a weighted word that brings up very specific images, thanks to its often-negative connotation. You know the clichés - a haggard, stringy-haired, reclusive old woman who cackles and lives in a decrepit hovel with bones and leaves blowing about.
But according to legends and lore across the globe, that's only part of the story. The true essence of the crone, when we dig past the layers and the co-opting of the word as a modern insult, is much different.
The true essence of the crone is one imbued with knowledge. With respect. With magic. And most of all?
The crone's archetype goes back far and wide. We're talking ancient civilizations like the Middle East, the Balkans, Scandinavia, and Greece. She's been seen haunting the forests of Russia as Baba Yaga or wrestling Thor as Elli. She's been the Woman of the Mist gathering her sticks in Britain or the old lady who refused to stay buried in the Scottish Highlands tale “The Poor Brother and the Rich.”
Sometimes she's full of magical powers and chooses to bestow them (for good or for evil) as she sees fit. Sometimes she's the stealer of men's souls and painted as some long-jilted lover who held on to one hell of a grudge after being spurned in her youth. (These are my least favorite versions of her, actually.)
In Cuba, the crone shows the true magic of her essence - as the glue of her family. The matriarch who holds the sacred knowledge of womanhood, who passes on rituals and traditions to the younger generations of girls and women who follow her.
Robert Graves gives her the third seat in the “Triple Goddess” figure, following the maiden and the mother, where the three represent the circle of life belonging to women.
Stories are power and, as time passed, the power of the crone in the stories of old became a threat.
Through time, those in power feared wise women and the sway they held over their communities, and many victims of inquisitions and witch hunts were often the same crones villagers and families relied upon for herbal remedies, midwifery, and natural cures.
The image of the grandmother goddess transitioned from wise woman to wicked witch or hag, and suddenly these staples of early communities became marked for death as those in power feared the esteem and influence the wise women held.
Witches were burned, crones were ostracized, and folklore embraced the “hag” character as crones retreated to the far reaches of society and folklore. The crone was to be avoided, lest she take her revenge out on your unsuspecting husband or steal your child if they wandered too close.
* * *
Lucky for us, the power has shifted back toward women in the modern era, and with aging comes the return of the role of the wise woman.
Some circles consider “croning” as a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power. The babies have been born. They've been raised. The family has been protected, fed, and nurtured, and now the small birds have flown the coop and the crone looks to pass the knowledge on to the next generation of younger women in need of reassurance that everything will be OK. That their feelings and frustrations are part and parcel with their roles as daughters, sisters, leaders, creators and, when applicable, as mothers.
The crone is still the gatekeeper of magic, even in one rooted in reality and far from the pages of fairy tales. The magic of creation. The magic of new experiences and finding joy in the small things as we journey through the years.
To me, the life lesson of the crone has to be in the reclaiming of personal power.
First from an ancient society that sought to marginalize a wise woman's influence when it could and would interfere with the patriarchy and second, in a modern sense, reclaiming our power against a society that views youth, beauty, and birthing babies as the only contributions of worth from women. A view that holds women as useless and easy to overlook once their youth has faded and they wear their age like a badge of honor.
* * *
I think back to DesertCrone53 and that period of my mother's life. I'd left the nest and gotten an education, and I was caring for my own family by then, and my mother had begun to travel, to meet interesting people across the country. To eat in new restaurants. To attend conferences and visit family and friends. To see the world. To leave her own mark through an amazingly productive decade of writing, painting, and curating really cool things: Ideas. Art. Shiny baubles.
She was never more creative and productive than during those two decades between life on her own and her death this summer.
In those 20 years that she proudly took on the mantle of the desert crone, my mother lived. She had lessons to share, but they were no longer centered around running a household, making money, or raising children. She suddenly began to talk about the healing power of art. Of friendships and adventure.
Her “croning” was beautiful, even in the face of a debilitating, degenerative disease that ultimately took her life at the age of 67.
I should be so lucky in the next two decades, honestly. To embrace the nature of the crone and the inherent freedom found when the only thing you have left to offer the world is whatever the hell you see fit to offer the world.
It's calling to me louder than ever, and I hope the role suits me as well as it suited her.