Crone in Corrogue: Wild Wisdom of the Elder Years

Glorying in the elder years, a time of spirituality, service and some serious sacred activism

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Embracing the Hag

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

The hag, or the cailleach as she is called in Scotland and Ireland, has been much in mind this past year.  Partly this is because I am getting into stride with my own inner, physical and emotional, crone.  But in the way that these things happen,the micro is just a reflection of the macro world. I am increasingly called to address the hag goddess and to evangelize acknowledging this dark side of the divine feminine.

I am reminded that everyone loves the springtime maiden aspect of Brighid. They revel in the bounty of the maternal Brighid.  But little is written about the encounter with the fierce hag aspect of Brighid.  The gloves are off with Her; She is well capable of giving you the proverbial Zen shove and bitch slap if She is ignored.  Shortly before I turned fifty I cried out for Brighid to get me out of somewhere.  In the manner of 'be careful for what you ask for' she complied. What came was a tidal wave of painful change, a demolition of my ego, a period of depression requiring medication, and a recalibration of everything I thought about loss and power. It transformed Everything. But it also set me on the path that I reckon She wanted me to take but that I had resisted. (The ego is often the enemy of our highest good.) I actually prefer the life that Brighid forged for me out of the ashes and pig iron leftovers, but the transformation was a scorcher. But, like the goddess Brighid herself in Ireland's culture, I survived.

I have just finished reading Carolyn Baker's compelling "Reclaiming the Dark Feminine: The Price of Desire", which is a call for men and women to acknowledge the dark and destructive power of the hag.  Many of us in the goddess community treat the Goddess like a kitten, all sweetness, cuddly and playful; we forget that she has claws and thinks it is fun to chew the head off the mouse she had dragged in from her hunt. For all the Hindu hymns to Kali as a sweet mother, what we remember is the rage of Kali dancing her spouse to death. 

Kali and the Cailleach have much in common.  If you ignore her rage, her ugliness, her power then she will rear up and bare her teeth and SHOW you why you should never discount her. She will consume you with addiction, depression, violence, murder; she will dance the world to death if she is not attended to. And by attended to, I mean given proper attention and love until she finally emerges from her violent dementia.

In her book Baker makes a case for how the world is in the grip of that self-destructive demon rampage. Just like Kali or the hags in fairy stories.  The antidote is clear in the Irish myth of Niall of the Nine Hostages fame. 

Early in his life Niall is sent on a quest with his brothers.  In the woods they meet a hag who bars their way unless they will make love to her. One by one, in declining age order, the brothers refuse to spend the night with this ugly, death's head of an old woman.  Finally, there is only Niall.  He is young but he is also earnest and realizes that the greater good of concluding the quest will not be achieved without meeting the hag's demands. 

So Niall closes his eyes and moves in for the kiss.  And surprisingly, the kiss is quite sweet. The toothless hag doesn't appear to have bad breath. He deepens the kiss and one leads to another and another and the night is whiled away.  When Niall opens his eyes in the morning he finds that he has slept with the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. As his reward, the High Kingship of Ireland is conferred upon him, the youngest and least of the brothers.

Celtic myth is full of stories that the true kingship is only conferred by having (sexual) union with the goddess who is the keeper of sovereignty.  It is also said that the very land of Ireland is the body of the Goddess.  Symbolically, true sovereignty is conferred by a mystical union with the goddess and, paradoxically, by being fully embodied and grounded. Kingship is, therefore, becoming a steward of the earth, in service to the goddess.

But first, we all have to kiss the hag. Because she is the real testbed of sovereignty.  We need to own all the shame making, negative aspects of our self before we can achieve psychic unity, which is the only sovereignty worth having. That is the true coronation event.

In the past year, in story upon story, whether the drama is played in international media or locally, we see examples of the violence that is wrecked by people who have not resolved their shadow selves.  Where we learn of beheadings by ISIS or fratricidal murder/suicides in Ireland, we see both the demon glee and frustration of the hag who is going ignored when really what she needs is to be tenderly embraced, acknowledged, and held in her tumult until she can draw back from her frenzy for attention.

The photo to this blog is a stone known as the Hag's Chair although I think of it as more of a Hag's Chaise Longue.  These glacial erratics were first called Hag's Thrones, then Druid's Chairs, and then after Christianity, often referred to as St. Patrick's Chairs.  But it is time to call them by their true name to invite the hag to reclaim her seat, to allow her Crazy Rage to ebb as we offer her hospitality, respect, the common courtesies to a Faded Beauty who has seen it all, done it all and lived to tell the tale.

The fear of our psychic shadow, both our personal shadow and that of the collective unconsciousness,  will only feed the Hag's Fury to consume us. Shiva needs us to engage and thus save the world.

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Bee Smith has enjoyed a long relationship with SageWoman as a contributor, columnist and blogger. She lives in the Republic of Ireland, teaches creative writing and is a member of the Irish Art Council's Writers in Prisons panel. She is the author of "Brigid's Way: Celtic Reflections on the Divine Feminine."    


  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Thursday, 18 September 2014

    Bee, omg, once again, you and I seem to be thinking about similar stuff. Since your blog shares your experiences with Cailleach so generously, let me thank you by sharing a bit of mine.

    I have worked with the hag aspect of Brid for decades, but had not know Her name of Cailleach until about a month ago. At that point, She started telling me things that I could not find any info on elsewhere. This included info about sexuality for elderly women (I am in my sixties); there is little research on our sexuality, compared to the sexuality of elderly men. And most of what you see about aged women is the same old stuff over and over. But Cailleach had great info for me, and affirmed the direction I was going in, not only in terms of my sexuality but in regards to my shamanic path as a whole.

    In fact, oh... She is guiding me on a major life ritual that I am about to do, and the ritual relates to my very first conversation with you, which happened by email and was about Faeries and, how lovely... You are surely my fellow fey traveler and an asset to the community. I will share your article. ❤️

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Thursday, 18 September 2014

    Oops, typo: "but had not know Her name of Cailleach" should have read "but had not know Her BY THE name of Cailleach until about a month ago." In other words, I knew the name but had not worked with it until a month ago. (I do not consider something truly known until it is used.)

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