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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Crone without Crown

This is the first entry in Bee Smith's new blog, "Crone in Corrogue." Entries for "Away with the Fairies" can still be found in the archives of Bee Smith's writing on PaganSquare.

It is not a flattering word – crone. But like that other ‘c’ word used pejoratively that references my lady parts, it wants reclaiming. Etymologically unflattering, it does not, as some would have it, refer to a crown. Its roots are deep in Old Northern French, carogne, translating as carrion.

Old woman – hag, putrefying flesh, cantankerous. Sounds…’Nasty!’ Cantankerous? We know what that’s like. Quarrelsome, ornery, and troublemaking. And if you trace the ancient roots of the word cantankerous we come again to Old North French (which makes one wonder what amazing, glorious old women were hatched there) contechier, which means ‘to hold fast.’

As you unpeel the patriarchal layers of disparagement at last we find that dangerous old woman, the one who holds fast. So in the crone, by my own definition, we have an ordinary (the original sense of ornery) woman, one who has fewer years ahead of her than she has behind her. That concentrates your mind on priorities like nothing else! The crone is the elder of her tribe. She is centred, assured, quite capable of holding fast in a world where chaos has cast many adrift.

I am neither putrefying flesh nor as scrawny as scrag end of lamb. I am not mutton dressed as lamb either (some of the original crone references get ewes in there.) I have plenty of junk in my trunk for ballast. I have let my hair grow and pin it up as my grandmothers did before me. And it feels wonderful.

As I approached my 60th birthday I felt excited. I felt joy even! (Which among my friends is not a universal experience I am told.) ‘I am getting old!’ My husband styles age references as ‘bolder, not older!’ There is a great truth in that observation. The boldness of being older suits me.

Perhaps it was because, as the youngest child, I never felt properly grown up. But now, at last, there is no contesting it. I am no longer the youngest in most groups. It feels very liberating to be the top generation.

And not in a purple hats and summer gloves kind of way, as the Jennie Joseph poem would have it. I do not need to rattle my walking stick (I own two) against the railings. Nor do I intend to be quarrelsome, because that is not my nature, although I can be definite and flinty at times.

Rather, I invite readers into the joys of embracing the wild wisdom of a woman’s latter years. And I consider myself lucky to be here. If a tarot reading I had done in Portrush in 2010 is correct, I shall have forty-one more of them. That suits me fine. I am only just starting. I have been waiting to be this age all my life it seems. Perhaps it is being born not just youngest, but also a Samhain baby. I have come into my season of life. It fits my skin in a way the others did not. I always felt old, not the outside matches the inside.

A number of friends have commented that I have changed subtly since that croning ceremony just after my 60th at Samhain. What it feels like is that I crossed a threshold and unreservedly embraced my power. I can hold fast because I have found the still point even as all else spins confusingly and uncontrollably. I know what I want to hold fast to, as well. My mantra and prayer these days is “May Love cast out Fear.

Perhaps a crone’s purpose is to hold fast to the string on the balloon so that the rest of the world does not float off getting lost in the ether. Closer in time span to returning to Mother Earth than those younger than us, we are the very ground of being itself.

What grounds me is living in this rural Irish townland, Corrogue, where we have made our home for the past fifteen years. It is a very betwixt and between place, but one that has schooled my spirit utterly. There is a deep peace living in such quiet. It does not deny that there is harm or hatred or a million other negatives beginning with just the letter ‘H’. But it does give me a sense of the eternal, a perspective of one’s smallness in the vastness.

As a friend who blazed this trail four years ahead of me says, despite the challenges, this seventh decade is the richest yet.

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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."    


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