For those of us who have crossed over the threshold from Mother to Crone – around fifty years of age – we are entering a new era, complete with its own trials and tribulations. Some say the Crone phase starts when we become Grandmothers, but what if you’re a Grandmother at thirty?
This might seem absurd, but I have a cousin who had a child at thirteen – who also had a child at thirteen – so my cousin was a Grandmother at twenty-six! My cousin was still technically in the Mother phase and I believe that the Maiden/Mother/Crone ages are specific times related to age rather than circumstance.
Nature might dictate otherwise, but in general, our lives can be demarcated according to the following ages:
Your circumstances could be different, like having your first child in your thirties, so there’s no hard and fast rule or line in the sand in terms of when the phases occur. It’s understandable that some women prefer to think of the Crone phase as someone over sixty, so in the end – you are the one who decides what phase you are in, at any point in your life.
What if you’re someone who has decided not to have children? Does that mean that you go straight from Maiden to Crone?
For me, the Mother phase is more than just giving birth. You might be someone who has become a Mother to those who flock to you for your caring and compassionate energies or maybe you’re a woman who devotes a lot of time to caring for other’s children or fighting for animal rights.
I’ve seen children who act as Mother to their siblings and older women who are still psychologically caught up in the Maiden phase – especially if they’re finding it difficult to let go of their youth.
We’re all different people living different lives, so the Maiden/Mother/Crone phases change according to each individual. In general terms, the phases could be split into three eras:
Maiden: 0-30 Mother: 30-60 Crone: 60+
It’s up to you to decide where you fit in terms of the phases, however Mother Nature is the final arbiter!
Who is the Crone?
Several scholarly sources state that the Crone is usually someone to be loathed or feared, with definitions such as:
Cruel Ugly Old Unpleasant Withered Witch-like Sinister Disagreeable Malicious
Of course, many of the above descriptors could be used for younger women, men and children!
Other sources are more accurate, regarding the Crone’s attributes, defining her as an older woman with magical powers.
We’re getting closer when we investigate the Crone archetype, who is a Wise Woman possessing knowledge and skills obtained over many years, through a variety of experiences, relationships and studies.
In Witchcraft, the Triple Goddess is a main theme, which goes back to the Old Ways, before Christianity. In this context, the Crone represents the final cycle and the dark aspect of the Moon and the Goddess. By this stage, the Crone has seen and learned all the good, bad and ugly sides of life, which gives her great insights into human nature and the world we live in.
The Crone knows that there’s more than meets the eye and that magic can be light, dark and everything between.
Entering the Crone phase means that we are coming into our own personal power, which gives us a freedom unlike what we thought it would be when we were young and innocent. We have (hopefully!) learned not to suffer fools gladly and not to tolerate people and things that thwart our growth. Our wisdom informs our lives and is expressed in many ways, such as who we are, what we do and how we do it.
The Crone in Folklore
Throughout history, there have been countless tales including old women, ranging from benign, compassionate or helpful to mysterious, frightening and evil. Sometimes they’re consulted as oracles or sought out for magical elixirs or hidden knowledge. At other times, their blessings are needed for a Hero’s journey.
In some stories, the Crone is someone who has either been banished from society or has isolated herself (to escape persecution or for her own peace of mind) and she is found living on the fringes – a Hedgewitch.
During the Burning Times (as well as other periods of persecution), the Crone was a scapegoat for the fears and paranoia arising from religious hysteria, resulting in many innocents burnt at the stake, drowned and tortured. Of course, people of all ages were persecuted, including men and animals, however - an older woman was often labeled a witch, especially if she was living on her own, gathering herbs for medicine - and with a familiar - such as a black cat.
Many times, religious righteousness was the cover, if the perpetrators had a personal axe to grind or if their own devious and twisted psychological impulses required victims to satiate their lust for power, blood or repressed desires. Sometimes the victims owned property that the persecutors wished to gain and other times, jealousy was the impetus, especially if the victim was young and beautiful or had special skills.
Here’s a selection of Crones throughout history, which might serve as personal Deities or simply as a reference, in terms of your own experiences and to gain further understanding of how older women have been viewed and treated – in the past as well as the present.
Flying around in a mortar, wielding a pestle and living in a house with chicken legs, Baba Yaga was a Crone in Slavic folklore who was the gatekeeper of the Otherworld. A witch who was sometimes considered to be one of three sisters with the same name, she was associated with the wildlife of the forest and could be helpful, harmful or somewhere in between.
Depicted as a deformed old hag, Baba Yaga was thought of as a frightening supernatural being who represented death, evil and dark magic. In some stories, she was a cannibal who made her house with the bones of her victims. She represents female initiation and the fact that she was reviled, due to the focus on her apparently grotesque body parts (large nose, pendulous breasts, vagina and buttocks) could indicate the fear of the aging female body, which speaks to how women are scorned in their later years.
Representing the final harvest of the year, Baba Yaga’s totems include black cats, dogs, owls and wild geese. She assists with the transition from one phase to another; a rebirth where you either sink or swim, depending on your ability to endure the fires of transformation. As a Triple Goddess, her colors are white, red and black - indicating the three stages of Maiden, Mother and Crone.
Ereshkigal. (JasonEngle/ Deviant Art )
Older sister of Inanna (Queen of Heaven) and Sumerian Goddess of the Underworld (known as Kur), Ereshkigal was married to Nergal, who was the God of war and pestilence. Their epic courtship represents how war is fought in season, since she allowed him to return to the world for six months and their lovemaking lasted for six days at a time.
According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ereshkigal was kidnapped and taken to the Underworld and forced to become the Queen of the land of the dead, which has some similarities with the later story of Persephone’s descent into Hades.
As a Crone Goddess, Ereshkigal is the judge of the dead and she creates the laws for the Underworld, where the act of passing through her Seven gates requires the unfortunate visitors to give up an item of clothing/weapon/possession at each gate before appearing at her throne.
In a rite of initiation, only those prepared to sacrifice themselves should seek her wisdom and assistance, since she’s quite happy to kill you and hang you on one of her dreaded hooks if you show any fear or weakness.
Her totems are lions and owls, and her palace is carved out of Lapis Lazuli, which is a stone with energies related to psychic power, protection and courage. A fierce Crone, this Dark Goddess can be invoked when your purpose resonates with regeneration, exorcism and transformation – if you’re willing to play by her rules!
Ancient Greek/Anatolian Goddess of the Crossroads, Boundaries and Witchcraft, Hecate also presides over the realm of Ghosts. Among other attributes, such as the Dark Goddess of the night, she governs the knowledge of herbal magic and is a Triple Goddess – representing the phases of Maiden, Mother and Crone.
Like a Hedgewitch, she dwells on the fringes and presides over doorways and entrances. Hecate is often portrayed holding items such as a key, torch, dagger and sometimes snakes. Some statues and artwork show her being circled by the Three Graces or Charities dancing around her. She was also depicted as having three faces: dog, horse and serpent.
Regarding dogs, Hecate is associated with Cerberus – the three-headed dog that guards the Underworld. She can be seen accompanied by a dog and some say that when she is near, you can hear the howling of hounds, heralding her arrival.
Hecate’s sacred plant is the Yew, but she is also associated with cypress, garlic and poisonous plants. Since she is aligned with magic and death, plants related to these energies belong to her, along with hallucinogenic and other psychoactive plants.
Her Crone magic includes initiation and protection (although she decides who is righteously deserving of her assistance) and she represents the powers of birth, life and death. Hecate is the Goddess or Patroness of Witches and her energies include wisdom, dark magic, transformation and the powers of the waning Moon.
Known as Kali the Destroyer, this Hindu Crone deity has many attributes and has been called the Black One, sometimes appearing black in artwork as well as deep blue. Kali is indeed a ferocious and formidable Goddess, who is called upon for protection and sometimes revenge, although her energies are so powerful that she could easily go overboard, since she is known for overkill, which is why you see her husband Shiva lying down under her feet.
He did so to stop her from destroying the Universe, after she was summoned to eradicate the demon Raktabija. There are various stories about Kali’s origins, and one states that she is the destructive side of Parvati, while another states that Kali emerged from the Goddess Durga’s forehead, after Durga was attacked by two demons.
Kali is a Crone Goddess, governing the laws of creation, destruction, time and power. She is also a Patroness of Witches and while she has a destructive and vengeful side, she is also loving and generous, invoked for her protective qualities.
Kali is most often depicted with four arms, but is also worshipped in her MahaKali form, which possesses ten heads, ten arms and ten legs. As the four-armed Goddess, she sometimes holds a large sword/sickle, a trident, a severed head and a bowl collecting the dripping blood.
She has a skirt made from human arms and a garland of severed heads. Her protruding tongue can be interpreted as bloodlust, but there are devotees who state it signifies embarrassment over Shiva’s intervention. Her totems are snakes and jackals, although some say she is also associated with centipedes.
Representing the protective rage of a mother, Kali is another Triple Goddess governing Karma, the Universe and dark magic, reminding us that the power of the feminine is so much more than gentleness and compassion.