Crone Circles

Creative Nonfiction published in Our Turn, Our Time: Women Truly Coming of Age, Cynthia Black, ed., Beyond Words Press, 2000. 150. ISBN# 1-58270-029-X.

Si Taeweksin –Grandmothers Giving Wisdom

I love being a Crone. I even give speeches, “Please Call Me an Old Hag.” As Barbara Walker says in The Crone, crone means crowned one. And hag comes from the Greek hagia, or sacred. Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to claim being a Crone?

When I fill out forms, I don’t mark Single (though I am), Married (though I have been, twice), Divorced (though I have been, twice), nor Head of Household (though I am, me and my cat). I make and mark another box: FREE Crone.

My grandson recently said to me, “My rich grandma goes on all these trips, but my poor Grandma (who won’t buy him video games), YOU have adventures!”

Even with poverty, ill health, and loss, my life is an adventure, for the flower still awaits, not necessarily to be picked, but to be savored for its fragrance.

So what if our youth-worshipping society has written us off? We’re told we are decrepit and powerless, but actually we’re just invisible. And because we’re invisible, we can do ANYTHING and no one will notice.

Not only can we wear purple, we can wear neon green, hot pink, orange stripes with polka dots, or nothing at all. We don’t have to blue our hair set in short tight curls; we can wear it long, loose and uncut – or in a brush cut, bowl cut, or shaved off completely.

We can be outrageous, flaunt ourselves and demand attention. We can be Maudes and take young lovers. We can go places alone, do what we’ve always wanted to do, be what we’ve always wanted to be—now.

But often we don’t. For it’s hard to believe the opposite of what we’ve been spoon-fed for years: that older women are pitiful, useless no-good hags. It helps to be surrounded by others who have chucked off such narrow notions. Crone Circles are the answer.

We need Crone Circles to strengthen ourselves, and to reclaim our rightful roles in society. Crones were once midwives of both birth and death, and leaders of puberty, marriage and other ceremonies honoring fecundity and life.

We are the anchors, watchers, guardians, healers, storytellers. We are also Baubo, of the bawdy wise sexuality. We are roots, tree, mountain; we are the web of the world.

In Crone Circles we can validate ourselves–our existence, our lives, our feelings, our truths. We can share our wisdom and experience. But how can we find each other? We’re not likely to find companions in bars, churches, bridge clubs, senior centers, or inside the covers of Modern Maturity.

I found my particular Crone Circle, Si Taeweksin – Grandmothers Giving Wisdom — by belonging to the Red Cedar Circle, which practices Sisiwis, or the Sacred Breath native tradition of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Here, native women have always been leaders and healers, and the songs and teachings have survived for thousands of years. This wisdom offers a spiritual framework for the talking stick circle, and specific ceremonies led by crones.

We began Si Taeweksin with several different purposes. Some women, scared by menopause, sought role models. Some professional counselors and caregivers sought support and renewal. Others simply sought fun with other confessed crones. But all of us sought the wise women teachings.

We meet quarterly, we share leadership, each bringing insights from our talents and gifts. After a lifetime of being ordered around by parents, husbands, children, and bosses, it’s so relaxing to have no set leader. We are at a time in our lives when we are all leaders. Usually whoever hosts the gathering convenes the circle, and may set a topic.

The talking circle is the essence of crone support. Its structure is both simple and empowering. Whoever holds the talking stick (or feather or stone) has the floor. When finished, she passes to the next until all have had a turn. No one interrupts. Everyone listens with respect. Casual interchange is discouraged. Thus the sharing goes deep.

In the Si Taeweksin circles, we follow an ancient practice grounded in thousand-year old songs and stories. An altar cloth is laid in the center of the floor to focus our attention and concentrate our prayers. A bowl of water and lit candles are all that’s necessary, but often women add flowers or sacred objects as well.

A woman drums to the Four Directions, calling in the ancestors. Next we sing a water blessing song, followed by four Sisiwis songs, and then the Crone Circle is open to all present for sharing – from any and all traditions.

Afterwards, we may have a dancing circle, but to close the work, we sing another water blessing song and end with a prayer. Other traditions, such as Wicca, have a similar structure; the details may differ, but the essence is the same.

In our circles, each person contributes her ideas and gifts. We’ve made our own crowns and worn them in a Croning ceremony, we’ve anointed each other with Crone Oil, we’ve fashioned crone images from clay.

We’ve painted our dreams and visions, and written down our personal Winter Counts (a pictographic way of recording each year’s most important event in our lives).

We’ve shared stories from Women Who Run with the Wolves, especially Butterfly Woman, the wise old dancer, and her native Cowichan counterpart.

We’ve tried cradling — wrapping a woman in a blanket so that many hands can gently rock her – to find that security and love which we once knew and have lost, or which we never knew and have always needed. We’ve used guided imagery to find an old-age guardian.

We’ve played a hilarious game called “Mid-life Crisis,” somewhat like Monopoly without a Boardwalk. We’ve done Tai Chi, Qui Jong, and Sisiwis spring dancing circles.

We’ve bathed in the ocean, in hot springs, and in mountain streams. We’ve taken sweat together, and held healing circles, brushing off and lighting up each other (with ferns, candles).

We wear loose and flowing caftans, We share good things –- herbs, salves, songs, books -– and food. We cook luscious meals and eat together. But most important of all, we talk and sing and pray together.

Although so far we’ve just talked of river rafting, we have taken three weekend trips together, each an exploration of an ancient site. First we went to Hug Point on the Oregon Coast to become connected with the ocean, the earth, the red cave, the red paint, the spiral, and to honor the return of the salmon.

Next we went to the Washington side of Columbia Gorge to see the petroglyph Tsagaglalal, She Who Watches, to feel her power, to sense her place along the cliffs of the Columbia River, and to learn from her directly, to honor her presence and her work. We too are watchers, guardians.

Our third trip was to the Oregon Coast near Depoe Bay to honor one of our crones in a Re-naming and Re-birthing ceremony. On a secluded point above the ocean, near a sea cave and spouting horn, we covered her and mourned her passing with old memories.

Then we called her forth by her new name, passing her between our legs and bathing her new body at a nearby secluded beach. To honor her rebirth and new name, afterwards she put on a feast and giveaway.

Crones are often called upon to do such honoring work, the work of the Grandmothers. Some bring people into the world, choosing the newborn names; some take people out of the world, singing their names. Some work with young girls, reclaiming the menstrual ceremonies, and some work with older women, reclaiming the Wise Blood ceremonies.

Others are called to the Blessing work: House Blessings, Office Blessings, Store Blessings; or House Cleanings, and Exorcisms. And there is even work in blessing hot springs and tubs!

We have so many things to reclaim, so many stories and ideas to share, so little time — yet all the time in the world, 6000 years worth of time. We can start small, acting locally, yet thinking globally.

As our world becomes more and more ravaged and clear-cut, we must remember that we are the roots, the trees, the mountains, the Rock Grandmas that hold the world together.

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