The Case of the Missing Crone

 

 

 

Although the Persephone/Demeter myth has these two somewhat
dependent goddess figures who don't like to be cut off from the other
or alone, it also has these two other figures--Pluto and Hecate--
who are notable loners.

Hecate is the crone aspect of the triple goddess. She's the only
part of this female trinity that stands alone, that is not
relationally
defined or dependent. She's the mature female
being no longer grasping for a relational connection in order to
experience fulfillment, the wise woman who has already been
through the initiation, the radical aloneness, that a Plutonic
abduction represents.

Just as Hecate is the one part of the three-fold goddess who stands
alone, similarly, Pluto lives alone (for most of each year) apart from
all the other gods. In myths and fairy tales details like this are
seldom irrelevant,
so the feature of "aloneness" feels significant, as
if in addition to addressing dependency, the myth can also be read as
reflecting an alternative perspective by saying something about
aloneness, and the transformational depths that might open for us
when we can tolerate, allow, even welcome the state of being
radically alone, no longer clinging to relational connection, no
longer adapting, or altering our reception of ourselves in order to
connect with others.

We might say that Persephone needs to get on with it, to leave her
mother and marry her own aloneness before she can come out of her
abandonment depression, her underworld experience. She needs to
shed her old identity (as the naive, traumatized daughter who isn't
being externally nurtured) in order to find her own autonomy, and
reign as Queen of the Underworld.

Its as if there is a kind of "royal" aloneness in which we have
psychically separated from everyone and everything (including the
attachment to our own thoughts ) that paradoxically reveals our
connection to all things, and the sovereignty of our being.
Conversely, the resistance to this aloneness heightens our
dependency, and exaggerates our fear of separation from what the
more infantile part of us thinks that it needs. And Pluto--as
transformative agent--seems to specialize in taking away from us
whatever it was we thought we couldn't live without.

But we may have a hard time seeing the value and power in this
aloneness. In our culture people tend to feel apologetic if they are
not in a coupled relationship. Mythologically, Pluto, the god who
lives alone (for three fourths of the year) is invisible. He wears a cap
of invisibility. He can't be seen. And our culture doesn't seem to
want to see, or has been incapable of seeing the value of the "divine
feminine" which is equally capable of being alone. This crone aspect,
represented by Hecate, has yet to find appropriate worship and
devotion from our culture,
an American culture that is not only
young itself, but seems to worship youth.

 

For all its polyglot, ours remains a Christian culture. And
Christianity--with its tripartite maleness (the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Ghost) has marginalized the feminine to begin with. The
Roman Catholic Church still excludes women from its priesthood.
The wise feminine, the Sophia aspect (from which our word
philosophy comes) was burnt at the stake and buried early in the 13th
century when the Church slaughtered the Gnostics during the
Albagensian Crusades. The Virgin and the Mother (corresponding
to Persephone-Kore and Demeter) lived on in Christianity via the
single agency of Mary who is both virgin and a mother --but what's
missing completely is the Crone.

If between the third and the fifth century Christianity managed to
become the "market leader," if not assume a monopoly status in
Western nations amongst competing middle eastern mystery cults,
largely by appropriating some of the broader archetypes (and
seasonal holy days) that had long been in existence, then one figure
who didn't manage to resurface was the crone aspect of the
goddess.

And when the crone has been overlooked or slighted, then, as in
the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," some part of the "wise old woman"
archetype that we tend to see as a witch and forget to invite to the
wedding (or want to burn at the stake) winds up throwing a curse on
the whole kingdom. Then everyone seems to go unconscious in some
way, even the animals dreaming with their twitching paws. Some
part of our wisdom, some part of our intuitive, feeling, and
relational capacity winds up surrounded by defensive briars. Our
beauty (our essence) slumbers behind a thorny hedge. The kingdom
in a kind of trance...

 

*

 

When the crone hasn't been honored, men don't get to learn what
they need to learn from a culture's mature women. The feminine
ideal tends to lean in the direction of a "super model," some pretty
bimbo--more Playmate of the month than Eleanor Roosevelt. And
women seem affected too, and wind up becoming more relationally
dependent than they might otherwise be--looking to men for
validation, as if there's some "it" they need to get from outside
themselves. This in turn can introduce a note of acrimony into male-
female relationships when the men can't provide the missing "it"
women are looking to them for. All of this is "the case of the missing
crone," the female elder who isn't invited to the wedding.

In our culture you can look at the television or any billboard and
see the lovely maiden seducing our attention with her physical
charms. And you can see the mother aspect as well, perhaps pouring
some nourishing cereral for her family as might Demeter, or touting
cleaning products for the home. But no crone.


We put our crones in old age homes where they can't easily be
seen. They remind us of impermanence, and our own impending
death--and in a youth culture no one wants to look at that.
Meanwhile everyone in the media is going gaga over the newest
Hollywood ingenue or pop singer. These pretty young women are
on the cover of every magazine, for women have learned to idealize
youth as well--while devaluing and in some way feeling superior to
older women, and doing everything in their power to avoid even the
appearance of aging.

It could be a revealing inventory for contemporary women
to take stock of all the time and money spent on trying to
look young --and then compare that to how much expenditure
goes into cultivating the soul, or doing inner work.
For most
women, such an inventory would reveal the neglect of Hecate, the
neglect--and the fear -- of the crone.

And the reason is that in a culture pre-occupied with surface
image--versus what poets in the late 1960s were terming "deep
image"--in a culture where the imagination is trivialized and youth
is idealized, in such a culture to be youthful is to be loveable--and to
be, or to be perceived as a crone, is to be avoided at all costs.

What have we lost here? And in its stead, what's looking back at
us from the magazine racks in the kiosks of airports and subways--or
everytime we are waiting in line to buy groceries? Young vapid
beauties! They're everywhere. But it seems we're only capable of
recognizing or honoring about one crone every fifty years. And now
that Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa are no longer with us,
who do we have? Perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton is a crone in
waiting.

Where the crone aspect of the goddess isn't recognized, let alone
honored, we have Hollywood actresses still trying to look like
ingenues thirty years after that was what nature had in mind. Where
the crone aspect of femininity isn't valued we have insufficient
medical care in large segments of the population at the same time we
have a thriving medical facelift and implant industry and billions of
dollars being spent on "cosmetic" surgeries.

Where the crone aspect isn't valued we lose the collective
perspective of a wise, mature femininity, and strangely, love poems
become an endangered species. When you do away with the
Hecate/Sophia/crone archetype, it not only becomes harder for us to
learn what we need to learn from the culture's mature women, but it
perhaps makes it harder for us to reach the depths of feeling
realization we would otherwise be capable of and need to be
capable of in order to write great love poetry.

Certainly within a hundred and fifty years of the Church burning
the Gnostic Cathars--who had influenced the troubadours--the
tradition of love poetry in the West entered a severe decline-- and
still hasn't recovered its former momentum. We might say that when
you turn Hecate into a "witch"--or burn Sophia at the stake, love and
wisdom
become separated from each other. Perhaps when we killed
the Gnostics and buried Sophia, we buried our deep images, losing
part of our imagination and half of our philosophy--leaving us with
less wisdom in our loving, as if love has lost its logos and become
merely emotional love--a love that more easily turns into its
opposite. And then not only do our love lyrics become trivialized
(listen to rap music!)--but our whole culture ceases to be grounded in
wisdom.

(Even our word "trivialized" which appears in the last sentence
reflects a fall, the devolution of Hecate--in that Hecate was the
goddess of transitions--such as birth and death, the goddess of
crossroads (the three roads= tri-via), and thus what we now find to
be "trivial" was at one time an archetypal coordinate of space/time
where we might have turned to Hecate for orientation as we faced
the unknown).

The loss, the devaluing, the devolution of the crone... seems to
have affected the very maturity of the culture. And thus, along with
our devaluing of the crone, our psychology tends to become fixated
on the "inner child."
We also wind up with sex sites on the internet
that--out of all numerical proportion--want to show us the naked
bodies of women who are " barely legal." We wind up with a male
population whose level of psychosexual development has gotten
fixated at the"barely legal" level of college freshmen. We wind up
with Presidents getting blowjobs by 24 year old interns, and we then
wind up having to hear and read about it for months on end.

When the crone aspect of the goddess isn't valued we wind up with
women trying to get their missing "it" from men--like Monica
Lewinsky wanting to bask in the reflected fame and glory of a
president--or in the vain attempt to find a romantic ideal that may
not exist in reality. When the crone isn't honored, we wind up with a
collective denial around death --and millions and millions of people
who don't want to grow up. Lacking in spiritual wisdom and
psychological maturity, the culture winds up trying to get its "missing
it" from dependency relationships of all kinds--from sex addictions
and drugs to consumerism.

What we have lost here is truly "great." For the loss of the Great
Goddess's crone aspect is also reflective of a loss of eldership. This
forces young people to turn to those no older or wiser than themselves
for orientation and guidance. Rather than the wisdom and values of a
mature humanity being passed on to the next generation (one thinks,
again, of Tibet), we are left instead with a "gang culture" --not only
amongst inner city youth, but in education--where the "classics" that
have formed the basis for Western civilization are now seen as the
culturally irrelevant works of "dead white men." This "gang culture"
also shows up in a corporate, group-think, mass-market mentality--a
statistical marketing perspective

heedless to quality, a "numbers game" that effects everything from a
political process too slavishly sensitive to the latest poll (while devoid
of real leadership ) to what books or movies get chosen for
distribution.

 

 

In this way, when the value of the crone is in a decline, not only is
the nation run by a kind of gang or herd mentality, but individuality
itself
suffers. As part of this fall, aging ceases to be conceived in the
context of growing into a more individualized, refined, essential
version of who we really are--like the fruit of a great wine emerging
from its tannins--and instead one is perceived as "over the hill."

With the fall of the crone and the loss of the elder the potential
greatness of a culture seems to become deflected. The acquisition of
hard-won truths and the skills or perspective that might have been
learned from association or mentorship with elders become more of
an exception, and less built into the fabric of daily life. There is a lack
of apprenticeship and meaningful initiatory ritual, and the best values
of the past not only don't get passed on, but become suspect. In this
vacuum not only does maturity itself tend to get stunted, but that
which is trendy and new becomes overly valued, and what is
"popular" becomes the order of the day. Ours becomes an adolescent
"pop" culture, with little reference to greatness, in either politics or
the arts.

 

 

When a culture stops valuing its crones and its elders, elders
themselves can all too easily buy into this perspective--failing to see
the meaningful contributions they still have to offer, as they fall
instead into a numbing regimen of "trivial" pursuits. And the potential
wisdom that can grow out of a healthy solitude? It languishes, sadly,
as a largely unlived possibility.

 

This way of aging is to miss the spiritual as well as civic possibility
inherent in the second half of life. And it reflects a failure of the
imagination,
not just a lessening of physical vigor. A failure of vision
that can no longer discern "the great" from "the trivial," that can no
longer see (let alone embody) "the goddess of the cross-roads."

 

 

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