Women growing older with grace and gusto

Crones and serpents

Python2I‘m a snake. That’s to say it’s my sign in the Chinese zodiac, so this is my year because the Chinese just ushered in the Year of the Snake.

And it got me thinking.

Crones and serpents

We have something in common, snakes and aging women: we’re both feared and revered.

The snake as bad guy

Of course the serpent has been one of the formative bad guys in Western thought. He did, after all, tempt Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Statues of the Virgin Mary often show her crushing the serpent beneath her foot, and St Patrick’s legend has him banishing all snakes from Ireland.

Even Harry Potter finds his ability to speak Parseltongue makes him feared, and Voldemort’s companion Nagini (a female snake, incidentally) adds to his evil aura.

The evil Crone

A stock character in folklore and legend, the evil Crone crops up all over the place. And she’s usually ugly as well as old. Malicious. Sometimes the ugly Crone represents the true face of a beautiful evil woman, as the queen in Snow White shows us.

Sometimes women and snakes are inextricably linked – step up and take a bow, Medusa.

We’ve long been at the point where “old” is used as an insult, often in combination with “crone” or “hag”. (Or “cow” from those less articulate.)

The venom (yes) with which these insults fly indicates fear. I wonder if it’s fear simply of growing old and infirm or fear of potential power.

The wise Crone

Fear of power because the wise Crone is another archetype. Mary Daly refers to her as The Great Hag of History.

Crone-logical adj: be-ing in accordance with the clarifying logic of Crones; able to see through man’s mysteries/misteries; marked by a refusal to be side-tracked by the tedious, tidy, tiny and ill-logical steps of male methodology/methodolatry.

Mary Daly, Wikedary

Old women are not hated and feared all over the world. I’m told that in some societies, older people are still treated with respect, not as inconvenient reminders of what a drain on medical resources and nursing homes we are becoming as we grow ever older. Old women are even (gasp) asked for advice and help as revered elders.

Snake wisdom

Snakes are also seen as wise in some mythologies. The Rainbow Snake of aboriginal Australia controls the earth’s waters and oils, the serpent Ophion is part of ancient Greek creation myth, and in Chinese culture, the world was said to have been created by a snake with the head of a woman.

The famous figurines from Crete show goddesses with a snake in each hand.

Shedding our skin

So what does all this mean?

I think there’s another thing that snakes and Crones have in common: the ability to shed our skins. Literally in the case of snakes and metaphorically and with deliberation in the case of Crones.

We can choose to leave behind the skin cells that were once iridescent and have become dulled with time. The practices, the habits – especially the habits of thought – that no longer serve us.

But as with snakes and Crones, we fear to take on the power. It can be difficult to make that choice to leave behind what no longer serves us, but we don’t quite know what we will become.

What do you need to shed? Can you name your skins?


Photo credit: Pandiyan

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16 Responses to Crones and serpents

  1. Oh, I’m becoming rather intimately familiar with some of the skins I’ve been in the progress of shedding, and which I haven’t quite finished shedding yet. It would be nice if once I finally shed them for good I could make a pair of shoes out of them! 🙂

    The skins I am shedding relate to the masculine. The males in my early life did a fair bit of damage to this highly sensitive soul, and so it’s the things I have learnt from those years that I am shedding – and they are the things women in the collective are shedding too – about learning to stand in my own power and trust my own vision and not collapse in the face of the male viewpoint, which its incessant logic and linearity 🙂

    Love that Mary Daly quote 🙂 And yes, I wonder too if it’s “fear simply of growing old and infirm or fear of potential power”. I think it’s both wrapped up at the same time, which makes it so difficult to unravel in our society because the things that make crones powerful are not commonly recognised in Western society. We are trailblazers and the Dalai Lama was right about western women being the ones with the time, ability, resources and, most importantly on top of all that, the intuition to push for the change that HAS to happen.
    Sue recently posted..Surfing SnapshotMy Profile

    • What I love the most is your message that women in collective are shedding things – very true- I also agree with the Dalia Lama about being trailblazers – what power that invokes 🙂

      I think this shedding is an ongoing process – just when I think I have accomplished a new growth and the old has shed away – there comes more growth and more shedding –
      Bobbi recently posted..What do you wish to welcome in ?My Profile

    • Love the idea of making a pair of shoes out of our discarded skins, Sue!
      And “incessant logic and linearity” – yes!!
      I hadn’t heard what the Dalai Lama said on this. Now there’s a male who’s familiar with the shedding process.

  2. skins – also as in onion skins that peel layer after layer – taking layers off one by one can assist us if we cannot dump “it” all at once- the dis-functional things that have become part of us and that we have actually defended is a bit scary. Peeling an onion makes us tear and many times so does shedding that skin– Speaking of power – doesn’t it take power to become all that has been in the making for so long ?–But first we must identify what needs to be tossed aside, and I find that many times at the root of it all is something quite unexpected- introspection can hurt –

    Love your thoughts on this !
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  3. I think it goes back to mother goddess versus sky god — agrarian societies versus warrior cultures — Greek mythology contains vestiges of that takeover — Delphi was an oracular shrine with a snake goddess (probably Cretan/Minoan). Apollo a god of the invading Mycineans, defeated Python (the snake) and took over the shrine. Although the Pythia (same root as Pyth-on)remains the oracular priestess, she is now under control of the priests of Apollo. Ironic that the legend “Know thyself” features so prominently at the Delphic site.

    Have you ever heard of the “grandmother revolution?” — It is the reason why humans are the only species where the female undergoes menopause and becomes infertile — and yet having older, infertile, nonbreeding females was so important to the survival of the species that it became genetically selected for. Grandmothers, being postmenopausal, aren’t breeding, so they no longer have young children of their own to care for, and can thus care for the children of their daughters, while the daughters “gather” food. Not having to divide their time and attention between finding food and watching out for the children frees the mothers to find more food, and minimizes the risk of some predator making a human McNugget out of her child. More food makes for healthier children, who are more likely to survive to have children of their own. Also, the grandmother is a repository of history — not just of the tribe, but of the land itself — of the location of food sources, seasonal changes. If it were not for the “Grandmother revolution,” the human species very likely would not have survived.

    It is by “controlling the serpent” that a woman realizes her “womanly” power to bear a child. Eve symbolizes the woman who is no longer in control of the serpent but who is in its power. (Adam had another wife before Eve named Lilith,but he got rid of her because she would not be controlled.) It is primarily the Christians who have given the serpents a bad rap, St. Patrick who drives them (and the pagan worship of same) out of Ireland, and I think it is priceless, and very telling imagery that the Virgin Mary, who had a child without “knowing” a man, crushes the serpent’s head.

    That said, I’m in the slow, gradual process of downsizing. “Stuff” is the skin I’m shedding. Right now it is a voluntary process. There will come a time, and it’s not all that far away, when I will have no choice. BTW, I’m a Taurus born in the year of the bull.
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    • Hi – no I hadn’t heard of the “grandmother revolution” in that sense. What you say about the grandmother as repository of history of the land is beautiful.
      And yes, “stuff” is also part of my own shedding process. And wow, that’s a double bull-whammy you got with your birth date!

    • Speaking of the Grandmother Revolution, I have read (wish I could remember where) that everything you wrote applies to aunts as well. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her well-researched book “Committed” that across time and place, there have consistently been 10% of the female population that has remained childless. Obviously they have gotten to make significant contributions — typically, contributions they could not have made if they had had children.
      Alison Wiley recently posted..My Decision On Pet Ownership (Part 3 of 3)My Profile

      • Alison, yes, there’s rarely a day that goes by when I’m not actively, intensely grateful for my decision to remain child-free.
        Children are not for everyone, and thank God that for most of us, we do now have a choice.

  4. On the positive side of snake images, most important might be the curled up, immortal energy at the base of the spine called your feminine spirit, your Shakti, which rises to the top of the head and beyond in Kundalini Yoga. As people age, they often have brief out-of-body experiences that gradually prepare them for the bliss of crossing over. No one talks about it, because it can’t be explained and they wouldn’t be believed anyway. But I think in my case too the hold on life is not as strong as it once was. There are people counting on me, and I am committed to them, in love and in caring, for as long as they need, but I can feel the bond with mortality loosening ever so gently as I age.

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