I‘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.
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.
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