The Transitions of Age

In most neo-pagan traditions today, a woman’s life is divided into three phases, Maiden, or pre-children; Mother and Crone, post-children.

My important disclaimer:Because most women in the West are no longer defining themselves by their relationship to men or children, the Maiden/Mother/Crone model may be uncomfortable or offensive to some. Women in our time and space are amazing forces in the universe based on their own accomplishments. This article is not meant to demean, dismiss or diminish any one else’s experience. One of the reasons I’m writing this is because a re-imagining of age and aging as well as the lives of women is necessary in the neo-pagan and Norse community. I’m just starting from here, because here is where I am.

For a long time, to be called a crone was an insult. The very word implied a wrinkled, hunchbacked old woman, unwanted and unloved. Women who had reached an advanced age were dismissed as useless hags, and there was nothing to celebrate about it at all. But times are changing, and more and more women are welcoming this aspect of their life.

However, this doesn’t hold true for most Norse practitioners. In Kvedulf Gundarsson’s book Teutonic Religion( an extremely influential book for me) he writes:

There is no goddess who can be seen as a “crone” figure. Societies in which a Crone exists are societies which cast a woman out of the social structure as soon as she can no longer bear children and is thus no longer useful to men; the old witch makes dark magics partially because she is free of social strictures and male rule, partially because she has no other recourse or position of strength left to her. In the Teutonic tradition, on the other hand, whether a mother is bearing children or not, she remains a mother and the mistress of the home. Even where frightening witch-figures appear in the North, whether in sagas, Eddic poetry, or folklore, their first concern is always for their children, on whose behalf their most terrifying magics are worked; their fierceness is that of the protective mother, boding ill only for those who threaten their bairns.

When I first read this, I was a young mother and  agreed. Gundarsson was/is a formidable scholar of Norse faith, and at that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine my role as mother changing.

However, I’m no longer a young mother, I am an old one. My only child is grown and mostly gone. While I find I will always be a mother, concerned for my son’s  health and welfare, my role has changed from protector to advisor.

When a child is small, infant to competently verbal, as a mother you spend most of your time trying to make  sure they don’t die.You spend most of your waking moments and some of your sleeping ones on this goal. I spent most of my time channeling my son’s curiousity(What does this taste like? Can I run faster than that big dog chasing me? What does the glowing thing on the stove feel like?) The magic I was most inclined to use was the alarm kind, wards of various types to warn me when he was going to run out in front of a car or when his crying meant he was ill and not just frightened or bored.

When a child is competently verbal to grown to your size, as a mother you spend most of your time trying to make sure he/she understands what he/she has to do to  make sure he/she doesn’t die. You spend most of your waking moments and a few of your sleeping ones on this goal. I spent most of my time satisfying my son’s curiousity,  explaining why poisons are deadly, when a dog is dangerous versus when a dog is excited, why fire is hot. The magic I used during this period was more of the passive kind, a hyper-awareness of when he was going to ask a question. I also said “I don’t know” a lot. Encyclopedias then Google were my best friends.

When a child is grown to your size and larger, as a mother you spend most of your time listening to your child’s interpretation of the information you’ve given him/her, as well as what he/she has learned from other places, and check it for flaws that might kill him/her. You spend fewer and fewer of your waking moments and few of your sleeping moments on this goal, because if they haven’t learned it by now, it takes drastic measures to teach it. The magic I used during this period was more of the sifting kind(Does he really believe that he can’t be poisoned? That he can outrun any old dog? That fire is a state of mind rather than a physical reality?)

Then comes the day your child moves out of your home, on his/her way to college or marriage or career. Your job of keeping them alive is done. If you’ve done your job well, they will survive and build an independent, happy, healthy life. And if you haven’t done your job well, too late now. You can and will give him/her advice, but you no longer have the moral/ethical/legal/economic power to influence his/her behavior.

When you’ve spent so much time keeping a child alive, when they’ve gone, you’re looking for something to do.

When you’ve gained so much experience, you have wisdom to share.

So, back to mother/crone. It is Gunnora Hallakarva’s position in Teutonic Religion that “We don’t need a Crone-figure, because Norse/Teutonic women are not feared and are allowed (relatively) lots of social power via economy, marriage, social role, laws, sexual freedom, etc.”

I’m not arguing the historical accuracy. What I am going to question is the emotional accuracy of that statement for practitioners today. Because Gundarsson’s definition is still based in your relationship to men and children. Both definitions look upon crone as a negative.  And neither definition gives recognition of a very important, and with the advances in medical technology, longer phase of life.  I’m leaning toward sage or wise myself, but will take suggestions.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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3 Responses to The Transitions of Age

  1. Akhila says:

    “Maiden, or pre-children”

    Lapsus? I’m guessing you meant “pre-adult” or something along those lines. I’m not sure what pre-children would be (infancy?).

    Regarding your musings, I’m wondering about the use of “phases” in general and what do they really describe/acknowledge. I don’t have definite answers at all, it’s more of an open question-thing because I’m trans so by default the existing categories are irrelevant to me.

    As an example, if as a transman I’m considering bearing a child with my male partner, that makes my experience different than that of both a cisman and a ciswoman. Did I go from maiden to *something*, or from *something* to *something else* ? What would these phases be called at all?

    And beyond the gender-thing, which I’m sure have been pointed out by other people, I’m wondering why the need for a third phase (be it “crone” or something else). Is this tripartite categories or systems in neo-paganism always meaningful or relevant? And perhaps also, should we insist on reproducing the implicitly ageist categories of the society we live in, after all?

    What exactly is the social marker or information that we are trying to convey to our peers by calling ourselves or others maiden, crone, or other similar denominations? (Just food for thoughts.^^)

  2. Akhila says:

    Lapsus-time for me now! In my addendum – could you delete it please? – I meant “what about childfree women, as they aren’t mothers in the biological sense”. Are they considered incomplete, eternally maiden or what, are they considered mothers no matter the biological reality of it; and are women who share the experience of parenting but didn’t bear the child themselves “mothers”, etc.

    Sorry for the spam.
    3am, bed for me now.

  3. Piper says:

    Hi Akhila,

    LOL, not spam at all, good questions from a part of the pagan population that often gets overlooked in this arena. This was supposed to spark a conversation.

    One of the things I was trying to point out in my disclaimer was that there really isn’t a designation for women who choose not to have children.
    And I’m not sure there should be designations for anyone, when it comes right down to it. After all, these are based in old time Gardinerian Wicca terms, and that’s not now or here.
    One of the truly inspiring and fantastic changes I’ve seen in the neo-pagan community is a certain fluidity of gender roles.
    So perhaps transitions of age need to change too.

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