Sadness and Slowness {Lessons from the Crone}

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This weekend I watched hordes of hopeful renters walk around the unit across the hall from me. After months of watching constructions works tearing apart the apartment she lived in for the past 30 years. I felt a sadness creep into my heart realizing I will probably never see my 97-year old neighbor, Dorothy,  ever again. And, yet I’m also somewhat relieved.

It was painful watching her walk/stumble/trudge her way up the three flights of stairs to her apartment (directly across from mine). I dreaded answering the door when she knocked because she would be yelling at me (and of course terrifying Freyja) because she couldn’t hear herself speak. Her apartment smelled terrible and you could always tell when her door had been open by the damp smell of death in the hallway.

She scared me and reminded me of a witch. Her long, twisted toe nails poking out from her shoes, her long gray hair, the way she smelled, her hunched over posture, her stiff movements, and even her whiskers on her chin. However, it was her slowness that terrified me the most.

I would make a quick run to the grocery store down the street; see her in the hallway and when I would return 15 minutes later, she would still be walking up the stairs.  She scared me only because she represented too many things I didn't want to face in myself. She was a blatant reminder of death and the slowing (and loneliness) that comes with age.

I've taken her departure from the building as a sign to embody my own wise, old woman, crone and her slowness. (Crone from“crone” comes from Latin and the word for “carnage” meaning “flesh.")

To the Irish and Scottish Celts, she was known as the Cailleach, the divine hag. To the ancient Greeks, she was Hecate (or Heket in Egypt) whose territory was the wild night and the crossroads. The Welsh Crone Moon-Goddess is Cerridwen, "the bent white one."  She keeps the cauldron of inspiration and transformation. In modern, Western culture she is the witch complete with a broom and cats.

Whatever name she is known by, the crone is often portrayed with several symbols: cauldrons, cats, crows, owls, or the sickle. In astrology the moon or Saturn is often associated with the crone.  However, while the symbol for Saturn and Ceres are both the sickle, the asteroid Hekate seems to best represent the crone.

While I don't want to go deeply into the mythology (I'll save that for another post), it was Hekate (as the wise woman and witch) who helped Ceres/Demeter find her lost daughter Persephone in ancient mythology. This example hints that the way into transformation and change and out of confusion is through the Crone. It is in her thoughtful, slowness we can more easily access ourselves.

So, I’ve slowed down...I've stopped over-committing to things and am doing more single tasking. I find myself walking more slowly (especially up the stairs in my building). Moving more slowly is one of the most difficult, and necessary changes I've made. The thing is--rushing is easy. It takes courage to slow down because inevitably we know something powerful awaits us when we stop rushing.

At first, it was boredom on the other side of my “busyness.” I remember thinking how boring it was that Dorothy sat in her apartment and listened to the radio all day, every day. I couldn’t fathom doing the same thing day in and day out.  However, the boredom subsided and then I felt the avalanche of feeling.

Without the rushing that keeps us distracted and outwardly focused, we notice more of what’s happening inside. That has been why I didn’t like Dorothy’s slowness; I projected onto her my fear of what I would feel moving that slowly. And feel I did, all of the unworthiness, loneliness, anxiety that all showed up when I gave my internal monitor a look.

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That pain of living through our deepest wounds is the gift of the Crone as she symbolizes the inherent wisdom that we gain with experience.  As Lee Hutchings says, "{The Crone} has lived through love, sorrow, hope, and fear, coming out of it all a wise and confident spirit. Through these experiences she has learned the secrets of life and death and of the mysteries beyond this world."

While Dorothy’s sudden "witchy" departure (no one seems to know if she is alive or dead), left me wanting time to say goodbye, I’m not sure how I would explain my gratitude to her. I do however wish I’d kept the hideous rose robe she gave me or the matching slippers (pictured here) so that I could wear them to feel old lady-like (though I suppose I could just watch old episodes of Golden Girls.)

Even though Dorothy will probably never read this post, it  is my thank you letter to her--the woman who taught me that being a crone/witch isn't so bad and it's a great excuse to slow down, feel, be bored, and even have a cat.