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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 4 April 2011

April A-Z: The Crone

The Crone is a key figure in folktale and myth around the world, and one which has proven fruitful for feminist analysts over the past fifty years. In folktales, crones or hags may be good or evil.

The Crone as featured in Charmed
Evil crones are wicked witches of the 'Hansel and Gretel' variety. Often keen to trap and eat children, these hags seem to have no motive beyond evil itself, or the acquisition of power and are highly dangerous.

Good crones on the other hand, are kindly old ladies providing help on a quest. Often they are actually beautiful and young, but disguise themselves as crones. This disguise usually functions as a kind of test, since quest heroes would of course be kind to beautiful ladies, but only the worthy are kind to hideous old crones. Sometimes, in the 'loathly lady' trope this test goes as far as requiring the seeker to kiss or marry the crone, at which point she transforms and rewards his inherent goodness with her beauty. In the oldest tales of this type, the woman symbolises the land and grants the knight sovereignty through marriage.

In the case of both good and bad crones, the old woman clearly wields power. Sadly, this (I think) is the reason that this archetype is not present in our current cultural consciousness. The scary predator has morphed into the shadowy paedophile, generally presumed to be a stranger tempting kids with the  modern equivalent of a gingerbread house. The loathly lady motif has disappeared altogether as far as I can see, probably because our society is unable to see past outward appearances, especially for women. Media representations of old women these days include the 'batty' (but harmless) and the victim, but none that wield power, while those who attempt to are seen as 'unnatural' and their femininity is questioned.

Can you think of any manifestations of the crone in our mainstream contemporary culture?

I know that Wicca and other Pagan belief systems offer reverence to crone or hag goddesses such as the Cailleach, the Morrigan, Hecate and the Badb. Some of these emphasise the wisdom of old age, while others associate the crone figure with war, revenge or death, although in this context death is not seen as inherently negative but simply as part of the natural cycle of things. The increase in popularity of such traditions may indicate a desire for many to move away from the shallowness of mainstream youth-obsessed and appearance-focused Western culture, but I am at a loss to come up with powerful or positive representations of the crone phase outside of this context.

7 comments:

  1. Wow this was really an interesting and informative post. I'm thinking of the woman in The Shack, definitely a crone representation.

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  2. Very interesting post...will get back to you on the crone thing, cause all the examples that pop to mind are mostly from Japan which might defeat the purpose. Though would McGonagal from Harry Potter count?

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  3. Interesting! I can't think of a crone that you haven't mentioned already... it is interesting to see how women have been portrayed through the ages. :)

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  4. I think the crone is part of the phases of womanhood: Maiden, mother, crone. This is a really great post!

    Thanks.

    A to Z Challenge
    http://thewritejoyce.blogspot.com

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  5. Good point. I can't really think of anything. I have one in my own fiction, but she's not a traditional crone, either. And, well, I'm not published (yet). Maybe we should start a campaign to bring the crone back into the mainstream :)

    Rosie
    East for Green Eyes

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  6. Thank you all for your comments. I haven't read The Shack (had to google it to see what it was), so I can't comment on that.

    Professor McGonagall's a good idea and she reminded me of the Discworld's Granny Weatherwax (Terry Pratchett) - both strong and fearsome older ladies. I guess in fantasy fiction it's still possible to have a wise or dangerous crone.

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  7. Interesting, and it made me want to write something with a crone in it. Sounds like a good challenge. I can only think of movies/stories that are based on already existing fairy tales (now that they are back "in" as something to be updated).

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