No I am not going there. So far in this examination of the iconic feminine we have looked at the similarities of two very different women and about an iconic doll that shaped the play of girls since the mid-20th Century. It is time to delve into the cultural mythic icon. Cailleach is the Celtic Crone and she can create fear or at minimally a great deal of anxiety for contemporary folks.
Culture pretends to love the grandmother but these are individuals grandmothers we love, the aggregate of grandmothers is frightening to contemporary society. We call the generic old woman a crone, a hag, or a witch. The frightening old lady who lives near of woods and marshes just beyond the civilized edge of the village is everything that the predominantly patriarchal culture fears:
- a woman who can live on her own
- in the wild
- with knowledge of herbs and women’s wisdom
- that can influence life and death
- and women’s secret processes
- and who assist young women, birthing women, and mothers
- apart from the male controlled aspects of the village
and women sometimes join in this suspicion of the old wise woman
- as knowledge one does not have can seem strange
- the winter, or the last quarter of a long life is a distant and foreign country
- women often are afraid of losing the appeal of their good looks and fertility
The fear of aging is endemic in western culture. Appearance is valued over experience. And I have to admit I do not care for the word crone. Being very much a product of my culture I do not care for anything that conjures up the word hag. Though I embrace my age, the stereotype can make me crazy.
We need a positive word for women of age, for mature women. I love the concepts of mystery and an all-knowing vantage over life of the wise woman.
Cailleach is powerful and can bring winter, the respite of from farming and harvest, some say she grows younger as approaches, aging backwards in recognition of the cycle of life, death and rebirth that the wise recognize as an immutable truth beyond mortal life.
Celtic lands still have signs of an ancient Cailleach though they vary from rural Scotland where a still tended shrine to the goddess Cailleach exists, to the far Irish Coast where Cailleach Beara is a remembered as a Winter Goddess.
Cailleach may trace back to an Ice Age migration from the Iberian Peninsula. Ancient historians Herodotus and Pliny mentioned that Callaeci or followers of the Cailleach resided in Iberia. Other early Irish religious sources mention a Spanish origin for populations in the British and Irish Isles.
The stories of Cailleach do seem to be distinct from the pantheon of other Gods and Goddesses, and are probably older as her stories cover the entirety of the British Isles while other deities correlate with specific migrations of later times.
Sorita d’Este & David Rankine
2008 Visions of the Cailleach: exploring the myths, folklore and legends of the pre-eminent Celtic hag goddess. London: BM Avalonia.
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au
The “crone” always seems like a haggard old woman who is isolated and often feared or distrusted. Our culture would love to define all older women as crones, but I think there are a lot of us who are 50+ and choosing to reinvent the image of the older woman. There are so many Midlife bloggers out there celebrating this age and stage – I’m hoping society catches on and we manage to turn the tide so that older women are celebrated rather than ignored.
Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
C for Consider Every Angle
All the women’s blogging efforts are changing views. Change is generational though.
Change is needed. I am grateful to you for your comment on my post about religious leaders. This post celebrates a woman
who may have been a midwife–so important than SOMEONE cared about the female body, how women died in childbirth, men having
many wives (check out old graveyards) and yet many woman were forced to have sex knowing that this time they would die in
childbirth or after. Thanks Nancy
Beth, this is the crux of inequality. Because we gestate and give birth we must attend to concerns far beyond territory, property, and political posturing and this has allowed inequities to become embedded in our culture, but our folk stories allow us to remember mythically and subconsciously. I appreciate your letting me know that you “got” this at multiple levels; I absolutely adore intelligent comments!
I think that we definitely need to come up with better language around aging for women. Weekends In Maine
You got that one right!
I’m heading into this phase of my life. It would be comforting to have a word that is shaped from respect, pride, humor, and wisdom. Thank you for the insights in this post. Happy A to Z!
Wouldn’t it be nice. I have been contemplating the term Cailla for such use.
Absolutely fascinating. I know that the wise woman has alwasy been a ‘problem’ for the patriarch society, btu I had enver made the connection before between the wise woman and the old woman.
You know, sometimes I regret belonging to a Western culture. We seem so tear a lot of things that are actually quite natural.
I love looking at the way the Earth, the old woman, and wisdom are depicted across cultures. The snippets we can see of early thought, and representation, in archaic culture hint at a symbolic organization of the world that has indeed been torn apart and torn down.