The Veil Between

On Saturday night I took part in an ancient tradition, the autumn bonfire, which we Americans associate with fall, hot apple cider, and possibly football games. But it is a tradition that goes back to ancient times and the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen), the end of summer on earth and the beginning of it in the Underworld.

Samhain is the Celtic New Year, time when the veil between the world of the living and dead is thinnest and it is said we can see across the maw, a time to honor our ancestors and get rid of that which no longer serves us, by throwing it into the fire. It is celebrated on the eve of October 31 and the day of November 1, the same day the Catholic church calls All Saints Day. They appropriated the day from the traditional pagan worship and made it a grab-bag Christian holiday. (Clever Catholics.)

I've always loved Halloween and as I've gotten older it seems I have found fewer and fewer opportunities to dress up and change my persona. This year with hubby and daughter out of town, I decided to dress up in goddess garb and commune with other women who celebrate the divine feminine.

This night, we chose to celebrate Hecate, my favorite triple goddess, known as the Old One, the Wise One, the one we can turn to when we are at the crossroads, seeking counsel, wondering which way to turn. This is her season. She leads us into the darkness that is now beginning, with her lantern lighting the way. She can see into past, present, and future, the crossroads in which we all find ourselves, at all times.

In the circle, we each let go of something that we no longer wanted in our life. Mine was fear of completing my creative project. We brought in the qualities we wished to bring in or hold onto. Mine was play. We also gave a gift to our ancestors (mine was healing the feminine wound in our family), and we named the ones we wished to remember. On that night, I honored my father, Cliff, and my grandparents, Mamie Marie and Walter Valentine Reichard, Lillian and Charlie Anderson, and my Auntie Drue. Their gifts to me are laughter, speaking from the heart, divining the soul, appreciating the beauty of nature, treasuring the gift of life, and intelligence. I felt the ancestors were with us that night of honoring and healing beneath the full Hunter's moon.

What do you want to let go of?

What qualities do you want to bring in to your life?

What is your gift to your ancestors?

What is their gift to you?

Thank you, Goddess sisters, for gathering to honor ourselves and those who have gone before us.

It is the feminine spirit that is needed to bring balance and healing to this planet and to all creatures who suffer.

Embracing the Crone

How do you feel about the word, crone? How you feel about it may determine how you live it. It's important to develop a relationship with this stage of life and embrace it.

For many of us crone conjures up an image of a hag, a witch, a bent-over, wizened old woman who spends most of her time in a rocking chair or hobbling around with a cane or a crook. She may be that, but she's much, much more than that. There are many stages of cronedom, just as there are many stages of maidenhood and motherhood. (Some of us have one foot in two realms. I can't help but think the crone wisdom helps me be a better mother to my 13-year-old maiden.)

The word crone, which is the third aspect of the triple goddess, often represented by the Greek goddess, Hecate, derives from the word "crown." As in the queen who wears the crown, the crowning of a life. We enter the crone years at about the age of 50 or when menopause occurs. In ancient times and in many indigenous cultures today, that is when women held their greatest power, because the blood did not flow anymore, and the "wise blood" of life was contained within. The word witch comes from the word for "wise" and the word hag from haggia or "holy." So, you see, at one time, before the patriarchal religions took hold, the female elders, the women past childbearing years, were considered the wise ones, the healers, La Que Sabe -- the one who knows.

It is time we re-appropriated the word crone that was bastardized and demonized by the patriarchy and elevated it to its former status as a good word, a name to be proud of since it represents a stage of life denoting wisdom, experience, power, a place of seeing, knowing, intuiting, understanding. We, who are crones, got here through hard knocks, suffering, loss, pain, as well as through life's pleasures, joys, creating life and art and words and experiences; by being maidens and mothers (even if we didn't give birth literally, all women give birth figuratively).

I had the pleasure of leading a group of women on retreat last weekend through a workshop called, "Embracing the Crone -- the Crowning of a Life." These women -- now all in their crone years -- have been meeting in circle for some 30 years, witnessing births, deaths, divorces, children growing up, graduating, marrying, births of grandchildren -- the cycle of life. And through it all they have been meeting monthly, going to the beach together, and going on yearly retreats together, where they laugh, cry, sing, dance, tell stories, play games, share their lives, and support one another through thick and thin.

During this retreat, we gathered and shared our stories, journeyed, made SoulCollage® cards to honor the Crone, danced the NIA Dance of the Crone under a full moon, beat drums and rattled, sang and chanted, made crowns, declared our power and purpose, let go of what no longer served us into the fire, and crowned ourselves with a naming ceremony honoring the Crone within.

This is the poem we created together:

Women Are

Women are creators… We make families and string generations together.

Women are weavers… We weave the tapestry of life from the plain cloth of daily existence into glorious brocades of heartfelt expressions.

Women are protectors… We can be fierce in the face of adversity.

Women are healers… We accept and support each other.

Women are lovers… We embrace, nurture, and accept all mankind and Mother Earth.

Women are journeyers… We explore our inner and outer realities.

Women are alchemists… We hold the space for change and carry the story forward.

Women are singers, dancers, prophets, poets… We sing our songs, dance our dreams, intuit what lies beneath the surface, and make poetry of life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have met these strong, wonderful women and to have shared their journey for a weekend. And I am grateful to all of the women in my life with whom I have sat in circle and who have allowed me to be Me no matter where I was on the wheel -- Maiden, Mother, Crone -- the full circle of a woman's life, full of beauty and mystery, ever unfolding.

Maiden, Mother, Crone

...three aspects of the triple goddess, which every female knows on a deep, soul level no matter what her age or stage of life. Sure, the maiden--or Kore--could be said to be the personification of innocence and couldn't possibly know what it means to be a mother and an old woman, but yet, every maiden shows glimpses of these future stages. She's the mother when she cuddles kittens and babysits and learns to nurture her bff through every drama and crisis they come to share. She's the crone, or wise woman within when she offers sage advise or surprises her own mother by offering words of wisdom that you think she couldn't possibly know. I remember when I was holding my baby girl, Chloe, and crying because I had just learned I had thyroid cancer and she put her hand on my face and looked into my eyes and said, "It's gonna be okay, Mommy." I remember blinking and looking at her and thinking, "Oh, my God, a wise woman just spoke to me," and I knew I was face to face with a deep soul who would have as much to teach me as I would her. Her words definitely brought me around and I felt like God had spoken through her and I relaxed, knowing she was right. It was going to be okay. I just had to trust. The maiden is not far from us even when we become mothers and crones. We can still recall the dreaminess, the giddiness, the je-ne-sais-quoi of that time of life, and we can even channel the maiden when dancing, dreaming, and playing. As mothers, we move into the active, nurturing stage of life, juggling schedules and kids, husbands, work, and projects; a time when our energy is truly at its peak and we can stand in the middle and look back at the maidens we once were and sigh (both sad and glad to be through it) and look ahead to the future of empty nests and the crowning of the crone--time to ourselves, time to Be More, Do Less. The crone years, usually sometime after 50, has the true gift of overview and begins to care less and less about outer world concerns and what people will think and how they will be perceived. She will often speak her mind because she knows and because she doesn't give a damn. She's been there, done that. She doesn't suffer fools gladly but at the same time she has all the patience in the world because she can leave grandbabies with their mothers after spoiling them rotten, turn inward and find solace in her own company, and she can go home (to herself and perhaps to the old man or woman she's shared her life with). She truly has the vision of past, present and future and standing at the crossroads like Hecate, can point the way if you just turn to her and ask for guidance. She knows the way.

I have to admit, I'm in a funny in-between place, like many of my friends who had babies late in life--half mother/half crone. One foot in the active Doing stage and one foot in the contemplative Being stage. It's kind of an interesting place to be, a little like a balancing act, a little schizophrenic at times, occasionally dizzying as you dig deep into the underworld of the unconscious where Hecate reigns and navigate the world above, sowing seeds and reaping harvests like Demeter, a personification of Mother Earth, herself. But wait, what of Persephone, Demeter's daughter, who was abducted from her mother and taken into the underworld where she became queen? With Hecate's help (she with the gift of overview), Demeter found Persephone and her daughter was returned to her for half the year and would spend the other half in the underworld with Hades, the dark god who presides there (with Hecate as her guardian). In that way, Persephone became the mediator between the upper and the lower, the darkness and the light. It is her mediation that brings an end to the dualistic way of seeing the world. The triple goddess reminds us of that oneness--that multi-facted jewel that we are.

I have been exploring the triple goddess and playing with the three aspects in my writing and art for some time now, and in March I will be leading two workshops at the wonderfully exciting 3-day spring retreat, Persephone Rising, at Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod. The retreat will be held at a wonderful, old farmhouse near the water and a nature preserve, where we will celebrate the muses of art, nature and the goddess in each of us. In one of my workshops I will be taking participants on three guided journeys to meet their inner maiden, mother and crone and to receive gifts from them. This will conclude with a nature treasure hunt. Then, in the second workshop, we will be honoring one of the three goddesses by creating a shrine or altar and a goddess effigy or doll with found objects from nature, paint, and collage. There will be other workshops to choose from that will include writing and art and singing and dancing our wild selves--a true experience of mind, body and soul. Take a look at the wonderful classes planned and join us, as like Persephone, we celebrate the rites of spring in true goddess fashion--diving deep within and carrying our found wisdom out into the world in sacred ritual, celebration, and play!