'Remember, the ugly, old woman/witch is the invention of dominant cultures. The beauty of crones is legendary: old women are satin-skinned, softly wrinkled, silver-haired, and awe-inspiring in their truth and dignity.' ~ Susun Weed
Depending on your tradition, over the next few days we will celebrate the old earth festival of Samhain, the Celtic new year and a festival that is celebrated throughout indigenous cultures worldwide. It marks the end of one cycle, a death, and the beginning of a new cycle, new potential. As such, Samhain is known amongst other things, as a festival of remembrance and feast of the dead, honoring the death of the old cycle and the birth of the new. A rite of passage within the wheel of the year.
Westernized, demonized through religious context, misappropriated, and popularized, it has become generally known as 'Halloween' and celebrated on October 31st. However, did you know that Samhain is celebrated on November 7th this year? You see, Samhain is not actually celebrated on a fixed day each year, it's festival day depends on planetary alignments over a particular sacred site complex in Ireland each year!
So getting back to Halloween and Samhain, let us speak about the Elder, also known as the wise woman, cailleach, crone, and witch. Halloween, as most of us know it, is associated with witches, 'old hags', ghosts and ghouls, vampires, however in essence it is not that far off the root of Samhain really when you consider it.
*Very* broadly speaking, ghosts are associated with death, ghouls/demons refer to the thinning of the veil between the worlds/realms and portal openings during this time, the divining and keening aspects of this, the vision and intuition. Vampires, banshee, selkies, all these are one and the same energy. Even the vampire offers immortality when you consider it.
Irrelevant of what name is applied to this energy, be this Kali, Lilith, Sedna, Baba Yaga, the Banshee, the Cailleach, Hekate, Morrígan, (some of the more broadly recognized names), these characters and this energy is one that relates with the dark aspect of the shadow side, characters that destroy, transform, are associated with the 'underworld', and are pretty much, the 'ferry-woman' or escort of this journey - a transition which in essence gifts infinite potential and growth once you face your demons, your own shadow aspects and fears. Birthing yourself into BEing.
On our MUSINGS page you will find a four part article sharing insights into the aspects and cultural characters behind this energy, and using Lilith as the lead figure, you can explore the many names this energy is known by throughout the world. Being Irish, I also went into detail about Lilith from the Irish perspective and how she is known to us as the Banshee and other names such as Badb and Morrigan. Part 1 presented various facets of this character, introduced the underlying energy, and how it relates with each of the deity names. Included was a reference list of the different names applied to this character across various cultures, and details of how some of these characters were developed and perceived. Part 2 outlines Lilith in her aspects as Baba Yaga, Pombagira, Santa Muerte, and Kālī. The third installment discusses Lilith as experienced by the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle - to the Inuits, she is known as 'Sedna', and so on.
Samhain marks the gateway into the Earth element time of year, the birth canal, the metamorphosis, Winter, so it is not unusual that the traditions surrounding this festival relate with psychopomps, witches, cailleachs, and hags. The winter in a human's life cycle is in fact the Elder phase, and the wise/crone/cailleach archetype. In fact, the word 'crone' is believed to stem from the word 'críonna' in the Irish language, and críonna means 'wise woman'.
So, this week, during Samhain/Halloween, let's choose to recognize the arc of human life as leading toward wisdom, grace and the beauty of eldership. Let's fully, lovingly and unconditionally embrace the blemishes, white hairs, stretch marks, wrinkles and all of the other things that society would have us believe is unattractive. Let us enjoy this transition within the cycle of this particular year, moving from the season of the enchanter/enchantress (water element/autumn) to the season of the Elder (earth element/winter), and do so with grace and authenticity. Let us embrace and embody our Elder self, and be open to the wisdom and insights it brings..
In closing, please know that I speak in terms of the the female gender here as witches are traditionally depicted as women. But of course, these cycles of entering the winter archetype, becoming a crone and wise elder, are experienced by ALL genders, not just female, and clearly there are also male and two spirited witches and wizards!