When my daughter was young, she once told me—in all innocence—that I have a witch’s nose. Shall we say I was not…grateful….for her statement of what she saw as an incontrovertible fact. After all, witch’s noses all look a certain way, right? Long and beakish, perhaps topped off with a wart sprouting several wiry hairs. Did she wonder if I came from a long line of witches and, if I did, might she be a witch too when she grew up?
In actuality, my nose did spring from my lineage. I have my father’s nose. Long and beakish, no wart. The witchery, if I have just a smidge, came from my mother’s side. Women who heard the hoots of owls and knew that three in a row meant someone would die. Women who saw the shades of loved ones step away from their bodies as they moved toward the beyond. Women who were followed by a black figure in the days preceding their own passings. Women who knew that death sometimes smells of lavender and infuses peace and comfort into the bodies of the living. This minor witchery goes by another name: the wisdom of the Crone.
Before the Crone comes of age, she must survive other stages.
As the Maiden, she glows with health and blossoms into beauty. She is the apple hanging from the tree, just waiting to be picked. Those that are not picked wither away and drop to the ground to be pecked by crows. (Or do they? Perhaps they pick themselves and spin other lives, other stories.)
As the mother, she fully ripens. Her body satiates, then brings forth life and overflows with nourishment. Her child is the apple of her eye. Should the Mother die, tears will be shed but Life has been served. Notably, in many tales for children, the mother has either died or is absent for some passably plausible reason.
But what if the Mother lives beyond her service to Life? What if she won’t quit the page but continues to cling to her time onstage?
We know how this story goes—folktales, fairytales, and the wonderful world of Disney tales have shown us what happens to Woman when she refuses to quit the stage. She becomes the Crone, ugly and misshapen, clothed in shadow, her gnarled hand holding out an apple filled with poison.
My daughter is 34 with a child of her own. And I? I am an OWL: an old white lady. A Crone.
What role do I have left to play in my chosen world—the world of words and pages and magazines and books and readers? I have decades of knowledge and experience which, in another age, might have granted me the role of storyteller in some cultures, wisdom keeper in others, or the role of witch—the role my daughter bestowed, a role that, in too many tales, both real and imaginary, has led to burning at the stake. But I do not live in other places, other ages. I live in twenty-first century U.S.A. Here, my decades have made me…redundant. Why hire a Crone when a Maiden can be acquired at half the cost? Why publish a Crone’s work when her brand—OWL—isn’t InstaWorthy and her decades can’t be incapsulated in 280 characters?
Why? Because, what if that apple the Crone offers isn’t filled with poison? What if it is filled with wisdom? With a long life’s worth of knowledge of good and evil? What if the gods are daring you to take a bite, to discover how tart and crisp or juicy and sweet, how spicy, how terrifying, how luscious, how enchanting a Crone’s stories can be?
As a writer, I don’t plan. I don’t “pants” either. I excavate. I write to dig beneath the surface and discover what lies buried there. What has surfaced in this excavation of the Crone? Fear, of course. No writer wants her story to end. Anger. Yes. Plenty of that. I live in a world where youth is valued and age dismissed out of hand. I’ve also surfaced truth: If I want publishers and readers to embrace the Crone rather than killing her off or, worse still, making her redundant, I must embrace her in myself, in my reading choices, and in my writing.
I challenge each of you, dear readers, to honor the Crone. Take the apple and bite deeply.