By Rachael Clyne
This April I turned sixty thus achieving cronehood, but I felt my journey began two years before in the summer of 2007, when what is known as my second Saturn return (Crone’s male counterpart) really kicked in; and boy did it kick in! Saturn returns are slow, grinding and thorough re-evaluations of our values and structures, often restrictive and lasting around two years.
That summer was the end of the cycle and I was shaken by the revelation that a lifelong friendship which I’d fully expected to last through old age, had run its course. I felt Saturn placed a scythe in my hand and I had to sever the cord that bound us together. Like someone said, once out, I couldn’t put the cork back in the bottle. It was inevitably fraught and painful as we separated our commitments over several months, and decades of sharing our lives, work and our spiritual journeys were all flung apart to distant memory.
Her breath is on me now
Be it at my shoulder or eye to steely eye
So it’s wheelchairs handrails
Yet the love received
The Crone takes a larger view, of course, and ruthlessly challenges us to surrender whatever is no longer fitting to take into our next stage of life. As we pass through each of the gateways of our croning journey a layer is stripped away; this was the first and I wondered how many more gateways there would be. At the same time, she took care of me as I was able to stay in a Goddess friend’s house in Cornwall close to sacred sites. It was a safe and loving refuge as I grieved by the wells of Madron and Sancreed. Sitting in the dark of the beehive chamber at Carn Euny I asked for a sign; to my surprise a swallow flew in and out of the dark to feed her young tucked high in a crevice. She lifted my heart and seemed to presage hope and a promise of happiness to come. I feel strongly connected to the prehistoric settlement of Carn Euny with its magnificent granite fogou, an underground tunnel with a beehive chamber at its centre, rather like a uterus with ovaries. The chamber stones are speckled with phosphorescent algae that glitter green. My stay in Cornwall helped me to surrender to wherever my path would take me.
A year later I spent two weeks in a caravan in West Wales, exploring the beautiful coasts of Ceridigion and North Pembrokeshire with the Witch’s Cauldron and Goddess rock shapes near Ceibwr. There I celebrated Lammas at Penlan Quoit in the midst of a barley field looking back towards the Preseli mountains. I honoured the ancestors and a chant kept coming to me “crone, bone, stone; crone breath, stone death.”
The very next morning I skidded on wet grass at the caravan site and lay flat on my back screaming for help. I was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery, having dislocated and broken my ankle in three places. I emerged with screws and plates, on crutches and my leg in plaster. Just before I went into surgery I fell into a deep healing state and felt the spirits of my departed parents and sister give me healing for the operation. I was stranded and friends from my women’s group drove all the way to rescue and bring me and my belongings home.
In breaking my ankle I felt the crone had cracked my ego; another gateway, stripping away defences to leave me vulnerable and helpless. For the next six weeks I was loved and supported by friends and neighbours, including my 82 year old neighbour who came each morning to feed my cats and my women’s group, who one night tucked me into bed, cleaned my face with a flannel and kissed me goodnight. I was profoundly moved by everyone’s willingness to help, it was such a deep learning in dependency and its gifts of love. I have always been so self-reliant and fearful of the unpredictability of depending on others. It is so much easier to give as you are still in control, but I couldn’t cook, wash my hair, carry anything, or walk and was forced to ask for help. It gave me a glimpse of what it might mean to grow old. Social services provided me with equipment and I survived on old people’s frozen dinners being delivered, which I had to eat from the kitchen counter, sitting on a stool, with my leg propped up on the cat-biscuit bag. It took me the whole morning just to get up, wash, dress and prepare and eat breakfast upstairs. Being self-employed I had to continue working and friends volunteered to drive me back and forth with the aid of a wheelchair to get me from house to car. It wasn’t easy, especially towards the end, having to keep asking, but somehow I managed and rested a lot, listening to Harry Potter CDs. Eventually the plaster came off and I held a “retirement party” for all my helpers and chauffeurs. I was so grateful to them all and I began to appreciate the gradual return of the small independences that we all take for granted; like hanging out my own washing, eating in the living room, having a bath. I felt the true meaning of community and that I was loved and known. One friend called it Glastonbury CIA (community in action).
For several years I knew I wanted to celebrate my sixtieth birthday by hanging out with close friends in a house party. Having previously been to The Goddess in Cornwall Conference held at Boswedden House looking onto Cape Cornwall I realised it was the perfect venue and had been in discussion with the owners about that possibility. Whilst I recovered my bipedal self, this dream became a reality and I made arrangements for a dozen or so friends and family to stay with me there, where I could share the beautiful wild landscape with them.
Almost as an afterthought, I realised with delight that I could have a proper croning ceremony at one of the sacred sites and Carn Euny fogou, with its underground chamber and crone energy, immediately sprang to mind. I couldn’t believe how well this was panning out. As 2008 turned to 2009 Imbolc launched me into the sense of being a queen carried towards her coronation. Money and work seemed to flood in, giving me a cushion of abundance with which to enjoy my croning year. The trials and tests of the previous years turned to joy as my birthday (also Easter weekend) drew near. I had a few ideas about my ceremony which I passed to the small ceremonial group, leaving the planning to them. I went down a day early to prepare and as I drove a beautiful swan flew low over my car like a blessing. I visited the fogou and asked permission for my ceremony, for the Crone might not welcome being roused from her slumber in spring. A gentle breeze twice brushed my head, it was loving, light and humorous and I knew we were definitely on course for an occasion to remember. The weather was glorious. My friends arrived and I couldn’t be more excited as they expressed pleasure at the surroundings. My pleasure deepened as those friends who had never met, enjoyed getting to know each other. Nigel and Thelma (Boswedden House owners) really looked after us well, managing the complexities of different dietary needs and providing us with yummy meals. We hung out while the ceremony group closeted themselves in a bedroom to plot and plan, including my nephew Dan, who is very much in the political and academic camp rather than the spiritual one. I was so touched that he insisted on taking part out of his love for me. My three year old niece, named after my sister who died when Dan was only ten, was a joy and she adored the rabbit backpack I gave her to include her in the birthday fun. The day of my birthday was total bliss, I came down to breakfast to open my cards and found the room filled with balloons and flowers. I was surrounded by people I loved, some of whom I’d known from childhood, I was also aware of one friend missing, and I felt that absence. Lunchtime was pressie and cake-time as more friends arrived.
That afternoon we made our way to Carn Euny, where we were greeted by the ceremony group and smudged. We joined circle and called in the directions. People voiced qualities they appreciated about me and then I turned to be met by my two escorts into the underworld. Far from being robed and masked in traditional fashion they were garbed in cagouls, sunglasses and wellies. I fell about laughing. We waved goodbye and descended into the underworld via the fogou. Once more I entered the beehive chamber, to be met this time by the Crone herself, carried by a friend fully robed and masked. I was ordered to take off my cloak, stripped of importance like Innana and she challenged me with such questions as “Why are you here? What do you want? What will you leave behind?” and “What will you take with you?” I gave her an offering which she accepted and we talked, then she gave me her blessing and placed a goddess pendant around my neck. I emerged from the other side of the fogou tunnel to be showered with herbs and petals. I really felt I had crossed a threshold; a true rite of passage. I was seated on a throne and given regalia consisting of an orb and besom/sceptre and the most outrageous pair of black rubber gloves with roses on the cuffs. I laughed and cackled fit to bust for a good five minutes. I was crowned by two sister crones and each person came and attached a token symbolising qualities they wanted to gift me. All I can say is Wow! The plan worked absolutely and I cannot recommend enough doing something to celebrate such a life stage. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the weekend.
My year has continued with abundance, but with the knowledge that I have entered a new and unknown phase of life with changes still evolving and I am continuing to discover and learning how to adapt to its needs. Someone conveniently asked me the other day “what does it mean to you to become a crone?” Firstly it means a real sense of achievement; just to live to sixty years old. We take it for granted these days, at least in our society, but without the aid of modern medicine I know would have died at the age of thirteen, and would also be facing some severe health problems due to a health condition.
Secondly, I feel deep gratitude for my life, for having had the chance to grow and learn with all the inevitable pain and challenges. Now it’s time to live off those l’earnings (although pension does help). I recognise a need to let go of having to be “someone”, of career chasing and stepping back to allow others to step forward. It means accepting increasing physical and mental limitations and asking for help when I need it. I hope it might also mean more time to do creative things instead of having to work so hard and I'm still learning to surrender to that one! Witnessing the sixtieth birthdays of several dear friends; sharing doubts, fears, insights and wisdom with my women’s group has all been an important part of the journey. Long may it last!
Crone of wisdom crone of death
Crone of creaky bones and flesh
Holy grandmother ancient one
I honour you and know that none
Escape your reign ‘fore our lives are done
I’ve journeyed far to reach your den
Through joys and woes, battles lost and won
With all youth’s vigour and aspirations
To touch the world through my creations
Exploring love, though elusive it seemed
With fulfilled hopes and broken dreams
Facing frustration and solitude
Gaining acceptance and gratitude
Finding real friendship and my true home
Now I’m ready to approach your throne
Surrender youth and chasing wealth
To your inner beauty and loving self
Instead of chasing worldly goals
Discovering now another role
Please bless me Crone and ease my way
Reveal to me your mystery
Bestow on me your wisdom and power
As I now reach my croning hour.
Text & all photos ©Rachael Clyne
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