The Crone: Three-in-One Goddess of the Witches

by JoHarrington

The Triple Goddess is a major deity in Wicca. She is a single being, who is viewed as three divine women: Maiden, Mother and Crone.

Picture a witch and the chances are that you are imagining the Crone.

Wrinkled, wart-ridden skin (possibly green, if you've been watching too much 'Wizard of Oz'); hooked nose; cackling laughter; black attire and, of course, that towering pointed hat. These are the hallmarks of the hag.

It's a measure of the power of the Crone that our fairy tales have had to vilify her quite so much!

The reality of this aspect of the Goddess is very special indeed.

The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power

Crone: The Goddess of the Waning Moon

In Her Crone aspect, the Goddess guides us to reflect upon things. She also challenges us to destroy what isn't working, in order that it may be transformed.

On the surface, the Wiccan view of the Crone is quite simple.  She is the eldest incarnation of the Triple Goddess.

She is also the last stage of the moon's monthly cycle.  The new moon waxes into full, then wanes into dark.  That second stage is the Crone taking over from the Mother.  The dark moon is fully into Her domain.

But what happens next?  A new moon is born.

On a bigger scale, she takes over the year at Samhain. The seasons are now irrevocably set on a course for winter. 

This is the dangerous time, when people, beasts and birds may freeze to death; and when sustenance grows low.

But spring is waiting at the other end.

Let's pull our vision back even further.  Instead of viewing a mere month or year, there's a whole life-time for a woman here.

She's born as a Maiden, full of enthusiasm and vitality.  She grows into the fertile Mother, from whose womb all life blooms.  Then the menopause hits and She weakens. Her skin wrinkles and Her back stoops. 

This is the Crone and the final act is in death.

But remember that Wiccans believe in reincarnation.  That death eventually ends in rebirth.  She becomes the Maiden again.  Death is not the end.  It passes into the new moon, into spring and, from the Wiccan point of view, a brand new life.

The station of the Crone is not to terrify.  It's just where She happens to be standing.  Change is always scary, and the job of the Crone is to walk us through those changes.

David Bowie Meets the Crone

You don't have to be an old person to enter the realm of the Crone. She's there whenever something is destroyed; and something is created anew from the ashes.

Books about the Crone

Buy these guides to learn more about the Goddess as an older woman. This is divinity for the post-menopausal.

Reordering the World: The Crone as a War Goddess

War is very destructive. It's one of the worst aspects of human nature to want to go there. But it's also very fertile in ideas and inventions.

When I think 'war goddess' I think Morrighan.  You may insert your own terrible, battle-hardened deity.

These days, armies tend to go to war under the auspices of male gods - Jehovah, Allah, Yahweh. But that hasn't always been the case.  The Anglo-Saxons and King Arthur have all marched into battle with the Virgin Mary on their banners; at least they did if you believe the medieval chroniclers.

But when my own ancestors, the Celts, were fighting over land and slaves, it was under the curses and signs of Cerridwen and Morrighan.  You can still glimpse Her in the legends as Morgan Le Fey.

Yet look at these terrifying goddesses - screaming as the furious Furies; or hurtling into the bloody fields as defiant, chariot riding warriors - and the first thing that you notice is their youth. They are queens and/or mothers, but they are most definitely the Crone.

Wherever there is blood and destruction (unless it's reproductive in the birthing sense), there is the Crone.  It's not a matter of age. It's a place, an attitude, an action, a circumstance.  It's the dark times and the dangerous times. 

The Crone isn't each individual warrior.  The Maiden is looking after them. She is war and the fact of war. She is the whole battlefield and the crows that feed off the dead. 

She'll take over from the Maiden if any of the warriors get killed.  Because then they've passed from a personal struggle into a life (and death) changing state.

It is so easy to view war as destruction. It patently is terrible and appears utterly futile.  It's in human nature to do it, then regret it endlessly.  Perhaps our most fatal flaw is in fact war.

But look back, from the other side of the great conflicts, and you see something new.  War is the great cauldron of necessity; necessity is the mother of invention.

The Crone isn't only there because people are dying, but because society is changing. Things are being forged from the turmoil of the past.

Kali the Eater of Souls is a Crone Goddess

Hindu Goddess Kali Dancing on Siva

The Phoenicians, fleeing the threat of genocide under the Assyrians, were forced to live as sea-faring traders. They encountered many different markets, counting systems and languages. They needed to take notes, in order to simply survive.

They invented the alphabet.

Mind you, war can really mess up the markets, even if it is good for business with arms deals and people paying over the odds for basic necessities.

As soon as the ancient Persians began their rampage across Asia, the populations in their bloody path started to panic about their wealth.  It was no good having tons of assets, if you were about to be over-run. Something a little more portable was required, though it had to be trustworthy.

Enter the Lydians with their ingenious idea for coinage.  Standard size, all the same value across the land, easy to shove in your pocket.  'Currency' because it's only supposed to be current during war. Then you can go back to trading in rice, like the Sumerians.  Yeah, right.

They invented currency and national stock markets.

Exiled, enslaved and scattered, the ancient Jews were in danger of losing their language, culture and everything else besides. They came up with the ingenious idea of writing it all down.  Not just their stories, legends and history, but their laws and etiquette too.

War created the first religious book in the Torah.  It also gave rise to monotheism, because the person writing down things like 'there is only one God' was the one to preserve that notion.  Radical as it was at the time.

When the sheer scale of carnage, during the First World War, caused a massive shortage of bandages, a paper mill found a solution.  Kimberly-Clark had accidentally soaked wood pulp enough times to realize that it created a brilliantly absorbent mass. They packaged it up as cellucotton and sent it to the front line.

Allied nurses were the first to use them on wounded soldiers; then the first to realize that there was another handy use for such pads.

The sanitary towel and tampon were created.

In a similar vein, all stockings were made from silk, manufactured in Japan, until the Second World War.  The country of origin caused a bit of an issue for ladies in Allied countries, as the Japanese weren't selling to the enemy. 

Nylon was invented in an American laboratory, just to shut the fashionable crowds up!

The microwave oven is only possible because the cavity magnetron was invented for radar during that same war.  The Cold War sent us to the moon.

History is peppered with such innovations.  Stick us in a war and it seems that human beings soon start becoming very resourceful.  Inventions flood the patent offices and some of them really do change the world.

Now can you see why the Crone is a war goddess?  Death and rebirth.  It's Her realm.

Books about War Goddesses

Each one of these goddesses have their Crone aspect; but also their Maiden and Mother aspects too. We are looking at the Triple Goddess here!
A conspiracy of ravens is interwoven with the Morrigan mythology like a Celtic knot. But why are these birds so linked with Ireland's darkest deity?

The Crone as Goddess of Wisdom

After a lifetime of experience, She has the knowledge to pass on. In slowing down, She also has the time and patience to do so.

If the Crone was going to preside over such cerebral outpouring and inventions, then perhaps the wisest thing She could tell us is 'stop going to war'.

Unfortunately, She has to work within nature, and human beings have been tribal, vicious thugs, since we first left Africa and wiped out the Neanderthals.  Possibly before. It's likely to be a long time yet before we evolve beyond it.

In the meantime, She has a life-time of experience and knowledge to teach the youth of today. She's one of the tribal elders.

Take our greatest stories and examine them. They are full of elderly people setting young adventurers onto the path of greatness.  In the modern age, it tends to be men - the Merlins, Gandalfs and Obi-Wans of this legendary world.  But before that, it was more usually a woman.

Ragnall put Gawain on to the road of chivalry.  Erin awarded the whole of Ireland to Niall of the Nine Hostages (which is still poetically named after Her now).  And so on and so forth.

In these tales, the wise, old lady tends to have more than a dash of divinity.  They shape-shift and they know the future.  Their wisdom comes from a source beyond the reach of the young questers themselves.

But the passing on of knowledge, advice and history doesn't have to be that grand; nor does it have to be supernatural.

One of my proudest moments was when my mother, in utter shock and surprise, commented that my bread pudding was nicer than her own.  This would stun just about everyone we know, because my mother is a tremendous cook and she is particularly known for her cakes.  I, on the other hand, am not.

So how did I do it?  Easy!  I by-passed her and asked my great-auntie for her recipe.  I then followed it faithfully and produced a pudding similar to that eaten by my mother as a child. 

The Crone had passed on Her knowledge to the Maiden.  Happy days!

The elders, of whatever gender, are the ones who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. They are the ones with the time and patience to pass that experience on to those who will listen.

History has a habit of repeating itself, but those listening to the Crone are forewarned.  Especially if that Crone is represented by their own elderly relatives.

Occupy Wall Street: Raging Grannies Sing in Protest

Listen to the lyrics, they have a lot to say about their life experience and the state of the world today.

Occupy Wall Street: Raging Grannies Show Support in Liberty Plaza
They survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, now New York Metro's Raging Grannies join the Granny Peace Brigade in supporting Occupy Wall Street.

Raging Grannies Books and CDs

These ladies aren't content to stay at home knitting and waiting to die. They're out on the front lines of today's activists, sharing their experience and helping out.

Crone: Goddess of Contemplation and Home Truths

Everyone who's ever experienced the proverbial Dark Night of the Soul was accompanied in those challenging self-appraisals.

Anyone with an understanding of the Wiccan Sabbat of Yule will find no surprise in the fact that the Crone is associated with reflection and repose.

That festival is deep within Her third of the year; and it's a time for quiet contemplation.

However, that's not the only time when we stop and think.  Sometimes, it's precisely when we don't want to.  Like at 3am, when we're lying sleepless, doing our own heads in, because we can't think past our own paranoia and panic.

That is most certainly within the remit of the Crone.  It's placing a dark mirror to our psyche in possibly the most destructive way, insofar as our mental health and hope of sleep are concerned. But it does tend to throw up what barriers to peace are in our path.

Come daylight, we just have to act to remove them.

The Crone is all about tough love.  She makes us face up to ourselves without any of the justifications that we normally smear over our actions.

But She's also about giving us time out to muse over things.  It's practically a cliche that old people take their grandchildren off for fishing trips, picnics or provide a space for a quiet afternoon chilling out.

As we think over our lives, She might be there with a word or two of guidance and warning. But ultimately it's our decision which way we jump.  There's no taking away of free will here.  Just the often heavy responsibility exercising it, with a little help from our elders.

Books about Contemplation, Meditation and Repose

Why rush about, hurtling into action without thought? Sometimes a few moments' contemplation will do wonders.

The Crone as the Dark Mother, Goddess of Death

We may fear Her in Her most Fatal aspect. But it's a Fate that calls us all, and who better to guide us through that ultimate transformation than the Crone?

Today the mortuary tends to take our dead; and the undertakers prepare our loved ones for the funeral.  But that wasn't always the case, nor is it still like that in every home around the world.

There was always at least one woman in the family or the village, who laid out the dead.  A couple of generations back, it was my great-grandmother and her mother, who were called upon. Corpses lay in parlors and people paid their respects.

They were fulfilling the role of the Crone indeed, but this is rushing too far forward.

Death-beds have always been the province of the eldest of the Three-in-One.  Not least because She might be lying in one!

She was the individual with the greatest experience in applying remedies, She might see Death out before this soul was even reaped.

But if it was their time, then nothing could change that.  The worldly Crone, of whatever age, would hold their hand as they passed into the arms of the divine Dark Mother.

Only it doesn't always go that smoothly.  There wouldn't be so many ghost stories, if everyone who gasped their last breath then moved swiftly onto the Otherworld.

This is the more mysterious of the Women's Mysteries.  Helping the dead to cross the Veil.  But it still goes on, as I know from personal experience.  For some it was taking a Shamanic journey into the astral plane, to lead the bewildered newly dead into the light.  For others, it was summoning the local priest and handing all spiritual matters over to him.

In terms of many myths and legends, the person coming for the dead was a woman. There were the Ladies of the Lake ready with a boat to Avalon; or Bast-Hathor, guarding the gates between life and death, deciding what to create from the destruction. 

Or the dead might go to Her, as with Persephone, waiting to strike down souls in Hades with the curses of the living, or Hel, providing an afterlife home for those Vikings denied entrance to Valhalla.

It's quite pleasing to see this tradition continued in the modern day stories of Sandman.  In Neil Gaiman's graphic novels, Death is a young, vibrant woman, enjoying Goth chic and Mary Poppins movies.

I'd certainly be glad to go, if someone that much fun was waiting on the other side!

Statue of Death from the Sandman

Books about the Dark Goddess and Death

Ok, I may have slipped a Sandman graphic novel into the middle there. But you can learn all you need to know about the Crone in the Dark Mother aspect from Death.

Read More About the Crone as the Dark Mother

Wiccan funerals are all about honoring the dead, but not in a way that assumes that they've gone. In fact, a place is set there for them.
The Grim Reaper has been envisaged many times in literature and art, but never as fabulously as in Neil Gaiman's graphic novel 'Sandman'.

Weird Sisters: The Crone as the Goddess of Fate

My friend's granny used to say that if you're destined to be hit by a bus, then you could be in the middle of an ocean and that bus would find you. I believe her.

There are thousands of endings (and new beginnings) every day of our lives.

It might be merely that the milk has run out and we need a new carton.  Or I've reached the end of this article, so it's about to start a new life out of draft mode.

But when those little changes are truly significant, then they cross the line into becoming Fated. The Fates are Crones.  We get the word fatal from the same root.

These are the things that are destined, hence the necessity of the Crone to set us on our path with a few words of wisdom.

In Norse mythology, via Scotland, that would be called following your 'wyrd'.  We get the word 'weird' meaning destined or fated from the same source.

When MacBeth met with the Weird Sisters on the blasted heath, he was at a pivotal moment in his life.  He was moving out of one stage (ordinary soldier with strong moral values) into another (usurper of kings and a bit mad). 

In many ways, his consultation with his destiny was as profound, in context, as St Paul's road to Damascus vision.  Only MacBeth was more blatantly meeting the Crone.

Where they would end up is not the point.  They were changing. They were moving into another period of their lives.  Something ended and thus was destroyed.  Something was born anew.  This is the province of the Crone.

Again, real life doesn't have to be that dramatic.  Whenever a woman menstruates, the Egyptian Crone Sekhmet may be around.  It may seem like this is the realm of the Mother, but it's not.  The presence of blood means that the lady ovulated and did not conceive. The egg just died.

Wherever there is an ending, expect the Crone.  She will be there to guide you through to the next level - the rebirth or the Sorting Out of This Bloody Mess.  It's never pleasant when She arrives, but you'll be glad that She did.

It might be tough love or destiny that She brings, but it could equally be a quiet space in which to sort out your own mind.

At the end of the battle, the Goddess Morrighan reports back to the Gods.  Her words have now been Christianized, but the essence still rings true.  She says,

"Peace up to Heaven,
Heaven down to Earth;
The Earth under Heaven
Strength to every one."

Then She hands back over to the Maiden to build the world anew.

Posters of the Goddess in Her Crone Aspect

Articles about the Three-in-One Crone and Her Realm

On June 8th 2013, it was the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison. She made the decision to become a martyr for Women's Right to Vote.
Have you ever really imagined what it would be like? You or a loved one given that date and watching it draw near. Knowing that you will be killed.
When somebody dies, there is a tendency to talk only about the good that they did in life. Is this really the best way for them to be remembered?
A firebrand Socialist of the old school, Tony Benn had time to listen to everyone. His radical politics were for the people, not the establishment elite.
Updated: 04/16/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 10/10/2012

I'm glad that you liked it. )

Ragtimelil on 10/10/2012

Great history lesson. I love it.

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