crone

She Who is All – The Goddess of Ten Thousand Names

October, 2017

Baba Yaga

(Photo Credit – journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com)

In Slavic and Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is the old woman of autumn. She was a fearsome witch-like woman with iron teeth, who rowed through the air in a mortar, using a pestle as an oar. As she travels, she sweeps away all traces of herself with a broom made of silver birch.

She is the epitome of the fairy-tale witch, who lives in a hut deep in the forest, this hut having the legs of a chicken and would spin around and around. Its’ windows are its’ eyes. This hut is surrounded by a fence on which skulls are placed, with eyes a-blazing. She would scare people with just a look, and her appearance would cause the wind to blow wildly, leaves blowing helter-skelter. It is said that her traveling companions were spirits. She has bodiless pairs of hands that act as her servants and could call on the White, Red and Black Horsemen. She was also called Baba Yaga Bony Legs, as, even though she had a ferocious appetite and ate those who did not complete the tasks she had given them, she was extremely skinny. She had two older sisters, both of whom were also known as Baba Yaga. She would sleep sprawled out on her stove, which was the length of the hut and her long nose would hit the ceiling as she snored.

Baba Yaga would always ask visitors if they were sent to her, or if they came of their own free will. She had no power over the pure of heart or were protected by love or virtue.

One of the most famous stories of Baba Yaga was about a young girl named Vasalisa.

(Photo Credit – Wikipedia)

Vasalisa was the daughter of a merchant, whose wife dies when the girl was 8 years old. While on her deathbed, the mother gives Vasalisa a small wooden doll. She told her that if Vasalisa fed it a small amount to eat and drink if she were in need, then the doll would help her. She did so and the doll comforted her. Eventually, as men will do, her father remarried, to a woman who had two daughters of her own. This woman was very cruel to Vasalisa, who was always able to do all of the chores assigned to her, with the help of her little wooden doll. Her stepmother would not allow her to be married before her own daughters and send all suitors away, as they had no desire to wed Vasalisa’s step-sisters.

On a day that Vasalisa’s father left on a trip, the stepmother sold his home and moved them to a hut in the forest, which was very dark and gloomy. She gave each of the girls a chore to do and put out all the fires in the hut, except for one candle. The older step-sister sent Vasalisa to see Baba Yaga to fetch more light. With the help of her doll, she knew where to go, and so she went.

As she traveled she passed a man, dressed in white, on a white horse; then a man dressed in red, on a red horse. She soon came to a house which stood on chicken legs, whereupon she noticed that the fence was made with bones. A man dressed in black on a black horse, then rode past here. She was frozen with fear and so Baba Yaga found her when she returned home.

(Photo Credit – Pinterest)

To earn the fire, Baba Yaga told Vasalisa that she must perform certain tasks or she would be killed. Vasalisa cleaned the house, the yard, washed Baba Yaga’s laundry, cooked her food and on and on. Vasalisa was exhausted and scared that she would never complete the tasks given to her. Her small wooden doll once again came to the rescue, completing the work while Vasalisa slept. Each of the horsemen rode by again, and when Baba Yaga returned home, she found nothing that she could complain about. She allowed Vasalisa to ask questions of her, and when she inquired of the horseman, Baba Yaga explained that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun and the black one, Night. She also asked Vasalisa how she was able to complete her chores and was told that it was by the blessing of Vasalisa’s mother. Baba Yaga threw Vasalisa out of her home, not wanting any blessings. She gave Vasalisa a lantern made out of a skull that was full of burning coal for her family. When she returned home, she learned that no one in her family had been able to light any candles or fire while she was gone. Vasalisa’s step-mother and step-sisters were burned to ashes by the coals in the skull, and so Vasalisa buried the skull so that no one else would be harmed by it again.

In origin, Baba Yaga was an ancient Birth and Death Goddess, whose death in autumn, led to new birth in spring. She lives in the last sheaf of grain harvested and whichever woman would bind that grain would bear a child that year.

She is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom & Death, who brings the death of ego, the re-birth through death. Baba means “grandmother” or “old woman”. She is the Eternal Mother. She is the Earth Mother, wild but kind, as the Earth is in both it’s gentle rain and it’s furious hurricanes. She is the Guardian to the Fountain of the Waters of Life and Death. She is the Ancient Goddess of Old Bones. She brings us from our darkness to Light, death to re-birth.

She is the Wise Hag, giver of wisdom and magic gifts. She is all-knowing and all-seeing and shares her gifts with those who are brave enough to ask. She keeps her promises to those who come to Her.

She is the Crone within the Triple Goddess.

As Goddess, Her themes are the harvest, prosperity, rest and giving thanks, bringing us awareness of the Wheel of the Year. You can bring Her prosperity to you by bringing a wreath of harvest items into your home.

(Photo Credit – Etsy.com)

Her symbols are corn, sheafs of wheat and wild flowers.

Her colors of White, Red and Black, the colors of Her horsemen, the colors of the Maiden, Mother and Crone.

Stones: Black tourmaline, smoky quartz

Her season is Autumn and She is the Waning and Dark Moon. Her tree is the silver birch.

Her festival is celebrated on January 20th.

The following is an excerpt from The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marachinsky, with artwork by Hrana Janto.

“I walk in the forest

and speak intimately with the animals

I dance barefoot in the rain

without any clothes

I travel on pathways

that I make myself

and in ways that suit me

my instincts are alive and razor sharp

my intuition and sense of smell are keen

I freely express my vitality

my sheer exuberant joyfulness

to please myself

because it is natural

It is what needs to be

I am the wild joyous life force

Come and meet me.”

***

About the Author:

Susan Morgaine is a Daughter of the Goddess, Witch, WriterTeacher, Healer, and Yogini. She is a monthly columnist with PaganPages.org Her writings can be found in The Girl God Anthologies, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” and Jesus, Mohammed and the Goddess, as well as Mago Publications She Rises, Volume 2, and “Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess”. She has also been published in Jareeda and SageWoman magazines. She is a Certified Womens Empowerment Coach/Facilitator through She is the author of “My Name is Isis, the Egyptian Goddess”, one in the series of the “My Name Is………” children’s books published by The Girl God Publications. A Woman International, founded by Patricia Lynn Reilly. She has long been involved in Goddess Spirituality and Feminism, teaching classes and workshops, including Priestessing Red Tents within MA and RI. She is entering her 20th year teaching Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, being a Certified instructor through the Kundalini Research Institute, as well as being a Reiki Master. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She can be found at https://mysticalshores.wordpress.com/ and her email is MysticalShores@gmail.com

Spiralled Edges

March, 2016

Spiralled Edges – What Makes a Crone?

Mid-February I celebrated by 50th birthday, a full half century of living. As I have moved towards this mark, I have turned my thoughts to who I am and what I want to be in my life. Now more than ever I face my own mortality as I have realised I most likely have more years behind me than in front of me.

I am okay with this. I am ready to take my place as an elder, as a crone, both in the Pagan community and in the world at large.

Who am I to self-proclaim: I am an Elder!

Is it age alone, or something more that makes one an Elder? What makes a crone, I ask myself.

So, I look to see what others have said on the subject…

  • A crone is a woman who has past her 50th, or 55th, or 60th year.
  • A crone is a woman who has gone through menopause.
  • A crone is a woman who has grandchildren.
  • An elder is someone with X number years of experience.
  • An elder has wisdom.

And, I ask myself, do I fit these definitions? Can I declare myself to be a village elder/crone or is this yet another title of respect that should rightly be bestowed by the community?

For the most part, yes. I’m post-menopausal. I have over 20 years’ experience as a healer and Pagan witch. I have just hit my 50th year of life. No grandchildren yet. And no village/community/coven group to bestow a title upon me. Wisdom? If finally understanding that there is no magical age upon which one finally knows and understands all, and accepting this with patience and confidence counts as wisdom, then yes I have it.

I am a crone and I wear this title along with my head of grey hair as a crown of honour. It is an honorific that I have earned and I have been working towards for many years.

Now that I am accepting and wearing my crown many idiosyncrasies from my past are finally making sense. Mother Goddess, Modron moving away and telling me that Her time as my Patron Goddess has come to an end. Brigid making herself known as a Patron Goddess, but saying as well that She is not the one I will be following. The blue-faced mask of Mareninka which I created over 15 years ago. The hag stones collected and carefully kept for just as long. Blue-faced Kali being on the periphery of my work as a critical care nurse 20 years ago, but not showing up again as I begin doing my life work as a Soul Midwife and facilitator of healing for women. The beautiful owl butterfly, merging owl with butterfly as a symbol of transformation, wisdom, and the healing work I am now doing. And always over everything as awareness of a great, ancient crone who is both awe-some (to be filled with awe) and terrifying and has been setting me challenges to be met for more years than I was aware.

In the past week, as I contemplated this article and also a ceremony to mark this rite of passage in my own life, She made Herself known to me clearly, and I realised She had been speaking to me all along. Accepting my role as crone also means accepting the mantle of being Her Priestess. (While I have had Patron Gods and Goddesses, I have never been called to dedicate myself to the service of one in particular. – Until now.)

I am speaking of the Crone of crones, the ancient Hag of the British Isles, The Cailleach.

I find that I am excited about what the future may hold for me in my waning years. And excited about where my practice and work as a Priestess of The Cailleach may take me.

SpellCrafting: Spells & Rituals

September, 2015

Croning : miscellaneous

Merry meet!

This month is the last of a six-part series on croning – a feminine rite-of-passage ritual for those reclaiming the power and wisdom of the old woman, the crone.

As we prepare to enter the dark half of year on Mabon, I wanted to offer some final thought about the celebration of croning.

In the world of muggles, the crone is an old, ugly, unproductive woman. Her proximity to death makes her dark and scary. In the pagan community, she is the wise woman who is respected. She is a teacher and a mentor. Her proximity to death makes her powerful and able to walk in both worlds. Not only does she preside over death, she presides over rebirth, for she knows the two are linked and that all endings are beginnings. She can feel it in her bones.

When the croning ritual is competed, the candles extinguished and the circle opened, it’s not over, it’s just beginning. Now that you have the title, you get to live it.

In this past year, I have grown more and more comfortable with myself even though we live in a world of where youth is still coveted. Women of a certain age are targeted with commercials, articles and infomercials encouraging them to dye hair, use make-up, get rid of wrinkles, lose weight and have procedures done in an effort to look younger. While I now understand it, I only aim for healthy and, after almost a year, I have made changes I had been resisting.

I am more at peace with where I am – and am not – in life. I was able to lay aside some dreams and some burdens. I’m planning a bit less and trusting a bit more. I have bounced back from blows quicker, accepted more and expressed more gratitude more often.

I no longer think someone else has the answers and will look inside. I am more comfortable sharing knowledge and giving advice. With two other crones, I have been helping run a pagan discussion group for LGBTQ youth. When co-workers, neighbors and others who cross my path ask for help with smudging houses, spell work or defining the influences of a particular moon phase, I am more comfortable answering without feeling a need to do extensive research. I’m also honoring my ancestors more – including the elders who are still living.

My croning ceremony was one of the most meaningful events in my 61 years. The change it signaled was not the end of a journey, but very much a beginning. Grandmother Spider is back with me, and snake is close by as well. Both have helped me through previous transitions, and I know there will be others as as the wheel continues to turn on my crone years.

Merry part.

And merry meet again.

SpellCrafting: Spells & Rituals

June, 2015

Croning Part 3

Merry meet! 

This month is the third of a six-part series on croning – a feminine rite-of-passage ritual for those reclaiming the power and wisdom of the old woman, the crone. It touches on some of the symbols of the crone you can consider incorporating into your ritual.

Croning : Symbols

Amethyst:

amethyst

This is often considered the gem of the crone because it is associated with spirituality and wisdom. Everyone who attended the weekend event at which I croned was given a small piece of amethyst and the instruction to give it to me with a personal message. I was given an etched champagne glass to collect them in.

Braid / stole / shawl: A wearable symbol of the level of crone is a stole or braid, that is placed over her shoulders. It can be round woven from ribbons representing the elements, or it can be of colors that have meaning for the crone. Charms, beads and crystals can also be added. I chose a black shawl as the garment I wished bestowed upon me because old women of all nationalities have worn shawls.

Cauldron: This customary witch’s tool is associated with the crone goddesses Cerridwen, the Celtic Keeper of the Cauldron; Hecate, Greek Goddess of magic and the underworld; and Kali, the Indian Goddess of destruction and rebirth. It is a symbol of germination, transmutation and transformation. It is the merging of the Great Goddess and the Great Mother. Crones stir their wisdom in the cauldron. I used mine to hold wisdom scrolls (to be described next month).

Crown:

crown

The placing of a crown on the head symbolizes rising to a higher rank – in this case, the rank of crone. It can be made by the crone from dried flowers, branches or other materials that are available as well as meaningful. Mine was made for me by two dear crones.

Owl: The owl – the bird of magic, darkness, prophecy and wisdom –is considered to be the totem of the crone.

Staff:

Staff

A staff is another symbol of initiation into cronehood. I chose to make a ceremonial one modeled after a medicine stick I had seen. The skull of a grandmother goat was a gift from a fire witch and farmer. Leather laces were strung through three holes to which I attached a variety of charms, amulets and other meaningful objects that previously had been on my altars or tucked in various places. It is both personal and powerful, and remains a work in progress. Staffs need not be elaborate. They can even be disguised as walking sticks.

Waning moon: As the moon decreases in size going from full to new, it is known as the waning moon and is associated with the crone. It’s a time of intuition and divination.

Next month I’ll prompt you to reflect on your life and the wisdom you have to share. My croning ritual will be a large part of the August column, along with some ideas for your own and some references. We’ll wrap up in September with any questions you may have as well as some details that did not fit into previous columns.

Merry part. And merry meet again…

SpellCrafting: Spells and Rituals

April, 2015

Croning : Are you a Crone?

crone

Merry meet!

This month begins the first of a six-part series on croning – a feminine a rite of passage ritual for those reclaiming the power and wisdom of the old woman, the crone.

Crone is one of triple Goddesses, the third stage, the wise elder.

Two characteristics generally used to determine cronehood are reaching menopause and having moved through your second Saturn return, a sort of cosmic transition, which generally happens by your 58th birthday. (You can enter your birth day, month and year and learn your dates at www.astrocal.co.uk/saturn-return.php.)

Saturn return marks the time when the planet that rules lessons, responsibilities and limitations returns to the same point it was when you were born. The first time it happens is in your late 20s. It comes back around again in your late 50s (A good reason to have mid-life crises.) and then again in your late 80s. Each time, the entire influence lasts almost three years.

Known as “the teaching planet,” Saturn comes to let you review your life and account for your choices. You may feel smacked down, put through the meat grinder and tested. During this time you may come face to face with all sorts of situations you probably would rather avoid.

When my second return came, I found myself becoming very aware that I was aging and that ageism exists. Our society is obsessed with youth, often dismissing women as they mature. To crone was a way I found to celebrate those decades, and to raise awareness around the issues of aging while challenging the image of old hag. To me, it was an honor to accept the title of crone.

A crone is no longer a mother raising children. She knows the value of time, and takes some to care for herself. Her creativity flowers. She is weathered and realistic, but she still dreams. She may be slower, but she’s steady.

Those who only see she is becoming “old” miss the ripeness that comes with experiences and the wisdom gleaned from them. She may have a sense of empowerment and a willingness, even an urge, to pass along her knowledge. While society seems to place little value on her wisdom, I believe the world is in need of it.

At this stage, a woman is moving into the greatest time of her life and a croning marks that. It celebrates older women, for they have always been the keepers of the mysteries. Nowhere else in my life was that milestone recognized or honored as it was among my magical family. I viewed my croning as my acceptance of my passage into elderhood. I embraced my life for getting me to where I am, and embraced myself for arriving.

I first wanted to crone at Mabon in 2013. My second Saturn return had come; it was more than a decade since my last flow; I was a grandmother. To pull it together in time would have rushed the process, so I did not announce my intention. Little did I know the events, challenges, losses and changes that would occur beginning that very Mabon afternoon and continuing to pummel me for months. It was clear I still had work to do around the issues of surrender and trust. The more my spiritual self was tested, the higher it soared. Come that next year I knew I was ready; I felt deserving.

I had a wonderful sense of having come into my own, of realizing I have a voice and I have power – and that I’m not afraid to use them. One of the items I placed on the altar during my ritual was a drawing of a woman with wild botanical hair and these words by an unknown author: “A wild young woman can be tamed by time and circumstance but a wild old woman is untamable by any force.” I was now a wild old woman and proud of it.

If you found yourself nodding a few times as you read this, perhaps you, too, are a crone. If you would like to honor that with a ceremony, my columns in the coming months may help.

 Next we will begin to explore the ritual of croning: what, when, where and who to invite.

In June we will talk about the symbols of the crone. July will prompt you to reflect on your life and the wisdom you have to share. My croning ritual will be a large part of the August column, along with some ideas for your own. We’ll wrap up in September with any questions you may have as well as some details that did not fit into previous columns.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

Tink About it

November, 2014

Crown the Crone!

Last month I turned 46. That’s when people start saying things like “oops, you are on the wrong side of 40 now” or “50 is coming soon”. Often disguised as a joke, but every so often with a serious tone of voice. It was the same when I turned 40. To be honest I didn’t really care, on the contrary: I gave a big party to celebrate it and had a great time! If someone says ‘you are getting old’ I always reply with ‘I hope so!’ Of course getting older isn’t all fun and games, but I refuse to give in to the negative stereotype of ‘the older woman’. People (but especially women) are tricked into being afraid to grow older. ‘Old’ being the synonym of obsolete, outdated, ugly, or worse. Commercials and adverts are trying to make us hate our aging body and be ashamed of wrinkles and grey hair. I still embrace my inner child, but growing older brings a lot of good things too. My mother often sighed: “oooh, to be young again and know what I know now…” Understandable, but I wouldn’t want to go back to when I was younger. I had a wonderful time then and horrible times too, but together it made me into what I am now. Over time I’ve learned to accept myself with all my virtues and vices. Still a work in progress though, but that’s okay. I’m slowly shifting into a new phase, and I hope I’ll be a proud and dashing crone one day!

If you google ‘crone’ the first you get is this:

 

crone

 

 

The etymology is full of negative annotations: old, useless, carcass, carrion (the decaying flesh of dead animals), etc. Not a nice picture at all… but a crone is (can be) more!
Barbara G. Walters, author of ‘The Crone’, says:

 

“The crone’s title was related to the word crown, and she represented the power of the ancient tribal matriarch who made the moral and legal decisions for her subjects and descendants. It was the medieval metamorphosis of the wise woman into the witch that changed the word Crone from a compliment to an insult and established the stereotype of malevolent old womanhood that continues to haunt elder women today…”

In the pagan community the word ‘crone’ has a different meaning. The goddess and in her image a woman goes through three phases in order of age: maiden, mother, crone. So yes, a crone is an old(er) woman, but not the useless, ugly person from the dictionary. Quite the opposite: a crone is a valued member of society, a wise woman who earns respect. She is a teacher and a mentor.
Or, as Wikipedia explains it:

“The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. The Crone is also an archetypal figure, a Wise Woman. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, and her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag. The word “crone” is a less common synonym for “old woman”, and is more likely to appear in reference to traditional narratives than in contemporary everyday usage. The word became further specialized as the third aspect of the Triple Goddess popularized by Robert Graves and subsequently in some forms of neopaganism, particularly Wicca in which she symbolizes the Dark Goddess, the dark of the moon, the end of a cycle. In New Age and Feminist spiritual circles, a ‘Croning’ is a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power.”

Does this apply to women only? No, of course not. Although society seems to judge less about aging men than it condemns aging women, it’s no secret that nowadays men are also ‘targeted’ in the same way. More and more commercials, adverts, articles and the like are focusing on men. They too are encouraged to dye their grey hair, get a facelift, lose weight and look younger in any way possible. Of course there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and your health and appearance, but there’s no need (or at least there shouldn’t be) to hide or be ashamed of getting older. Not for women, not for men.
The sage is the masculine form of ‘The Wise One’ and thus the male counterpart for the crone. You know me, all about balance. 😉 Some time ago when I was looking for chants I found a new couplet to Zsusanna Budapest’s song ‘We all come from the goddess”. Author/source unknown unfortunately, but the lyrics (sung in the melody of ‘Hoof and horn’) are:

cron2e

Both crone and sage are regarded as ‘pagan elders’. They have a lifetime of experience and most of them are very willing to share their knowledge. Personally I love to listen to people who have witnessed things I only know from history books. I try to listen to them, learn and pay attention. Not only in the pagan community, but also in everyday society. I feel we should value elderly people for what they are, give them the respect they deserve, hear their stories and pass them on. When we are honouring our ancestors, let’s not forget the living ones!

 

Sources and interesting links:
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crone
book: Crones Don’t Whine by Jean Shinoda Bolen – I like this review: http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.nl/2013/08/sunday-salon-shes-crone.html
book: The Crone by Barbara G. Walker – review by Ana Rundic: http://rimstead-cours.espaceweb.usherbrooke.ca/ANG553H9/Ana%20Rundic.pdf
blog: A Rolling Crone – http://arollingcrone.blogspot.nl/2009/09/what-is-crone-anyway.html
Crones Council – http://www.cronescounsel.org/
http://www.legionofpagans.com/crones-and-more/5601/crone-to-sage
lyrics-image found on http://merrymeet.tumblr.com/

She is Crone

January, 2011

she moves with care now,
her limbs aching with each step
eyes shining in the darkness.
now, she is old, old as time,
beckoned by the gods,
needed by so many.
they call upon her now
to birth their babes,
lay out their dead.
a-night, they leave her solitary
in her home, wary of angering
this old, old soul
who has such knowledge in her
that it carves upon her face
deep and careless lines.
for pain, they need her,
fearful of its claws
they beg for aid
and always and anon she answers
she is all three, maiden, mother,
and, now, as aged as the Goddess
that she smiles upon in the night.
she is the centre,
the hub of things.
her travels now are done,
and yet she stays,
carven, almost, in stone,
serene in knowing
all is well.
she is Crone.
Copyright 2007 by Sama

Wicca 101

November, 2010

The Crone

I decided that as the seasons pass through, that I’ll cover each of the aspects of the Goddess. Instead of covering the Aspects as “Maiden, Mother, Crone” I’ll be covering them in the opposite direction. I believe that to understand the bringer of life, you should also understand the bringer of death, and vice versa; as the two are inextricably entwined with one another.

With the end of October is the turning of the season into winter, the aspect of the Goddess for this time of year is the Crone.

Without further ado, I bring you the basic information on: The Crone

Season: Autumn (dependent on your path) and Winter (generally agreed as the season of the Crone)

Holiday: Samhain

Colors: Black, Dark Blue, Dark Purple

Moon: Waning or Dark Moon

Representation: Death, Rebirth

Animals: Crow, Owl, Wolf, Snake, Spider

Goddesses: The Morrigan, Kali Ma, Nephthys, Tiamat, Hel, Hecate, Cerridwyn and many others.

The Crone is the representation of death and rebirth, and often is feared because of the aspect of death. The cycle of life is birth, life, death, and rebirth. The Crone is the guide in the last phase of your cycle, she will walk with you as your cycle comes to a close, and guide your way, easing you through the transition. Often the Crone is the Goddess of the Underworld, or death. However, she is many other things as well. She is the Grandmother, the wise-woman who has experienced life. She understands, and has the wisdom of how to deal with the problems that arise in life.

Celebrate the Crone, this is her time! She has much knowledge and wisdom to offer, and the patience to help you learn and grow!

Brightest Blessings!

Interview: Anne Newkirk Niven Editor of Crone,Witches&Pagans, and SageWoman Magazine

December, 2009

anne

She lives in Forest Grove, Oregon, with her husband and three sons.
Anne Newkirk Niven happens to be a great inspiration to me in my Pagan and Magical studies, on the top on my people who inspire me list.
I first encountered Anne’s work directly as an Editor and Pagan publisher, when I sent in one of my articles/interviews as a contribution to one of her magazines. She mercilessly stole the article from the magazine I submitted it to, and placed it in another one of her magazines! (this is a true story and switching the article to the other magazine is something I am forever grateful for, of course!) I guess this is something you can easily do, and all in a day’s hard work, when you happen to be the Editor -N -Chief of the magazines. I want to thank Anne for taking time out of her very busy schedule to conduct this exclusive interview for Thorn magazine.

How did your interest in Paganism begin?

I imagine, like most Pagans, that there really never was a time when I *wasn’t* Pagan; it’s just that I didn’t have a name for it. I was a pious, evangelical Christian child, but with a mystical heart. My head was with the Gospels, but my heart was with the Earth, and eventually, as a young adult, I discovered the Goddess through reading two books: The Mists of Avalon (which was a gateway for many in my generation) and Starhawk’s original version of The Spiral Dance.

What word or words best describe you or your belief system, Spiritual or otherwise?
( Witch? Pagan? Goddess?….you get the picture 🙂

I’m a Gaian Witch with Christo-Pagan leanings. Which, of course, is to say that I’m a Pagan heretic, just like I used to be a Christian one! My primary connection is to the Earth Goddess, which is what makes me a Gaian. I do magick (though relatively rarely) which is what makes me a Witch. And my primary connection to the God is through a lovely working relationship with Jesus. I also have worked, upon occasion, with Brigid, Isis and Oshun (I was turned on to this relationship by a cowrie reading done by Luisah Teish) and I have an ongoing, if subdued, relationship with Our Lady of Guadaloupe. You can tell a lot about me that I answer a question about my belief system in terms of my relationship with various deities, because I’m pretty much an iconoclast and have little use (in my personal life) for doctrinal formulae.

Fortunately, I got myself booted out of a rigid, fundamentalist church when I was only in third grade for my insubordinate questions, so my relationship with Christianity as a religion has primarily been with the liberal wing of the United Methodist Church. I received a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from a (nominally) Presbyterian college and went to a liberal Christian seminary whilst I was exploring my spirituality, receiving a Master’s of Divinity as an out-of-the-closet Pagan with Diana Paxson as my supervising pastoral mentor. I was consecrated to the Goddess and God by the Fellowship of the Spiral Path over twenty years ago, but I have not kept up my membership in that (or any) Pagan organization. I’m pretty happy as a solitary, at least for the moment, although I’m hoping to change that in my new home in Oregon.

Have you ever encountered any static from anyone (Pagan or otherwise?) while publishing for being a Witch with Christo-Pagan leanings?

Of course. I’ve been rather closeted, to tell the truth, because when I am open about my personal faith with Pagans I often get castigated, sometimes extremely harshly. (I’m not currently connected to many Christians on a personal basis, but the Christian friends I have are all very supportive of my Pagan beliefs. But then, they are liberal, social-gospel type Christians.) An editorial I wrote in SageWoman back in the nineties on this subject ignited a firestorm of protest; the one comment that stays with me to this day was a letter from a reader who wrote, (sarcastically) “Thanks for poisoning the sacred well.” I understand the need of many Pagans to avoid contact with Christianity, and I respect that by hardly ever commenting publicly on this subject other than excising vitriolic anti-Christian diatribes from our magazines. Encountering this type of prejudice has probably contributed substantially to my personal (not professional) distance from participating in Pagan groups and events. It’s very common, of course, for a new religious movement to reject the language, deities, and trappings of its predecessors (look at how the Christians have treated Jews over the centuries) but I used to naively believe Paganism immune to such influences. Historically, modern neo-Paganism grew up in a Abrahamic, primarily Christian, culture, so its rejection of that religion is a healthy part of its development. But I’m hoping that as the neo-Pagan movement develops more fully on its own, it will gradually moderate that stance. I already see this developing in the form of inter-religious dialogue between Pagans and Christians.

paganwitches

How did you get involved with Pagan publishing?
(Laughs). It’s a long story, but, in brief, I was trying to make a living. That’s why I laughed, since that sounds absurd, really. But it’s what happened. In 1988, I was living in Point Arena, California, a tiny coastal community in the middle of nowhere, having given up pursuing a career in the Christian ministry (for both personal and thealogical reasons) and my husband was operating a small print shop. I saw a copy of SageWoman and called the publisher, Lunaea Weatherstone, and asked to have the job of printing the magazine. Her printer at the time had done a bad job for her something like printing pages upside down and backwards, and she said, “yes.” After a long series of events, SageWoman came to be in my hands, and I ended up as her publisher. I’ve been doing this work ever since!
It must be a lot of work to publish Pagan magazines. Are there a lot of challenges in the work?
Well, yes, it’s pretty tough to make a living in any kind of publishing these days! The work is challenging, but rewarding, and I love it. I’m quite aware that I’m very fortunate to have been able to do this work for so many years. Publishing is not for the faint of heart: there’s financial challenges (like the fact that we barely break even on newsstand copies), lots and lots of creative challenges (you try coming up with a suitable illustration for a five-page spread on Satanism, like we did in PanGaia issue 50), and, of course, simply not enough hours in the day. But it’s by far the best job I’ve ever had.

You’ve told us about SageWoman; tell us about some of your other magazines.
SageWoman is the mother of all our titles. We wouldn’t even have a publishing company without her, and I still love SageWoman as much as when I saw my first issue. A women’s circle — in print — seems like an evergreen concept to me, and our readers seem to agree. But as a happily-married woman with three sons, it seemed odd to me to be publishing material only for women. In 1991, we started a men’s counterpart to SageWoman named The Green Man. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really community support for that title, and in 1995 it morphed into PanGaia, which was co-gender and therefore reached a wider audience.
Later we started a Pagan family magazine, The Blessed Bee, which we ran for eight years (and still have all those lovely back issues available) but like The Green Man, we just couldn’t find enough of a market for it, so we closed that title a couple of years ago. newWitch came about as a result of my husband Alan and I waking up on September 10, 2001 (yes, the day before 911) with the concept of a magazine specifically to break new ground in Pagan publishing. It was a fully-formed idea right out of the box, and the timing was fortunate — if we’d had the idea even 24 hours later, we would never have had the chutzpah to go ahead with the idea.
After newWitch, we went the other way entirely: to creating a magazine specifically for Crone-aged women. Crone: Women Coming of Age is the only one to grow from another title that we didn’t publish ourselves. A magazine named Crone Chronicles, published by our good friend Ann Kreilkamp, had a decade-long run and ended about five years ago. Last year, I realized that the concept might be ready to return, and called up Ann K. to see if she would collaborate with me on a re launch, and she said yes! So that’s how Crone came about.
During your time as a Pagan publisher have you noticed other Pagan Zines come and go? (what do you think keeps a good Pagan Zine going, and why do you think some of them cease publishing?, has the Internet affected the Craft of Pagan printed magazine publishing?)
(Laughing) Oh, my goodness, I couldn’t even count all the Pagan ‘zines I’ve seen come and go. We printed a good number of them; remember that we were small press printers before we were publishers. The mortality rate is truly staggering, but probably no more so than for magazine publishing in general; industry pundits like to say that only one magazine in ten survives two years, and less than 2% make it a decade. It’s like opening a restaurant; everyone thinks that they know how to cook, but actually running a food-based, customer service business is devilishly difficult. Pagan magazines have the additional challenges of facing a tiny niche market full of iconoclasts and free-thinkers (who are therefore unlikely to subscribe and difficult to market to potential advertisers) and the fact that Paganism is still a counter-cultural movement. For example, even after all these years, we still experience problems acquiring full newsstand penetration, especially for newWitch, because of prejudice against Pagans. And don’t even get me started on the difficulty of delivering our magazines to our incarcerated subscribers. We also have to mail everything in sealed envelopes, which is very expensive, because folks are reasonably worried about being “outed” as Pagan. It’s simply something we have to live with.
Add that to the fact that every Pagan zine I’ve ever heard of is run by volunteers (with a high propensity for burnout), massively under-capitalized, and with little or no experience in publishing or in running a small business, and it’s a miracle that there are Pagan zines at all. But the Goddess clearly inspires us and that’s what keeps all us Pagan publishers going, I’m certain.
As for the Internet, it has affected all publishing, Pagan and secular alike. It is a double-edged sword; we do a lot of business through the internet, and it makes it easier for folks to find us, but the Internet has brought about an explosion of free content (some good, some bad) that’s difficult to compete with. Unlike mass media titles, we depend on our actual readers, not our advertisers — though we value their support — for most of the revenue. So it’s absolutely vital that folks be willing to subscribe (or at least, buy on newsstand) our zines in order for us to survive. If everyone just says, “I can read that for free on the Internet” I’ll be sacking groceries in no time flat.
What is one of the best things you like about your job being a Pagan publisher and Editor? (what is most rewarding, or most humorous?, etc?)
Aside from simply having a job that’s contributing to the Goddess and building the Pagan community, what I like best is weaving together all the material I receive into a (hopefully) harmonious whole. I think of myself as a patchwork quilter, or perhaps, a choir conductor — the creativity is in melding the voices, not showcasing my own ideas.
Recent news I hear is PanGaia is merging with newWitch magazine, is this true?
That’s true; we are no longer going to publish PanGaia per se, and it was incredibly tough to make that call.
The proximate cause of no longer publishing PanGaia as a seperate title was both financial and personal. Financially, PanGaia always operated on a break-even basis, at best — and although it had a small core of dedicated readers, it never developed a large enough base to support itself, so it was always a (financial) drain on the rest of the company. Personally, we are slimmed-down to the thinnest staff possible — just our family — and I simply didn’t have the creative energy to manifest three magazines four times a year. I finally had to kick myself out of my denial over those two issues and do what needed to be done.
I spent an entire morning crying my eyes out when I finally came to grips with the fact that we could no longer publish PanGaia. Then, I picked myself up, and thought about how to take that circumstance and turn it into transformative energy. PanGaia has always been the most in-depth and serious of our Pagan magazines. If SageWoman was all “heart chakra” and newWitch focuses on issues more related to the first three chakras — issues of power, sex, groundedness, spellwork — then PanGaia was the “third eye” of the set. Although I thought that keeping these subjects corralled in their own little domains, I finally realized that carving up Pagandom (mentally, of course) into the “serious” audience and the “fluffy” audience was no longer useful. That’s where the idea of merging newWitch and PanGaia came from. We decided to expand the magazine to 96 pages and rename it Witches and Pagans to express the combination of the two audiences.
What has been the reaction to that change?
At first, I was really worried, because I got a fair bit of kickback from PanGaia readers who thought the new magazine would be too fluffy or, even more surprising, had a bad reaction to the W-word. I had people tell me, “I can’t subscribe to anything with the word “Witch” in the title.” I was flabbergasted, which I guess means there’s still some naievate lurking in my soul.
But as soon as the first issue came out, the reactions turned around completely, and I’ve been quite gratified that most folks seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish: a rich, deep, and comprehensive magazine that covers the entire Pagan movement. Our first issue has sold so well that for the first time we were asked to resupply Barnes & Noble with issues.
Since your time being involved with the Pagan Community, have you seen positive changes/growth since the earlier days?
A couple of things jump out at me — the increased popularity/mainstreaming of the idea of Paganism, and, conversely, the fragmentation of that community into an almost uncountable number of sub-cultures. When I first heard of the Goddess/Paganism, there was no mainstream consciousness of it at all, and now most everyone in touch with pop culture has at least heard of the concept, if nothing else than through fictional characters in mass media. During the time I’ve self-identified as Pagan, I’ve seen that title go from being freaky to trendy to blasé. It’s rather staggering, really. Of course, there’s still tons of prejudice and misinformation out there floating around, but a Witch (or Pagan, for that matter) today is more likely to be castigated by the mainstream for bad fashion choices than accused of sacrificing infants on the dark of the moon.
At the same time, this growth — and the increasing acceptance of Paganism by consensus reality — has changed the nature of the Pagan community itself. I remember a time when being Pagan was spoken about in whispers, and there were so few of us that we all felt we were part of one big family. (That didn’t keep family quarrels from breaking out, of course!) Now the community feels more like a movement or a confluence of communities than a single entity. I’m not speaking of the usual fracas of witchwars and the like, that’s all pretty penny ante stuff. But far more significantly, I’m actually seeing that the Pagan movement is more like the (to use an old term) “Rainbow coalition” — a gathering place for discrete, separate, self-identified communities joined primarily by some pretty vague (but meaningful) overarching concepts and needs. Primary among these concept is respect for female-named and aspected divinity — I know of very few, if any, solely masculine-identified Pagan paths — and an eco-spiritual consciousness that connects more meaningfully to immanent forms of divinity than transcendent ones. The Pagan movement also strongly values individual choice and what academics term “situational ethics.” The one thing every Pagan will fight to the death (metaphorically, of course!) is the right to worship deity in her/his own way.


What are some of the best things you like about the Pagan Community now?

It’s exhilerating to see the explosion of Pagan communities, for every possible need and desire. Paganism is an open book, and everyone is writing their own version of the good news; that kind of creativity shows the underlying vitality and, dare I say, deep connection to deity that only a genuine spiritual path can create. I’m also very happy to see signs of increasing intellectual vigor among Pagan writers and scholars and a maturing of Pagan ethical thinking. It’s a very exciting time to be Pagan, especially in a new political environment less dominated by an intolerant “my way or the highway” modus operandi.
Do you have any visions or hopes for the future of the worldwide Pagan and Magical communities?
I’d love to see the evolution of Pagan communities of faith integrated into people’s everyday lives, beyond the festival-based summer communities, and even beyond virtual online communities. I’d like to see open, public house circles — similar to the “house churches” which were so integral to the growth of the early Jesus movement — where any Pagan could come to worship. I’d love to see more Pagan social ministries — a sector of religious activity in which the Abrahamic faiths still almost completely dominate. Pagans — outside of the Reclaiming-style movement — haven’t yet largely embraced the fundamental connection between worship and work; that is to say, between being good and doing good. One place which is screamingly obvious that we need to move forwards in developing Pagan community is in outreach and genuine service to outcast communities. I’m especially aware of the enormous, tsunami-size growth in the number of incarcerated Pagans who have absolutely no meaningful pastoral services. And yet, as a community, Pagan prisoners are one of the largest sources of new Pagan adherents. As our movement continues to expand, mature, and develop, we will need to move beyond personal spirituality and morality into a more integrated, community-based path. Otherwise, we will never complete the transition into a self-sustaining spiritual path that stands the test of time.
Any thing you would care to leave us with in parting?
What I would like to say, directly to the Pagans reading this, is simple: keep your heart open. It’s very easy, as spiritual pioneers, as explorers, innovators and creators, to paradoxically become rigid, dogmatic, and self-righteous, to believe that we (however big that “we” is) are the only ones in connection with the divine. That’s the point when the Divine fades, and revelation becomes dogma. As long as we listen, really listen, to each other, without judgement and fear, I believe that we Pagans will continue to blossom and root ourselves deeply in our communities. I believe deeply in the transformative and creative nature of the Pagan reformation of western religion: I think it’s no accident that neo-Paganism blossomed just in time to bring a new bio-philic eco-thealogy to our anxious, fragmented, post-modern civilization. I believe in spiritual, as well as biological, evolution, and I think our movement is an important part of the next step in human spirituality. I hope, I pray, I aspire, for us to fulfill that destiny.

This interview was previously excerpted, adapted, shortened, and published in issue of Thorn Magazine http://www.thorn-magazine.com/fourthestate.html

Wise Woman Tradition

November, 2008

What’s Science Got to Do With It?

Once upon a time, healing was considered an art. Healing was understood by all to be a complex interaction between the patient, the healer, the community of living people, the communities of the plants and animals (and insects and rocks and fish), the communities of the non-living people (such as ancestors, spirit guides, and archetypes) and that mysterious movement known by so many names: Creator, God/dess, All High.

The healing arts included a keen knowledge of human behavior, a thorough knowledge of plants, a flair for the dramatic arts, especially singing/chanting and costuming/body painting, and a comprehensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. (If you think these areas are not arts, look at the system used by Traditional Chinese Practitioners, which includes such “organs” as the triple heater and a dozen different pulses.)

does not preclude or oppose science. Science is, after all, only the honest testing of ideas and the ability to observe clearly the confusing relationship of cause and effect. The best of science is deeply indebted to art. understands that science is left-brained and art is right-brained, and a whole brain includes both.

Science, however, is not so easy with art. Science believes art is superstition. Science believes art is fuzzy, soft, not replicable, and therefore untrustworthy. (It is interesting to me that the Liberal s University I attended – UCLA – required students to take a variety of science courses, but the Science College I turned down  – MIT – did not require students to study the arts.) Science defines itself as factual and art as fantastical.

Truly great scientists understand the need to honor intuition along with information. But the world is rarely run by the truly great. So bit by bit, the art of healing is denigrated and the science of healing is venerated. The healer spends more and more time interacting with machines and drugs and technology, and less and less time with the patient; more and more time studying books and less and less time learning about the strange, symbolic, provocative powers of the psyche. The healer focuses more and more on fixing the sick individual and less and less on the patient’s need for wholeness in self, family, and community.

The herbalist becomes a biochemist. The pharmacist no longer needs to know botany. Herbs are presented as drugs in green coats. And the active ingredient is the only one worth mentioning.

Is this what I want? Is this what drew me to herbs? Is this what fascinates me about herbal medicine? My answer to all these questions is absolutely NOT. While acknowledging the usefulness of science, I maintain the right-brain’s superior abilities in the art of healing. I defend the rights of the miracle-workers, the shamans, the witch doctors, the old-wife herbalists, the wise women, those who have the skill, the personal power, and the courage to midwife the changes – large and small, from birth to death and in between  – in the lives of those around them.

medicine. Magical plants. Psycho-active plants. There is a thread here, and it goes a long way back. At least 40,000 years. The plants say they spoke with us all until recently. Forty thousand years ago we know our ancestors were genetically manipulating, hybridizing, and crossbreeding specific psychedelic plants. And using them in healing. Maria Sabina, one of the 20th Century’s most renowned shamanic healers, went into the forest as a small child and ate psilocybin mushrooms because they spoke to her. She healed only with the aid of the “little people” (mushrooms) and she healed not just body but soul. In the Amazon, the students of herbalism, of healing, are apprenticed to psychoactive plants as well as to human teachers.

There is a lot of talk lately about the active ingredients in plants. I’ve had many a chuckle as product ads claim to have the most of this or that only to be superseded by the announcement that a new, better, more active, active ingredient has been found.

For example, when Kyolic Garlic was shown by Consumer Reports to have virtually no allicin (the “active” ingredient), Kyolic countered with an ad campaign claiming superiority because it contained a different, stronger, active ingredient.

For instance, most standardized St. John’s/Joan’s Wort tinctures are standardized for hypericin. But the latest research shows that hyperforin is the real active ingredient!

To illustrate: an article several years ago in JAMA on use of Ginkgo biloba to counter dementia explained that no active ingredient from among the several hundred constituents present had been determined and it was, in fact, likely that the effect resulted from a complex, synergistic interplay of the parts. An article in the New York Times, however, cautioned readers not to use ginkgo until an active ingredient had been established.

It happened to me: An MD on a menopause panel with me told the audience that no herb was safe to use unless its active ingredient was measured and standardized. What can I say? To me the active ingredient of a plant is the very part that cannot be measured: the energy, the life force, the chi, the fairy of the plant, not a “poisonous” constituent. To the healer/artist/herbalist, the active part of the plant is that part that can be used by the right brain to actively, chaotically, naturally, “jump the octave” and work a miracle. This active part is refined away in standardized products, for the real active part is the messy part, the changeable part, the subtle part, and the invisible part.

Does science have anything to do with it? Certainly! The process of identifying specific compounds in plants, replicating them in the laboratory and mass-producing them as drugs cannot be replicated by or superseded by any healer or herbalist. Preparation of standardized drugs protects the consumer (usually) and protects the plants from over-harvesting (although the net effect on the environment may be detrimental).

If we put into the lap of science anything having to do with measuring and certifying, then surely I beg science to be the guardian of the purity of the herbs we trade in our commerce, knowing that art is the guardian of the purity of the herbs we gather ourselves. (A tip from the apprentice book: When harvesting, put only one kind of plant in a basket. This allows one to quickly and easily notice if an interloper has been mistakenly introduced.)

This story doesn’t have an ending, for it is ongoing. The dance of health and illness, of art and science (and don’t forget commerce) has no pause. So the ending of our tale is not happy, but neither is it sad. Take a look; the real ending of the rainbow is in your own heart.
You can purchase Susun Weed’s books at:  http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/

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