The C Word, It’s not what you think: Language, the crone & the cougar

The wild and the wise woman - No big cats and ugly hags here!

by Amy Adams

From the first time I heard the word crone in reference to contemporary women I cringed. My reaction isn’t unexpected because the sound of the word and its meaning was never pleasant. And I can still remember hearing the word cougar in relation to women in the first years of the 21st century. At the time, I was separated from my husband, a relationship that lasted 20 years, and did not have a TV nor did I read celebrity gossip then. One day, someone that I knew, a female friend, jokingly referred to me as one because a lot of younger men were pursuing me and naively I asked, “What is a cougar?” So recently I decided to dive into these topics and created a Vlog and wrote this. Here is part one on the Crone.

The Crone

A lovely person that I met and worked with (she helped me to get my Feng Shui game on in my business when I was running my yoga/meditation/organic boutique in Montclair) spoke to me about entering the crone stage. I hadn’t heard the word in that context before then. I understood the definition and respected it but the word itself had negative connotations. Previously my exposure to the word was through fiction and fairy tales that portrayed wise older woman often as witches or other hideous and frightening characters. The crone was often at the crossroads as the seer, the Oracle figure but she was never attractive. She was an ugly old hag.

Baba Yaga Lubok Russian Fairytales – This stereotype is worldwide, across cultures and has been in place for many years.

Or in some stories, she was often portrayed as jealous of younger women and wanting to do them harm (Cinderella’s wicked stepmother) because she could no longer hold onto her beauty because she was ageing and moving towards death. The ‘nice’ older woman was a fat fairy godmother. So my friend who introduced me to the term crone, here was a beautiful woman who was full of life, a mother with now young adult children, working in her chosen field, and had entered this stage of life as a crone. It just seemed contradictory to her vitality and beauty that radiated from both her inner and outer being because the word origin and definition on Google isn’t that!

Grimm’s Fairytales – Snowdrop {Snow White}

Definitions: Google’s Search Result Is as Ugly as an Old Hag

In fact, when searching on Google for the definition of a crone or the word origin of the word crone you will be told that a crone is …

And the origin of the word itself, well that even borders on grotesque – the word crone is derived from carrion.

carrion (n.)

the decaying flesh of dead animals.
“a crow wheeled over the hills in search of carrion”

Carrion Crow (CC0)

Are you astounded?

Are you astounded? I am. And, there is such a thing as a carrion crow and yes! it eats dead things.

She’s an old crow!

My astonishment and disdain – it’s logical. The logic simply surfaces because the subtle and not so subtle messages from ‘society’ reinforce these negative sterotypes. How can one know the true meaning of the word crone, if the first definition shown is out of order and, is simplistic and misleading? Yes, it is also an accurate and true definition when we are referring to fairy tales and other forms of literature. Still, we’re not living in a literary fantasy. I don’t know about you but I live in the ‘real’ world where women are multi-dimensional, complex unique beings that age and embody archetypes…yes! just like men. (It certainly doesn’t mean women want to be men either.)

Birth to Death: The life of a Goddess

Here is my guess at the ‘categories’ girls and women are placed into by age –

Girls (0-15)
Maidens (16-30)
Mothers (30-50)
Crones (50-death)

I’m sure there is some official list somewhere but I’m going with my gut here.

The crone wears many faces.

It seems a little strange to me that when women in the US are expected to live up to 81 years old on average, in western Europe until 84 years old, and around 80 years old in Eastern Europe, that many images published depicting women exclude the vital women past child-bearing age and, when elderly women are shown, it is usually at the point where their beautiful skin has created a new kind of beauty forming deep interesting forms of waves and grooves, cascading like a mountain range. The crone wears many faces.

The age that a woman enters her crone stage is 50 years old. It is also called the grandmother stage, one of the many rites of passage girls and women experience. This archetype and transitional phase is not cherished and embraced by everyone and why would women want to embrace images of an old hag?


Jordan Reyne’s EP CRONE is embedded here for your listening pleasure. You can check out her bandcamp profile to listen to and buy the Maiden and Mother EPs as well.

In some cultures, the crone is embraced. In fact, there is the Trinity goddess in some cultures. One goddess that passes through all stages – maiden, mother, crone is Hera and then there is Ixchel too.

Lady of Sacred Light

In Mayan culture, the goddess of fertility and healing is Ixchel as a crone is a midwife. Ix means goddess of the feminine. Chel means rainbow or light.

This Mayan goddess is often depicted as the crone with an entwined serpent as her headdress. The snake or serpent with its symbolism has always been associated with medicine or healing powers, as well as, intuitive forces. The serpent rising is also associated with Kundalini energy as well. Other features include crossed bones adorning her skirt, and sometimes she has claws instead of human hands and feet. She is portrayed and recognised in EVERY stage of a woman’s life – she is the maiden, the mother and the crone.

Ixchel is the Lady of Sacred Light.

Even when she is in the crone stage, aged and wrinkled she is a goddess. As the crone, she helps to birth the babies, is a healer and keeper of traditions and knowledge.

Ixchel as depicted in the Dresden Codex (CC0)

Every woman regardless of their place in the world, if they live long enough they must move through the rite of passage and become the crone – even when it isn’t celebrated. The level of acceptance and the way women are seen varies from culture to culture.

Crossing the Threshold

50 as the designated age of this transition to crone can be quite liberating in many ways. Once a woman passes over that threshold, there is often a new found confidence amongst many women who were once more reserved. The reward women allow themselves is their lack of restraint, their need for approval is lessened. The crone no longer cares what anyone thinks or says about them and their voices grow louder. It can be quite empowering. Some are even empowered to speak their minds publicly about women’s issues like ageism and sexism and the combination of the two. However, in the world of ‘work’ that constraint is still expected lest one be labelled a bitch, witch, slut, nasty woman, old hag, etc.

For many women no longer being objectified by men of all ages is a very welcome relief. No longer subject to such instances (I hope for all women) like the one when I was walking down the street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and a man as he passed me got close enough for me to hear him say “I want to lick your pussy.” Obviously never an appropriate statement made to a stranger on the street – duh. Or when one of the old men in my neighbourhood decided it was okay for him to 1. say more than hello and speak about the weather to 2. making a statement, masked as a question, about women’s sexual oral pleasure. What are these guys thinking? and how the hell did we get to that? Those are only 2 of numerous instances. When these things happen, first shock hits, then repulsion and then remaining dumbfounded forever more. Women are subjected to this type of inappropriate language and behaviour regularly so it’s obvious why some might embrace the crone stage. If it means not having to put up with that, then bring it on.

Not all men behave badly!

Men Speak Up: What’s really being said…about women.

This behaviour is deeply ingrained in cultures where women raise their boys into men and some men are speaking up and calling attention to their fellows’ language and behaviours in creative ways. Two clever pieces on social media and in the theatre illustrate how language is used where women are concerned. In both of these pieces, the words are men’s but spoken by women or as a man in a woman’s shoes.

First there is the theatre piece Locker Room Talk. was inspired by the infamous “grab them by the pussy” remark which was reduced to and named as “locker room banter.” Written by Gary McNair, the work itself is based in fact – he went to the source. Promising anonymity, he recorded hundreds of interviews with men with the intent to examine what men really say about women when they’re not around to listen in on the conversations. Boiling it all down to an hour, four women perform the piece – repeating what men say about women.

Then there is the twitter parody account with the Man Who has it All @manwhohasitall. The author posts content ranging from polls to statements, questions and images where men are treated like women in contemporary society and social media. Witty and funny yet pointedly sad.

Women are more than objects and many men know it but still, they are often reduced to objects. It’s been documented that even men who may not agree with some of the ‘locker room talk’ or derogatory statements often don’t speak out against it in the moment.

Expiry Date

As a crone, in society, the gaze shifts from a female’s ‘usefulness’ as an object. Still, at the same time, we aren’t dead. Like every other human being on the planet, women of any age still want to be appreciated and respected. Women have always wanted to be appreciated for their inner being, intelligence and unique gifts including their physical body – no matter what their physical body looks like. Ironically, just as many of us get comfortable in our own skin it starts to change and the effects of gravity slowly emerge – that’s life, that’s ageing.

Since they are no longer in the ‘gaze’ of men, this is the time that some women begin to feel invisible. Don’t worry though you’re expected to wear a new ‘age-appropriate’ garment.

Get Dressed

Many women have written about their new found garment – an invisibility cloak. For some, the cloak is welcomed and gives them superpowers and for others who refuse to wear them – the backlash is tremendous – Madonna knows.

How dare she?

She’s been called a lot of names and criticised by both men and women. All the criticism in the world will never change the fact that she – Madonna – is a brilliant businesswoman who was able to commoditise the very same thing that society has created – her own objectification. How dare she? The denigration doesn’t stop there. Her critics continue to devalue her opinion and commentary on ageism and sexism. Now they call her words hollow and hold her livelihood against her, as they ignore the fact that she is a courageous leader who did it her way. Facing her fears and standing in her power, Madonna threw the wrecking ball into old structures, breaking barriers and making it easier for other women to move forward in her industry and others as well.

She was honoured at the Billboard Music Awards in 2016 as Woman of the Year and before she spoke, she says she had the opportunity to reflect on what she would say. There she spoke about what it is to be a woman and one in the music industry.

Women in the public eye are speaking out about ambition and attitudes, encouraging other women to stand in their power. Recently Reese Witherspoon, at 41, who hasn’t hit the crone stage yet, has been vocal about ambition, women and what it means to be an ambitious woman. In her recent essay in Glamour, she defines ambition –

“Ambition is simply a drive inside of you—it’s having a curiosity or a new idea and the desire to pursue it.”

Couple that with being a woman and it can mean success for some in more progressive countries or backlash.

We see some nations leading with strong leaders who just happen to be female. Whilst others, like the US, made the news during their election period with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic party’s presidential nominee. The world watched as one of the most admired women became the target of harassment and was bashed by the opposing party as that “nasty woman.” Did you know that in 2015, Hillary Clinton was at the top of the list of the most admired woman in the US AND it was the 20th time she made the list? Yet, she became a target during the election year.

The results of a study from 2010, The Price of Power: Power Seeking and Backlash Against Female Politicians, authored by Tyler G. Okimoto and Victoria L Brescoll, found a clear negative bias towards women politicians that seek power. The authors examined the viewpoints of both male and female persons living in the US. Females participants were just as likely as males to have negative reactions to power-seeking female politicians.

The authors found that men who were power seekers were considered to have more positive qualities such as being assertive, stronger, tougher, and, having greater competence counter to the perception of women power seekers. Instead, women were described as being unsupportive and uncaring, whilst men were never described that way. In addition, participants experienced feelings of ‘moral outrage’ – contempt, anger, and/or disgust towards them. 2016 was proof that their study was valid statistically.

Even though this is not age specific, women’s ambition coupled with ageism magnifies the problem. How did it get this way? How is this hatred towards women so enmeshed into a culture?

(His)tory

There is also a long history of the crone as a ‘witch’ or ‘hag’ in western culture and the witch-craze of Early Modern Europe ran concurrently with the rise of the mass-produced woodcut and pamphlet printing which included these images as well. Jon Crabb in his essay Woodcuts and Witches argues that this helped forge the archetype of the broom-riding crone — complete with cauldron and cats. Even when they are made into ugly wretched creatures that wasn’t enough, misogyny predominated.

Witch pictured feeding her familiars with blood, in A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile (1579) — Source.

The folkloric image of the crone was established through these images and repeated in similar pamphlets over the next century. These witches were usually bitter old women, who lived on their own and kept cats or other animals as pets. The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower neere Beuer Castle (1619) and A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch (1643) are particularly famous examples that reinforced this archetype. Latent sexism and fear of those who lived on the fringe of society doubtless motivated much of this persecution. The latter pamphlet manages to mix sexism with scorn by doubting that women are even capable of performing the same sorcery that certain men have achieved.

Even today as I met up with a young college aged man and told him that I was writing an article about the crone and how it relates to women and ageing, he curiously said ‘oh I think of a witch or a hag?’

Having read many essays, studies and a variety of articles about women and ageing, one thing struck me as odd – that women that commented on the articles often made derogatory statements about other women even though they supported the authors’ assumptions which were often meant to empower the reader. Haven’t women of a certain age learned by now to help one another and lift each other up?

STOP THAT

As this comment below illustrates that women, even when making valid points continue to scold women too –

It is a pity that the writer deems old women should look desirable, i.e. still attract men, a flaw in an otherwise worthy article. To be liberated from predatory glances and worse is a blessing. I might add that to deem the use of oldies to sell cosmetics a positive sign is superficial, as demographics dictate the need to sell to a new market, nothing more. Fashion icons are not hired for their intelligence; their antics are of no interest, are they? Many of their costumes are clownish anyway. One may laugh at them and their circus. – Karis Muller (source: comment on an article about a model who dressed an aged woman)

Yes, it is liberating from predatory glances and the marketing demographics, etc. point is true. But why does the commenter feel compelled to diminish ‘fashion icons,’ in this case, Heidi Klum? implying she lacks intelligence and is laughable? Again we have another woman that has commoditised her own objectification quite successfully. The success has been lasting success, you don’t get to that point by luck or beauty, it requires intelligence. The real point of sharing that comment is that it is simply one example of far too many.

Other women in comments talked about ‘feeling sorry’ for women who want to still wear makeup or dress in ‘young’ clothes. Who is policing older woman, why judge and why do you care or want to comment? Wear short hair, wear your hair grey, don’t wear certain clothing, act your age, etc. If we’re so liberated by our age and don’t care about what people think of us anymore, then why would we care what our contemporaries are wearing or doing? It’s difficult enough for many women in a patriarchy and when we are in the transition stage. Women of all ages and stages, we are often our own worst critic. So, woman to woman I politely ask you to just STOP THAT!

Final Notes

Becoming a crone, like any transitional phase can be challenging and it’s a complex issue. Some women embrace this word and stage of their life. Others may embrace this stage of their life feeling empowered but still dislike the word ‘crone’ due to its historical and unfortunate negative connotations. However you might feel about the word, I hope that by writing and speaking about this subject that we’ll start to talk about what it means and support one another in our move towards the next threshold.

I am a crone who finally (it took me more years than I had hoped) feels comfortable in my skin, my ever changing skin, my extra body weight, the notable gravitational forces that forcefully pull my breasts towards the earth. I am never compelled to change my behaviours based on other people’s opinions, I don’t miss men saying inappropriate things to me regularly. It’s a nice place to be. How about you? are you a crone? do you hate the word or are you ok with it? Let’s talk about it in the comments and get the discussion going.

The Vlog: The C Word

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