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A poem by Saint Catherine of Siena

All has been consecrated.
The creatures of the forest know this,

the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of

Strange a priest would rob us of this

and then empower himself
with the ability

to make holy what
already was.

As an old woman, I take heart from the crones or witches of myth who dwelled in the depths of dark forests, brewing their magic and conjuring the spirits from worlds not accessible through ordinary means of perception. The medieval women mystics, direct intercessors between God and the folks who relied on their prophecies, are also inspirational.

  Old age can open doors to women, not only to memories, but to profound understandings about our place in the universe, to our dreams, to  some ideas we couldn’t grasp deeply enough when our daily lives were consumed by duties  and demanding relationships. A large part of our  unconsciousnesses were ignored.

(See Crones for images of old women)

* Berchta in the following poem, When Winter Comes, epitomizes the joyful devil-may-care  aspect of the crone I find especially endearing.  She is a pagan goddess of southern Germany who appears as either a beautiful woman in white or an elderly hag.  Sylence is a fictionalized woman whose gravestone I found in the Northfield  cemetery.

* Vision of Old Age is a poem prompted by a dream.

When Winter Comes

A quietude suffuses Sylence
in a dusk that deepens
to the soft hue of her little preacher’s coat —
the snowbird who flitted in today
to announce Frau Berchta
is not far away.

Sylence will know the knock,
the hoot;  “Old woman, it is I.  Do
let me in.  I will provide!”
Berchta’s wolf will soon usurp
the  hearth and her goose will strut and hiss
and shake his feathers everywhere.  Humor
will salt the house until it melts the icy forests
on the window pass and from a gunny sack,
Berchta”s horde of naked elfin children will emerge.

At solstice, together, they will serve tea
— not the sort we venture to
with sweet tarts arrayed upon a china plate,
where tepid gossip’s brewed, but one with porridge
steaming in an iron kettle to be dolloped
into wooden bowls.  Wreaths of juniper
with strands of ivy interlaced
will scent the room resounding with an orgy
of bawdy jokes and rude guffaws.

The goose will not be cooked. The wolf will spurn
all strokes and the elfin children will overturn the pots and pans
to bray at women guzzling rum and stout;  “Ahoy,
are we not ravishing in our new clothes?”

Sylence slumbers, sinks into herself.

Vision of Old Age

Can I grow beyond the kerchief, crimson, sprinkled
with white polka dots and the striped stockings
of Prussian blue and burnished gold?  Can I feel distant
from my old world, firm in my brown felt clogs and dirndl skirt
of soft green wool _ my unruffled apron smeared
with the juice of raspberries?
Can I roll up the sleeves of my well-worn muslin shirt,
one a bit too long, the other a bit too short and don
the grey wool vest someone knit for me and fit with silver clasps?

My dream has  promised me I will.  I will be an imp again -
the bold wee creature I once was
and that my soul will detach from the weight
of inflated responsibilities;  Sarah is my name.
I’ll move spryly, if ungracefully, on spindly legs,
but in my hazel eyes, unclouded yet,  I’ll find that glint
of eternal un-self consciousness.

I’ll break a neighbor’s favorite Wedgewood cup,
but imagine, I will not suffer undue remorse.
By day I’ll roam the treeless hills alone
followed by  a pack of wolves, joyful in my company,
and in the gloaming I’ll squat upon the stoop
of my small abode and be content
to have merely watched the sun go down.

Recommended Books

The Book of Symbols;  Taschen Press. 2010.  Fantastic choice of illustrations and informative reflections on archetypal images by various authors.

Bone Black; memories of girlhood.  1997. bell hooks.  Beautifully constructed and imaginative memoir by a Black woman growing up in the rural south.

Louise Gluck; any or all her poetry!  Deceptively simple, profound, dark and always authentic.
The Seven Ages  2002, may be a good introduction.

Anne Truitt; in her last journal, Prospect, 1996, cogitates on aging.  She is a recognized minimalist sculptor.  See Google image.

Louise Bourgeoise by Paul Gardner. 1994. One of America’s greatest artists.  Her deeply personal and honest work resonates with many women.

Paula Modersohn-Becker by Gillian Perry. 1979  A great German painter whose images of women and children are some of the most powerful ever done.

Kathe Kollwitz; diaries and letters.  Edited by her son Hans.  1998.  Unforgettable images that
everyone should  know and treasure are included.  Many books of her work exist.