We were croned! To mark the end of Women’s Month last month, 11 women (myself among them) and a man were honored at croning rites organized by women’s groups. Five of the women were sisters from different religious congregations and involved in ministries serving women.
The organizers explained that “traditionally, a croning ceremony is a celebration for a woman reaching the wonderful, mystical and astrologically important age of 56. It goes way back in time as a way of honoring the wise women of the tribe. It is again becoming popular as a rich and affirming celebration for the modern woman who is maturing into her wisdom years.”
The organizers were the Office of Women and Gender Concerns (a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines), the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, and the Women’s Care Center Inc. (0999-5779631, 0928-4200859). The venue was St. Scholastica’s College Museum compound.
We were made to bless ourselves with water. As each one was crowned with flowers, these words rang out from the audience like an antiphon: “Hail, valiant woman. Your name is written in the Book of Life.”
Women are now reclaiming the word “crone” (the word for it in Filipino is “hukluban”). Over the centuries the word had acquired—or been given—a negative meaning. “The old crone,” a miserable woman, unloved and despised, was a character in western fairy tales and fables. (Read Madonna Kolbenschlag’s “Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.”)
She is the bruha (bruja in Spanish) that the colonizers equated with the Filipino babaylan sought for their wisdom and healing powers. (Read “Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines” edited by Fe Mangahas and Jenny Llaguno, with a foreword by Leticia Ramos Shahani, the recently deceased diplomat, senator and feminist.)
To relax before sitting down to write this piece, I pulled out an old W. Somerset Maugham book from my shelf and, while reading one of his Pacific Islands short stories, there was the “bad” word. I thought: What synchronicity, because I was about to write about croning.
From “The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power” by Barbara G. Walker: “The crone was the elder woman who enjoyed a special, revered status. She was considered a font of wisdom, law, healing skills, and moral leadership; her presence and leadership were treasured at every significant ceremony. Such wise women were venerated for knowledge acquired over a long life. They assisted at each important occasion from birth to death.”
I say, something like the Benedictine St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179), declared a doctor of the Church in 2012.
“The Crone’s title was related to the word crown as she represented the power of the ancient tribal matriarch. It was the medieval metamorphosis of the Wise Woman to a 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.”
So The Crone is really an archetypal Wise Woman, not a female ogre. From Anya Silverman’s “Crones Counsel: Celebrating Wise Women”:
“When patriarchy became the dominant mode, when the divine was imaged solely as male, and as women became second-class citizens, the ideas about goddesses and the archetypes they represented went underground. Archetypes can be submerged, but they never disappear … these archetypes are re-emerging. There is a burgeoning interest in this ancient part of women’s herstory, and the crone archetype is resurfacing as a model for elderwomen.”
In national weal and woe—especially in woe—our archetypal elderwoman emerges as Inang Bayan.
Speaking of wise elderwomen, here as head of the Cuban delegation to the 8th Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of Solidarity with Cuba (April 8-9) is Marta Rojas Rodriguez, journalist and novelist, spunky and articulate at 82. Last Tuesday she spoke at the UP College of Mass Communication on “The Struggle Against Forgetting: A Writer’s Perspective.”
A major topic at the weekend conference is the US economic blockade or trade embargo against its small island-neighbor since the 1960s. I wrote about this (“No al bloqueo”) some years ago. The issue of Guantanamo will surely come up.
Historically, the Philippines and Cuba have much in common. We must not forget. No debemos olvidar.
Send feedback to [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.