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From Goddess to Hag: The Demonization of the Crone
A primary symbol of Halloween is the bulb-nosed, black-clad, eat-your-children-for-breakfast old witch. You’ll recognize her by her pointy hat, broom (besom), cauldron, and black cat. She’s depicted as one of two extremes: a belittling crone caricature or a fierce embodiment of dark magic. Neither image reflects her true origins.
Many cultures throughout the world once revered the triple Goddess. She manifested in three aspects: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. These archetypes matched the phases of the moon, the cycles of a woman’s life, and the Earth’s annual seasons. Halloween and its Celtic precursor Samhain (SOW-en) follow the abundant harvest period of the Mother and mark the fallow season of the Crone.
Before the Christian Church redefined and demonized the Divine Feminine and Her followers, the Crone, a word derived from “crown,” symbolized tribal leadership and/or a priestess in the old religion. The word “hag” derived from the Greek hagia, meant holy woman. The Crone was a Wisdom Keeper, tribal elder, medicine woman, Grandmother, and sage. She is the waning moon and the Gateway to Death. Her cauldron is the vessel of rebirth. Her broom (besom) sweeps away the negative past. Her black cape symbolizes the darkness of long winter nights, death, and the Otherworld. Although a pointy hat has replaced her crown, the hat symbolizes the cone of power witches raise when they perform magic.
The Crone in the Teen Wytche Saga
The archetype of the crone/witch first appears in Spell Check in the guise of math teacher Madrun Ravenwood. Teen Evie O’Reilly encounters the witch in a metaphysical store:
The door opened, and a bone-chilling wind preceded a frizzy-haired woman with a bad dye job and a worse scowl. The New Age CD playing on the sound system skipped. A sour, evil smell scythed through the incense-laden air. I clutched the topaz and slipped my other hand around my mother’s arm. Mom drew herself erect. Her green cat eyes glittered and narrowed.
In Spell For Sophia (November 2014, Astraea Press), a teen runaway finds temporary sanctuary with an aged voodoo priestess:
When we reached the porch, a wiry old woman dressed in an ankle-length African garment held open the front door. “Thanks, Grand-mère,” Breaux said.
His grandmother raised one hand, palm facing us like a stop sign. We halted. The woman supporting my side — presumably Breaux’s mother, Miss Wanda — protested. “The girl needs to fill her belly.”
The older woman ignored her, clasped my hand before I could wriggle free, and rotated my palm skyward. The colorful beads in her silver cornrows clacked together as she bent over my hand and examined it. Her scent — spicy incense, magnolias, and dark secrets — seeped into my pores. She shook her head and mumbled something I didn’t quite catch, and then she touched her fingertip to a line on my palm. With a jolt, my life flashed before me like a movie stuck on rewind. I drew back, trying to escape the worst parts.
Copyright 2014 by Ariella Moon
To read more excerpts from the Teen Wytche Saga by Ariella Moon click
Centuries before modern-day Halloween and its army of costumed trick-or-treaters, Celtic people in Ireland, northern France, Scotland, and Wales celebrated Samhain. The tradition of trick-or-treating evolved from this pre-Christian festival.
Samhain (SOW-in, SAH-win, or SAH-ween) marked the end of summer. The veil between realms was thinnest, and the souls of those who had died during the past year traveled into the otherworld. But the portal worked both ways. Ancestors and other spirits from the otherworld, and fairies from fairy mounds could cross into the human world.
The Celts disguised themselves in animal skin costumes to a drive back the spirits. They left food offerings to appease the ghosts and fay. Bonfires were lit to deflect unwanted spirits and to light the way for departing souls.
In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued an edict directing missionaries to no longer directly try to obliterate native beliefs and customs. Instead, his followers were instructed to overlay Christian beliefs. Wells sacred to the goddess Brigid became wells dedicated to Saint Brigit. The festival to the goddess Oestra became Easter. Jesus’s birthday was switched to coincide with the winter solstice. The list goes on. In the 9th century A.D. the church tried to subsume Samhain with All Saints Day/All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve incorporated the belief in high supernatural activity. But the church claimed the Celtic otherworld was the Christian Hell and demonized spirits, witches, and fairies as well as the Celtic priests, the druids. Mummers, people disguised as the demonized folk, would perform antics and threaten more mischief (tricks). Villagers would appease them with food (treats). All Hallow’s Eve became Halloween.
In 1000 A.D. the Catholic Church designated November 2nd (Samhain) as All Soul’s Day. In England, the poor would visit the wealthy and promise to pray for the wealthy people’s deceased kin in exchange for soul cakes. Later, children would take up the task of souling for treats or coins.
Samhain traditions have survived for over 2,000 years. For an inside look at how one American coven celebrates Samhain, click here.
In Spell Check by Ariella Moon, high school freshman Evie O’Reilly must prevent her best friend from casting a binding love spell on Evie’s secret crush, Jordan. Soon it will be Halloween, the anniversary of Evie’s father’s death. It’s also when the moon will be optimum for spell casting. Can Evie push past her grief in time to save Jordan? To read an excerpt or purchase any of the Teen Wytche Saga books by Ariella Moon, click on one of the links below.