It was not just any New Years Eve, otherwise
known as Old Year’s Night. Seven women gathered at the beach house to celebrate the 50 years of life with which two
among them had been gifted. Within the first twelve days of the year to come, both would celebrate their 50th birthdays.
It is this circumstantial, yet strongly compelling
evidence which led Connie Alt, Karen Moore and myself to speak with Bishop Susan Morrison about her probable involvement as
the second woman croned. Morrison’s fiftieth birthday occurred within this specified time frame. She has been and remains
close friends with clergywomen in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. And just recently I have confirmed that she shares
residence in a Rehoboth beach house with Mary Kraus, the other woman who was croned. In our conversation, Morrison would neither
confirm nor deny her participation in this particular ritual. She said it was "None of our business." She said she had "observed"
many croning rituals, did not have a problem if they came from pagan/Wiccan roots as they could be "Christianized," and that
she expected them to be included in the next Book of Worship. Connie, Karen and I took our concerns to Bishop George Bashore
(then president of the NEJ College of Bishops.) When he questioned her, Morrison answered Bashore as she answered us in correspondence
(and as she has recently answered Mark Tooley in his correspondence with her) that she has not and would not be involved in
Wiccan practices. However, Bishop Bashore has acknowledged to me that he did not specifically question her about this particular
ritual. (Even though that was the basis of our concern in our letter to him.) To this day, Morrison has steadfastly refused
to confirm or deny her participation as the second woman croned in this ritual.
In women’s tradition, the
fiftieth birthday is especially revered as being the year in which a woman becomes a "crone." Fifty years of wisdom
have been gathered through all of the richness of joy and sadness, gain and loss, planting and reaping, springtime and harvest.
These two clergywomen represented such wisdom to the circle of seven.
"Women’s tradition" is doublespeak for feminist
spirituality, usually Goddess centered and witchcraft based. In Gardnerian Wicca (the first and classic brand of American
witchcraft), a croning takes place when a woman is 52. Croning corresponds to the triple aspect of the Goddess - as Maiden,
Mother and Crone - which also corresponds to the three reproductive cycles of woman - which also corresponds to the phases
of the moon. "Wisdom" is an important concept within witchcraft (and Sophia worship!) The word "witch" is said to come from
the same root word as "wise," meaning "to bend or shape reality." Witches are the "wise ones" of the world. In classic witchcraft,
practitioners usually meet in 12 member groupings called "covens." Less structured groupings are called "circles." In all
fairness, however, circles have been and can be utilized by non-witchcraft folks - UMW’s for example.
For those who organized the croning ritual much of
the fun occurred in the advance preparations. A few gathered with another sister who had been croned the September before,
to hear of some of her experiences. She proudly shared her memory book her circle had prepared. We then began to gather names
and addresses of family members and friends of both sisters. A letter was composed, inviting them to send pictures, cards,
notes, poems and embarrassing stories that they would be willing to share for this auspicious occasion. A memory book was
compiled for each of them, using as much color and imagination as possible.
Since members of the circle had a clear understanding
that crones have generally gotten a bad rap over the years, and that crones were nothing more than very wise women who understood
the ways of the earth as well as being healers, we believed that our two sisters were crones in the finest sense of that
term. Fifty inch tall crones were made from brightly colored paper, one in pink and one in purple. One sister in the group
made a luminescent, stained glass kaleidoscope for each.
This is the classic spiritual feminist (also Wiccan)
ideological basis for the purported need to rediscover and embrace witchcraft. It is nothing more than true womanly religious
tradition which the Patriarchy squelched. "The ways of the earth" is probably more doublespeak for "nature worship/animism."
The evening was finally ready to begin.
After gathered, whispering, and giggling on the part of those who would orchestrate the evening, favorite foods were prepared
for a feast which officially began the ritual. After the feast, the two crones-to-be were asked to leave the room so
that the altar could be prepared. With pink and purple crones looking on from the edges, an elegant purple patterned
cloth was laid on the living room floor. Candles were placed upon it in the four directions marking north, south, east
and west - the four points of the compass. Many purple candles of various sizes and shapes were lit all over the room.
In correspondence with the editorial circle of Wellsprings,
and in further written and oral correspondence, those involved have continued to insist the Croning was nothing more than
a birthday party. However, it was called a "ritual" and "an altar was prepared." That would seem to indicate that it had spiritual/religious
significance. In classic witchcraft, the four directions are the four "cardinal" directions which correspond to North, South,
East and West on the compass. They also correspond to the four "elementals" of earth, air, fire and water. (See closing prayer.)
Each direction has specific qualities and is an animistic "something" or "force" that is invoked, invited into, and has an
effect upon the ceremony. This happens right before or as a "circle is cast." (See below.) This, I understand from Buck Linton,
is different from the way that the directions are utilized in Native American spirituality. Candles themselves have a prominent
role in witchcraft practice. Purple is the sign of age and wisdom.
The guests of honor were called, and purple cloaks
were placed around them. The chorus began, "There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings" from
Libana: "Circle is Cast." Harmony rose and swelled, then faded and stilled. We said aloud the names of the crones who
have gone on before us as well as those who still lead us forward to "Stepping Out" on the promises (words and music by Susan
Libana is a women’s vocal group. Their work
is usually found in the New Age or feminist or witchcraft sections of catalogs and music stores. "Circle is Cast" is a reference
to one of the portions of witchcraft ritual. After the four directions are summoned, a circle is symbolically drawn, purified
and consecrated. It is within this circle that power is "raised" or created and the ritual completed. A circle has to be "closed"
after the ritual is over. The ending prayer to the Goddess (see below) is a prayer for closing a circle. Susan Beehler is
a clergywoman in the Baltimore-Washington Conference (or at least was when the articles were written.) She is a close friend
of Susan Morrison’s. She was one of the three editors of Wellsprings.
The memory books were then presented to each crone
and they each read aloud the cards, letters and poems, and giggled at the pictures. Tears and laughter was abundant as the
richness of the two lives created a beautiful tapestry. Cowrie shells are a special part of many native African rituals.
They are used to symbolize blessings and gifts. The others in the circle then gathered a good handful of cowrie shells and
with the Spirit leading, gave verbal gifts and blessings to our new crones, simultaneously dropping a cowrie shell into their
glasses. We concluded this part by singing:
"Be like a bird, who pausing in her flight
a limb too slight, feels its give way beneath her,
yet sings, sings, knowing she has wings;
yet sings, sings, knowing
she has wings."
Libana: "The Fire Within."
Again, I believe that "native African rituals" is
or can be doublespeak for pagan animism. Cowrie shells are also highly symbolic in witchcraft. Again, notice the reference
to Libana. "The Fire Within" probably refers to the internal presence of the Goddess.
These two sisters surely have wings and
much, much more. They are sisters who have known how to "sing the Lord’s song in a strange land" in the days when clergywomen
were rare. Though we didn’t want to close, we said good-bye to each of the four directions, thanking them for the
gifts they brought to the festive evening, closing with this blessing:
"And now, by the earth that is Her body
the air that is her breath
and by the bright fire of Her Spirit
and the water of Her womb,
may Her Spirit go with
The circle is open, but unbroken.
Merry meet and merry part,
and merry meet again. Blessed be."
Notice that the four directions are bid good-bye
and thanked - which if not outright witchcraft is nonetheless pagan animism. Notice also the correspondence to earth/air/fire/water.
(In our meetings with Bishop Felton May, I questioned Nancy Webb about the four directions. She said they were not "gods or
goddesses," but were "forces" or "entities" one could interact with.)
The final prayer - other than omitting a line with
direct reference to the Goddess - is verbatim from Starhawk. It is in her book Spiral Dance, which is a witchcraft primer
of sorts. Even though the language says that "the circle is open, but unbroken," it is a prayer used to close a circle of
raised power. (When Felton May asked Nancy Webb why she had not included the line about the Goddess, she answered that she
had written the prayer for her article "from memory," and that she had no problem in addressing God as Goddess - it was just
one of the myriad ways we can name the Divine.)
The phrases "Merry meet and merry part and merry
meet again," and "Blessed be" are classic Wiccan phraseology. Notice below that Mary Kraus closes her article with "Blessed
Be." The COSROW report to 1996 General Conference in the Daily Christian Advocate closes with the same phrase.
There is nothing magic about this croning ritual.
Hymns, scripture, recorded music, smells, bells, water, flowers, earth, candles or anything that would contribute to a festive
time of rejoicing at the 50 years of wisdom bestowed upon the celebrant is highly appropriate. Use the gifts She has
already given you to create your own evening of storytelling. May the spirit be with you always.
Nancy J. Webb & Rebecca Ruth Richards
Who is She? Good question.
Nancy Webb is Christian
Education Director at Foundry UMC in Washington DC.
I don’t know Rebecca Richards.
Reflections From A New Crone
I live in a culture that values youthfulness, especially
youthful looking women. So as I approach my 50th birthday, I became more aware that I needed to mark that transition in a
way that would contrast society’s view of aging. A new wrinkle cream product was not the answer!
Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends
who were more than willing to help me make this transition. We had discussed the importance of telling the stories of our
foremothers, and how the names given to some of the strong women of history have been assigned very derogatory meanings
like: witches, hags, spinsters, crones. Yet, isn’t it interesting that the women gifted with sensitivity and perceptions
were called witches by men who assumed that these gifts were the work of the devil!
Again, this is the classic ideological excuse
for recovering/practicing witchcraft. In order to keep women powerless, the Patriarchy put down (and continues to put down)
something which comes naturally to women and is critical to their well-being - namely, witchcraft. The feminist idea of "naming"
is that women are also empowered when they can define and give meaning to words, concepts or ideas as they choose. Mary does
some very creative "naming" herself in the following paragraph.
The word "hag" comes from the Greek
word "hagios" whose root meaning holy; "spinsters" were the spinners and weavers of fabric and of stories; "crone"
comes from the same root as "chronios" which means time.
Here is a good example of feminist "naming," which
I think is primarily an exercise in wishful thinking. Only in Mary’s imagination does the word "hag" come from the Greek
word "hagios." Hag derives from a Middle English root word which means "witch" or "spell." Neither does "crone" come from
the Greek root "chronios" (which should be "chronos.") It comes from either a Middle English word which means "old ewe" or
an Old Northern French word which means "carrion."
"Words," said the Mad Hatter to Alice, "mean exactly
what I want them to mean."
My life felt like it was passing all too quickly
and so I needed help in pausing for a moment to reflect on that half century, and all the mix of pain and joy that had filled
those hours, days, and years. Aware of some of this, my friends began their spinning and weaving, which culminated in the
First, I was reminded that I am not the first woman
to reach the age of 50 and I won’t be the last! I stood in a long parade of women who have walked this way before me
and who have taught me much and will teach me more. In the transition, I joined them! I was now one of the crones, one who
have lived over half her life and learned many valuable things in the process. I had become a "foremother." It felt a little
strange to think of myself in that way, but after trying it on, I began to like it, it felt good.
Second, I was reminded that my life is part of all
creation. As we gathered in the middle of the four directions, my Native American ancestors were very much present, reminding
me that I am inextricably linked to Mother Earth and Father Sun, to the elements of nature which surround me all the time,
and to the moon whose cycle influences my own body’s cycle. The Creator God of all this, gave me life and one day
will claim that life and return it to the good earth. Yes, Mary Kraus is part of all time and creation! That woke me out of
my 50-year limit!
I don’t know enough to comment too fully on
the Native American connections. Again, I have been told by Buck Linton that there are major differences in Native American
usage and feminist/Wiccan usage of the four directions. I’m very sorry she doesn’t seem to find hope in the resurrection
of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life in Him.
Third, it was wonderful to be with people who love
me just the way I am. One of the women in this circle has known me over 30 years. My friends have held my hand in painful
times and celebrated with me during moments of great joy; always they are there when needed. In the vulnerable moment of completing
half a century of living it was good to have some accompaniment. They celebrated that milestone and then moved me right into
the next half century reminded me that time does not stand still.
As more and more of us are privileged to live long
lives, it is important that we help each other through these transitions. It is important that we reclaim our foremothers
and their influence in our lives. It is important that we develop new symbols and ways of marking these transitions; and it
is important to celebrate the wisdom that comes with living. It is wonderful indeed. Blessed be!