The Crone

A Meditation on Death, Life, and Magick




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dedicated to Alexandra Genetti


The old woman walks into the forest. The snow fills the path, and piles itself between the crackly old trunks of Ponderosa Pine. Bearing down on her weathered walking stick, she climbs the rocky shoulders of the hills, immodestly exposed now that the grasses are three moons whithered away.

"Conserve your strength," she mutters out of habit, then laughs at herself--a laugh bigger than her tiny body, echoing among the trees and canyons. For this time, this once and only time, the trek up the mountain path is a one-way hike. She need only arrive, she need not return. She kicks a small stone from the path, and listens to it clatter down the hillside. "Run along home, now!"

She walks across the stream on the old fallen tree, and knows the water flows beneath the blanket of snow. Along the empty path she walks as darkness gathers. More by long intimacy than by sight, she finds the place, where the corners of the world come together. She skids inelegantly down to the little promontory, almost wide enough for two, an excursion of rock into the airy night, lifted high above the flowing waters, which she hears but cannot see. She settles down onto the old bones of the Earth, the stars arcing in their timeless delight far above her old head.

Without effort, she draws a circle around her, just nodding her head and letting her thoughts find their own beginning and close back upon themselves. The spirits come too, adoring her like ecstatic pets: bright winged things, lizard spirits slithering in heat, the people of the deep, welling up inside her, and then the slow ones, with hard shells and dark eyes, clutching her spine to the ground and balancing her with their strong grip.

She presses her palms into the ancient rock and smiles. She speaks to the Earth, "Old Woman, how do you endure so long?" And the Earth answers: "Old Woman, how do you endure so long?" The crone closes her eyes and waits, patient as the rock on which she sits.

She remembers a few things: the husband she buried, the daughter she buried before that, the first cry of a child, and then, with strange vividness, the day her older sister showed her how to weave a ring out of the long blades of summer grass in some far-away meadow long ago. Such a delight that was, to take one of the ten million blades that cover the Earth and make it your own, wedded to your finger like some ancient talisman of life. Of course, all those dozens of summers had made other memories too, innumerable permutations on a theme. But she knows that the few pieces coming to mind now are the important things.

In the midst of her reverie, the dark maiden goddess notices her, plants a kiss on her brow, and asks, "Shall I show you the way?" The crone looks up and meets the eyes of the goddess. The goddess suddenly bows her head and says, "Forgive me, Lady, I didn't know you." The old woman pulls the goddess by the hand and strokes her hair. "Be still, dear. Attend me now."

The goddess looks up, but her eyes do not meet the crone's. She's looking past her, back up the slope toward the trail. "He's behind you now, Lady." The crone wearily twists herself around to see him waiting, his back to her: the skeleton with the scythe, he whom men fear, in all countries of the world. The maiden offers her hand and helps the old woman to her feet. "I seem to have gone by him unnoticed," says the old woman.

"Still you must meet him," says the goddess.

"Very well." Up the slope she walks, closing the seven strides that separate her from Death. He's unaware of her, until she lifts her slender arm and wraps her old fingers around his skull. Drawing close, she kisses his cold cheekbone. He knows her now, and with silent, loving grace, the scythe comes round and severs her. Into the Earth she falls, like wine poured upon bread.

Then she flows. Down into the Earth she flows, becoming soil, sand, and stone. Down further she flows, into the stream far below, becoming moving water under a snowy shroud. Then up she flows, widdershins around the cosmos, catching the fire of the rising Sun just like the old sliver Moon that announces his return. And high into the air she flows, spirit growing wider as it circles, until she is all, caressing all from within and from without. And, without body or voice, she laughs again. For even wrapped around the world, she knows where her spirit is settling, down into the bones and blade of Death. Her own flow around the circle is completed in the motion of his scythe, and she is there.

And as they come--old ones, lonely ones, lovers, children, babes--she accepts their gentle kisses and takes them up in the arc of her swinging arm. There is no gap in the circle, no hesitation, no stammering reluctance. We are all home here.

The Imaginarium is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2002-2007 Tom Waters