Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Girl I Left Behind Me

I have a pretty miserable cold. I've tried taking just about every reasonable medication, but mostly it's just going to run its course. So I'm sitting here nestled with a wonderful cozy mug of mulled wine and thinking about the lovely, full Quickening Moon outside, here on the eve of Imbolc.


Earlier this week my beloved friend Shameless Agitator posted a wonderful passage from a book called Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman. In the passage, Woodman talks about a woman's psyche as a three fold relationship to Goddess as virgin, mother, and Crone. But, Woodman says, modern women lack a reference to the Crone. She's been hidden away, drowned out. Why? She's past her prime and too honest. So she ends up like most women like her. Like me.

From Shameless's post, Woodman writes:

The Crone in a woman is that part of her psyche that is not identified with any relationship nor confined by any bond....The Crone speaks with the sharp truth that shocks and alarms others.....When a woman stands her own ground, exercises discipline, or lays down her terms and conditions with “straight talk,” she speaks with the voice of the Crone.....One day we are surprised by the sound of our own voice coming straight from its ground in our body.

(Click here to see Shameless's post on the subject and enter into her journey.)

I am squarely at the threshold of the stage of the Crone chronologically in my own life, but in many ways I've always identified with her at least a little. There is a scene you may know from Cold Mountain in which Inman is rescued from almost certain extinction by an old mountain woman. Her wisdom and her skill in connecting with his nature, the Mountain's nature, the nature of all things is Crone wisdom. She is able to put things into perspective for Inman in a way that gives him his first real rest during his passage.

Each time I go through a passage of my own, the time of healing comes more quickly because I have learned to rely on my own young wisdom, the learnings of everything I've seen and done, and the deep wisdom that is contained in much of the music I love. One of the things I love best about old fiddle tunes is their blazen, irrepressible, sharp honesty. There is a depth of spirit in some of my favorites that helps me to find my center and see exactly what I need to see. I'm sure you have music like that for yourself.

Our lives contain wisdom that we just need to tap into. In my life, I have given birth twice, lost two other babies, lost both parents and many other loved ones, lost a marriage, loved and lost again and again. But through it all I gained a step toward understanding my real nature. Part of that was coming to this music.

I have said before that I have a great deal of experience musically. I was playing any number of little sonatas by ear as a young girl, had years of musical training, sang in a professional choir at the age of 15, suffered through endless juries and recitals and "drop the needle" tests, worked at one of the world's top-rated orchestral ensembles. Nonetheless I know I'm perceived as "niche"; as one recently exorcized influence mockingly remarked, "[Bluegrass] is all you ever listen to!" This isn't entirely true, and if it were, who cares? In other professions, such as law, or medicine, or academia, you really only succeed if you specialize. It would be like someone asking him, "Why is it that setting broken bones is all you ever want to do?"

For all the elegance in classical repertoire, I can't find the Crone in it almost anywhere. In some of the earliest music that I love, there is a sort of courtly stateliness, but nothing that matches the ribald authenticity of the mountain Crone spirit found in the fiddle tunes and ballads of Appalachia.

There are plenty of "Crone" figures I admire and from whom I draw power. Balladeer Jean Ritchie. Bluegrass pioneers Ola Belle Reed and Maybelle Carter. Songmaster Hazel Dickens. The power of their music and their influence is all befitting the power of the Crone, and their singularity, their ability as women to forge into areas that were unpopular or unfeminine then lingers today. Crone is considered odd or inappropriate or unpopular because culture has painted her that way. It's hard to accept a sort of unbound, ungendered, uncompromising female power that has no interest in threatening you.

My friend Jawbone turned me on to a recording that I was smart enough to acquire this last couple of weeks. It's a collaborative effort by Rayna Gellert and Susie Goehring. Starch and Iron is produced by Dirk Powell, who writes of the duo's powerful and mesmerizing playing style in his notes for the recording. Susie's powerful guitar accompaniment and singing complement Rayna's driving powerful fiddling perfectly. (Rayna is known to some readers as a member of that fabulous old-timey women's band, Uncle Earl.)

This Girl Friday I want to share with you this track from Starch and Iron, called The Girl I Left Behind Me. (A different version is among the fiddle tunes that Laura, Mary, and Carrie Ingalls heard as young girls.) That little longhaired girl I was, running across acres in Jefferson County is unleashed in this tune and united with the wisdom and grace of my emerging Crone in the lines in this powerful and unapologetic tune. (Go to this link and on the right hand side under "TRACKS" click on the second track to get the MP3.) It weaves in and out of its minor framework with major cadences, which heightens the tune's intensity. It's the perfect Southern Mountain music to welcome February's midwinter moon swollen with the influence and promise of unstoppable honest life.

That's how I wish always to be, no matter how old I get, and regardless of whether you personally find it beautiful or gracious. If you can't handle my music, stay off my porch!

(Please support Rayna and Susie's work which is a tradition in their families and a tradition of our musical heritage.)


At February 02, 2007 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More from "Dancing in the Flames":

"For most people, it takes a lifetime for the psyche to find its relationship to the Goddess. She appears in the psyche in her three-fold nature, sometimes Virgin, sometimes Mother, sometimes Crone. However, it is the Crone that our culture has so brutally repressed. The wise woman, the healer, the transformer has been one of the greatest threats to the patriarchal world. Ironically, with the founding of universities in the eleventh century, women’s natural talents for counseling, healing, and being a source of wisdom were curtailed; women were barred from attending. Public services could be rendered only by someone with the proper credentials and, since women were not allowed to acquire these credentials, they were effectively removed from the intellectual life of the community. Many who were burned as witches were among the most gifted women of the time."

“Our culture’s official rejection of the Crone figure was related to rejection of women, particularly elder women. The gray-haired high priestesses, once respected tribal matriarchs of pre-Christian Europe, were transformed by the newly dominant patriarchy into minions of the devil. Throughout the Middle Ages this trend gathered momentum, finally developing into a frenzy that legally murdered millions of older women from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries.”

At February 02, 2007 7:30 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Hello, Shameless! Has the Tycho started flowing yet??

It's a relief to read these words. More than once the reaction to my honesty felt like a stake-burning for sure. But I'm not the kind of person to ever tell anyone what they want to hear. I'm going to tell them what they need to hear, and I accept the responsibility that most people may not like it.

If you're my friend, and I care about you enough to tap into my Crone to lay out for you my observations -- and just my observations, mind you, no directives -- it's up to you to take them or leave them. If we understand each other, that's a given. I'm not going to lie to you or watch you make a terrible mistake without saying something. It's not in my nature.

These days, however, I'm going to keep some of that wisdom for myself, and for a few close dear ones. It is a precious, precious resource that I should cultivate. In time it will lead me to the right doors and eventually right on out of this life.

Thank you, Shameless, for all your shameless and loving agitation over the years and gently helping me uncover pieces and parts of myself. Twenty years is a long time to put up with me and my cantankerousness. But it sure has been fun.

At February 02, 2007 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is truly my pleasure, to have known you the past 20 years. I am here to catch you. I know when I need it, you are there to catch me.

Much love,
Shameless Agitator


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