I recently attended a weekend workshop for older women. The leaders used the word “‘crone” to define the stage in a woman’s life after she passes through menopause. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to call themselves a crone?
If you check any dictionary, the word is associated with being an old hag, a shrew, basically a mean and ugly woman. No way did I want that to be my identification, so I did some further investigation. I searched to find if there was a more pleasing word that might be used to reference a post-menopausal woman.
My research led me to a new understanding of how women have been viewed, by themselves and by men, through the ages. Way back in the early, pre-patriarchal Celtic society, the woman was revered throughout the three phases in her life.
In the first stage, she is called “the virgin”; in the second, “the mother”; and in the third, she is “the virago.” Immediately, I liked the sound of that word, and even more so when I read that the roots of virago come from “vir,” as in virile, with virago as the feminine quality. Feminine virility ... what a concept.
In ancient Roman and Greek times, virago was a title of respect and admiration. She was seen as strong and brave, and even warlike, such as we think of the Amazon woman. The virago was often to be feared, and at times despised for her ability to unsettle the status quo and challenge the existing social order. She was bold; she spoke her mind.
With this information, the position of the older woman was sounding a lot better. “But what,” I asked, “happened to women, once regarded as goddesses?” At some point in history, time transformed the image of the virago (or crone) so that her power became displaced by the patriarchy who then put a new spin on the older, wiser woman. The feminine became devalued, and especially the aggressive, mature woman was demeaned and labeled a shrew, a hag, a bitch, a witch, someone loud and ill-tempered. No longer thought to be attractive, she went unappreciated and was moved into the background of society.