The Ancient Crone

by Anya Silverman

The mythological Crone comes to us from the mists of ancient times in the part of the world we now know as the Middle East, Greece, and the Balkans. Many people now believe that in Paleolithic era (c.30,000 – 10,000 BCE) the goddess was revered as one all-encompassing mother goddess who controlled birth, death, and rebirth. As patriarchy began to arise after c.7000 BCE, this concept began to change as women themselves became increasingly under the dominion of men. The one mother goddess image was split into three aspects reflecting the stages of women’s lives - maiden, mother, and crone. The crone goddess represented the older woman aspect of a woman’s life.

Jean Shinoda Bolen has written two books* explaining the connection between women today and the ancient goddesses. She explains that according to Jungian psychology “women are influenced by powerful inner forces, or archetypes, which can be personified by … goddesses.” These attributes live on today in the collective unconscious as an archetype. An archetype is a pattern of instinctual behavior that is contained in the collective unconscious - a part of the unconscious mind - that is not individual but universal, with contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same in all cultures and in all individuals. The crone goddess represents the archetype of the older woman.

When patriarchy became the dominant mode, when the divine was imaged solely as male, and as women became second-class citizens, the ideas about goddesses and the archetypes they represented went underground. Archetypes can be submerged, but they never disappear; and as women today are reclaiming their power, these archetypes are re-emerging. There is a burgeoning interest in this ancient part of women’s herstory, and the crone archetype is resurfacing as a model for elderwomen. Women are coming into their own as individuals, stronger and more comfortable with who they are and in speaking for themselves. Women are joining collectively as well in what some are calling a new Crone Movement.

Crone, hag, and witch once were positive words for old women. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and witch comes from wit meaning wise. Crones, hags, and witches frequently were leaders, midwives and healers in their communities. The meanings of these three words, however, were distorted and eventually reversed during the 300 years of the Inquisition when the male-dominated church wanted to eliminate women holding positions of power. Women identified as witches, who were often older women, i.e. crones and hags, were tortured and burned, and the words witch, crone, and hag took on the negative connotations that continue in our language. The Crone Movement, however, is re-claiming the positive meanings of these words.

The Crone began re-emerging into our consciousness in the early 1980s, and today many older women are embracing this connection. We are tapping into the ancient crone’s attributes of wisdom, compassion, transformation, healing laughter, and bawdiness. The ancient crone archetype strengthens our belief and confidence in age-accumulated knowledge, insights and intuitions enabling women to stand up for their rights.

We will not be invisible, ignored, or treated unfairly. We are coming together in circles and gatherings to support each other as we proudly proclaim:

We Are Crones!


* Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women. New York: Harper Perennial, 1984.
__________. Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women Over Fifty. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.


Anya Silverman returned to school at the age of 55 to study women’s spirituality, and received her MA degree from The New College of California. Her thesis was titled “Metamorphosis Of The Crone, How This Ancient Symbol Can Empower Older Women Today.” She is now on the board of Crones Counsel. She can be reached at Anyacrone@aol.com.