blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Summons

Snaky necks black
Among cornshocks
Be-In of clans,
Feathered coverlet,
Mulched field
High blue above,
Walking, chatting, resting.

Some fly in,
Wings bowed
Dump speed for landing.
Some fly out,
On their way to
Lost Pangea.

As it is,
So it was.
Faithful through eons,
Through cataclysms of
And our slaughter,
Hearing, beyond
Man's stunted senses,
Magnetic Summons--

Fly Now,
Oh Brave Children
Of Archeopterix.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

L'autre, la même

L'autre, la même


Streetskin moist with rain
And you are working your dark dance
in my soul this morning
The sidewalk splays a single pine quill in my path
like a sensual challenge
reminding me of porcupines,
and wolves coursing through
heavy-lidded night
I know where you run
washing into me, pulling me,
like an ocean on long forgotten tides
and how we both fear damage
But my world turns autumn in your presence
lush and full of burgundy stillness
It is fruition we offer one another
So range with me,
and we will leap burning peaks
where they raise themselves
from ancient waters

Monday, September 26, 2011

September Birthday Crones

Visit a new monthly feature on Crone Henge ~ a birthday page of quotes saluting the creative spirit of women.

Black Madonna

"I salute you, Black Virgin, each day that I see you and that I live."
----chant in honor of the Black Virgin of Biarritz

She’s here and there all across Europe. There are many explanations of what brings her shining black face to the West. Is she Isis come out of Roman North Africa? The religion of Isis was widespread in the later days of the Empire and it was carried by the army into the new northern territories. Many European Isis shrines are sited at ancient holy sites, by sacred wells and springs, all of which once belonged to Brigit, the Celtic Triple Goddess. It’s perhaps a case of one religion supplanting another, and then, in its turn, being supplanted by the militant tide of Christianity. So, instead of Isis carrying her son Horus, these dark ladies were viewed as an African Mary carrying her son Jesus.

An alternate explanation may be that today’s Black Madonna is yesterday’s Goddess of the Dark Moon. After all, in the old religions, the Triple Goddess who ruled the earth was symbolized by the moon, and the moon has phases. New Moon represented the maiden, Full Moon, the Mother, while the Dark of the Moon represented the Crone, the original version of a divinity which was “three in one and one in three.”

Southern Italy was colonized early on by Greeks, named by them Magna Graecia. Intermarrying with the Etruscan people, they worshipped the Goddess, Demeter, or Cybele—the earth mother who regenerates every spring—in their temples. Sometimes, this lady is known as “The Ancient Spider.” This goddess weaves and spins, as do the Fates, and many powerful goddesses in many different traditions, from Athena to. She also possesses her devotees with the bite of her creature, the tarantula, and then frees them in a restorative dance which is sacred to her, and which still survives: Tarantella.

In later societies where men ruled, women were deprived of all rights and of their ancient sacred status as givers of life. Then Tarantella provided a form of emotional release for the frustrated, depressed and frequently abused “lesser sex.” Perhaps this explains its survival and practice into the present.

In Puglia, in the Basque region of Biarritz, in Barcelona, in France,in Calabria, and in Montserrat in Spain, all ancient bastions of the Roman empire, Black Virgins are still found. Their festivals are devoutly celebrated, for each Virgin has been the object of veneration, longing and pilgrimage for well over a thousand years.

“I come a long way to salute you, Maria. I come to ask for a miracle, and I won’t leave until you grant it to me. Perform this miracle, Maria! Perform it out of your mercy.” –Canto della Madonna Di Montserrato as sung by Alessandra Belloni in her CD, Dance of the Ancient Spider.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Old times—The rooster in the Kitchen Garden

My mother is dead now, though she still angrily haunts my dreams. Difficult as our life together was, as time passes, I find myself wishing I’d listened more attentively to her stories of old times.

My mother, Dorothy, was born in 1920, which is getting to be a long time ago. She had many every day experiences with a kind of life that’s shadowy hearsay for my grandchildren. When Dorothy came into consciousness, Albert, her father, was working toward his PhD. His father, an upstate NY dairyman had land and a little money , but also, unlike many of his peers, he ardently believed in the value of a good education. My grandpa was not the only one of his children he sent to Cornell. He even sent a daughter there, and despite the prejudices of the time, she too ended with a doctorate. My grandfather, Albert, then earned a scholarship to Princeton, and was filling in the inevitable gaps in his income as a graduate assistant and tutoring the less-motivated sons of the rich. In summers, though, he brought his young family back to the farm. There he worked as he had as a boy, and his wife helped in the kitchen and house and took care of their small daughter.

Dorothy loved her grandfather’s farm, even though there were things that scared her. Behind the big red brick farmhouse was a large kitchen garden. At certain times of year the chickens were allowed in to clean up bugs and help themselves, though they were generally banned from that area. Still, the time of year would come, after the peas and beans and when the lettuce has gone to seed, that is time for a bit of clean-up. They were loosed to peck and scratch before the second crop went in.

These were times of trial for Dorothy, because along with the hens came the rooster. He didn’t limit his displays of dominance to other chickens, but always lurked along the path that led across the garden to the backhouse, hoping to ambush people on their way there. On the first summer there that she clearly remembered, her own mother had bronchitis and was upstairs in bed, leaving the woman’s share of the work shorthanded. She told me of having to pee mightily, but not daring to go, and finally weeping. Spanking was in order for children who wet their pants in those days, even when they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Her grandmother, busy canning, or laboring to cook for the family and hired help at the big wood stove, didn’t have an extra minute to escort her across the garden. Mom says she remembers her grandmother saying with exasperation, “Just pick up a stick of kindling and hit him!” before turning back to the bubbling pots.

My mother was small for her age and the rooster seemed a monster, tall enough to look her in the eye. She said she did as she was told, but could still recall the terror when that big old red rooster came charging out of the berry bushes at her. She threw lots of kindling that summer, and sometimes she hit the feathered bully, but it only gave him a moment’s pause. She’d have to take to her heels and run. Next there’d be those awful seconds of struggling with the heavy door before slamming it shut. Chest heaving, heart pounding, she pant'd in the odorous interior, lit only by the moon and star carved in the door. One day, while her mother was sick, she waited too long and peed herself as the rooster chased her. She had to hide her underwear under her pinafore before taking an even more circuitous route back inside.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Conspirator

Innocent or guilty? That question has been repeatedly asked about Mary Surratt, a widow in her mid-forties, since the death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. First off, even though I have researched the Civil War extensively, I watched the movie with little knowledge surrounding the events of Lincoln's assassination.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Mary Surratt is the alleged lone female conspirator among eight who were charged with the assassination of President Lincoln. Along with four others, she was hung in July 1865 and was the first woman to have been executed by the U.S. government. In the movie, young attorney, Frederick Aiken, represents her against his better judgment. The movie casts doubt on Mary's guilt, and Aiken tries to uncover the truth.

For the most part, costuming and historical sets were excellent. I have quite a bit of knowledge about military trials of the era, and the movie puzzled me in that regard. It came across as a mix of a military and civilian trial, but the average viewer isn't going to notice that detail. There were many more individuals involved in the actual trial than the movie portrayed, but too many characters would have made the story confusing.

I have read criticisms from historians that Mary Surratt led to her own downfall with lies (since I haven't researched the subject myself, I can't make any conclusion), nor did she defend herself. A defendant wasn't allowed to take the stand in their own defense in military trials during the 1860s. They could bring in as many witnesses as necessary in order to attempt to prove their innocence, but they were only allowed statements to the court.

The biggest criticism I've read about the movie from other reviewers is that slavery was never mentioned. Those reviewers show their ignorance. While slavery was certainly an important aspect of the Civil War, it was much more complex than any single issue. Mary Surratt had owned slaves, but the movie had nothing to do with slavery. In fact, apparently one of her former slaves testified in her defense. This was never mentioned, nor were statements from a co-conspirator, who insisted several times that she was innocent.

Whether Mary Surratt was guilty or innocent is a question that may never be answered. What is clear is that she never received a fair trial, and in that regard, the movie was accurate. But then, even if she had received a trial by her peers, with the judicial system of the time only allowing white males as judge and jury, could she have ever received a fair trial?

I enjoyed The Conspirator. It kept me captivated, and it's message is as relevant today as it was in the 1860s.

Kim Murphy

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Dance of the Black Madonna

Dancing with the Shadow Beings

I became a Dolphin

leaping in the Ocean

leaping in the Sea

twisting and flying in the air

Fast, fast, past reefs of colours

bursting red, yellow, blue



Hauled back to dance again

on the white sand

to dance at the feet of

the Black Madonna

to be welcome inside Her mantle

to swallow a silver key in the darkness

that I may gather tears of all those who bring them

and lay them at Her dusky feet



For She has the Power to transform sorrow

into a purple veil dance

Dance of brown feet

on the timeless white sands

of the Lower World



White shore, sand and ocean

day becomes night

in the purple veil dance of the Madonna,

Who sees and knows all things

I am drained of my sorrows

and all my dark teachers come

dancing with me upon the sands



There is healing in the darkness

All pain is bearable

All pain is transformed here

to dance and stars and sand

Where God is Bhairava

and Goddess every Dark Mother

compassion is deep and violet

He is here and She is here

dancing, dancing

And as I reluctantly go

the shadow stretches out in farewell;

I kiss its graceful fingers

As they recede down the passage of dark joy

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crone Voyage

Entering Cronehood feels like going on a journey; destination unknown, route unspecified. I don't know what to pack, or what suitcase to bring. Does anyone have the official map?

There have been a dozen full years of changes since my Croning Celebration when I turned 50. My Goddess circle, The Laughing Yonis, celebrated with a party filled to the brim with chocolate, laughter, wine and wisdom. I have been trying ever since to grow into the Wise Woman role they envisioned and personified so well.

Today, preparing for a trip to Kelowna I found myself in Sears, equipped with list and measuring tape, comparing sizes, weights, and handle lengths. A fellow shopper, also a woman-of-age was there on a similar quest and we entered into a brief but satisfying friendship of information sharing and wry laughter about our diminished mobility.

On my brighter days I know the wisdom I am seeking is not found in knowing the answers but in asking the thoughtful questions, and taking delight in shared laughter. The more I can remember these simple truths, the closer I become to being a wise woman crone and not the nasty witch of Menopause Hell. Now where did I put that list?

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Time & The Doctor

David Tennant as The Doctor

I was living in England with my mother, going to The School of St. Claire in Penzance as a day student. We lived in the end unit of a stone row house, just as you imagine a British working class neighborhood. We had just moved out of an artsy Mousehole hotel to less expensive Newlyn, to the last building on the top of the hill above the harbor. Behind us was a field with dairy cows and a stubby, well-worn stone circle, through which I walked every morning, taking the back way over the headland into PZ. We rented our telly and paid license fees, like everyone else on the street, and I began watching my first regular doses of English entertainment. It was black and white in those days, rather different from what I’d been accustomed to back in the States.

I only saw two shows containing the original Doctor, William Hartnell. Although I remember keenly enjoying Dr. Who, it was never completely clear to me what the heck was going on. I remember being thrilled to realize that this show was not only about history—and with costumes which were actually period correct (astonishing in and of itself as this was the early sixties)—but also about the science fiction notion of time travel. The Doctor and his two companions eventually escaped from trouble inside their odd little time machine—in this case, a blue police call box, the kind I’d seen standing, by the sixties dusty and unused, on street corners here and there in London. They called this handy device the TARDIS*.

Well, wow! Stories about history and time travel all in one show! The main character was not only mysterious, aged and professorial, but a little sinister, too, as if he was not entirely to be trusted. As someone who liked fantasy and science fiction but who was also loved to read about famous characters in history, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Unfortunately, I never saw any more than those two shows. Soon Mom and I pulled up stakes again and headed for Barbados. In those days, the West Indies had no television.

Years later, The Doctor and I reconnected. My kids and I were sitting on the floor together watching public television on our Zenith, also parked on the floor. (In those days furniture was something of a luxury.) A British import began. Lo and behold--there was my time traveler and his blue box—again! Of course, the original doctor had gone. The new one was still domineering and mysterious, but far less of a stuffy old professor. Instead he now appeared to be in his forties, with a gorgeous head of wavy hair and Victorian get-ups by way of Carnaby Street. John Pertwee might have just stepped out of the Yellow Submarine.

Okay, I thought, I’ll go with the flow. My brief, earlier acquaintance with that absent-minded elderly Doctor was a pleasant memory. This, I realized, would be a great show for the kids to watch while I made dinner. (In those days 30 Minute Meals was not a “marketable idea,” just the way everybody cooked.)

My boys became fans, but almost immediately there came a change in Doctors, as reported to me by my oldest son. He was about equally disturbed and fascinated by the fact that the main character in a series might abruptly “regenerate” into someone else, all while essentially playing (more or less) the same character. Tom Baker immediately captured our fancy, perhaps because his clothes were utterly Boho- trippy. The hat, the scarf, the manic manner, the comic timing, his diction, and his “funny walks”—Baker was like a speaking, Oxford-educated Harpo Marx . The kids, and their Mom too, adored Baker, and we watched the show faithfully during the years of his reign. My youngest son begged his aunt to knit him a floor-sweeping Whovian scarf for Christmas, and we hunted used clothing stores for a cool old hat to go with it.

Time passed for us, as it never quite does in the TARDIS. The kids got older and began to lose interest when the Doctor "regenerated" again. We never entirely warmed to the handsome, dapper Peter Davidson with his question marks and 1890s university cricketer’s garb. We drifted away.

Years went by. The kids grew up and had kids of their own. I became a senior. Time Lords (the Doctor's species), however, regenerate with some regularity. And although I hadn't been paying attention, he’d done it again.

One day I was channel surfing and happened upon BBC America. And Wa-Hoo KA-ZAM! There he was, a brand new Doctor. This incarnation had a budget and enjoyed all the benefits of the CG revolution. Somewhere in the hiatus, the hoary old Doctor had become a “valuable property.” Forty-seven years after our first meeting, I’d found him again.

You might think I'd be too old now for a "kid's show," because I'm wrinkly and gray, but I'm still turned on by Doctor Who's fizzy cocktail combo of history and space/time travel. It's been great fun to be a fan at the same time my grandgirls--21and 12. Not only monsters, but more ordinary human problems are regularly explored here, such as the inevitably of change and the blessing of friendship. Rarified concepts like immortality, the persistence of evil, and the--let's face it--scariness of eternity are also pondered. There are many reasons why this series, conceived in the early days of television, is still going strong. I may myself soon vanish out of Time, but it seems there will always be another Doctor.

Doctor Who, Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

* TARDIS= Time and Relativity Dimensions in Space. Sort of silly, but there you are. ;)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gifts from the Grandmother

It is traditional for First Nation’s people to give thanks, and acknowledge our relations, to the plants, animals, birds and creatures from the water, to show respect for their giving their spirits in order for others to survive. Traditionally elders say prayers to commemorate this sacrifice at a feast gathering. During these gatherings the people shared their recipes and often demonstrated the preparation and cooking of food. Elders would pass on ancient food gathering and preparation guides to the younger members of the tribe. Because of this tradition of passing on the wisdom of the tribe from generation to generation, First Nation’s people became increasingly skilled in the art of drying and preparing foods, herbs and berries with each passing generation. The Medicine men and women of the tribes were gifted healers trained by generations of ancestors in the art of using the gifts of Mother Earth to heal the people of their tribes.

Visit the recipe page here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Not So Barren Crone

I remember most of my 40’s as being lonely and friendless. The truth is I had friends but never spent a significant amount of time with them. I was a Working Mother. When I finally quit my job, I was confronted by a life that was empty because I had neglected it. It took a few years to find my way back into the company of women like myself in age and maturity. The way I found most of those women was in a program of recovery and the women’s retreats the program sponsors. One retreat had a profound affect on me as a woman, and it all happened in the gift shop.
Convents are popular retreat spots these days. As orders shrink and income grows scarce, the sisters tidy up the rooms and allow paying guests. A private setting with dining services and meeting rooms is an ideal place for a weekend of contemplation and personal growth. The Catholic icons can help to set a divine overtone, if the statues aren’t too graphic. (There is one retreat center I will never visit again because of the “art.”) The sisters are generally elderly and kind – even when they boss people around. There is always a gift shop filled with Catholic gifts and a sister who takes a turn running the register.
My favorite place for retreats was the Precious Blood Retreat Center outside Columbia, PA (it has since been closed). Not only was it a 15-minute drive from home, it was comfortable and the food was good – for a convent. The gift shop was one of the smallest I had encountered, but it made up for its size with an eclectic collection of art and cards. The card that caught my eye had a colorful, gentle older woman drinking from a mug while perched in the branches of a tree. I loved the idea of elderly women drinking coffee in a tree, so I turned it over for an explanation. The back read “Our Lady of the Not So Barren Tree.” The artist explains her Saint as follows:

Tradition holds that women have three stages of life: virgin, mother and crone. Our Lady of the Not So Barren Tree envisions a fourth stage, the potentially productive years between mid-life and extreme old age. In a middle space slightly above the earth but below the heavens, insights and ideas flourish. Calm and reflective, she produces many fruits of feminine creativity.” - Elizabeth Kay, (

This greeting card helped me understand this time in my life much more clearly. Having passed through the awful years of the young woman who feels lost without a man, and survived the years of raising a child, I have arrived in those golden years when I can return fully to myself. It is now my time to decorate my life with the people, places and pursuits I choose. I have the freedom and enough energy to start anew by re-awakening the dreams and passions I had before I satisfied the biological clock.

I have done some research on the crone and the three-person goddess currently mythologized in neo-paganism, and she seems to be a modern creation with a theoretically ancient history. I would like to propose a sisterhood of the not-so-barren tree. We can call ourselves crones, but keep our true identities secret. Where others see us as old and wise, we can see ourselves as creative, fruitful, and mature. What the outsiders don’t know won’t hurt them.