blog description

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

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.


  1. Thanks so much, Jo! This is beautiful. I'd be honored to join you in the not-so-barren tree.
    (Now if my old hips, back and knees just felt the same way).;-) love you, sista! Boo

  2. May I recommend some gentle yoga, Bobbi?

    This is a lovely post - I know some women who would find it very healing to read... and I'm going to send 'em the link forthwith!