Monday, December 29, 2008

Saga - Another name for "crone"

“…the word saga has been translated out of its original meaning, which was ‘She-Who-Speaks,’ that is, an oracular priestess, such as were formerly associated with sacred poetry. The literal meaning of saga was ‘female sage.’ The written sagas of Scandinavia were originally sacred histories kept by female sagas or ‘sayers,’ who knew how to write them in runic script. Among northern tribes, men were usually illiterate. Writing and reading the runes were female occupations. Consequently, runes were associated with witchcraft by medieval Christian authorities. To them, saga became a synonym for witch.

”Barbara G. Walker, The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power
(San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), p. 52.

(Quote is taken from the website of The SAGA Centre for Studies in Autobiography, Gender, and Age, University of British Columbia )

I was thinking about Julie's eloquent comment below, reflecting on the depths that aging brings to the so-called "dark and light" within the stories of our lives, weaving an increasingly visible gestalt. And "Compost" (one of my favorite words, derived from the town of Compostella, wherein a famous "black Madonna" is housed)..... is another, more organic word for "Transmutation" wherein "gold" is distilled. Composting is the alchemy of life, going on all the time within the depths of Earth. Thanks again, Julie.

"Working with the archetype of the shadow means we are mining that darkness for its hidden riches...........Claiming the golden riches out of my compost is harder for me - but emerging crone hood makes it easier."** (1)

I was wondering if there was another word for the emergence of the "Crone" archetype, and I remembered a Saga Storytelling Festival I was once invited to attend. "Saga" is a Scandinavian word that means not only "a long, ancestral or heroic story". According to the dictionary, "Saga" is:

1. a. Any of the narrative compositions in prose that were written in Iceland or Norway during the middle ages; in English use often applied spec. to those which embody the traditional history of Icelandic families or of the kings of Norway….

b. transf. A narrative having the (real or supposed) characteristics of the Icelandic sagas; a story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure. Also, a novel or series of novels recounting the history of a family through several generations, as The Forsyte Saga, etc. Now freq. in weakened use, a long and complicated (account of a) series of more or less loosely connected events.

”The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. “saga.”

According to mythologist Barbara Walker, Saga also means "She Who Speaks". Similar to the masculine "Sage", a Saga is a wise old woman, a female mentor and teacher. Similar, but not, to my mind, quite the same in it's meanings, and that is because of the context of "story" that imbues the word and its origins.

She-Who-Speaks is the potent teller of story, because she embodies, within her long life, a long, interwoven, generational, story - a Saga. The Saga hold a thread that weaves through many lives into the distant past, and she casts her warp and weft with her telling forward into the lives of Sagas to come.

Here is another one of Spider Woman's many names!

I want to pursue this a bit farther - but will have to close for today with bit of information about a fascinating book along these lines (or threads), called "My Grandmother's Hair", by Ann Elizabeth Carson (2006). "Our stories", she wrote, "never leave our bodies." Here is a review about this important book, written by a contemporary Saga.

"Our family stories make our memories and shape our lives. "

Poignant, honest and endearing, My Grandmother's Hair tells the story of how her art kept Ann Elizabeth Carson alive and showed her the truth as she re-membered and relived the stories her own life embodied. A study of power and psyche, My Grandmother's Hair delves into personal and social stories about how power is realized and suppressed in the body. The author explores how the connections of our memories are made in the body and tells the stories of those whose lives and memories are often ignored.

My Grandmother's Hair cracks open with the life-changing story of Ann Carson's grandmother: the moment her husband demanded she cut off her hair, and the single cry of anguish she let out during the act. That story resurfaces, eventually becoming relevant in the author's own life. Carson shows how the myths and archetypes of our culture layer with our memories — spoken or buried, our own or our elders- -and have so much to do with the way we live our lives.

She brings to light the tendency we all have to "live in that twilight zone where you say you believe one thing so you can be part of a community, while quietly living your own truth in order to save your sanity." Then she bravely shares her own healing journey of coming out of the twilight zone so we may all discover that tapping into the images and languages of our own experience — our memories — can nourish and encourage us.


** Julie's very insightful Blog, "Emerging Crone" is found at


On the subject of composting, or rituals of transmutation, I'm going to tell something very personal here. My brother has had a brain stem stroke, and there is very little hope for his physical recovery. I do not feel, personally, that he is inhabiting his body now.

Glenn, in many ways, withdrew from the world in his later years, and the sweetness of his character I remember from when we were children became overcast with loneliness, and personal despair. He became obsessed with "survivalist" ideas, and subscribed to certain newsletters I personally found disturbing in their paranoia. In his closet I found a collection of guns. Last night, I prayed for his release from the dark dreams and loneliness that have encrusted his spirit for the past decade, and I made a ritual of burning that literature. The ashes I took to the garden, watering them so they could represent release and lightening of his spirit, and new growth in the "soil" of life. I sold the guns, and sent the proceeds to THE HUNDRED FRIENDS PROJECT in his name. Those guns, which represented fear and anger, are now turned into money that will build schools in Afghanistan (thanks to Marc Gold), and help children in orphanages in Cambodia and Nepal. I am certain that this is what he would wish.


Dia said...

I love your play of words!! Saga - Compost -

One of my favorites is 'bede' to 'bid' spirit to enter, the hole in the center (reminds me of Tao Te Ching - it's the hole that makes the wheel, the vessle, useful) being a spirit place.

Have you seen Women of the Northern Light - it's a book for reading runes from the feminine perspective - (think that's the title - I no longer have the book) . . .

I look forward to purusing your blog more thoroughly!!

blessings as we flow thru the seasons

Anonymous said...

Loved this post! Thank you for your kind words. New Moon Blessings to you.