Photo by Javier Saint Jean on Unsplash
For All Hallows , I wrote about a series of encounters with the archetypal energy of the Cailleach, or wise hag. The blog began with a description of a tour to the Hill of the Cailleach in Ireland. I described entering an underground place which had three chambers, and discovering the Cailleach in the first one. Then we briefly visited some classic Cailleach manifestations and their transformative work in the world.
I didn’t describe what happened to me in the other two alcoves of that place. I’d like to use this early November space in the blog to do so. I’m going to begin by repeating the Cailleach information in case you missed that blog. If you have it in mind, skip down to the Matron.
Hill of the Cailleach – Ireland
During one visit to Ireland with a dozen person tour group I visited the Hill of the Cailleach. We had classic Irish instructions:
“Along that road is a house with a blue door. Turn left there, and three houses to the right is the house of the person who keeps the key for the locked gate. “We drove by a house with a blue door and turned left. There was another house right away with a blue door, and a left turn. We decided to ignore it and counted three houses on the right. No one was home.
We hunted down a neighbor who said the key was hanging near the door, unless someone had already come for it and was on the hill. We went back to the house. There was a hook but no key was hanging near the door.
We drove to the site, and sure enough there was a group on the hill. Our guides were given the key by their guide, with their promise to hang it back on the door.
At the top of the hill the key was needed to open an iron gate to the interior of a dolmen like structure, smaller than the one in the picture, but with the entrance to a descent. We each would slide down into a small pocket in the ground and have time there alone. Everyone else would wander the hillside, covered with white stones both scattered and in some unclear formations. We each had a flashlight but were instructed to use it sparingly. We’d been told to bring very small but important gifts and I had some things for that purpose in my pockets.
Sliding down, my feet landed on a floor of solid stone, slightly uneven. There was the smell of damp earth and stone, but no mold. It felt old, as old as the stone. I turned on my flashlight briefly to see there were three alcoves – left, right, and straight ahead. They were natural, not carved out of the stone. I clicked off the light, waited, and in the darkness I chose left, and stepped into that alcove, my left hand resting on cold stone.
The energy was ancient, fierce, razor edge clarity, observant and contained. Waiting. I felt the wall ahead of me with my hands, and discovered an edge of rock split away from the wall, with a pocket behind it. I took two items from my pockets, one that belonged to my grandmother and the other to my husband’s mother, both of whom had passed on. I gave thanks for their lives, for the gifts they instilled in us, and wished them all blessings as I dropped the objects behind the split rock. They clinked on metal so others had made the same choice. A low voice I heard in my heart said “You are no Crone yet, my dearie.” It was kindly stated, firm but not judgmental. And then her promise: “But you will be.”
Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash
Encountering the Matron
Stepping backwards into the main pocket I turned to the center alcove. I thought “if not Crone, what?” And in that perfect moment the sun shot through the upper opening, literally over my head, and revealed a carved back wall ahead of me. I kneeled, not wanting to block the sun, and the archetypal energy the sun embraced was of a mature woman, a Matron: gracious, centered, open, kind who takes part in the work of the world.
The voice in my heart said “You are mine for many, many years yet.” I believe the gift I gave the Matron was to accept becoming one myself. This blog is part of my work in the world.
Who is a Matron? When I was a young mother, teacher and author, I looked to the accomplished women in the Laramie Women Writer’s Group as role models. The group included a teacher, an orchid expert, a hunting guide and taxidermist, a political mover, and authors. Coretta Scott King was a model of how to be an individual and a force of your own. Two other, very different, role models for me are First Lady Roslyn Carter and Joan Baez.
The Matron of Proverbs 31
For a description of a Matron I’ve edited Proverbs verses 10-31 from the King James Version to focus on the pieces I remembered that matched the Matron energy I felt in that space and recognize in my three examples above.
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. … She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. … She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy….
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. … Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
There also are these lines which were in my mind as a married woman: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Or we might say more generally “The heart of her people doth safely trust in her, so that they shall have no need of spoil. She does them good and not evil all the days of her life.”
My multitude of Scottish great aunts on my grandfather’s side (he was first of thirteen children) would rise early, help irrigate the fields or feed the animals, milk or see to the butchering of those animals, plant, tend and harvest gardens, cook meals, clean the house, raise the children (often teaching them), play music, sing, work in the church and community… they were to a person cheerful and worked hard. Conversation ranged from, “add a bit of sugar to your vegetables—brings out the flavor,” to what were they going to do for their neighbor in desperate straits to supporting their party’s political candidate. Decisions were made around quilting tables, and word taken home to husbands and sons.
Their daughters and granddaughters left the farm, went to college, were hired to a career like teaching, and became Super Moms. I was one of them, never questioning that I would work hard and enjoy life with my family and friends.
My matron years (still ongoing, I think) encompass the great cultural transformations of Civil and Women’s Rights, the dawning of the Environmental Movement, the advent of the pill and the legalization of abortion, and an ongoing commitment to nonviolence and peace as a viable pathway to justice for all.
The Unmarried Matron
I have women friends who have remained unmarried their whole lives, and others who are widowed or divorced and did not remarry. They are very different persons, but have something of the same energy. There’s a sense of containment, of being one person with no attached “other,” and a contentedness in the fullness of their own being. They work to support themselves, and manage their home and finances. Some are active with nieces and nephews, or girl scouts or sports coaching; others embrace being solitary. Many travel, often long distances for long times. Some have male or female friends and lovers, and others don’t: that choice doesn’t have to be a major part of their self-definition.
In my lifetime, at least in my hearing and what I read, the word “spinster” ceased being common use, as did “old Maid.” I stopped being Mrs. Charles Wilcox, and Ms. became an honorific; a woman was a woman, not designated married or single. We won the rights for credit cards in our own name. We began going to school in fields that led to professions previously peopled by men only. We began to run for political office. We chose not to marry, or to marry but not have children. Some of us don’t consider all this as progress. All my married aunts were Mrs. (Husband’s Name) and thought it “just fine – what’s the fuss about?” One thing it’s about is equal pay for the same work.
From ancient world stories to modern Romance novels, women protagonists begin as very young women, Maidens, and win through their Road of Trials to being a Matron. We have far fewer stories of Matrons winning through their Road of Trials to being the Cailleach.
The Attributes of the Matron
I named the attributes of the Matron energy I experienced in the sunlit chamber:
gracious, centered, open, kind, who takes part in the work of the world.
The description in Proverbs gives us these attributes:
- Competence, with examples of her not eating the bread of idleness
- Kind, the “law of kindness”, including tending to the poor and needy
- Honorable, Trustable with one’s heart
- Fruitful: let her own works praise her
And I’d add Context Awareness: aware of time, place, presence.
Photo by Lola Wilcox
Encountering the Maiden
When the shaft of sun disappeared, it was completely dark again. I turned to the third chamber and felt the word “Ware.” I turned on my flashlight, and just inside the chamber was a black spider dropping down on a single thread. It disappeared when it touched the ground, and I turned off my light. I found myself amused and appreciative that the warning was about a traveling spider. I wasn’t entering any web. Inside the much smaller alcove, I felt the energy of a happy girl, like I feel still when I’m swinging at a playground, dancing or singing with friends. Lots of laughter, amusement, joy. I pulled two thin ribbons, pink and lime green, from my pocket and left them there.
I did not have an easy childhood, and my entire family expected me to handle the difficulties. No pity party comments or false sympathies for everybody has difficulties. Our clan motto is “From the Wound, Strength.” That was good training for Matron.
I was a child as well, with long evenings playing Hide ’n’ Seek, roller skating or riding my bike on the sidewalk, or running in the park until I was tired, and then my parents would drive up behind me and I’d hop in the car. I was left alone to read. I was a mother of two boys before I sat on a beach with a bucket and shovel, and made sand castles: I was a girl while I was doing it. I remember lying in circles on the lawn with my friends, our heads touching in the middle, and laughing as we found shapes in the clouds or the leaves fluttered down on us. I did this with my children. I remember a stage of howling at the moon, pretending to be a wolf.
In my teens and early twenties I became very aware of stratas in my society rooted in cast and wealth. You were in or out of the power group, and the vast majority of us were out. I watched as a rich son didn’t get drafted and one of my strata of friends died in Vietnam. I became more and more aware of what we now call “colonial mindset,” and didn’t like it. Those formative Maiden years found pathways for the Matron to walk.
Attributes of the Maiden
These are the attributes of the Maiden for me, thinking of my childhood and of the many children in my life:
- Risk taking
I’m very interested in what attributes you would choose for the Maiden (and Matron); hopefully you would share them in the comments.
Shared Attribute: Shape shifter
A “shape shifter” is capable of changing their physical form as they choose. In the case of some archetypal shapeshifters the moment is tied to an event, like a full moon. Words like mimic and metamorph are used for practical world folks. My husband, who played Will Shakespeare for over twenty years, said “actor” and “mime” for shapeshifter examples.
The Hill of the Cailleach contained for me three archetypes of energy which are embodied by many women during the stages of their life: Crone, Matron and Maiden. I experienced these three different energies moving left to right through three alcoves. In talking with other tour members I learned their experiences were different. Some went right to left, and some people didn’t experience three alcoves. Only I experienced the shaft of sunlight. All did experience a Feminine energy that shape shifted to each individual’s search.
I experienced three different shapes of One Energy: the Feminine. We know different people might describe the same friend using very different terms. People change shape to serve different purposes: my work self, my play with the baby self, my exercise self…. A favorite sermon of ours began “I’ve been married to five different women in my life: the woman I courted and married, the mother of our young children, the mother of our teenaged children, the woman who chose to work in the world, and the woman I’m married to now.”
Time is a shapeshifter.
That chamber with three alcoves (at least for some of us) was found by ancestors a very long time ago. Now, centuries later, it’s protected by a gate and key so random people wandering the hillside won’t enter it unaware of the shapeshifter energy within. And our guide told us nothing except to bring a flashlight to use only as necessary because any hint might have shifted the shape of the experience.
I felt I’d been in the pocket for hours, maybe a lifetime. When I climbed/was pulled up into the practical world it was only a few minutes. Many of us experience time moving slowly, or very fast. Sometimes I say, “Where did this month go?” and other times,“Will this day never end?”
On the Hill of the Cailleach I met an energy that shifts in women over a lifetime; we even are different physically as we age. We live in time, and we too are shapeshifters.
Note: Encountering Dedicated Temples
The All Hallows’ blog and this one shifted from how I usually shape this blog. Both detailed my experience in Ireland at the Hill of the Cailleach, and I interpreted it using other personal experiences. It is a limited one-person view of the Tri-Part Feminine Archetype. Ancient Greeks, for an expanded example, recognized eight primary goddesses and eight gods to express more explicit archetypal feminine and masculine energies. One prayed in the temple of the energy one needed. Side chapels of Saints in cathedrals serve the same function.
Temples until the Enlightenment were designed by master builders who used extremely specific Sacred Geometry mathematics, as did/do other temple builders throughout the world. These temples are built on manifestations of energies in the earth, frequently with solar/lunar correspondences (think Stone Henge and other, smaller henges). There might have been a stone henge on the Hill of the Cailleach, and the stone pieces scattered over the hillside are remnants. I don’t know.
Note: Encountering the Masculine
I have not balanced this exploration with three masculine archetypes. For the Cailleach the balancing archetype is the Senex; as the feminine becomes fierce, the masculine becomes kind. When I search for masculine equivalents for Matron and Maiden, the archetypes seem lost inside cultural definitions of “What it Means to Be a Man.”
I would be delighted if one or more of the masculine readers of this blog would write a blog post or at least comment about their experience of… what? Senex, Patron and Boy? What images or examples do we have of masculine archetypes that are not dominated by hierarchy? Or is hierarchy a masculine archetype and community a feminine one? How limited is my perspective?
Next we proceed through the shapeshifting year to Thanksgiving in the United States. The well-received Thanksgiving blog last year was about being thankful for the “Noes” in your life. If you want to read/reread it the link is here.
To share your thoughts on this blog, please scroll down to find the comments. And, if this piece inspired you, please share the link with a friend.