An understanding of the depth psychological view of life has, over the past several decades, ushering in a spate of books that amplify the idea of the dark feminine. These books promote darkness as the proper environment for recognising the unlived life and connecting to the archaic feminine source that is life. ‘Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness’ by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson is among the best examples of this writing. It is especially pertinent to my study as it includes history, mythology, psychology, and religion, all disciplines that help shape my exploration of the Crone as a regenerative archetype, indispensable to living fully alive. Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson situate the dark Goddess in the “creative intercourse between chaos and order,” which exemplifies the initiatory movement that my work addresses.
For older women, initiation into “Crone Consciousness” can be problematic in a culture that abhors ageing. In ‘Female Rage: Unlocking Its Secrets, Claiming Its Power,’ Mary Valentis and Anne Devane reveal the rage that can accompany a woman’s effort to initiate herself into the classic idea of the crone because “Western culture views time as linear and finite, an hourglass that runs out. Our goal is to stay young — a focus that keeps many people from leading authentic lives.”
The writings of lecturer, teacher, and counsellor Demetra George illuminate the mystery inherent in the dark in ‘Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess.’ Demetra George employs ancient feminine symbolism linked to the moon to transform images of the feared feminine into ones that bring an indispensable depth of meaning to life’s experiences. In her work, ideas about death become thoughts about life, especially in ‘Part III: Rites of Rebirth.’ Nor Hall’s poetically exquisite reflection on the archetypal feminine in ‘The Moon and the Virgin’ is replete with images and examples of the regenerative feminine. Her work will set up discussions of the Crone as a way of seeing and as a way of being seen.
Lending credence to an encounter with the Crone as an initiatory experience, Betty De Shong Meador, who was born in the 1930s, wrote the collection of essays in ‘Uncursing the Dark: Treasures from the Underworld’ over a span of twenty years. Like other women who seek to find language to give voice to their experiences, Betty De Shong Meador speaks through myth, poetry, and psychological experience. She succinctly captures the reason for an initiatory journey into an authentic living when she states: “The individuality we bring into the world at birth frequently bumps up against an inhospitable culture.” Betty De Shong Meador turns to the myth of Inanna to reclaim the archaic feminine agency she finds absent in twentieth-century Western culture.
Sylvia Brinton Perera’s ‘Descent to the Goddess: A Way of initiation for Women’ is also a sincere working of the Inanna myth. As the title indicates, Sylvia Brinton Perera’s book underscores the importance of an initiatory experience in claiming a self-recognised, feminine authority. Supporting my exploration of the circular nature of renewal, Sylvia Brinton Perera writes, “So [the myth of Inanna] teaches us the life-enhancing circulation pattern.” Moving from the above world to the underworld below through to a return to the above, Sylvia Brinton Perera provides a richly imagined, scholarly exploration of the death aspect of the Goddess as a prerequisite for regenerating life. Sylvia Brinton Perera again: “[A woman] must go down to meet her own instinctual beginnings, to find the face of the Great Goddess, and of herself before she was born to consciousness, into the matrix of transpersonal energies before they have been sorted and rendered acceptable.” Christine Downing takes up this idea of living into disruptive experiences in ‘Initiation,’ a chapter from her book ‘Women’s Mysteries: Towards a Poetics offender.’ Describing a “lunar” psychology espoused by Esther Harding, Downing sees it as “accepting disharmony, inertia, restlessness, decay, even madness and death, as experiences to be lived through rather than as problems to be overcome.”
A collection of essays edited by Fred Gustafson entitled ‘The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine,’ especially ‘Transformation through Integration of the Dark Feminine’ by Carol B. Donnelly and “Lilith” by Jane Kamerling, vibrate with the feeling of an undertow that denotes the presence of death-like energies in a woman’s life. As these essays point out, moving in the direction of the undertow, while frightening, is essential to living the fullness of life. Included in Fred Gustafson’s edited collection is a series of articles on the ‘Black Madonna’ that support my investigation of this image as symbolic of the blackness into which life dies and through which it is reborn. Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ provides literary images of the transformative movement of this sacred figure within the psyches of those who revere her.
‘Betwixt and Between: Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation,’ edited by Louise Cams Mahdi, Steven Foster and Meredith Little, contains a mix of chapters that will serve as the framework for my exploration of the Crone as an on-going initiator of renewed life, mainly as a woman lives through mid-life and beyond. Victor Turner’s seminal article ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage’ sets the stage for a discussion of initiation, while ‘Transformation of the Image of God Leading to Self-Initiation into Old Age’ by Lionel Corbett reveals the self-initiatory process in a culture devoid rites of passage. Studies of midlife and later life passages, like that of Jane Prêtât’s ‘Coming to Age: The Crowning Years and Late-Life Transformation’ and James Hollis’s ‘The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife,’ examine challenges associated with the transformation of consciousness as we age.
Vignettes from my personal experiences and from memoirs such as Alice Koller’s ‘An Unknown Woman’ provide nuanced descriptions and outcomes of experiences in the feminine-identified transformative void. Woven throughout the chapter will be ideas and examples from Edgar Herzog’s seminal study on death called ‘Psyche and Death: Death-Demons in Folklore, Myths, and Modern Dreams.’ Edgar Herzog approaches death in a decidedly feminine-identified way when he writes how images “allow the aspect of becoming and of the transformation of life to grow gradually clearer and clearer.” Cooperating with rather than attempting to control death is at the dynamic core of life as an experience of becoming.