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Posted by Gina Freitag
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What is a Crone?

By Maddi McGillvray 

“If you want to strike fear into the hearts of both men and women, bring out the crone.”
– Kristen Sollée in Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive

If you are familiar with fairy tales and folklore, you have probably heard the word ‘crone’ before. The most common understanding of a crone is a sinister old woman with magical or supernatural abilities. She is thought to be old, malicious, and ugly, with a penchant for feasting on children. This is epitomized by folk tales such as “Hansel and Gretel” (1812) by the Grimm brothers, where an old woman lures children into her home with candy in the hopes of cooking and eating them.

The exact origins of the mythological crone is still debated. According to Anya Silverman, the crone is said to originate in the Middle East, Greece, and the Balkans. In the Paleolithic era (c.30,000 – 10,000 BCE), goddesses were perceived as all-encompassing entities who controlled the circle of life. But with the rise of patriarchy, the one mother goddess figure was split into three to reflect the different stages of a woman’s lifespan: maiden, mother, and crone. The crone goddess (or Dark Mother) represented the older phase of a woman’s life. The word ‘crone’ is derived from ‘crown,’ suggesting that wisdom radiates from the crone’s head like a halo. Past her childbearing years, the crone was said to be a wisdom keeper, healer, seer, and midwife. Equipped with the knowledge that comes with aging, the crone helped guide others through hardship and turmoil. Unfortunately, the church feared these women and their power. Many of them were tortured, killed, and burned, and in doing so, the wise crone took on connotations as a spiteful witch or hag. 

The crone appears in a variety of different cultural contexts across the globe. Perhaps the most terrifying rendition comes from Russia in the form of the Baba Yaga, a supernatural woman whose body rests on top of chicken legs. In Persia, the crone called Bakhtak (meaning nightmare) is rumoured to sit on peoples’ chests as they sleep, making them unable to move or breathe in the night. In Scotland, the crone appears in the form of the Cailleachan or a group of ‘storm hags’ who personify the destructive elements of nature. Despite the many variations, they all share one common feature: they are elderly women. In recent years, movies have joined folklore, myth, and gothic fiction to become one of the primary vehicles for the telling (and retelling) of stories about crones. As a result, the archetype of the wicked old crone has extended into the mainstream media and pop culture imaginations.

(Photo reference: Perrault: Sleeping Beauty. “The Old Crone Casts A Spell On The Baby Princess”. Pen-and-Ink Drawing, C1891, by Henry J. Ford for The Charles Perrault Fairy Tale.)


Join Maddi for her Black Museum lecture To Grandmother’s House We Go: Elder Horror in Found Footage Films on November 26th, and then stick around for a chat and commentary on Adam Robitel’s The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) (available to stream on YouTube and Amazon Prime). Friendly reminder that we’re aiming to press play at approximately 8:20pm ET!

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