In the Cradle of the Crone: Hecate and the Waning Moon

Waning Moon (Sky and Space)

I just turned 76. How did life fly by so fast? I accept my age, but wish I could ease the struggles with hearing loss and disequilibrium from Meniere’s Disease. Still, for most everyone, there’s a price for becoming an elder in reasonably good health, so this is my burden for a life blessed with love, spiritual guidance, and teachings that cradle me in my croning years.

An old friend died last month, someone my husband and I met in 1967. We hadn’t been in close contact since he and his wife moved across the country, but the connection remained. He and his wife are my oldest son’s godparents, and his wife has now moved closer to me. A second friend from the 1970s died on my birthday. Life’s endings feel close.

Hecate, 440 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

Willow & Disco

The Greek Goddesses Artemis, the New Moon, and Hecate, the Waning Moon, are my guides now. Like Artemis, I live close to Nature and protect the land. Like Hecate who holds torches to light the hidden paths, I’m comfortable with solitude and night. Both Goddesses travel with dogs.

I imagine Hecate (waning crescent) reaching out across the dark night sky to hand Her torch to Artemis (new moon) to keep the cycle of life going. As I age, I feel myself lingering close to Hecate. When Vic died in 2008, I felt an expanse of time ahead, but life feels less spaciousness now. Still, I have this one glorious day–and each day is a gift.

EarthSky, Moon Phases

What do I want from my last days or years?

I want to stay connected to Nature’s transformations, the lunar and solar or seasonal cycles. In the summer, I’ll protect Monarch butterflies who journey to my land and help them survive the perils of climate change, habitat loss, and a migration that baffles the mind.

I want to honor the animals and plants in the forest–the howling coyote and the croaking tree frogs. With the help of long walks and exercise, I hope to stay strong so I can snowshoe and manage the challenges of winter on my hill. I want to study mythology and philosophy, learn more about the magic of Monarchs, and read about Nature and Soul. I want to write about what matters to me and hope what I write also matters to others. I want to cultivate inner quiet and feel well enough to assist those in need.

Hekate (The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy), William Blake, 1795

Monarch inside her chrysalis

It’s time to relax into the joy of nature, community, and family. My roots are nearly 50 years deep on this land, and I hope to leave gracefully when it’s time to move on. Until then, may I take refuge in the wisdom I’ve been given by many teachers for half a century and be guided toward inner peace and acceptance. As Mary Oliver reminds me, may I “stay amazed.”

The Autumn Equinox is coming. The days are shorter and nights are cooler. Thank you, Hecate, for staying close and helping me through the dark times by holding your torch to light and warm the night.

***

What stage of life are you experiencing? How does it surprise you? For other posts about Hecate, see Have They Forgotten They Are Mortal? Lessons from Hecate. For a post about Artemis who is often connected with Hecate in Greek mythology, see Lessons from Artemis: Goddess of the Wild.

17 Comments
  1. What I love most about your writing dear Elaine is its courage, love, depth and truth. For not once do you flinch from the age-ing to (hopefully) sage-ing journey we are called to embark on, if we live long enough lives. Nor do you shy away or dress up death as a party but as a profound experience that awaits us all. I’m so pleased that you have your family, friends, dogs, community, beautiful house on the hill and the Goddesses themselves to journey with you and how brightly Hecate and the Monarchs seem to be lighting your way in recent years. Thank you for ringing a clear bell for me today, reminding me that the price to become an elder poet will be a high one, but nevertheless it is one that must be paid in due course. I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of two of your oldest friends, especially one on your birthday.

    Since my mother died at 77 years of age, this has left me reflecting at 57, that I may have only twenty years of life left and what do I want from these years? The answer that comes today is I want the life I have now with Lin with our healing connection to nature and soul, my Jungian and mythological studies, my poetry and family and friendships and my work as a psychotherapist. But the sad truth is, I won’t have all these things then and you may not be here either, for despite having never met you in person, I shall miss you so much my lovely friend, for have our souls not enjoyed dancing together. Still, I shall endeavour to, in the words of Mary Oliver, try to “stay amazed” with the life that finds me then. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. Tomorrow, a friend and I will visit the widow of one of those who recently died. This is what happens when a group of hippy students gather with a teacher in a bookstore in Ithaca (1967 and later) to learn about meditation and philosophy, astrology and Jung. Most of us were in college and in our early 20s when we met Anthony Damiani who opened a philosophy bookstore in our town. We grew up together, had kids around the same time, and now the endings are coming or have already arrived.

      We never know how much time we have (my dad died at 44), but at 76, I’m surrounded by endings. What a gift to want the life you have right now–a gift to be cherished every day. That’s the way I feel. Of course, I wish Vic were here, but with or without him, I’m living the best life I can live in the place I want to be, surrounded by nature and beauty. The future is a mystery so I may be standing with Hecate and raising Monarchs for many more years, but let’s keep dancing as long as our souls allow. And, yes, let’s “stay amazed.” I send you so much love and imagine a world where I can sit in your garden with you or you and Lin can sit on my back porch with flowers and butterflies. We never know… With love and a hug as the days shorten toward Autumn Equinox. My fields are golden and purple with fall flowers–the first autumn colors here.

  2. Elaine, old friend, I often read your posts. You are such a good writer! While I’m not that familiar with the Greek goddesses you cite or discuss, the mood of this post resonated. I’ll soon turn 79, am fairly healthy, though plagued by creaky, painful knees and back pain, but prefer to not endlessly discuss health issues with friends and family. Like many during the pandemic and social isolation, I’ve been more attentive to Nature, even though I live in a city. Raccoons, deer, possums, chipmunks frequent our yard, also a wild turkey and a turkey buzzard once. I’ve become fascinated by insects and regularly rescue them from my bird water bowl, delighted when they revive and begin moving or flying again.

    As you say, the future is a mystery, so we may have years, or minutes, ahead of us, but every day I seek deeper understanding and peace, based on what I learned during my years of the classes with Anthony Damiani. Those were the most important years of my life, and in my old age I’m still attempting to understand.

    Elaine, thanks for your wonderful blog!

    • Jeanne! It makes me so happy to hear from you after how many years? Ah, the creaking and groaning of our bodies. I have acute issues with hearing and struggle with balance (handled with a small dose of medicine and lots of exercise), but nothing hurts and I accept hearing loss as a way to make an extrovert into an introvert. My younger son Anthony moved here from California a few years ago and bought a place 3 miles from me. Evelyn moved back to Ithaca after Richard died, and Laurie D and I will visit her today. There is still a strong sense of community with the group that began in the late 1960s–and yes, we obsess about health issues as we and the friends we’ve known so long age and sometimes die. There will be more of this ahead.

      You and others in the city see deer more than I do. Here, they stay away from the house since they have so much room to roam. I proudly trapped a fat woodchuck in a Hav-a-Hart trap last week. It was handsome and healthy, but digging holes everywhere and sooner or later it would find it’s way under the garden fence, so I took it for a long ride into the National Forest. I also struggle to understand the pull and teachings of Anthony and PB, plus the experiences with Sankaracharya in India in the 1990s. My teacher Marion Woodman died, but I have her letters and her books, and I’m grateful the Dalai Lama is still living although it’s unlikely I’ll see him in person again. Thank you for taking time to write and let me know you’re out there. I wish you well in every way. A beautiful female Monarch is waiting to fly this morning, so I’ll remember you as she heads south. (Each one feels like a prayer of hope.)

  3. Elaine, your writing cheers me on in my own old age–turning 80 this month. I have been fortunate, too, with mostly good health. I still paint, take walks, and enjoy nearby family.

    I love watching your engagement with the Monarchs also, and photos of your dogs in the woods.

    You are an inspiration.

    • Thank you, Lynne. Your success with painting and selling your gorgeous creations is an inspiration. Few of us can make that happen at any age. Congratulations. I’m glad we both have family in the area. Unfortunately, I don’t see my son who lives in North Carolina often since covid came for its extended visit. Stay well and keep walking. I know you’ll continue surrounding yourself with color.

  4. So heartfelt and simply beautiful Elaine. Your posts always bring me calm and a resonance with my own heart. It’s as if my blood corpuscles expand a little. I’ve just got back from a walk to the lagoon and back, low tide. I took a photo of an oyster catcher, though it was quite far away. I wan’t able to capture its red beak. Also a solitary crane .. at least I think it was a crane. The beauty of my surroundings never fails to amaze. The moon will shine brightly tonight if the skies remain unclouded. She was white and more than half-full. She’s waxing and will be full on the equinox.

    I’m also leaning into my crone years. Fortunately I am fit and healthy. Who knows how long it will last. So far so good except for a nagging neck pain. I know I’ll be using my time in the way I know will feed my soul. I too have had so many teachers and am full of gratitude for their wisdoms. I know I have to forge my own path, but it helps that there is the written word and experience of those before.

    May Hecate and Artemis continue to shine their light on you as I know they will.

    • Susan, since we see the same moon in South Africa and in New York State, you remind me the moon will be full at equinox. I hope for clear skies. During a summer that brought drought to the world, we’ve had twice the normal amount of rain, but the sun is trying to peek out this morning. The flowers love the rain. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes love it, too.

      We’re fortunate to be fit and healthy–and along with good fortune, it takes perseverance and commitment. I keep hiking and bought trekking sticks this summer because my physical therapist suggested them for rough trails. I expect I’ll use them in the winter when it’s icy and slippery, but they’re leaning against a wall on the back porch for now. I adjusted them to the right height and used them a few times to see how they felt. I don’t need them for hikes on my trails. I hope you have good healers and helpers for your neck pain. It sounds like a time of big change in your life in a few ways. I look forward to your book and I’m sure your whole family looks forward to the coming babe. (From what I see with friends, that baby is sure to feed your soul.) My first philosophy and Jung teacher taught that we all need to find our own path and individuality. All my primary teachers except the Dalai Lama have died now, and I doubt I’ll see the Dalai Lama in person again. Being with the Dalai Lama 6 weeks before Vic’s death marked a double ending. I have to act on all I’ve learned in my own way now. Who ever thought that would lead to Monarch butterflies? May the Lunar light shine brilliantly on you.

  5. As you say, Elaine, “Life’s endings feel close.” Last week I learned from FB that a cousin’s husband in PA had died.

    And like you, I struggle physically too, now at age 80. Not with hearing and balance, but with vision challenges. Still I enjoy nature walks and waking to the possibilities of each new day. I’m glad you have s son close by and your pets and monarchs, each one like “a prayer of hope.” I continue to serve God by loving my neighbors, friends, and family.

    By the way, I think you would enjoy the PBS special “Lives Well Lived,” featuring 75-100 year olds. Very upbeat! 🙂

    • I’m sorry about your cousin, Marian–and isn’t it amazing that we learn these things on FB? I know you have visual challenges which must make writing, reading, and commenting on what others write a challenge. I hope your vision is holding steady the way my balance is. I have no doubt you’ll continue spiritual service with your loving and generous heart.

      Thanks for the PBS suggestion, but I don’t have a TV and almost never watch documentaries. Maybe that will change. Everything does! Wishing you the joy of nature and the sounds of birds, insects, and amphibians surrounding you. It’s the season of the Field Cricket and Tree Frog chorus here on September nights. Occasionally the owls and coyotes join in. They’re so loud even I can hear them.

  6. Thank you, Elaine, for another beautiful piece. I love thinking of Artemis and Hecate passing the torch back and forth across the darkness of the new moon. With the passing of our friends, moon brings up so many memories.

    • Thank you, Harriet. I love those Greek Goddess stories we studied so long ago. Susan Scott (her comment a little before yours) reminded me that the full moon comes on equinox next week. I hope we have clear skies, but that’s been rare this summer. It’s been a sobering few months with deaths of old friends. I’ve visited Evelyn a few times in her new home here, and I’m glad she returned to Ithaca where she has family and old friends. Thank you for all you do to keep our community connected.

  7. Yikes, I’m 70. And I’m dumbstruck as to how all that time has gone by. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life, the rest of it. But I’ve slowly been paring down the responsibilities, the stressors, the things that I no longer find meaning in, and the accumulation of stuff. I, too, am drawn to nature. And to being supportive of whatever and whoever will continue on after I’m gone.
    Thank you so much, Elaine, for showing me that caring for even the smallest creatures, like monarchs, can mean so much now. I love the idea of living in amazement of each new day and of each creature, large or small. And, as for death, I’m feeling better about its growing presence ( as more and more friends and family die ) by planning for it, talking more and more openly about it, and doing what I can to leave my small world in better shape. Thank you for showing me a gentle way to be in these times.

    • Robin, I keep saying I’ll get rid of the accumulation of stuff but make little progress. I’d so much rather hang out with Monarchs and write about them. Still, I make occasional trips to recycling or the ReUse It Center or the place to take books for the Library Book Sale. It’s a busy time before winter hits, but I schedule in quiet days for writing.

      My words about being amazed actually came from an interview with Mary Oliver, but here’s the correct quote from her poetry:
      “Instructions for living a life.
      Pay attention.
      Be astonished.
      Tell about it.” ~ Mary Oliver

      Or in the case of your recent creations, show it!

  8. I am sorry for the loss of your good friend. Such sorrows flow through us, sometimes pooling with a weight that drags us down. But the Moon is a comfort. I love how you describe Hecate with her torches, and how both she and Artemis were accompanied by dogs. It seems there is something of the night in a dog’s blood, for it is so readily sparked by the moon.

    • Thank you, Amelia. I trust he’s fine in the Great Beyond and, at some point, the body no longer serves us. His wife of over 50 years is in the midst of a huge transition, but she has lots of support. Not everyone is so fortunate. When I think of night dogs in my world, I imagine my before bed walks with the dogs. I stroll around the long driveway to the back of the barn while they sniff out the fields and paths smelling what I can’t even imagine. The sky is dark or moonlit (like last night with a Moon-Jupiter-Saturn conjunction) and, if I’m lucky the coyotes, call to each other across the fields with their haunting yip-yip-yipping bark. Be well.

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