NORA L. JAMIESON
The Old Woman, A Samhain Blessing
They say, in mind out of time, the land who birthed my people was made by The Old Woman. The old blue-black one-eyed giantess who created the mountains and hills from rocks strewn and hurled down from her enormous apron. She carries boulders made from the bodies of the dead, trod on by giants for thousands of years. What does it mean to issue from such a creator as The Old Woman with one eye, the better to see you with, older than the eagle and the otter? What does it mean to have such a Grandmother? It is a hard lap.
But what call, what need reached your ears, Old Woman, whose dream cracked open your ancient heart and called you forth from across the sea?
Was it the lonely howl of wind over water that called you, or the unending dream of fog longing for the kiss of mountains that called you?
I can see you now striding across oceans, singing a creation song of birth, breathing life into the dead, saying life now, again.
They say she is still with us, fallen into the slander of Hag, Nag, Witch, Bitch, Old. But still she sits with her big sharp needle, trying to darn the frayed edges of the hole we put in creation, pulling them back in, weaving back and forth with that big sharp needle, adding new thread, new blood. That old needle, sometimes it hurts. That’s one way you know she’s around. What’s a little pain? It’s not that she doesn’t care but she’s got that eye on the largest of things, on the future of sparrows, not the one limping there with the broken wing. That’s your job.
You know her. . .
She is the one who is flying through the air, stripping the leaves with her breath right down to the bare and the spare. And you too.
She is the tectonic chthonic one, rolling pebbles in her mouth sucking the strength to endure like stone.
She is the one who calls your name in the night, when you wake up sweating and afraid and wonder, what is this life. In the old ways, that is called Hag Ridden.
She is the one who lashes herself to the wind with that string you put around your finger to remember all the things you just had to do. . .
The Old Woman always lives at the edge of the village, right in the center of things and there’s always lots of strange women coming and going from her place. We’re all a little afraid of her and depend on her at the same time. She’s got powers we don’t understand but we surely need. It sounds all frightening or demonic when I say powers, but they’re the natural powers she has a way with—the winds, the waters, the crowning head and the winding sheet. Some say she is as dead as a symbol, others say she is alive as you or me, others say there’s maybe an in-between place where she lives. I don’t know.
I also don’t know why we’re afraid, really. She’s kindly to us when we come to her, the kind of kindliness that has seen things and knows things most of us don’t. I would never say she’s a nice old woman, never. Not nice. But kind. Won’t suffer fools, even though she might give them a hand now and then.
Some say she is flinty-eyed, kind of wild looking with long white hair that explodes from her head like accusatory fingers in all directions—or snakes—yes, snakes. Some say she’s bald, her head skull-like. But they all say, when she looks at you, you know that if you were a nickel she’d bite down on you to see if you were real.
Some say she can look into your soul, reach in like the hand plunging into the plucked and sorry looking chicken gullet and pulling out the innards. Not without mercy, but quick and clean, because it is a necessary thing to get to the meat of the matter. So she can feed you. It’s like that with The Old Woman. That one eye is on the job. You know when she looks at you clear through in that way that if that eye starts to wander, well, something has to go. Some part of you is tin, not nickel, not gold, and it has to go. Or be hammered.
Only the innocent and foolish approach her without a certain roiling in the guts (the innocent faring better than the fool) but she is the first place you go when you are in trouble. To the Old One, the Grandmother. Because you know that someone who can see that clear through you has to know something that will help you.
In my tradition they say she is about what is real, is The Old Woman. And she has all kinds of ways to get the beauty to shine out of you and when it does you’ll know because her eye comes back home to itself and then and you’ll feel good, real good, clean all the way through and beautiful like an early summer morning after a rain-washed night over the canyon. Like that. And she’ll smile then.
Once was, people would do a lot for that smile. Even the scariest things. Like tell the truth. Like see things for the way they are.
Like face death.
No one knows where her powers come from. The Elders say it’s from the one eye, that she has the vision to see all round and through, whole and complete. They say at night that eye could wander all about, seeing in the dark, everything. In the morning, the women checked the hearth ashes for The Old Woman’s footprint. It was said it was a blessing to find it there. Especially in deep winter, when the people worried they might not make it through, might not have enough food in storage or enough heart to remember the light of spring. She didn’t come out much in the cold, stayed holed up in her hut down by the old well near the river.
And now, this woman who had always wanted to lie down, to dissolve, to disassemble into earth, has entered the time of sky. She craves sky after a long-leafed youth, or perhaps it is the horizon she craves, that ragged seam between two worlds that makes dreaming possible. Some day she will slip through that crack in the world and live in the dreaming place.
Now that she is of a certain age, having lived a good long time watching, witnessing the destruction, a time when she is weary, now she hungers for, longs for the vast happening that is sky. She is coming to the dying time soon, in her life, to the year when her leaves will fall, opening the pathway to sky. But not yet.
She is an earth woman who craves sky. Her vision seeks sky now, her mind wants to be sky mind now. She is weary of thinking, the solidity of thought, the weight of them, the weight of figuring things out. Of things rational. They say The Old Woman is the cosmic vitality, the circling, spiraling galaxy at the center of all things, beneath all things of this world.
She wonders, what if she thinks from now on in wind, the east wind, the south and west, the north wind, gales and breezes, tornados, cyclones? Her thoughts will drift and float, swirl and snag in the limbs of trees, be illuminated by moon and eaten by night hawks. Blown randomly like seeds, dying unplanted or landing in fertile soil. No matter.
This woman of a certain age imagined her mind as filled with clouds, with rain and light, jagged lightning, accompanied by the drum heart beat of those watching.
Yes, this woman of a certain age craves sky, silence, to listen to the mind of everyone else. The heart of the world is not human, and the human heart once knew its language. She thinks, let the animals in laboratory cages go, she will gladly die of the diseases you are trying to cure.
The sky is calling her. Like Sky Woman who fell down to water, whose body created Earth with the help of otter, she longs to fall up into sky where she will dissolve the I, I, I, letting it fall to earth, mulch into the soil of regeneration, where corn can rise up, sweet grass, deer and wolf.
This old woman wants to be harvested, used, planted for a new generation.
Oh, The Old Woman lives here, there, and everywhere. I met her just the other day in the supermarket. She came up behind me, her curiosity creeping up my spine, and when I turned to look into her face, she pulled back in surprise, and said, amused, alarmed? I never know what to expect. Then she put her two hands up like claws, lurched toward me just a tiny bit and growled Boo! before she spun away to wander down the aisle, peering nosily into grocery carts as she went, leaving me to wonder.
Perhaps she went home and told the tale of meeting The Old Woman at the supermarket.
With The Old Woman, you never know what to expect.
She is the one who stirs the cauldron, the pot you put on the back burner of your life thinking there is time, there is time. Don’t worry, honey, she’s cooking up a surprise for you.