Application 2 – SIP – Initial Research

The Folklore of the Hag and Crone.

The origin of the term ‘hag’ is from the Old English for witch or haegtes, which in Middle English is hagge, and is akin to the German hexe meaning witch. The hag is also seen as being derived from the Anglo-Saxon maera which has its roots in ancient German superstition. The term is connected etymologically with the Scandinavian word mara. The image of the crone in fairy tale and folklore is also of a malicious and sinister old woman. Etymologically the word crone ,’ known from around 1390, is derived from the Anglo-French carogue meaning an insult. This in originates in the Old North French word carogne or caroigne which means carrion and is applied to a disagreeable old woman or hag. The crone known as Elli personifies old age in Norse mythology and, in a similar vein, the Baba Yaga crone of Slavic folklore is really a guardian of the Otherworld. In Somerset the crone appears as an old hag gathering sticks known as the ‘Woman of the Mist.’, and in Ireland Bronach is a now forgotten crone goddess with links to the rituals of Samhain.

An aspect of the nocturnal activity of the hag is that they are reputed to ‘ride people’ at night. The term ‘hag ridden’ is derived from the belief that the hag visits at night and sits upon the victim’s chest to produce a sensation of distress and discomfort called a nightmare. The term ‘hag’ and Old Hag’ has come to mean, in both British and north American folklore, a nightmare spirit causing in modern terms a sleep paralysis. In Persia the hag called Bakhtak (which means nightmare) also sits on upon a sleeper’s chest making them waken unable to move or breathe.There exist many tales of hags being a type of nursery bogeyman. Reference to hags is used to frighten children into being well behaved and going to sleep on time. Examples from English folklore include the green river hag called Peg Powler, who is known as Jenny Greenteeth in Yorkshire, and in a number of counties there is Nellie Longarms.

In Irish folklore hags are known as cailleaca. In Scotland the Cailleachan are a group of ‘storm hags’ who are believed to personify the destructive elements and forces of nature. Wind storms indicate when the are particularly active during the springtime – a time described locally as the A Chailleach. In the ancient myths of Ireland and Scotland the Cailleach is a goddess as hag figure whose role is involved with the harvest, the weather and creation. She is an example of the numerous sovereignty figures that populate the realms of Irish mythology. The goddess called Bride is the ruler of the Summer and acts in tandem with Cailleach who seasonally is the Winter. For example in Greek myth the Three Fates, especially she called Atropos, are also often depicted as hags.

The hags or cailleaca of Irish folklore are shown as wise, and supernaturally empowered old women from ancient times, who share a commonalty with the ancient fairy queens such as Aime and Cliodna. Examples of Celtic hags and crones include the Hag of Beare, the Hag of the Cats, the Hag of the Mist and the Hag of Hell from Wales, as well as Black Annis from Leicestershire. The Hag of Beare or Cailleac Beara features in both Irish and Scottish folklore and is also known as Dirri and Digdi. She is sometimes referred to as the Old Woman of Dingle because of her association with Dingle in West Kerry. She took part in rural pursuits in the island of Beare where she fostered fifty children.

Hags in Irish folklore lived for a very long time and are often portrayed surrounded by stacks of human bones as in the illustration of Black Annis. The activity of hags was assumed to be prevalent during the bonfire nights of Midsummer and Beltane celebrations. The hag Black Annis, who is also known as Black Agnes, preyed cannibalistically on children and lone travellers. She was a wind hag also known as the Blue Hag or Cat Anna, as well as Ana in Ireland and Ynguna in Denmark. In myth Black Annis lived in a cave in Leicestershire in the Dane Hills and was of a frightening appearance. She was called the Blue Hag because of her blue face complimented with a single eye, iron claws and long white teeth (Briggs, 1976). In Celtic mythology  she was supposedly descended from the Irish goddess Dana or Anu. However, as a bogeyman figure, she was possibly based on the medieval anchoress called Agnes Scott or Annis – hence the confusion about identity.

The Hag of the Cats in Ireland was known as cailleac na glat who was allegedly fed by cats and, like many of the hags of Celtic myth, was a builder of mountains and cairns. The Hag of the Mist, as was the Irish banshee, was depicted as an ugly woman who was wont to wail and wave her arms as a portent of death in the household. In Welsh she was called Gwrach-y-Rhibyn or the Hag of the Dribble in English. Again, in common with the banshee her wailing and calling of the victim’s name were a death warning. The Hag of the Mist, as her name implies, lived in fog shrouded places that were associated with water. She was invisible normally but could seen stalking her victims near streams and lonely crossroads. The Hag of Hell, or the Gorddu, also featured in Welsh Folklore, being the daughter of Orwen the White Witch.

Hags in common with crones shared many of their characteristics. Both hags and crones were archetypal figures described as hideous in appearance with dark eyes, filthy unkempt hair and adorned in rags. Both hag and crone, because of their advanced age, as well as nearness to death, were perceived as excluded from the reproductive cycle. This may explain their being a symbol of the end of the cycle, representing the dark of the moon. Nonetheless their age conferred on them the aspect of the wise woman imbued with occult knowledge. The term crone in many instances was a less common synonym in folklore and myth for an aged woman. Neo-paganism in the form of Wicca has popularised the third aspect of the Triple Goddess which, according to Robert Graves, is the stage of the hag and the crone.


Image result for edward frederick brewtnall

Edward Frederick Brewtnall  – “Visit to the Witch”, 1882

Slavic Folklore – Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga –  Ivan Bilibin (1902)

 Czech Folklore – JezibabaImage result for jezibaba

Gaelic Mythology – The Cailleach Béara or the Hag of Béara

British Folklore – Black Annis 

English Folklore –  Jenny GreenteethImage result for jenny greenteeth

Medieval Literature – Loathly Lady

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Italian Folklore – BefanaImage result for befana

Greek Mythology – The Three Fates (particularly Atropos)

Greek Mythology – The GraeaeImage result for The Graeae,

Norse Mythology – Elli

Japanese Folklore – Yama UbaImage result for yama uba

Shakespeare – Macbeth’s Three Weird SistersImage result for the weird sisters shakespeare

Fairytales –

Hansel and Gretal

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Image result for hags in fairytales

Little Mermaid

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Sleeping Beauty

Fear old women in fairy tales. For as long as people have been telling stories, crones have been scaring the wits out of children. But why does the face of evil so often belong to an old woman?

Typecasting is one explanation. “What do we have? Nags, witches, evil stepmothers, cannibals, ogres. It’s quite dreadful,” says Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard. Still, Tatar is quick to point out that old women are also powerful — they’re often the ones who can work magic.

“I always look to the Disney film Snow White and that charismatic, wicked queen who is down in the cellar with her chemistry set. There’s a sequence in which she turns from a beautiful, charismatic, wicked queen into an old hag,” Tatar says. “I think that’s a scene that is probably more frightening for adults than children because it compresses the aging process into about 20 seconds.”

Tatar says old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother. “Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into … the evil mother — who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at you — and then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive.”

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls. As Tadjo explains, “She’s usually a solitary woman. She’s already marginal. She’s angry at something — at life, or whatever — and she will ‘eat’ — that’s the expression — people’s souls, in the sense that she’s going to possess people and then they die a terrible death. And everybody knows it’s the witch; it’s the old woman.”

Still, they’re not all bitter and malicious hags. Old Mother Hubbard might not be the brightest bulb, but she does try very hard to please her dog. Elderly women in folk tales often use their knowledge and experience of the world to guide the troubled protagonist. Tadjo points to the Kenyan story “Marwe In The Underworld” about a girl who commits suicide by drowning herself because she feels she has failed her parents. Marwe enters the Land of the Dead where she meets an old woman.

“That old woman teaches her quite a lot of things,” Tadjo says. “And also, when Marwe starts longing for the world of the living, she helps her go back to the surface, if you want, with a lot of riches. And we understand that Marwe has been rewarded for her goodness.” In other words: Do your chores and you’ll be rewarded. The point of these ancient tales, no matter what continent they come from, may have been to scare children into behaving.

Perhaps the scariest old woman character — the monstrous Baba Yaga — comes from Russia. She’s bony with a hooked nose and long, iron teeth. Her hut stands on chicken legs and she kidnaps children and eats them. Safe to say Baba Yaga has been giving Eastern European children insomnia for centuries.

In one interpretation, a mean stepmother sends the young girl Vasilisa to Baba Yaga’s hut in the woods to get a candle. The girl is sure she’s being sent to her death. Baba Yaga forces her to cook and clean, and Vasilisa does everything she’s told. In the end, the old crone gives her what she needs and sends her home. “You see this kind of dual face of the hag,” Maria Tatar says. “On the one hand: cannibalistic, aggressive, threatening. And on the other hand: sometimes intervening to make sure that there is a happily ever after.” There’s that power again.

In Japanese folklore, the Yama Uba is an equally ambiguous old woman. She’s a mountain witch who, like Baba Yaga, lures people into her hut and eats them. But she’ll also help a lost traveler. Noriko Reider is a professor at Miami University of Ohio who’s done extensive research on Yama Uba stories. “She brings fortune and happiness,” Reider says. “She can also bring death and destruction for those who are not very good.”

There’s a theory that the Yama Uba — or Yamauba as she’s sometimes called — was inspired by a terrible famine in Japan. Elderly parents were taken into the mountains to die so that others in the family would have more to eat. The Yama Uba is the hungry demon born from this practice.

According to Cuban-American writer Alma Flor Ada, that would never happen to the kind abuela. “In our culture, grandmothers are very important.” Ada is co-author of Tales Our Abuelitas Told, which includes a story about a caliph’s son who becomes seriously ill. After “all of the best physicians in the land” fail to cure him, the caliph sends his messengers searching for help. Then one morning, an old woman arrives with this advice: To get well, the prince must wear the tunic of a man who is truly happy. And of course it works.

Ada says that in Hispanic culture old women are multitalented. “They tend to be the ones who keep the family together, who pass on the traditions, who know the remedies that would cure the different illnesses. So it’s not surprising that she would appear in the popular tales.”

In other words, old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.

Image result for SNOW WHITE HAG


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