In this early winter episode, we discuss the archetype of the old crone, as well as several crones in mythology and folklore. We talk about Elli from Norse Mythology, Cailleach Béara from Celtic mythology, Kikimora from Slavic folklore, Frau Holle from Germanic folklore, and several English water hags
Old Women (and some old men) in Fairy Tales
Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?
The Folklore of the Hag and Crone. | Eric Edwards Collected Works
The Cailleach Béara or the Hag of Béara
“The Hag of Beare.” translated by Lady Augusta Persse Gregory
“She Brings Bad News: The Scary Slavic Household Spirit Called Kikimora” by Natalia Klimczak
English water hags
Transcript: Episode 42 — Crones (Themed Episode #9)
Zoe: Hello and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.
Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.
Zoe: And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, how are you?
Lizzie: I'm doing great. Why are you speaking so slow?
Zoe: I don't know. I'm trying to, I'm trying to mix things up.
Lizzie: Okay. Yeah, no, I'm fine. I am going to go as Liesl von Trapp for Halloween. How are you?
Zoe: I am fine. I'm tired. I have a crazy weekend and then a crazy week and lots of stuff going on. But I'm glad that we found time to do this because I've been stressed out about it. So that's...
Lizzie: And you went as Tony Soprano.
Zoe: I did go as Tony Soprano! That was fun.
Lizzie: I have to watch that show.
Zoe: You do have to watch that show, actually.
Lizzie: Yeah. It's been having a little bit of renaissance. My sister's been watching it.
Zoe: Yeah, there's an article in The New York Times about it, which I didn't read. Well, I did read and then I got spoiled for a bunch of things, so then I stopped reading it because I was like, I don't want to be spoiled, but it was too late. But anyway. Oh, well. [laughs]
Lizzie: Speaking of old people.
Zoe: Old people, yes. So, speaking of the elderly, I guess we were speaking. Today, what is our theme, Lizzie?
Lizzie: So, today, we will be talking about crones.
Zoe: Yeah, old ladies.
Lizzie: Yeah. So today, we'll be talking about the crone archetype as it occurs throughout folklore and we'll talk about some specific crone figures. So the figure of the crone occurs very frequently throughout fairy tales, folklore, legends, and mythology; and extends today into literature and movies as well. We've talked a little bit on this podcast here and there about the ways that old women are perceived throughout myths and folktales. But today, we're going to go into depth into the crone archetype. So, some well-known crone figures include Baba Yaga, the witch from Hansel and Gretel Yama Uba, the witch from the Little Mermaid, these are all figures who are rather frightening and villainous. There are also a number of old women figures who are meant to be positive. For example, Spider Grandmother from several Native American cultures such as the Hopi and Navajo, who is typically seen as wise and helpful. However, it seems like the majority of crone figures throughout folklore are not meant to be viewed in a positive light and often tend to be evil. Societally, both elderly people and women are seen as being quite weak. So the fact that old women are often powerful and fearsome figures is quite interesting. And in this episode, we're going to explore why that is.
Zoe: Yeah, that's a very good point.
Lizzie: Yeah. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word crone in English is believed to be taken from the Old Northern French carogne, which meant carcass. It is cognate with the English word carrion, referring to the dead putrefying flesh of a person or animal.
Zoe: Well, that's fun.
Lizzie: Not a very positive word, probably.
Zoe: No, definitely not.
Lizzie: Also the word hag, which is really the same to me as crone, and will also be used throughout the episode. The word hag came from the Old English hægtesse... hægtesse? I don't know Old English pronunciation, which meant a sorceress, which I find interesting because throughout many centuries, the meaning of the word stayed the same. And it was also used in a pejorative term for like an old woman. And that sense also came about as early as 1400 and is still going pretty strong.
Lizzie: Yeah. Marina Werner, in her book From the Beast to the Blonde, argues that old women are often viewed negatively because to be old, and therefore ugly, is viewed as a transgression in a culture where to be feminine means to be beautiful. She says, “Decrepitude enciphered ugliness, ugliness unloveliness, unloveliness unwomanliness, unwomanliness infertility: a state of being against nature.” Yeah, in addition, a woman past childbearing age goes against the purpose of her gender, which is another transgression against society. Maria Tatar also points out that old women villains can be especially scary because historically, one's mother is often the most powerful figure in a person's life.
Zoe: That's true.
Lizzie: It is, yeah. At the same time, even negative characterizations of old women still depict them as intelligent, resourceful, and powerful. In the tale of Koschei the Deathless, where Koschei is a menacing figure who can't be killed, the protagonist Ivan seeks the help of Baba Yaga in order to defeat him, which presents her as more powerful than Koschei. In the Grimm tale "Old Rinkrank,"... have you read that one or heard of it?
Lizzie: So... so it's basically like, there's this young girl and she's like a princess and she gets trapped under a mountain. And then she meets this old man whose name is Old Rinkrank, and she lives many years in servitude, and she grows old and she's given the name Mother Mansrot, and basically, she grows in wisdom as she ages in this, like under the mountain or whatever, until she figures out how to defeat Old Rinkrank and escapes. So, in this case, age and thus experience and wisdom is kind of good, you know? Like, she wouldn't have been able to escape until she grew old. There's more to that story, by the way, that was just giving the bare bones. Anyway. So, Catherine Langrish writes in her article, "Old women (and some men) in Fairy Tales," “Whether they be wicked witches or wise women, fairy tales depict old women as repositories of knowledge and power. Like the witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ many live in cottages of their own, signifying their independence and autonomy.”
Zoe: So true.
Lizzie: Yeah! So, like, Yama Uba, who we talked about in our episode about yōkai, is a crone figure, similar to Baba Yaga, in that she may kill and eat people or she may help lost travelers and bring them good fortune. Probably mentioned this, but Yama Uba's story may have originated from the old custom where, when there was a famine, families would sacrifice a family member so more food could go around. And it would often be a grandparent, who would be left on the mountain or in the forest to die.
Lizzie: And then these abandoned old women would potentially turn into Yama Uba.
Zoe: Which, good for them.
Lizzie: I agree. I like the idea that old women who were abandoned or mistreated could then become powerful figures who instill fear in the hearts of the people who abandon them.
Lizzie: Yeah. I mean, it's pretty, like powerful actually. Like, in a way, I feel like crone figures have a lot of freedom that young women characters don't, because nobody really expects anything from them. So they can just do whatever they want.
Zoe: Yeah, I feel like crones are often like super, you know, mischievous or funky characters, you know, like, obviously Baba Yaga—
Lizzie: They're kinda just like having fun, you know?
Zoe: —is, yeah, is a really good example of someone who's just like messing around and having a good time. And like, very—
Lizzie: Like, they're just doing whatever they want.
Zoe: —moves with the whims of whatever she wants, which is a lot more free than like, yeah, a lot of women in the time where her stories were super popular, or.
Lizzie: Yeah, you have women characters are usually so much more like constrained. And they can't, they can't do a lot of things. But when you're old, you can just kind of do whatever.
Zoe: Yeah, exciting.
Lizzie: As Elizabeth Blair says In the article, “Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?”, “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.”
Zoe: So true.
Lizzie: So, do you want to start us off with our first crone lady?
Zoe: Yes, I do. So my first lady today is Elli, who is from Norse mythology. And so I'm not going to tell you about her, I'm just going to tell you a story.
Zoe: The story about her so like, obviously, I am going to tell you about her first. [Lizzie laughs] Okay. So first of all, this is a big summary because it's a small part of a larger story, but I'm just gonna summarize the context really quick, which is that one day the great god Thor decided to challenge a Jotun, which is a frost giant, named Utgarða-Loki, which means like, Loki of the outer regions, so different than the Loki that—
Lizzie: Different than the main Loki.
Zoe: Yeah, and yeah, so Thor, obviously we know him, big hammer guy, lightning. And so him, the god Loki, so trickster god, and Thor's servant Þjalfi, travel to go see Utgarða-Loki and like challenge him. And after several trials and tribulations, they eventually make it into the palace. And then Utgarða-Loki receives them and decides to make them test their honor and skills to entertain him. However, they all seem to be failing in the task set before them, being beaten by the Jotun. So, Thor, who has a very strong god, and was also becoming quite angry because he kept failing the tests set before him, declared that there was no one in the world who could beat him in a wrestling match. So Utgarða-Loki brought out a woman named Elli who was, quote, "an old woman, stricken in years." This is from the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Thor originally laughed at being assigned so feeble an opponent, but he quickly stopped laughing. Elli proved able to hold her own against him, moving swiftly out of his holds and seizing him into holds that he was somehow unable to escape.
Lizzie: That's so fun!
Zoe: I know right? It's such a good story. Utgarða-Loki called off the wrestling match and Thor was further humiliated because he was forced to submit by falling to one knee, so.
Zoe: Elli beat Thor in the wrestling match. Do you have any idea why Thor couldn't beat her?
Lizzie: Because she was using his body weight against him? [laughs] I don't know.
Zoe: Probably. But, so the answer is, basically lies in who Elli is and basically at the end of the story, Utgarða-Loki reveals to Thor, Loki and Þjalfi, how he has tricked them all in the competition so that they were forced to lose. Basically, everything he set them up against was rigged so that it was impossible for them to win.
Lizzie: That's awesome.
Zoe: And like they all performed like astonishingly well, but he just like, made it so they couldn't win. So like they still lost. And so, in particular, he reveals that Elli is not any ordinary old woman, but is in fact old age herself.
Zoe: Thor held his own very impressively but not even he—
Lizzie: Old age always reigns.
Zoe: Yes, not even he could defeat old age. And so that is basically the story of Elli, she never appears again. But.
Lizzie: That's awesome.
Zoe: She is the embodiment of old age whom Thor loses to in a wrestling match.
Lizzie: I love her based on just that, even if we know nothing else about her. That's enough.
Zoe: Yeah, she's great. And it's a really fun story in general.
Lizzie: Honestly, Norse mythology has a lot of really fun stories.
Zoe: Yeah! I was thinking about that, like, while we were setting up, I was like, wow, there's just so many interesting stories like to just pick at and like, see, what are they trying to say? And yeah, so I have talked about this before, but like, the fact is, in Norse mythology, Norse gods can die, not just like with being stabbed or killed, which I think is a thing that can happen in other mythologies, but they also just like they age and die themselves. The only reason why they're not dying and aging is because they have these apples of youth that they eat, that keeps them young. And so I think that like shows that the fear of death in Norse mythology is super heavy and omnipresent.
Lizzie: If even gods are fallible.
Zoe: Yeah, and even they submit to old age, so even the gods themselves who are like the most powerful beings on earth, even Thor who was like the most powerful of the gods, he can't beat old age, he's also going to submit and die eventually.
Lizzie: What a powerful message.
Zoe: Yeah, I know, right?
Lizzie: You, too, will grow old and die. [laughs]
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, if you're lucky. Or not, because if you die of old age, then you're not going to Valhalla. But anyways.
Lizzie: You're going to Hel?
Zoe: Yeah, I think you go to Hel with one L. So you just kind of sit there for eternity. It's not great. So basically, this story just represents just another aspect of how Norse mythology and like Norse culture in general seem to be super aware of and focused on the fact that death is inevitable, and no one can escape it.
Lizzie: I mean, that's fair enough for like a Viking-y culture.
Lizzie: I mean, death was everywhere.
Zoe: I mean, it's just a heavily pessimistic culture.
Lizzie: Yeah. [laughs]
Zoe: And so like, even Thor, the most powerful the gods, can't defeat aging. So like, it's gonna happen. And yeah, so that is really my story of Elli. I thought she would be a fun one to start out with because she's literally the embodiment of old age.
Zoe: And like, who's a more iconic crone than the the literal embodiment of old age?
Lizzie: I love her.
Zoe: So Lizzie, who do you have for me?
Lizzie: Next, we have Cailleach Beara, or the Hag of Beara, who was a crone figure from Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Lizzie: She's also known as the Queen of Winter and also simply as Cailleach sometimes. The word cailleach means hag in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic, it literally means veiled one, and can also extend to any old woman or witch, typically in a derogatory way. The term cailleach can apply broadly to a range of figures throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, but typically refers to Cailleach Beara, the Hag of Beara, who was an elderly goddess of winter. So, she appears as a veiled old woman, sometimes with just one eye and she has pale or blue skin, and red teeth, and in the Manx tradition sometimes transforms into a large bird. She is a creator deity that constructed most of the landscape as we know it, and she's also able to control storms and thunder. She carries a hammer that she uses to shape hills and valleys.
Lizzie: Yeah. And she... now that you mentioned Thor, I'm thinking about how that sounds very Thor-esque.
Zoe: I know. I mean, that's why I think it's interesting is because it sounds like Thor.
Lizzie: Yeah, and—
Zoe: And she has- she controls thunder, lightning and has a hammer.
Lizzie: Yeah, that's actually very Thor.
Zoe: I think that's very interesting.
Lizzie: Yeah, she's able to control the weather and the seasons, and thus, she's regarded with a mix of reverence and fear. She is a disruptive force, but she also takes care of wild animals. She's a patron of wolves and in Scotland also served as a deer herder. Her default form is as a withered old woman, but in the Isle of Man she spends half the year as an old woman and the other half as a young woman, and she's only referred to as Cailleach during the winter half.
Zoe: What is she called in the summer half, do you know?
Lizzie: It didn't say. Making a wild guess here, I feel like it might be Brigid.
Zoe: Oh, a hot take.
Lizzie: For reasons that will become clear in a moment.
Zoe: Oh, okay.
Lizzie: So, in Ireland, she had seven periods of youth, but thereafter remains an old woman forever. So she stands as a contrast to Brigid, who we talked about in an earlier episode and who is associated with spring. So on Samhain, or October 31st, winter begins and the Cailleach reins and then Brigid takes over on May 1st.
Lizzie: That's why I think the opposite of Cailleach is Brigid.
Zoe: That is super fun. I like that a lot.
Lizzie: Though I don't know that for a fact because it didn't actually say that. I'm just kind of making a guess. So here's something fun. On Imbolc, or February 1st, the Cailleach runs out of wood for the winter and has to collect more firewood, which she does in bird form in the Isle of Man and in old woman form in Ireland and Scotland. If she wishes for winter to last longer, she makes the day sunny and bright for her search. And if she accidentally oversleeps, then the day is gray and cloudy thus, if February 1st is gray and cold, then winter will be shorter. But if the day is sunny and bright than winter will be longer.
Zoe: Well. So it's basically Groundhog Day.
Lizzie: It is basically Groundhog Day.
Lizzie: In the United States, this tradition survives as Groundhog Day.
Zoe: Wow. That's so interesting.
Lizzie: Isn't it? It's not, it's not directly inspired by the Cailleach, but... okay, so—
Zoe: It's essentially the same concept, right?
Lizzie: Yeah. It sort of like survived, but like different.
Lizzie: Like basically, it was sort of associated with like, specifically hedgehogs in Ireland where like, if they would keep their head out of their holes on February 1st, that's the sign of like, you know.
Lizzie: Summer, spring, whatever. And then in Germany, it was the same thing, but with badgers.
Zoe: Oh my God.
Lizzie: And then I guess, I guess in Pennsylvania, it was groundhogs and then that transformed into whatever in like the 1800s.
Zoe: There were a lot of German people who came to Pennsylvania.
Lizzie: Yeah, the Pennsylvania Dutch, as they were known. Which, this is not relevant, but I learned recently that Pennsylvania Dutch... they're not Dutch. They're German.
Lizzie: Because Dutch was applied to both German and Dutch.
Zoe: Well, it was a mispronunciation of Deutsch, basically.
Lizzie: I mean, yeah, but the word Dutch in English was applied broadly to Germanic stuff.
Zoe: Really? Okay.
Lizzie: And then it got narrowed down to just Dutch.
Lizzie: Fun fact, not relevant at all.
Zoe: Well, that's, that's a fun series of images of badgers and hedgehogs and groundhogs peeking out of their holes on February 1st, you know. I like that.
Lizzie: Yeah, it's pretty fun. I love when you just get in a random direction where it's like, oh, this goddess is related to Groundhog Day.
Zoe: I know. Like, what, that's so crazy.
Lizzie: It is. She also had a husband called the Bodach, who was a Celtic trickster or bogeyman figure, and she had many children with him. So yeah, so like I kind of said before, the Cailleach was a maiden seven times over, during which time she had many husbands and children. But by the time her period of youth ended, she had outlived all of her husbands and children, which is quite sad.
Lizzie: And there's a poem from the eighth century called Lament of the Hag of Beara, which features Cailleach Beara lamenting on the loss of her youth. And this translation is by Lady Gregory.
Zoe: Ah, yes, Lady Gregory.
Lizzie: In 1919. Yes, her. So, "The young girls give a welcome to Beltaine when it comes to them; sorrow is more fitting for me; an old pitiful hag. I have no pleasant talk; no sheep are killed for my wedding; it is little but my hair is grey; it is many colours I had over it when I used to be drinking good ale. I have no envy against the old, but only against women; I myself am spent with old age, while women's heads are still yellow." That's just an excerpt. There's a longer poem. But yeah, a bit sad, but I like the poem because I kind of- it's sympathetic.
Lizzie: You know? Like, it must be sad when everyone you know dies, and you remain and then you just see everyone who's young, just having a good time. And you're like, oh, the simplicity of youth, you know?
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I feel like that's very much, I mean, I think that is a good representation of old age in sort of a way, I mean, obviously, I'm not old so I can't speak actually from personal experience, but like—
Lizzie: You can't even drink.
Zoe: —a lot of growing old is saying goodbye to— shut up. [Both laugh] A lot of being old is saying goodbye to people.
Lizzie: It is, and that's terrifying. I think there's a lot things about being old that must be like quite nice, wisdom, in theory wealth. Like you're kind of at a more settled age where you don't have to like wonder about stuff, like, when you're in your 20s it's, you don't know what you're doing. But also people are dying and your health isn't very good. And that must be honestly depressing.
Lizzie: And she also appeared in an episode of the TV show, Merlin. Did you did you watch Merlin?
Zoe: I did. But what season was this?
Zoe: Is that the last one?
Lizzie: I don't know. I feel like there was five seasons.
Zoe: Because I didn't watch the last season.
Lizzie: I only watched the first season; thus, I don't remember this episode, but maybe Merlin fans out there will remember it. She appeared and she had somebody sacrifice themselves to her, so, yeah.
Lizzie: And she was also a D&D character.
Zoe: Uh huh. Yeah.
Lizzie: Dungeons and Dragons.
Zoe: Good for her. I think that's when you've really made it.
Lizzie: [laughs] I know. I think you've really made it when, when you google the name and a bunch of D&D websites come up.
Zoe: I mean, I definitely had that experience through various ladies I was researching.
Lizzie: Anyway, that's, that's Cailleach Beara. And I think she's really fun and also powerful because she controls the weather. And she controls the mountains and whatever, in a similar vein to Elli kind of because the whole thing is that like, she controls the weather, she controls thunder, she has a hammer, which sort of like puts her in the same kind of position as Thor. But she's an old lady.
Zoe: Yeah! Isn't that so interesting?
Lizzie: It's cool. I mean, this is like—
Zoe: Super powerful.
Lizzie: —bit different, you know, Ireland versus like Scandinavia, but.
Zoe: Well, so I mean, the Vikings were in Ireland—
Lizzie: There was cultural exchange. Yeah, I know.
Zoe: Like, the Vikings conquered Ireland. So.
Lizzie: Yeah. So there could be relation.
Zoe: Yeah, the possibility of—
Lizzie: Like actual relation. We don't know for sure.
Zoe: Cultural influence was very high. Yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah. So, who do we have next?
Zoe: So, next we have Kikimora, who is a lady from Slavic folklore, particularly Russian folklore. And so, for this one, I actually have some etymology.
Lizzie: Ooh! Yay.
Zoe: Rubbing my hands together. In delight. Okay, so mora likely comes from the Proto-Slavic morà, which means "nightly spirit" or "bad dream". And then the kiki part could come from the Finno-Ugric kikka-murt, which means scarecrow.
Lizzie: Interesting, because those language families are not actually related.
Zoe: I know. But they're—
Zoe: —like similar areas, right?
Lizzie: Yeah, so it would have been like contact.
Zoe: Yeah, so that's what- that's really interesting. And also, like, different spirits called Mora, or like Mori, which is like the plural form, I would say, probably located and found throughout various Eastern European like Slavic countries that are slightly different from Kikimora. But there's like a lot of different spirits that are generally pretty frightening as well, which is cool and interesting. So, yeah, she is a female household spirit from Slavic folklore. She often lives behind a stove or in a cellar, and she makes noises to receive food.
Lizzie: That's awesome.
Zoe: Yeah. Because she often takes on the appearance of an old woman. Kikimora was the original traditional explanation in Slavic folklore for sleep paralysis. And that's because—
Zoe: —the hallucination of an old woman known as "the old hag" is a really common sleep paralysis experience. So.
Lizzie: Yeah, like they're out everywhere.
Zoe: Yeah, like literally everywhere, which is kind of scary. Like, why is that the thing your brain goes to is like an old woman?
Zoe: When you're having sleep paralysis, but anyways, they are also said to come from the spirits of dead or stillborn children and can sometimes have the faces of women who died in childbirth. So there's that.
Lizzie: That's a bit scary.
Zoe: Yeah, that's pretty scary. Um, in the same vein, Kikimory, again, the plural, are said to enter houses through their keyholes, sit on the chest of sleeping people and try to strangle them, which is very similar to sleep paralysis, and how sleep paralysis works. Because a lot of the time it's like, you know, a crushing sensation in your chest. You can't breathe, you can't move.
Lizzie: What a horrifying experience.
Zoe: Absolutely. But there are many ways to repel them. Would you like to hear these ways?
Zoe: Okay. So the first way is to cover your keyhole. Naturally, because if she comes in through your keyhole, if you cover it up, then she can't do that anymore. If you think that she is in your room, you want to look out the window to avoid making eye contact. You want to avoid looking at your closet or dresser or door because she might be standing there and you don't want to make eye contact with her.
Lizzie: She likes standing by closets?
Zoe: Yeah, she likes to hide there, I guess.
Lizzie: But what if, what if you make eye contact with her, then she'll attack you, but if you don't, then she won't?
Zoe: Then maybe she won't notice you, I think. Physical. You can turn your pillow upside down and make the sign of a cross on it. You can leave a broom upside down behind your door. You can put a belt on top of your sheets, or you can say an elaborate specific prayer which I could not actually find, but you could say it. [Lizzie laughs] So these are ways to make sure that a Kikimory does not visit you in your sleep. And there are two main types of Kikimory. The first one comes from the forest and is married to Domovoi, who is the spirit of the ancestral head of the household and is thought to be the good counterpart to Kikimora. And the second one, which I found more about is called Kikimora bolotnaya which means bolota means "swamp" in Russian. So she is Swamp Kikimora.
Zoe: And she comes from the swamp, and she's married to Leshy, who is a minor Slavic forest god and she is identifiable by her wet footprints. Like I guess that she leaves in the house so they're wet footprints in your house and you don't know who's leaving them. She is described as a small, ugly, hunchbacked, thin old woman with a pointed nose and disheveled hair. And her clothes are made of moss and grass. She causes lots of mischief such as knocking travelers off the road, scaring people, and frightening children.
Zoe: Yeah, classic mischief. And I think again, you know, as I said earlier, like, old women can just kind of do whatever they want in folklore.
Zoe: Like, she can knock travelers off the road, who cares?
Lizzie: Yeah, who's gonna stop her?
Zoe: Yeah, who's gonna stop her? She's an old woman. However, kikimory can be helpful around the house and do tasks such as look after the chickens, spin thread, and clean as long as the house is kept in order. However, if the house falls into disrepair, she will wreak havoc on it and its occupants.
Lizzie: So obviously the solution is to always keep a tidy house. What an amazing fear.
Zoe: Yeah, so keep your house clean. Also reminds me a lot of like brownie stories in English folklore because like the story is also that if a brownie will help you keep your house in order, but if your house gets really dirty, or if you disrespect the brownie, it will turn on you and like destroy everything.
Lizzie: Wow. Okay, so these spirits just want you to keep clean. Amazing.
Zoe: They want to help you but not if you can't help yourself, I think is the moral.
Lizzie: That's, that's understandable.
Zoe: And so if owners of a house that is being built mistreat the builders, the builders can invite a kikimora into the house, where they can cause lots of trouble and are very difficult to get rid of. So.
Lizzie: That's kind of fun.
Zoe: That's very fun. Workers' rights.
Zoe: And then, so, there is a young counterpart of Kikimory found in Slavic folklore, known as mora or mori. And they appear as young, beautiful women who haunt the dreams of men to torture them with sexual desire. So.
Lizzie: That's also pretty classic.
Zoe: Yeah, definitely.
Lizzie: So the part in her name that means old is the part that means scarecrow?
Zoe: Yeah, I believe.
Zoe: So yeah, that is Kikimora. I love her. There are so many delightful illustrations online. If you look her up, like so fun, so fun. And I just think again, you know, we have just a really like chaotic, older woman spirit, who will do kind of whatever she wants, and you kind of fear her, but she can kind of help you. Which seems to be a theme with old women in Russian folklore, actually.
Lizzie: Yeah, Slavic folklore has some really fun haggard women. And that rocks.
Zoe: It's like, well, she can help you. But also, she can hurt you and you kind of don't know which one you're going to get. So.
Lizzie: Keeps you on your toes.
Zoe: Keep your house clean and cover your keyhole. And that's the moral of this story, I believe.
Lizzie: Ha, moral, mora.
Zoe: Ha ha. Anyway.
Lizzie: Ha ha. Doesn't actually work though. Anyway. [laughs] So, next we have Frau Holle, also known as a Holda or Hulda. She's a Germanic crone figure who was likely originally a folk deity, but who today is known from the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale where she is the eponymous character.
Lizzie: So, basically, a widow has two daughters, her biological daughter, who was ugly and lazy, and a stepdaughter who was beautiful and industrious.
Zoe: Wow, okay, interesting.
Lizzie: Can already kind of tell the directions is going in.
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, it's just sort of like it sounds very Cinderella ish. But then also the way you talked about it, like the order in which you said the names tripped me up where I was like, Oh, so it's about the widow and then she has two daughters, but it's like, oh, the stepdaughter is the one obviously—
Lizzie: I know right?
Zoe: —the perfect stepdaughter, you know.
Lizzie: I mean, I agree with that. You think that the widow is going to be the old lady but no, anyway, though. But the, the widow greatly favored the ugly and lazy daughter and mistreated the beautiful daughter and made her do all the household tasks.
Zoe: Wow. I've never heard the story before. [Lizzie laughs]
Lizzie: Yeah, so the girl was made to sit by a well next to a road and spin all day until her fingers bled. One day she dropped the reel into the well, and her stepmother told her that she had to fish it out herself. She jumped in the well and lost all of her senses. When she awoke she was in a beautiful meadow. She began to walk around and came to an oven full of bread. The bread said to her, "Oh, take me out, take me out or I'll burn. I've been thoroughly baked for a long time." So she took the loaves of bread out. Next, she came to a tree full of apples. The tree said to her, "shake me shake me we apples are all ripe." So she shook the tree until all the apples fell off. Then she came to a small house with an old woman peering at her from inside. The old woman had frighteningly large teeth, so the girl wanted to run away. But then the old woman said to her, "don't be afraid, dear child, stay here with me. And if you do my housework, in orderly fashion, it will go well with you. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it diligently until the feathers fly, then it will snow in the world. I am Frau Holle." Yeah. Because Frau Holle spoke so kindly to her, the girl decided to stay and help out. She stayed with her for some time and tended to her tasks and had a good life with a roast meat every day and no angry words. However, she started to feel homesick. And so she told Fraue Holle that she wished to return home.
Lizzie: I don't know!
Zoe: Why does she feel homesick?
Lizzie: This feels way better than—
Zoe: She's not even trying to eat her.
Lizzie: I know.
Zoe: Yet, anyway. I mean.
Lizzie: Seems like a pretty fun life.
Lizzie: But, anyway, Frau Holle said that since she had served her so faithfully, she would take her back herself and so she took her to a large gate. While the girl was standing under it, a shower of gold began to fall and stuck to her and Frau Holle said it was hers to keep and also gave her back the reel that had fallen in. If you forgot about that part. So she told her mother and sister what happened to her and her mother wanted the same fortune for her sister. So she had her spin by the well... you know what's gonna happen. [laughs] So she pricked her fingers on a thornbush, threw the reel in the well, then jumped down. She came to the beautiful meadow and walked along the same path. When she got to the oven, the bread asked her the same thing, but she replied, "As if I'd want to get all dirty" and kept walking. When the apple tree asked her to shake it so the apples could fall, she said, "Oh, yes, one could fall on my head," and kept walking. She came to Frau Holle's house and accepted the offer to work for her. For the first day she worked hard and obeyed Frau Holle. Over the next three days, she became lazier and lazier until she stopped serving Frau Holle altogether. Frau Holle dismissed her and the girl was happy to be relieved of her duties and receive the rain of gold. However, instead of a shower of gold, when she stood beneath the gate, a kettle full of tar spilled over her.
Lizzie: Yeah. Yeah, actually, the Grimm fairy tale translation I read said pitch like a jar of pitch, and I was like what does that mean.
Zoe: Yeah, yeah.
Lizzie: I think it's the same. I googled it. Anyway, it's tar. I'm guessing. So she was covered in tar, which sounds pretty horrible, honestly.
Lizzie: Yeah. Anyway, so Frau Holle said, "that is the reward for your services" and closed the gate. Brutal.
Lizzie: She had to go home with tar stuck to her and it did not wash off for the rest of her life. The end.
Zoe: The end. Wow.
Zoe: Well, so that reminds me of like five different stories, which is just the joy of a specific tale type. But it's just very fun because like, it reminds me of the one story that Hailey told us from Iran, I think, well it was one with a well. And there was a demon in the well. And, and she went into the well, and it was like very similar, which is very cool. And then like the tests and stuff and Frau Holle, and yeah, it's just really interesting. And it also reminds me of Vasilisa the Beautiful because of going to see like a kind of interesting old lady—
Lizzie: Yeah, you're right.
Zoe: —and her giving you what you need to help you and stuff. And yeah, I yeah, it's just very fun.
Lizzie: Yeah, and you are right. It is part of the ATU tale type Kind Girls and Unkind Girls, which I think is 480. Pretty classic version of that, honestly. The story was told to the Grimms by Dortchen Wild, who would become Wilhelm Grimm's wife—
Lizzie: —and was published in 1812. What?
Lizzie: Oh, I thought you reacted.
Zoe: Well, I mean, yeah, I mean, you were like, she became his wife. And I was like, oh. Okay.
Lizzie: I was like, I was getting a negative reaction. Anyway. And it was published in 1812 in the first edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, though it was changed a little by the 1857 version, which is what I just read. Well, I didn't read it. I summarized it. Anyway. Because of the portion of the tale where Frau Holle says that shaking the feathers out of her bed causes snow to fall, there is an expression used in Hessen when it snows that "Frau Holle is making her bed."
Zoe: Ah, that's so cute.
Lizzie: Yeah, kinda, kinda similar to Cailleach Beara. Because she makes it snow. It's all connected. All the crones.
Zoe: Absolutely. And I think it's really interesting to have these crone goddesses of the changing seasons. Or like, I mean, not necessarily goddesses of the changing seasons, because I wouldn't say like Frau Holle's—
Lizzie: Technically, she is a goddess, but like a really old Goddess.
Zoe: I mean, I wouldn't necessarily say like, that's her main like power. I don't know. I don't know if that's accurate or not. But like with Cailleach Beara, it's very much like she's the one who makes winter happen. And it's interesting. Like a lot of the time when we think of goddesses of changing seasons, we think of younger goddesses but like also old women are the one who are causing the changes, although it tends to be the winter change, which is one of the reasons why we decided to do this theme this time of year because—
Zoe: —it's getting cold, it's getting wintery. The- these ladies are doing their work and changing things. But I think it's interesting that like, they are the ones who are bringing about these season changes, but then also they're mainly associated with winter which makes sense because like the association of death with winter, you know, like.
Lizzie: And death with old age. Obviously.
Lizzie: I mean it's a bit mean, but it makes sense.
Zoe: Yeah. And so yeah, I mean that's part of the mother/maiden/crone archetype, right? Is that the crone is like winter and the maiden is spring and I guess—
Lizzie: And she's also like the moon, and. Yeah.
Zoe: Mother's summer, I don't know. But, yeah.
Lizzie: Something like that. So who's next?
Zoe: So, speaking of wells, I have a little array, a smorgasbord, if you will, of English water hags to talk about, because they're all very fun. And there's also not that much information about any of them, but I think they're interesting. So. The first one I will talk about is named Jenny Greenteeth. And she is also known as Wicked Jenny, Ginny Greenteeth, or Jeannie Greenteeth.
Lizzie: Okay, she sounds a bit familiar, but I don't recall the details.
Zoe: Yeah, so she is a river hag from English folklore, particularly in Northern and Western England, as in England, not the United Kingdom, England specifically. And she is described as a hag with green skin, long hair and sharp teeth. So.
Zoe: A delightful. A delightful appearance, I would say.
Zoe: And so she is said to sit underneath the surface of the water. And when children or elderly people come near her, she drags them under the water and drowns them.
Lizzie: Just children and elderly people?
Zoe: I think so, I think it's more like a vulnerable person thing. You know.
Lizzie: That makes sense. Yeah.
Zoe: And the name Jenny Greenteeth can also be used to describe pondweed that grows to cover the whole surface of the body of water and disguises its depth, which creates a danger. So I think that's a fun little like—
Zoe: —term that's been inspired by Jenny Greenteeth. And yeah.
Lizzie: Reminds me of Greensleeves. Like you could make a little version of the song.
Zoe: Jenny Greenteeth, Jenny Greensleeves? Yeah.
Lizzie: Greenteeth was... what are the lyrics to that song? I don't know.
Zoe: Yeah, it is a... Yeah, she is a fun old woman who likes to murder children so that's always great.
Lizzie: As do many of the classic old lady figures.
Zoe: Yes. Which is so interesting. My next lady is Nelly Longarms.
Lizzie: Ooh, fun names.
Zoe: Yes, she is a hag and water spirit in English folklore. And she lives in deep ponds, rivers, and wells. She is said to sit in water and pull children under, drowning them, if they get too close. And you know how she does it?
Lizzie: Luring them? I don't know.
Zoe: She uses her long, sinewy arms to pull them under.
Lizzie: I should have guessed that actually. [laughs]
Zoe: Yeah. That's her name.
Lizzie: She does it with her long arms. [laughs]
Zoe: Yeah. And yeah, that is pretty much all I have about Nelly Longarms who. Just know that she exists. And she has long arms.
Lizzie: And her name is awesome.
Zoe: And she will pull you under the water. So yeah. Then finally we have Peg Powler.
Lizzie: Peg Powler. Sounds like a real name.
Zoe: Yeah, it could be. She is another English water spirit and hag, as said before, and she lives specifically in the River Tees in Northern England. And if children get too close to the edge of the water, she will drag them under. And she was described by folklorist William Henderson from the 19th century as having green hair and a quote, "insatiable desire for human life."
Lizzie: Lots of green.
Zoe: Yeah. Which is interesting and makes sense because it's like, you know, river stuff like, water, green water green hair. Oh, this is a fun fact. The foam of the River Tees is generally known as Peg Powler's suds or Peg Powler's cream.
Zoe: Yeah. I thought you would like that.
Lizzie: [laughing] I don't!
Zoe: I know. [Both laugh] Blame the English, I would say. They're the ones who came up with that.
Lizzie: Yeah. That's a fair enough—
Zoe: I am just a reporter. [Lizzie laughs] I am just a messenger. I have no stake in this situation. [Lizzie laughs] But yeah, so next time you're at the River Tees, and you see like some foam on it, you can be like, oh, it's Peg Powler's cream.
Lizzie: Gross. Ew.
Zoe: Alright. Anyway, she also has a sister or a daughter, depending on your story named Nan Powler, and she said to terrorize the River Skerne, which is a tributary of the Tees. So they're doing it together.
Lizzie: Makes sense that she's a daughter then.
Lizzie: Aw, fun mother-daughter activity.
Zoe: Yeah, taking after her mother.
Zoe: And also similar to Kikimora, in some artistic depictions, she is shown as a beautiful young woman who lures men to their tomb. So. Interesting that sometimes they're shown as young women and not older women, which is what they're generally said to be. And so basically all these women are kind of considered to be cautionary tales for to prevent children from venturing into dangerous waters. They can also you know, be used to describe like specific dangerous aspects of rivers or ponds, like Jenny Greenteeth, describes like that pondweed and stuff.
Lizzie: Like a personification of—
Zoe: Yeah, but also, they are women who will drown you if you go swimming. So next time you're in England, maybe don't go swimming, I would say, just in case.
Lizzie: Okay. Maybe not in a lake or a river.
Zoe: Or a pond or a well.
Lizzie: Or a stream. I don't know any more bodies of water. I don't think you can go swimming in a stream.
Zoe: But yeah, so those are my ladies from England. So the reason why I wanted to talk about them is, I know they're all very short, and they're kind of repetitive, but I just think it's interesting that there's like so many of them, and they're like so similar.
Lizzie: Yeah, do you think they got developed separately or do you think they just kind of got borrowed till the next region or whatever?
Zoe: I mean, it's probable that they got borrowed or they developed simultaneously together because they are in like the same area. Which like Northern-ish England, and describing essentially the same thing. But I do think it's interesting that they... so many aspects like they changed the names. So there's some specific fun things going on. But also, like so many aspects remain the same, like they are all still hags for the most part.
Lizzie: And I mean, Jenny, Jenny Greenteeth and Nelly Longarms are essentially the same name, but just a little different.
Zoe: Yeah. And I think yeah, I think it's interesting that they're hags because, I don't know, when you see an older woman, is your first thought, that woman is going to drag my child under the water and drown them? Probably not.
Lizzie: No, not so much.
Zoe: I mean, I can only speak for myself. But in this case, elderly women are not only not passive, but like actually actively dangerous and harmful.
Lizzie: Which is kind of fun.
Zoe: And it's interesting that that's the story that's been created.
Lizzie: Yeah. And, I mean, what we've talked about this episode has been like quite negative depictions of old women or like kind of neutral, ambiguous, which there are, as we've mentioned in a few episodes also positive depictions of old women. But it is interesting, like how prevalent negative depictions of old women are, especially considering that there aren't as many for old men. Why is that? Well, I know why it is. It's because of misogyny and ageism. But, but it's it's, it's interesting.
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, I was also thinking like, the important to say like the archetype of the old woman stealing children away is definitely has some antisemitic origins to it.
Lizzie: Yes. Yeah, that's completely true.
Zoe: Also, the specificity of the water and it being like a drowning thing is like, also interesting to me. It's like, this is the specific cautionary tale, like, you know, this is the specific thing that will happen to you.
Lizzie: Also, this isn't this isn't like broadly applicable to like every single world culture. This was pretty, like, Eurocentric, but pretty interesting archetype.
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I'm a fan of the old crone. I've talked about several old ladies, or at least a few old ladies on the show before.
Lizzie: Yeah, and we definitely plan to talk about Baba Yaga in more detail in a future episode, which is why we didn't talk about her too much today. We are big fans of scary old ladies here on Mytholadies.
Zoe: Absolutely. We hope to be scary old ladies someday. [Lizzie laughs] Eventually, I'll come to visit Lizzie in the Netherlands on my house on chicken feet, and it'll be really exciting moment for all of us.
Lizzie: That's awesome.
Zoe: I think that... I really liked what you said at the beginning about how old women kind of keep society together.
Lizzie: It's true.
Zoe: And they're also like, kind of, you sort of the beginning basically, like a lot of people in society have mommy issues. [Lizzie laughs] And that's sort of the foundation for maybe some of these really scary older woman archetypes. I don't know.
Lizzie: And that's the thesis of this episode. We all have mommy issues.
Zoe: We have mommy issues.
Lizzie: I don't. Nope. Not trying to insult my mom. She listens to this. I love my mom. This is about other people's moms. [Both laugh]
Zoe: I'm just not gonna include. [Both laugh] Yeah, I mean, I think that like if the old crone is a terrifying figure in your life. I don't know.
Lizzie: Go to therapy.
Zoe: Perhaps. Just like Tony Soprano.
Lizzie: [laughing] Exactly. Yes. Or Liesl. She has mommy issues, probably because her mom is dead.
Lizzie: Point is we love old ladies. And we think they should be able to kidnap people if they want and eat them.
Zoe: Yeah, I would say so. If a kikimora just came into my room. I would simply look at her. [Lizzie laughs] And it would be really awkward eye contact, because and I would just make her feel really uncomfortable.
Lizzie: Until she leaves.
Zoe: And then she would kind of leave. Yeah.
Lizzie: Perfect plan.
Zoe: And that's my plan. Yeah.
Zoe: Awesome. All right. Well, thank you for listening to this week's episode. Whatever that was. [Lizzie laughs] If you enjoyed it, please feel free to subscribe, leave a review, tell all your friends, and we'll be back here in two weeks with another episode.
Lizzie: Thank you.
Lizzie: Mytholadies Podcast is produced, researched, and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @Mytholadies and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover artist is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening, see you in two weeks.
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