Story: The Old Woman Who Went Inside

I am working more and more with fairy tales for adults these days. I have re-written a few, and I have written a few new ones. I have been re-discovering the amazing transformational power that is held within a simple story and have worked closely with a few people recently to re-write stories or write new ones that re-tell their experience with a new eyes. Stories don’t always have to have happy endings to be powerful, either. Melissa and I have been writing transformational stories and meditations for Sacred Essence for several years. You can read a few of them on our website (and keep checking back, we add a new story every month!)

This particular story is not one for playgroup! It is one I wrote at the end of last semester. It came into existence after listening to the song “Hold It Up To The Light” by David Wilcox, and it partly describes my personal experience, and partly describes the companioning journey of client and creative arts therapist, however, like most fairy tales, there is a subtext. I know what it says to me – what does this story say to you?


Crone, by Jennifer McCormack

The Old Woman Who Went Inside

by Jennifer McCormack, 2013

Once there was an old woman who lived in the middle of a village. She would sit on a bench in the sunshine at the front of her house spinning her yarn, and people would come and sit with her when they needed some support. She would share her wisdom with those who had troubles without answers, for she had lived long and listened well. She would mix up special brews, lotions and make talismans, for she was interested in many things and had long realised the power of the natural world. She would also tell stories and people would come to listen, for her words took them to other places.

She was happy to help, and had done so in this way for many years. She would receive payment, exchange news, enjoy the company of the villagers and was loved in her community, but she wasn’t content. She was starting to get pissed off.

The villagers would come to her and praise her for being so wise, so patient, so clever at knowing just the right thing to do. Of course they were right – SHE knew it! She’d lived long enough to recognise her own wisdom, experience and mistakes, but she had grown tired of being everyone’s first stop. She thought they probably could have solved their problems by themselves if they’d given it some thought, or if they had listened to her last time they asked. She had begun snapping sharply at people who came to her for answers. She left her bench in the sunshine and shifted her spinning wheel inside where she sat in the darkness, the only light coming from the one window in her small cottage.

The villagers were confused and left her alone for some time. Old women can do what they like. They had a right to be snippy if they chose to! They were not sure what the matter was though, and they didn’t know what kind of reaction they might receive if they knocked on her door. Inside her house, sitting in the dark the old woman was enjoying the solitude, but after a few weeks she opened her door just a little. She didn’t mind the darkness, she didn’t mind her own company – but why wouldn’t anyone come inside? She might not want to solve their problems but she missed their company, and besides, the less people who came, the less payment she received.

Eventually someone did knock at her door. The door creaked open a little more at their knock and they let themselves in, calling softly to her as they stepped hesitantly inside. The went to sit beside her and the old woman pointed to a chair but said nothing, just kept spinning her yarn by the light that came through the window. Except for the hypnotic rhythm of the spinning wheel, the house was quiet. Still the old woman did not speak. Eventually the visitor held their trouble up to the light of the window and the old woman looked up. With a few words, she pointed out the obvious, the not-so-obvious, and the curious but would not give an answer, just kept on spinning. The visitor thought for a moment and suggested an idea that came to them, suddenly finding that their trouble felt lighter. The old woman smiled as her visitor went home, after leaving payment in a bowl on the table.

Soon others arrived. Those with troubles held them up to the light and they would tell their story and together they and the old woman would comment on what they saw, and somehow things started looking clearer. Those who need talismans and potions were directed by the old woman with a flick of her head to her garden, where they helped themselves to the things they felt they needed, and those who came to her for stories found rhythm in the sound of her spinning wheel, and they ended up telling rich and wonderful tales of their own. Some people just came to sit in the dark and the quiet with the old woman. It was cool and reassuring in there. They would leave payment in the bowl as the left the house: some money, a gift or some food.

After continuing in this way for a while the old woman began to leave her house again, to tend her garden, to do her shopping, to sit on her bench in the sunshine to spin. Sometimes she would sit with the villagers on her bench, at other times they would go inside and sit by the window. Sometimes she would mix a brew or make a talisman or tell a story, but at all times people were invited to respectfully choose what they felt they needed, and create their own stories. The old woman began to enjoy the company of the villagers, again discussing ideas together, walking through the garden and meeting on her bench. She lived a long life, sitting on her bench in the sunshine. As far as I know, she is sitting there still.

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