What makes a matriarch?
Is a matriarch the oldest female in the family, or the wisest, or simply the one who usurps the role? We often conflate age and wisdom in our society, possibly because no one ever feels quite “wise,” but it seems safe to assume that age confers wisdom. I think my own mother would have resisted the role of matriarch; it would not have appealed to her sense of the ephemeral. My sister in law’s mother made a classic old-world matriarch, but probably just because she was Old World right down to the accent, the home-cooked Hungarian meals, and the house dress persona. We all try to shoehorn my mother-in-law into the role, but she also resists it. This leaves me or my sister in law. Or really it just leaves her, because I think she covets the role. Which is maybe what makes a matriarch.
The matriarch is the unanswerable Mother, the person with the final say. This is the appeal– that someone can say, “Stop”. Someone can say, “Don’t”. That someone actually has the final answer and the right to an expectation of obedience, or at least compliance. It is this expectation that confers the power of the Matriarch, and by extension the wisdom. It’s a feedback loop that reinforces the power– if I give you power over me, I need to justify that with a belief in your wisdom, which gives you power over me.
But it’s not the only role available to old ladies. The witch-woman, the Crone, the Crazy Old Lady, also has her place alongside the Matriarch, in fact without her the Matriarch is too powerful. Like the King needs his Fool, the Matriarch needs her wise woman who basically doesn’t put up with her bull. The matriarch sustains the status quo and provides continuity, while the witch woman provides the potion that turns your world upside down. The matriarch offers stability and the witch-woman passion.
The concept of the matriarch, the Powerful Old Lady, is very appealing. I am too young for this role, and at any rate, I’m headed straight towards Crazy Old Lady. I also don’t have enough of a satellite system, so to speak– no young ‘uns, and not much of an extended family. (Which brings up the other question of how large your tribe needs to be before it even requires a matriarch.)
The world needs both– the Matriarch to provide the base, and the Crone to blow it up. Tradition and Innovation, Wisdom and Passion, Power and Magic.
Is there a Matriarch or a Crone in your tribe?
My mother would have been 90 this month Thursday. She died more than 30 years ago, so we’ll never know if she would have been the matriarch, or the witch woman, or if she would have been simply mom. Are you Matriarch, or Crone?