My Croning Tattoo

“You should have a tattoo to show honor for the Goddess.” The temerity that this stranger carried with her suggestion unsettled me. The idea of defacing my body, as well as being willing to experience the physical pain, was outside of my realm.

I had never noticed this woman before. This bus trip through western Turkey was only a few minutes under way when she came forward from the back of the bus, planted herself in the seat beside me and started talking.

She told me, “I’m a Crone, and you’re a Crone, too. My friends and I would be honored to provide a Croning ceremony for you during this trip if you would like us to.”

She reminded me that although I was on the trip primarily for the cultural music and dance experiences, as well as watching the solar eclipse, most of the participants were there to explore the Goddess cultures which had ruled the Anatolian Plains for thousands of years. She explained to me, “In that culture society was dominated by women, and women had three phases of life: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. The Crones were respected, revered, and looked up to for wisdom.” It was then she added the suggestion I should have a tattoo to show honor for the Goddess.

My dearest friends, Melissa and Lew, were leading the tour. Melissa was in charge of providing information about the Goddess culture, and Lew, a physics teacher, gave us lectures and equipment to help us experience the total eclipse of the sun, which was happening the following week. The night before, the entertainment had been at a night club, where, at my instigation, we surprised Lew and Melissa with a celebration of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary by having a dance troop “kidnap” them, dress them in native wedding costumes, and bring them on stage to re-enact a Turkish wedding ceremony. Among other rituals they guided all of us women guests in decorating each others’ hands with henna dye. Those designs lasted for several days.

Lew and Melissa celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary by having, unexpectedly, their own Turkish Wedding
Lew and Melissa celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary by having, unexpectedly, their own Turkish Wedding

After my lecture from the Crone, I shared with Melissa about the women who were urging me to be initiated with a Crone ceremony, and with tongue in cheek I told her, “The Crones are convincing me I must have a tattoo. I’m considering where I want it and what the design should be.”

Melissa was horrified. “Don’t do that until you are absolutely sure you are ready to disfigure your body that way. Besides, it hurts a lot. And then if you don’t like it, it’s very difficult to erase.” She went on at some length, working to convince me I should not get a tattoo. I was amused that she thought I might actually do it, but said no more.

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My concept of tattoos was that only sailors wore them. Even after forty years, strong in my memory was the image of my sailor stepfather baring his chest to show my young children the picture of a galleon in full sail on the ocean, and when he rippled his abdominal muscles the ship would look like it was rocking on the waves. The kids’ eyes were riveted.

Behaviors change with the times. When my granddaughters were in their late teens Faith and Jasmine took me aside to show me their tattoos. Faith had a design of a star on her tummy below her belt line and another for the moon under her left breast. Jasmine, who devoted her life to playing the cello, had the outline of a full sized cello tattooed on her back, starting at the back of her neck, around her shoulder blades, narrowing at her waistline, and then broadening around her hips and curving down to the base of her spine.

A few years later I was really startled when my conservative oldest son appeared at a hot tub party with an amazing tattoo on his left shoulder—a real work of art. His totem is the raven, and after a lot of research in tattoo parlors and books of designs, he found an artist whose work delighted him and had her design a magnificent raven in the Inuit style of black and red shadows. Yes, he lives in Seattle.

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This tour of Turkey came to an end and I stayed in Istanbul some extra days. Late one afternoon I was alone, walking toward our hotel, and was mulling over what I might do for the next hour before dinner. Right there a tattoo parlor loomed before me, advertising they offered both permanent and henna tattoos. I turned into the shop and found the artist alone. He spoke reasonable English, and I explored with him the ramifications of putting a henna tattoo on my shoulder. He assured me that it did not hurt, it would take about half an hour, would last about six months, and would cost me twenty dollars.

I drew him the design I wanted—a Goddess symbol of the tour we had just finished, enclosed her in a circle representing the sun, and added triangles for rays radiating from the edge to represent the solar eclipse we had seen. While the artist was working on my shoulder other customers came in and he asked them to take photographs of him working on my arm to display on his bulletin board. He told me I should not wash it that night.

Carolyn getting a henna Croning tattoo in Turkey
Carolyn getting a henna Croning tattoo in Turkey

When I got back to the hotel I showed Melissa and she immediately knew it was a henna tattoo and “shined it on” that she had thought I would get a real ink and needle tattoo. She did say she felt honored I would wear symbols of her tour.

Well, it was summer, it was hot, and I couldn’t help taking a shower that night. The tattoo was gone in about six weeks.

Carolyn holding her “Alter Ego” doll, who sports a permanent croning tattoo
Carolyn holding her “Alter Ego” doll, who sports a permanent croning tattoo

I wanted some memory of the incident, so when my friend Alinda was making me a Look-Alike Doll as a gift for my eightieth birthday, I drew my henna tattoo design to show her, and now my Alter Ego doll sports the tattoo for me.

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When I was visiting an elderly friend who was entering the hospital (we all knew for the last time), I shared with her my experiences about Crones. She asked me to conduct a Croning Ceremony for her. That’s another story for next time.

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