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Published "Croning" Leads To Complaints–Possible Cover-up Leads To Complainants "Going Public"

Some Commentary on the Wellsprings Articles about Croning

First of all, please be aware that spiritual feminism’s beliefs and practices are an eclectic mix from many different (often pagan) sources. In addition to witchcraft, it borrows freely from Native American, African and Asian traditions - usually shamanism or animism - as well as from Judaism and Christianity when it suits. Sometimes it is difficult to separate out the various roots or influences. However, most writers on feminist spirituality acknowledge that witchcraft (modern day Wicca) was the first spiritual influence and that it remains the strongest.

Here is my commentary on the two articles in Wellsprings. The original text is in bold print, with my comments in italics. Especially problematic items are underlined. All of this can be discovered and verified by reading any pop Wiccan literature (found at just about any local bookstore) by such authors as Starhawk, Z. Budapest, and Silver Ravenwolf (who is especially into targeting Christian teens.)

A Croning Ritual

It was not just any New Years Eve, otherwise known as Old Year’s Night. Seven women gathered at the beach house to celebrate the 50 years of life with which two among them had been gifted. Within the first twelve days of the year to come, both would celebrate their 50th birthdays.

It is this circumstantial, yet strongly compelling evidence which led Connie Alt, Karen Moore and myself to speak with Bishop Susan Morrison about her probable involvement as the second woman croned. Morrison’s fiftieth birthday occurred within this specified time frame. She has been and remains close friends with clergywomen in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. And just recently I have confirmed that she shares residence in a Rehoboth beach house with Mary Kraus, the other woman who was croned. In our conversation, Morrison would neither confirm nor deny her participation in this particular ritual. She said it was "None of our business." She said she had "observed" many croning rituals, did not have a problem if they came from pagan/Wiccan roots as they could be "Christianized," and that she expected them to be included in the next Book of Worship. Connie, Karen and I took our concerns to Bishop George Bashore (then president of the NEJ College of Bishops.) When he questioned her, Morrison answered Bashore as she answered us in correspondence (and as she has recently answered Mark Tooley in his correspondence with her) that she has not and would not be involved in Wiccan practices. However, Bishop Bashore has acknowledged to me that he did not specifically question her about this particular ritual. (Even though that was the basis of our concern in our letter to him.) To this day, Morrison has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny her participation as the second woman croned in this ritual.

In women’s tradition, the fiftieth birthday is especially revered as being the year in which a woman becomes a "crone." Fifty years of wisdom have been gathered through all of the richness of joy and sadness, gain and loss, planting and reaping, springtime and harvest. These two clergywomen represented such wisdom to the circle of seven.

"Women’s tradition" is doublespeak for feminist spirituality, usually Goddess centered and witchcraft based. In Gardnerian Wicca (the first and classic brand of American witchcraft), a croning takes place when a woman is 52. Croning corresponds to the triple aspect of the Goddess - as Maiden, Mother and Crone - which also corresponds to the three reproductive cycles of woman - which also corresponds to the phases of the moon. "Wisdom" is an important concept within witchcraft (and Sophia worship!) The word "witch" is said to come from the same root word as "wise," meaning "to bend or shape reality." Witches are the "wise ones" of the world. In classic witchcraft, practitioners usually meet in 12 member groupings called "covens." Less structured groupings are called "circles." In all fairness, however, circles have been and can be utilized by non-witchcraft folks - UMW’s for example.

For those who organized the croning ritual much of the fun occurred in the advance preparations. A few gathered with another sister who had been croned the September before, to hear of some of her experiences. She proudly shared her memory book her circle had prepared. We then began to gather names and addresses of family members and friends of both sisters. A letter was composed, inviting them to send pictures, cards, notes, poems and embarrassing stories that they would be willing to share for this auspicious occasion. A memory book was compiled for each of them, using as much color and imagination as possible.

Since members of the circle had a clear understanding that crones have generally gotten a bad rap over the years, and that crones were nothing more than very wise women who understood the ways of the earth as well as being healers, we believed that our two sisters were crones in the finest sense of that term. Fifty inch tall crones were made from brightly colored paper, one in pink and one in purple. One sister in the group made a luminescent, stained glass kaleidoscope for each.

This is the classic spiritual feminist (also Wiccan) ideological basis for the purported need to rediscover and embrace witchcraft. It is nothing more than true womanly religious tradition which the Patriarchy squelched. "The ways of the earth" is probably more doublespeak for "nature worship/animism."

The evening was finally ready to begin. After gathered, whispering, and giggling on the part of those who would orchestrate the evening, favorite foods were prepared for a feast which officially began the ritual. After the feast, the two crones-to-be were asked to leave the room so that the altar could be prepared. With pink and purple crones looking on from the edges, an elegant purple patterned cloth was laid on the living room floor. Candles were placed upon it in the four directions marking north, south, east and west - the four points of the compass. Many purple candles of various sizes and shapes were lit all over the room.

In correspondence with the editorial circle of Wellsprings, and in further written and oral correspondence, those involved have continued to insist the Croning was nothing more than a birthday party. However, it was called a "ritual" and "an altar was prepared." That would seem to indicate that it had spiritual/religious significance. In classic witchcraft, the four directions are the four "cardinal" directions which correspond to North, South, East and West on the compass. They also correspond to the four "elementals" of earth, air, fire and water. (See closing prayer.) Each direction has specific qualities and is an animistic "something" or "force" that is invoked, invited into, and has an effect upon the ceremony. This happens right before or as a "circle is cast." (See below.) This, I understand from Buck Linton, is different from the way that the directions are utilized in Native American spirituality. Candles themselves have a prominent role in witchcraft practice. Purple is the sign of age and wisdom.

The guests of honor were called, and purple cloaks were placed around them. The chorus began, "There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings" from Libana: "Circle is Cast." Harmony rose and swelled, then faded and stilled. We said aloud the names of the crones who have gone on before us as well as those who still lead us forward to "Stepping Out" on the promises (words and music by Susan Beehler).

Libana is a women’s vocal group. Their work is usually found in the New Age or feminist or witchcraft sections of catalogs and music stores. "Circle is Cast" is a reference to one of the portions of witchcraft ritual. After the four directions are summoned, a circle is symbolically drawn, purified and consecrated. It is within this circle that power is "raised" or created and the ritual completed. A circle has to be "closed" after the ritual is over. The ending prayer to the Goddess (see below) is a prayer for closing a circle. Susan Beehler is a clergywoman in the Baltimore-Washington Conference (or at least was when the articles were written.) She is a close friend of Susan Morrison’s. She was one of the three editors of Wellsprings.

The memory books were then presented to each crone and they each read aloud the cards, letters and poems, and giggled at the pictures. Tears and laughter was abundant as the richness of the two lives created a beautiful tapestry. Cowrie shells are a special part of many native African rituals. They are used to symbolize blessings and gifts. The others in the circle then gathered a good handful of cowrie shells and with the Spirit leading, gave verbal gifts and blessings to our new crones, simultaneously dropping a cowrie shell into their glasses. We concluded this part by singing:

"Be like a bird, who pausing in her flight
on a limb too slight, feels its give way beneath her,
yet sings, sings, knowing she has wings;
yet sings, sings, knowing she has wings."

Libana: "The Fire Within."

Again, I believe that "native African rituals" is or can be doublespeak for pagan animism. Cowrie shells are also highly symbolic in witchcraft. Again, notice the reference to Libana. "The Fire Within" probably refers to the internal presence of the Goddess.

These two sisters surely have wings and much, much more. They are sisters who have known how to "sing the Lord’s song in a strange land" in the days when clergywomen were rare. Though we didn’t want to close, we said good-bye to each of the four directions, thanking them for the gifts they brought to the festive evening, closing with this blessing:

"And now, by the earth that is Her body
and the air that is her breath
and by the bright fire of Her Spirit
and the water of Her womb,
may Her Spirit go with you.
The circle is open, but unbroken.
Merry meet and merry part,
and merry meet again. Blessed be."

Notice that the four directions are bid good-bye and thanked - which if not outright witchcraft is nonetheless pagan animism. Notice also the correspondence to earth/air/fire/water. (In our meetings with Bishop Felton May, I questioned Nancy Webb about the four directions. She said they were not "gods or goddesses," but were "forces" or "entities" one could interact with.)

The final prayer - other than omitting a line with direct reference to the Goddess - is verbatim from Starhawk. It is in her book Spiral Dance, which is a witchcraft primer of sorts. Even though the language says that "the circle is open, but unbroken," it is a prayer used to close a circle of raised power. (When Felton May asked Nancy Webb why she had not included the line about the Goddess, she answered that she had written the prayer for her article "from memory," and that she had no problem in addressing God as Goddess - it was just one of the myriad ways we can name the Divine.)

The phrases "Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again," and "Blessed be" are classic Wiccan phraseology. Notice below that Mary Kraus closes her article with "Blessed Be." The COSROW report to 1996 General Conference in the Daily Christian Advocate closes with the same phrase.

There is nothing magic about this croning ritual. Hymns, scripture, recorded music, smells, bells, water, flowers, earth, candles or anything that would contribute to a festive time of rejoicing at the 50 years of wisdom bestowed upon the celebrant is highly appropriate. Use the gifts She has already given you to create your own evening of storytelling. May the spirit be with you always.

Nancy J. Webb & Rebecca Ruth Richards
Baltimore-Washington Conference

Who is She? Good question.
Nancy Webb is Christian Education Director at Foundry UMC in Washington DC.
I don’t know Rebecca Richards.

Reflections From A New Crone

I live in a culture that values youthfulness, especially youthful looking women. So as I approach my 50th birthday, I became more aware that I needed to mark that transition in a way that would contrast society’s view of aging. A new wrinkle cream product was not the answer!

Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends who were more than willing to help me make this transition. We had discussed the importance of telling the stories of our foremothers, and how the names given to some of the strong women of history have been assigned very derogatory meanings like: witches, hags, spinsters, crones. Yet, isn’t it interesting that the women gifted with sensitivity and perceptions were called witches by men who assumed that these gifts were the work of the devil!

Again, this is the classic ideological excuse for recovering/practicing witchcraft. In order to keep women powerless, the Patriarchy put down (and continues to put down) something which comes naturally to women and is critical to their well-being - namely, witchcraft. The feminist idea of "naming" is that women are also empowered when they can define and give meaning to words, concepts or ideas as they choose. Mary does some very creative "naming" herself in the following paragraph.

The word "hag" comes from the Greek word "hagios" whose root meaning holy; "spinsters" were the spinners and weavers of fabric and of stories; "crone" comes from the same root as "chronios" which means time.

Here is a good example of feminist "naming," which I think is primarily an exercise in wishful thinking. Only in Mary’s imagination does the word "hag" come from the Greek word "hagios." Hag derives from a Middle English root word which means "witch" or "spell." Neither does "crone" come from the Greek root "chronios" (which should be "chronos.") It comes from either a Middle English word which means "old ewe" or an Old Northern French word which means "carrion."

"Words," said the Mad Hatter to Alice, "mean exactly what I want them to mean."

My life felt like it was passing all too quickly and so I needed help in pausing for a moment to reflect on that half century, and all the mix of pain and joy that had filled those hours, days, and years. Aware of some of this, my friends began their spinning and weaving, which culminated in the following ritual:

First, I was reminded that I am not the first woman to reach the age of 50 and I won’t be the last! I stood in a long parade of women who have walked this way before me and who have taught me much and will teach me more. In the transition, I joined them! I was now one of the crones, one who have lived over half her life and learned many valuable things in the process. I had become a "foremother." It felt a little strange to think of myself in that way, but after trying it on, I began to like it, it felt good.

Second, I was reminded that my life is part of all creation. As we gathered in the middle of the four directions, my Native American ancestors were very much present, reminding me that I am inextricably linked to Mother Earth and Father Sun, to the elements of nature which surround me all the time, and to the moon whose cycle influences my own body’s cycle. The Creator God of all this, gave me life and one day will claim that life and return it to the good earth. Yes, Mary Kraus is part of all time and creation! That woke me out of my 50-year limit!

I don’t know enough to comment too fully on the Native American connections. Again, I have been told by Buck Linton that there are major differences in Native American usage and feminist/Wiccan usage of the four directions. I’m very sorry she doesn’t seem to find hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life in Him.

Third, it was wonderful to be with people who love me just the way I am. One of the women in this circle has known me over 30 years. My friends have held my hand in painful times and celebrated with me during moments of great joy; always they are there when needed. In the vulnerable moment of completing half a century of living it was good to have some accompaniment. They celebrated that milestone and then moved me right into the next half century reminded me that time does not stand still.

As more and more of us are privileged to live long lives, it is important that we help each other through these transitions. It is important that we reclaim our foremothers and their influence in our lives. It is important that we develop new symbols and ways of marking these transitions; and it is important to celebrate the wisdom that comes with living. It is wonderful indeed. Blessed be!

Mary E. Kraus, Baltimore-Washington Conference

Mary Kraus is senior pastor at Dunbarton UMC in Washington DC. At one time she was a District Superintendent in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Complaints Filed

In December of 1998, my lay leader, Elaine Wood and I [Rev. Karen Booth] filed charges against Nancy Webb and Mary Kraus under the following paragraphs in the Book of Discipline:

  • paragraph 2624.1.b, for engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,

  • paragraph 2624.1.f, for disseminating doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the Church, and

  • paragraph 2624.1.g, for engaging in relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor.

The complaints resulted in three supervisory meetings which included myself, Elaine Wood, Mary Kraus, Nancy Webb, Bishop Felton May and their DS, Alan Stewart. Each of us were permitted to take one person with us. Connie Alt and a man from my church, David Keesey went with me and Elaine. Phil Wogaman was at the first meeting with Nancy. I do not remember the names of the other women who came with them.

At the first meeting, both Nancy and Mary disavowed any knowledge of, let alone practice of Wicca. Phil Wogaman argued that while it seemed that some of the parts of the ritual were Wiccan, and that seemed to present a problem, it didn’t really because done "in a different context" it was all OK. Most of this meeting was spent analyzing and attacking me and Connie’s characters and motivation. Felton May was particularly troubled that Susan Morrison’s name was mentioned.

The second meeting began much as the first - with ad hominem attacks against me, Elaine and Dave: We were afraid, we were angry, we were hateful, we were akin to people who practice ethnic cleansing. Finally we got around to discussing the ritual and Wicca again. At one point, Bishop May left the room to take a phone call. At this time, Nancy acknowledged that there were Wiccan elements in the ritual. (She had previously confirmed this with Connie Alt in a phone conversation.) She argued that "ancient European practices" (doublespeak again) were an important part of her heritage as a Scots-Irish, and that she could separate out what was good from bad in this tradition and use only the good. I told her that presented a problem to me in that she may still be engaging in these practices. She would not answer me. At this time Felton May came back into the room. I told him what had happened and that Nancy would not answer my concerns. He said, "She doesn’t have to .. she isn’t on trial."

As this second meeting was ending, I challenged Bishop May for his failure to shepherd me adequately through this supervisory process. He answered, "You have other people shepherding you through this process." He would not clarify what he meant - though I think he believed I had one of the renewal groups pulling my strings. I also wonder how he could pretend to be "neutral" with that kind of comment. In a later one-on-one meeting, he claimed he had just said it to see how I would respond.

Our third and final meeting (last Spring) was ostensibly to hear Bishop May’s decision. He told us that we had not presented enough of a case for him to move the complaint on either to trial or to the Baltimore-Washington Board of Ordained Ministry. He offered us the "gift" of further conversation through a mediator. Elaine and I declined this "gift," believing that to engage in further conversation would assume common ground could be reached - which it cannot. It was in this final meeting that I questioned Nancy about the four directions and she admitted she treats them as animistic forces. It was also here that she acknowledged she knew the Starhawk prayer to the Goddess (used to close a circle of power) "from memory."

We have heard no further from Bishop May. Nor has he given us his decision in writing.

All of us at the Supervisory meetings were put under a "gag order" (Discipline paragraph 358.b .) Elaine and I realize that we are possibly in violation of that paragraph by publicly disclosing our concerns. I do not believe, however, that the intent of that paragraph was to allow those practicing feminist witchcraft to hide behind the Discipline.

FYI - UMNS has known about this issue - and even Susan Morrison’s probable involvement - since the summer of 1997. Connie and I did a workshop at the Good News Summer Convocation in Lancaster PA. UMNS reporter Dan Gangler was there and talked extensively with Connie. She also talked later with Diane Huey Balay. Why UMNS decided not to pursue the story is anybody’s guess. [United Methodist News Service Silent About Witchcraft Practiced From Bishop, DS, Pastors To Children's Minister]

Mark Tooley is going to run a short article about this in his February IRD newsletter. Kraus, Webb, Morrison and May have all been informed of this.

Please pray for Elaine and me as we decide what further action to take.

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