Scroll down for an audio version of this
installment of Letters from Luna.
by Rohini Walker
There is a vision that lives in me from childhood, a tiny island amongst the larger land masses of time and memory. It persists, vivid and fleeting, mysteriously relevant. I know it wasn’t a dream, in the conventional sense of the word at any rate.
My formative years were spent in India, before my family and I immigrated to the UK, just as I reached double figures. One day, during my very early years in the city of Calcutta where I was born, I went on a visit with my mother to a relative’s house. It was a large old ancestral home, rising up two storeys around a central outdoor courtyard in the traditional style.
I was perhaps two or three, and found myself face to face with an old, dark, wizened woman. Her small frame was crowned with a sparse head of white hair, and a few yellow-brown teeth in her smiling mouth. I was frozen with fear as she brought her face close to mine, observing me intently and with affection, her plain white sari stark against the deep wrinkles of her brown, bony skin.
As is still the way in many Indian households, she had been the family’s aayah or housekeeper, tending to generation after generation of children from birth to adulthood. Now, well into her cronehood, she was free of her usual chores and duties, remaining in the family’s ancestral home, a part of its lineage and a matriarch in her own right.
I never saw her again, but this memory of her toothless, smiling old face, adorned with rivulets of wrinkles has never faded. Even at that young age, my imagination had absorbed the belief that old, toothless crones are to be feared. And until recently, I’ve remained quite afraid of this indelible image of her; afraid that she had bequeathed me a curse, when in fact she was bestowing a blessing.
She passed long ago, I imagine. But this brief memory-dream of her migrated with me like a stubborn stowaway, and is more alive than ever now, halfway across the world in the Mojave Desert.
Many years later – and many years ago – I was a twentysomething hurrying off to some important social this or that in London. In the busy, jostling crowd of the Tube station platform, deep underneath the city, was a woman sitting by herself on a bench. I was a staunch Londoner, and rushing with the crowds was second nature to me. But something about this lonely figure made me slow down as the human traffic irritably skirted past me. She was a homeless woman, dark and slightly plump, old but with a youthful face, framed with short black and grey curly hair. Into the distance she looked, into something beyond, not noticing the swirling crowds around her, or me slowing down a short distance away. Her expression was rich with sadness, of one abandoned.
Homeless people in the London Underground are not rare sightings but something about her tugged at a knowing deep within, a recognition of a part of myself.
This too is a memory that hasn’t faded and has migrated with me without my consent; this too has continued to incite fear and aversion in me until recently.
“Each morning a vision came to me. Gradually I understood that these were naked glimpses of my soul.”
– Anne Carson, ‘Glass, Irony and God’
Waking up at dawn is one of my very favorite things – especially here in the desert. In the silence, made all the more vivid by the chorus of birdsong, the innocence of the day belies its timeless wisdom. The imminent sun and its unready rays emit echoes of light into the sky, shifting the contours of the mountains over which it will ascend: a transmission of something secret to the few awake at this liminal hour. It is during these dawn risings that the memories of crones I’ve long kept at arm’s length revisit me unbidden, and which I have, with the guidance of the big, old Palo Verde tree outside our house, learned to turn towards and offer my attention to.
The more I stand with bare feet on this dusty, ancient, crystalline desert with its hidden, native knowing, the clearer my own becomes.
Certain small memories, seemingly disconnected and accidental, with no one else to corroborate them having happened, live on with a strange force. We think we imagined them, or dreamed them. And actually we did, but not in the common sense. They took place, out there, in the world that appears to be separate from us. Their dreamlike quality is a clue to their point of origin, the place underground, from where our nighttime dreams emerge; from the place where the Soul has her deepest roots.
The migration of these curious memories of dark old women, surviving tenacious odysseys across land and sea, and the tremulous narratives of culture, race, identity and home, speak of a re-membering of the Soul’s indigenous wisdom.
Why is it that we are taught to fear and reject the Crone unfettered by the supremacy of the Tyrant-King? Is it because She is the repository of the wisdom that will wake us up?
They will not go away, these memories. And I no longer want them to. Instead, they are trusted storytellers, my daimon-companions- the gnarled, thick old roots of my Soul, reaching down, down, down into the core of Earth, and out into black, starry heavens and the forever-womb of Nuit.