A Crazy Kind of Freedom


“Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must live.” – Charles Bukowski


On the drive through Livingston, Montana is a mountain range so distinct and dramatic, it’s impossible to miss. Standing alone, it’s as if they rise 7,000 feet out of nowhere, providing a wild and jagged backdrop to the Yellowstone River Valley. These are the Crazy Woman Mountains. Or the Crazies, as most people call them around here.

There are a few stories about how the range got its name but the most common is about a woman whose family was killed. Grief stricken, she ran into those mountains where she grew old and insane. She is the reason snow still clings to its peaks in summer, never allowing the winter to subside. And it is she that howls as the wind.

For me, this story is simply a colonial version of the ancient crone who, prior to Christianity, was seen as a powerful goddess and the archetype of older women. Like the Hag of Beara – or Calleach, as she is called in Gaelic.

Calleach was once worshiped in southwest Ireland as a force of nature and creator of the landscape. It is she that built mountains from stone and carved the valleys by hand. And as the goddess of winter, it is she who held life and death in her hands, thus a power worthy of respect.

So the old hag is not actually psychotic. Nor is she sinister and haunting. In fact, prior to the dominant patriarchy taking over, it was the elder women who served as powerful leaders and healers within villages and towns. Rooted in the Greek word for long lasting, a crone was simply this: a woman who stood the test of time. In other words, wise.

Today, the words crone and hag come with much uglier connotations. Which probably has as much to do with age as it does with gender. For it’s really getting older that we fear most. And not for the inevitable wrinkles and grey hair, but the notion that we will no longer be considered relevant, useful, or as having any social value. Especially as women. For in our culture, that is often the case.

And why the crone is such an important archetype for us to embrace.

In returning to our ancient roots, we are able to reclaim our power and recreate our relationship with ageing. We are reminded that there is accumulated knowledge, insights, and intuitions only we carry and therefore, only we can pass along.

We may live in an ageist, male- dominated society, but it doesn’t need to define us. In fact, we must work to make sure it does not.

Once again, I look to those Crazy Mountains – only this time, through its indigenous roots. Before white people invaded North America, the Crazies belonged to the Apsáalooke or Crow Nation. Though their name for this range is Awaxaawippíia. Awaxaawi, meaning mountain, and ppíia meaning amazing, ominous, and angry. In other words, much like Calleach, these mountains are a sacred source of power that isn’t always pleasant, and needs to be treated with respect.

For the Crow Nation, the Crazy Mountains are holy ground where wisdom and strength are passed from one generation to the next. Traditionally, it is a rite of passage for younger tribal members entering adulthood, as limits are tested and visions bestowed. But also for anyone willing to be challenged and blessed by its steep ridges, alpine lakes, and plunging streams.

In fact, both of my kids led their first solo backcountry trip into those wild and crazy mountains. And each returned with their own adventurous story as well as an even healthier appreciation for the inspiring, uncontrollable, and sometimes punishing force that is Mother Nature.

And also, the Wise Old Crone. Like the mountains that abruptly rise up from the Plains, she stands as a beacon of sovereignty, strength, and time-honored wisdom. With her jagged edges and contrarian summer snow, she carves out her place on the fringes, with a crazy that is wild, and a wild that is sacred.

Though not everyone will think so. Anyone who refuses to abide by the rules and roles of conventional society is bound to rattle a few cages. Besides, she feels it her duty to challenge institutionalized beliefs and social hierarchies of gender, of race, of physical ability, of education and economic resources, and of course, of age. And if that makes you uncomfortable, then so be it.

True, she can be a bit mad that way, in that she really doesn’t care what you think about her. She isn’t seeking your permission, nor needing your approval, to be who she is. You don’t have to love her for her to love herself. This is the source of her strength – she knows who she is. And she loves all of who she is.

So call her a hag, or label her crazy, the Wise Woman is done trying to please and appease. Love her, fear her, embrace or condemn her – pardon the expression, but she really doesn’t give a fuck anymore. She knows these are your stories, not hers. And it’s this realization that not only makes her wise, but also sets her free.


YS 4.34 puruṣa-artha- śūnyānām guṇānām- pratiprasavaḥ kaivalyam svarūpa- pratiṣṭhā vā citiśaktiriti

When what is on the outside no longer affects who we are on the inside, then we are truly free.