My daughters came to me after Sunday School one day, concerned about a story they had heard in which God drowned almost everyone on Earth. So I sat down and thought about why a community might want to tell that story, and what valuable wisdom might be lifted from it for my children. Here is what I told them:
God/ess has many faces, which help us understand different things we need to know at different times. Sometimes we think of God/ess as Crone, an old, old woman crowned with silver hair as an emblem of her wisdom, who helps us learn to let go of anything that is holding back the wellness of our community and ourselves.
One day, Crone Goddess saw that her people were hoarding their belongings and not sharing with each other. They had become greedy and selfish, using up the land around them rather than treating it as a revered and sacred friend. They had cut down many trees without thinking about how to protect the forests and the animals who live in the forests. They had set some members of the community up as more important and more powerful than others. They had oppressed other members and treated them with scorn.
Crone Goddess went to the wisest elder of the village, Grandmother Noah. She said to Grandmother Noah,
“The people are selfish, and they are hurting the land and each other. They are cutting down trees and being mean to anyone who is weak or different.”
Grandmother Noah said,
“Yes, Crone Goddess, and I have tried to help them, but they turn their faces away from our wisdom. They no longer share with me, either, and I am forced to work to the point of pain, all day and night growing and gathering food for myself, because they have forgotten the wisdom of Crones.”
Crone Goddess said,
“Grandmother Noah, prepare for a ceremony when the moon has waned to its thinnest crescent. You must build an ark of my waning moon.”
Every day, Grandmother sang the songs to build an ark of the Crone Moon. She gathered the energy of water, air, fire, and earth, and she built an altar in the center of the community. She carved the altar in the shape of a crescent moon. For water energy, she gathered bowls and chalices of water. Into them she poured water that had been blessed under the full moon, and she added tears of grief for her community’s sickness. For air energy, she wove capes of feathers and downy blankets. For fire energy, she lit a sacred fire and candles. For earth energy, she brought the fruits of the earth, nuts and vegetables and other good foods. She brought all the food she had stored against the coming winter. These things she placed in between the two points of the crescent moon on top of its stone base. She danced around the altar, beat her drum, and sang the songs of death, mystery, age, and letting go.
The people laughed at Grandmother Noah.
“Fool!” They cried. “You should be storing up your belongings and hoarding power as we do. Those old ways are useless and silly.”
But Grandmother Noah paid them no heed. She continued to gather energy from water, air, fire, and earth, and to sing strength and power to the Crone Moon altar every day and night.
Finally, the night of the last sliver of Crone Moon arrived, the night before total darkness. Crone Goddess came to Grandmother Noah and said,
“Beloved Grandmother, you must be my face for our people. You must call them to our altar tonight.”
So Grandmother Noah went to the Crone Moon altar and called out in her old, wise voice,
“Come! Come to the Crone Moon ark, where you may release your diseases and find freedom and wellness!”
“Why should we come?” asked the people. “We do not need your medicine. We are free and well.”
But some of Grandmother Noah’s children and grandchildren came when she called. And these were the few who were scorned most by their community. They were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. They were fat, differently abled/disabled, very old, and very young. They were the poorest, the brokenhearted, and the ones with darker skin. They were women who had been abused as possessions, their most vulnerable female places treated with violence. They gathered around her and said,
“Grandmother Noah, we are here. We will heed your call.”
And Grandmother Noah told them to bring all their animals to the altar as well. As night passed into day, more of her children and grandchildren gathered around the Crone Moon altar. That night, as the sun set, the sky was completely dark. There was no moon to light the sky, and even the stars were dimmed behind clouds. A great wind arose, tearing at the trees and houses.
“Come!”called Grandmother Noah. “Hold to the altar! The Crone Moon Ark will protect us!”
And all the people and animals held to the altar and to each other. Slowly, the crescent moon of the altar grew larger and larger, until it became a large silver crescent boat, resting on the ground.
“Climb into the ark!” called Grandmother Noah.
So the people and animals helped each other climb into the Crone Moon Ark, and when they were inside that silver crescent, the wind did not touch them. Then a great storm arose, with terrible lashing rain, hail, and lightening.
“Hold to each other! Do not let go!” called Grandmother Noah.
And the people and animals held to each other inside their ark, and the storm did not touch them. The people who had not come to the altar saw the storm knocking branches from trees and shaking houses, and the rivers beginning to flood, and they were afraid.
“What will become of us?” they cried.
Then they saw Grandmother Noah and her family, safe inside the Crone Moon ark, surrounded by calm and protected from the storm.
“Let us come, too! Save us!” cried the people, and they rushed to the altar.
They were afraid that the people at the altar, people they had scorned and rejected, would not let them into the ark of safety. But those at the altar opened their hearts to their kindred and welcomed them to come into the ark.
But Grandmother Noah would not let them in.
“You may not come in here,” she said. “You are forgetting something.”
“Please, tell us what we are forgetting!” cried the people, afraid the storm would wash them away.
“Look at our ark, and then tell me what you are forgetting,” said Grandmother Noah.
The people looked at the Crone Moon Ark, full of people and animals holding each other. Then they remembered.
“Our animals! We did not bring our animals! But it is too late to go back for them now!” cried the people.
“It is not too late,” said Grandmother Noah. “You may not enter the ark if you betray your animal kindred, the least and the lowest of your broken community.”
The people cried out in anger and fear, but Grandmother Noah would not let them into the ark. So the people turned back out into the storm and flood, the rain, hail, and tearing winds, to find their animals. The rains and floods drenched them until they were completely sodden with water. The wind and hail pounded them until they were sore and bruised. But they worked together and did not stop until they had found every single animal in their community, every dog, cat, bird, rabbit, mouse, squirrel, cow, sheep, goat, duck, goose, horse, frog, and snake. It took the people hours to gather all the animals in the storm and flood, and then they took them to the Crone Moon Ark.
“Now you may enter,” said Grandmother Noah, and the people and animals helped each other to enter the silver crescent.
As soon as they gathered inside the ark and held on to each other there, the storm did not touch them. All through that dark night, the storm raged, and it raged for forty days and nights. The people grew weak and exhausted inside the ark. But they had the food and water and fire and feather coverings that Grandmother Noah had gathered there. The storm and flood washed away all the people’s houses, all their belongings, and all their treasures. But the ark of the Crone Moon carried all the people and their animals through the storm in safety.
Finally, the storm waned, the winds and rain calmed, and the sun shone again. Grandmother Noah did not know whether it was safe to leave the ark, so she called her friend Raven and asked her to fly out and see whether the land was safe. Raven flew out, but she did not know whether the land was safe. She had no answer for Grandmother Noah.
Grandmother Noah waited a few days and then called her friend Dove and asked her to fly out to see whether the land was safe. Three times, Dove flew out searching. Finally, Dove came back with an olive branch in her beak, and by that Grandmother Noah knew the land was at peace.
The people returned to where their homes had been, but all was washed away. At first, the people wept and complained at the loss of all their belongings and wealth. But they gradually realized that complaining would not bring back their belongings. They had to start over, building new homes and forming a new community. As they worked the simple tasks of building homes, gathering food, and forming their community, they remembered the joy of a simple life. They remembered the importance of sharing and togetherness, of harmony with the land and all creatures. They remembered the strength, wisdom, and power of Crone Goddess and Grandmother Noah, and they were careful to treat her with respect and reverence. Most of all, they remembered that the outcasts of their community had saved them and led them to new life. They remembered that they all needed each other, and that they all were one kindred.
The people built an altar together in the center of their community. They gathered often at the altar to tell their stories and share each other’s joy and sorrow. They all brought generous gifts to share, and they danced and sang their gratitude to the Womb and Source of all Creation.
And Crone Goddess saw that her people had learned to let go. They had stopped being greedy and selfish. They no longer used up the land around them. Now they treated it as a revered and sacred friend. They stopped cutting down many trees. Now they planted trees and lovingly protected the forests and the animals who live in the forests. They no longer set some members of the community up as more important and more powerful than others. They did not oppress anyone or treat anyone with scorn. Instead, they treated each person as equally sacred and precious.
The stormy death-birth waters of Goddess, who is Crone, and Mother and Matron, had washed the people free of their chains and diseases of fearful greed. They were reborn into her divine image once more, as compassionate and openhearted kindred. So Crone Goddess became reborn also, as the young Girl Goddess. She painted a beautiful rainbow in the clouds and told them, “This is the sign of our covenant. New life will always be available to you, and I will always help you to let go of your prisons, of anything that divides and oppresses you. I will always provide you an ark of kindred to help you weather the storms of death and rebirth. I will always give you the hope of a new moon that lives within the darkness. My love will always be stronger than your fear. I set my seal upon you, my rainbow people: freedom and wellness and joy.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.