The Alpha Mare


The archetypal Crone represents many valuable qualities. One of these, leadership, is aptly symbolized by the Alpha mare. In herds of horses, the leader is almost always a mature mare. While the stallion is the physically strongest and most aggressive male who mates with the females and protects himself, his herd, and his territory by keeping intruders away, he is not the wisest, most trusted horse in the herd nor is he the dominant leader who makes the others feel safe and secure.

The Alpha mare does not command respect because she is youngest, prettiest, most charming, physically strongest, or the stallion’s favorite, but because her age and vast experience have made her confident, mentally strong, and savvy in the ways of survival. The other horses follow her because she makes wise decisions. She socializes the younger horses and teaches them to be obedient, leads the herd to food and water, and guides it to safety when threatened by predators. Of all the horses in the herd, male and female, young and old, the Alpha mare is the one who knows best how to preserve the species.

There was once a time when groups of people sat at the feet of Crones, respectfully seeking their guidance and benefitting from their wisdom. The Cheyenne tell a story about “The Old Woman of the Spring” who gave them the buffalo and horse and taught them to plant corn.

In the tale “Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun,” Spider Woman brought the sun, fire, and art of pottery-making to the Cherokee. Old Salt Woman gave the Cochiti the magical blessing of salt, in the form of some of her own flesh, to make their food taste better.

The Brule Sioux say that when a grandmother prayed for a sacred herb to save the Comanche nation, a spirit told her where to find Grandfather Peyote and how to use it. She brought it back to her people and gave them the ceremony, and from that moment on, they learned to know themselves.

The Tiwa tell of Apache Chief to whom Spider Old Woman gave special medicine and Gopher Old Woman gave secret knowledge that helped him retrieve his lost wife. Such stories speak to the reverence native peoples had for the elder women whose lengthy life experience and intimate relationship with nature sacralized their lives and improved their chances for survival.

As the Sky God replaced the Earth Goddess as our primary source of spiritual guidance and meaning, our respect for Crone wisdom diminished in many parts of the world. At the individual level this is occasionally justified. Certainly, not every grandmother has feet at which one would necessarily want to sit! Generations of being separated from all that feels sacred to women has turned some of them into the very worst examples of feminine shadow. These are the wicked witches we hear about in fairy tales, and they should be avoided like poison lest they spread their toxicity to us.

An early fall reminder of the beautiful feminine wisdom of life’s cycles.

But there are also some Alpha mares out there. We need to seek out these examples of the positive, empowered Crone, for they hold vital secrets that could help us maintain the delicate balance between societal preservation and annihilation.

Think of women you know who have made a positive change in your life. What is it about them that you most admire? You possess these same qualities. How have you activated them in yourself?

Image credits:

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

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9 Responses

  1. Wow! What a beautiful, Divine-ly Feminine post Jeanie with many rich stories that I clearly needed to read today. The image of the running horses alone fills me with wonder! Thank you so much for sharing them. Oh, I just love the thought of a wise, trustworthy “Alpha Mare” leading the herd!
    Here at midlife I sense that I’ve spotted quite a few “Alpha Mares” out there in the world and instinctively follow them (yourself, Elaine Mansfield and Susan Scott come to mind!) by reading their words, exploring their art and if local (UK), meeting them in person too! And why do I faithfully follow? Because my whole being is drawn towards those loving crones who willingly share wisdom and the insights of their journey, which in turn, blesses my own journey tenfold!
    Oh, and I love the very image of sitting at the Crone’s feet and in pure synchronicity, I’ve spent my morning listening “twice” now to Marion Woodman’s “Holding the Tension of the Opposites” recording … such is her depth of wisdom and love! Warm autumnal blessings, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah, I’m so glad to know this post brought you something you needed today. And how cool that you spent your morning listening to one of the wisest crones our generation has known. Many women and men I know followed her with the deepest admiration and respect. She really was a wonder: a perfect example of the Alpha Mare.
      And thank you for mentioning me and my dear sisters Elaine and Susan as others. I would add you to that list…even though you’re not really quite old enough to be an official crone yet!! (Actually, I’m not exactly sure of the age requirement so we’ll let you into our exclusive circle.) 🙂 Regardless of your age, your beautiful and heart-felt poetry speaks deeply to women. It certainly inspires me to strengthen and treasure my sensitivity to the Sacred Feminine in myself and the world..
      Blessings to you in this season which mirrors the graceful aging of women. Before I returned to Florida from the North Carolina mountains, I pressed some red and gold maple leaves that had already fallen to bring back to my circle of wise women. I think I’ll insert a picture I took of one of them in my post just for you.
      I’m grateful to the internet for bringing so many of us together at this beautiful and valuable time of our lives. Jeanie

      1. Well thanks to your post Jeanie, at fifty-five years, I now feel like a sister “Alpha Mare” in training! Many thanks for your lovely, kind-hearted words re my poetry. Oh yes, autumn reflects women’s aging so well! I love those beautiful reddish-gold maple leaves (thanks for the visual reminder) will be writing about them in my next poem for sure! Like autumn’s falling leaves, I love that my soul sisters are scattered all across this beautiful planet of ours! x

  2. Years ago someone told me that Japanese women celebrate their 55th year as the time when they have fully matured. However, I can’t find any mention of it on the internet.I was teaching a goddess class at the Jung Center at the time, so since everyone was over 50 we set the “crone” age at 50 so as not to exclude anyone, and held a croning ceremony/ritual. I wrote it using words and objects and activities I found or created. It was fun to turn the typical, “Oh, woe is me I’m over fifty,” to a time of celebration! So from one Alpha Mare to another, welcome to the club! J

  3. Well Jeannie I have to say that you came to mind when you asked the question and I promise you Deborah and Elaine as well, before I read Deborah’s comment, so this is rather extraordinary ?. I think of a few other women who have taught me so much – my good friend Susan who lives in Arizona, Carly another good friend who now lives in the land of her birth and whose husband has tragically just died. There are a few other women, none of whom live close to me. Di, Debby, another Susan, Lizzie. I admire these women for their courage and willingness to share themselves in their strengths and vulnerabilities, their integrity and individuality. Much like the Alpha Mare who displays grace and ease, these women have enriched my life immeasurably.
    Thank you for this lovely post Jeannie and for all who you are.

    1. Thank you, Susan. And the three of you were on my mind when I wrote those questions! I too have been lucky enough to have a few very special women in my life. Margaret and Pat were spiritual mentors when I was a girl and young mother. They’re gone now but they both took me under their wings when I needed guidance and I’ll always be grateful. Emmy, Carolyn, and Jane invited me to a Jungian Centerpoint group that changed my life and set me on the track of writing, dreamwork, and speaking my truths. Louise, Elizabeth, Beth, Mickey and Elileen were the wise women of the Matrix (an organization we formed to enrich the lives of women in our local community) who were equally loving and inspiring. Ann is still my bestie, although she lives in Texas, She’s only a little older than me in years, but she trusted me to teach at the Jung Center she established and taught me the meaning of true friendship. Nobody has ever been as gracious and generous as her about sharing their deep wisdom with me. And now I am in a group of seven wise women, all of whom live close and amaze and inspire me with their authenticity and integrity every time we’re together. Which isn’t nearly often enough!
      May those of us who have been nurtured by wise women like these carry on the torch to younger women.
      And may those of my readers who have not yet found wise mentors like these begin a serious search! You’ll never be sorry.

  4. Thank you for being a wise woman, Jeanie. This is wonderful and stirs strong feelings and memories. In 1994, on our third visit to India to sit at the feet of the 99-year-old sage and head of South Indian Hinduism Sankaracharya, he died. We kept returning because of the inner silence we felt in his presence, and it went on after his death. Because we had stayed for weeks at a time, we were allowed to stay all day and witness the intensely ritualistic and moving funeral. The Prime Minister came and all sorts of dignitaries. 1/4 million devotees attended, moving through in lines to see his body, pay respects, and keep going. Vic stood with reporters and media photographers and took powerful photos. I stood just behind the line and watched for 10 hours or more as inner silence descended. Sometime in those hours, a “mantra” began repeating within with surprising force and persistence. “This is the death of all the Fathers. This is the death of all the Fathers.” Repeating endlessly with my breath as I stood in silence and watched.
    Days later, after the silence gave way to a search for meaning, I realized I’d revered male teachings (college and philosophy) and teachers from my grandfather to my father to my root meditation philosophy teacher to the Dalai Lama–and it was time to sit at the feet of the Divine Feminine. Marion Woodman was a strong guide at that time (including her own initiation in India) with her reverence for Sophia and Soul work. In time, I’ve taken this devotion to Nature and the Wisdom of Embodied Dreams and the Imagination. I wrote privately about this experience before cochlear implant surgery, but put everything on hold for the sake of learning to hear again. Will I do more with it? Winter is coming and the butterflies will leave. I never know what comes next, but I’m pulled in this direction. Here’s to the Crone in all her manifestations. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you for your powerful story, Elaine. Something similar happened to me in my late thirties when I dreamed I shot and killed a blonde-haired god-like older man who was intruding and threatening me and dancing in the center of a circle of women I was with in a sorority house. I realized that psychologically I had moved into the house of sisters and the patriarchal father was dead to me. From that time on I actively sought out feminine wisdom in myself and other women.
      Over the years it’s been thrilling to come across a male now and then who is actively and consciously in touch with his feminine wisdom while still maintaining his masculinity. Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m deeply moved by it. I know how hard it is for men to understand the feminine and endure the struggle to accept their own feminine sides. I think I’m correct in saying that Vic was one rare soul who managed to do that….
      It has become my life’s goal to help both genders accept both sides of themselves, feminine and masculine. I believe this is the true meaning of the hero’s journey. As you know, this is the topic of my next book, The Soul’s Twins. I look forward to seeing the direction you move in with your work once your hearing is back on track.
      Warm wishes for continued healing and creative inspiration for your work in your cocoon this winter. I look forward to seeing how your new wings unfold next spring.

      1. Yes, Vic was definitely one of those men with a strong connection to and love for the Feminine. Thanks for your good wishes.

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