‘There can be a perverse pleasure, as well as a sense
of rightness and beauty, in insisting on flowering just
when the world expects you to become quiet and
diminish.’ — Sharon Blackie
This September, our chosen Book of the Month is the remarkable and radical HAGITUDE by Sharon Blackie. A rewriting of women’s latter half of life, Blackie encourages embracing this new stage of growing older, to allow fresh, new experiences of age to empower and liberate women to new possibilities that are only within reach when we are nearing, what Blackie phrases as, our ‘elderhood’. Taking the stories of ancient goddesses, medial women, witches and more from mythology, folklore and history, Blackie gathers them under a title where they unerringly exhume its essence — Hagitude: hags with attitude.
Blackie show us that growing older is not an ending but simply a changing, a transformation. It takes growth and time to become your most authentic self, and the latter half of life is not where we lose that but where we grow into it, without compromise or concealment. The stages of ageing bring us closer to these deities and wise women, encouraging us to forge our path to elderhood without fading away. The anger and fire that comes with menopause is similar to the righteous wrath of the Greek Furies, burning away within to reveal a new form emerging from the glowing embers. The Cailleach and the witch teach us to reconnect with nature and growth, the Henwife encourages us to share our wisdom, and the Loathly Lady shows us to embrace truth and trust our instincts with a playful twinkle in her eye. It is these stories we turn to for advice and guidance, to learn from our elders in the hope that we grow into them as we age.
Living in a Westernised, youth-centred culture, women are constantly bombarded with keeping youth intact, from showing actresses playing mothers barely older than their onscreen daughters to fallible beauty methods of retaining youth for as long as possible. Ageing women are a taboo, menopause is an illness, and they are something not spoken of, or ridiculed. Yet, as Blackie tells us, in the lessons we learn from folklore today, it is the female elders that have the most vital and significant positions of communities across civilisations. Ancient Greeks stood at the mercy of the Furies, Native Americans turned to Grandmother Spider, ancient European cultures revered a female deity named the Cailleach — the Old Woman. In ancient credence, these great goddesses do not fade in age nor become caricatures. Rather, they blossom, they embrace their wisdom and experience, and the power that comes from both, and they emanate prestige in their communities.
Though Blackie talks of the beauty of ageing, she also acknowledges the trauma of it: the unpreparedness of a changing body, of trying to accommodate physical alternations we’ve never had to deal with before — and to come to terms with realising the point of no return. Sharing her own experiences, Blackie shows us how to overcome it and accept it. Rather than resist or ignore physical signs of ageing, embrace evolving into another kind of beauty, a beauty aligned with the rings of a tree stump that show its life’s journey: our body is our story, revealing where our scars show, where our smiles have been. All signs of our lived lives are not foreign; aged bodies do not make victims of us, but they are part of us, helping us understand ourselves more. We do not fade, but instead become more vivid as we grow older.
Blackie shows us the magnificence and beauty of the Inner Hag in all women, with stories of the witch, of the Loathly Lady, the Wise Old Woman, the Cailleach, tricksters, matriarchs, and of course, Sharon Blackie herself — mythical and real, they are the glorious, refreshing embodiments of hagitude on our Earth and the Otherworld, guiding us to our elderhood with resilience, wisdom and fire, never losing that humorous sparkle in her nature. They are not the elderly — they are our elders.
In life’s everchanging, ever shapeshifting journey, it would do us all good to instil a little hagitude into our lives.
Hagitude by Sharon Blackie is published on 01/09/2022
(September Publishing, 9781914613098, h/b, £16.99)