Hag: Part Two of Two
RACHEL ATTITUQ QITSUALIK
Are old women really all that scary?
Well, the simple reality is that the old possess power. Whether the young want to admit it or not, an older mind holds more facts. And when the mind acquires a new fact, it isn’t merely added to a sum. It is combined with the facts before it, spawning an infinite number of new ideas. This is power.
Now, an old male is not complex. A male goes through one major transition in his physical life, which is puberty. The boy disappears. The man – husband, hunter, warrior, father – replaces him. And an old man is exactly the same as a young one, generally having the same role in society, and the same utility to it, even unto death.
An old woman is totally different. Like a male, the female passes through puberty, marked very distinctly by her first menstruation, an occurrence accompanied by no small amount of ritual across the world. Also like the male, this time marks the female’s ability to have children, until recent times perceived as the major contribution of every single individual to their society – the defining factor in being human.
With age, however, the female diverges from the male, in that she eventually undergoes menopause. Menopause, or the cessation of natural procreative ability, is the second major phase in a woman’s physical life.
Now, it is important to remember that although we today know a lot about the human body in advanced old age, much was unknown before the advent of modern medicine. The average lifespan, throughout most of history, was approximately 30 years.
It has always seemed to humanity that men undergo no major changes other than puberty. Long-lived women, however, have been observed to undergo menopause – a sort of procreative reversion to pre-adolescence. Think, for a moment, of how this comparatively rare phenomenon (remember, most women didn’t live long enough to reach menopause) must have been perceived by early peoples.
Not only does an aged woman become haggard, grey, and wrinkly, but she also loses the ability of procreation. At the same time, however, her very age makes her a wellspring of knowledge from which a community of the young can draw. But beware: don’t get on her bad side. The hag may assist her allies, but she is wily enough to undo her enemies in an instant.
In this sense, the hag becomes a supernatural being, exaggerated in fancy to mythic proportions, possessing a wealth of preternatural powers. In the real world, it can be this very tendency to mythologize an old woman that drives her to live at the edge of her community, perhaps even forsaking it altogether, which further compounds her folkloric image as the witch in the wilderness.
So is it any coincidence that most hag-monsters victimize children – which are a symbol of the potential of life – stealing or consuming that which they have been denied? Such monsters naturally drain the life-force from the young, for their very hag-like state has left them with a deficit in this area.
Or is it any coincidence that many folkloric hag-monsters, such as the Inuit amayersuk, possess a hollow in their bodies, into which they may abduct their victims, or by which their horrible secret nature may be identified? Such hollows are much like an inverse womb, a trait that represents the fact that, while young women may bring life forth from the depths of their bodies, the hag possesses a hollow that instead only consumes it.
Thus is fear, as usual, a matter of hysteria. And perhaps we would do well to realize why we, like the many cultures before us, fear the hag so greatly – a fear that has translated into either hatred or respect over time, but remains fear nonetheless.
And perhaps each of us had best catch ourselves before seeing the aged woman, she whose womb has become a hollow that no longer issues forth life, as a hag to be feared. Perhaps we had best assess her mind before her womb, lest we leave her with a hollow only in her heart.
For, after all, there is no point in fearing what we will become. Maybe the vision of our future selves is the most inescapable terror of all.
And given hatred or respect, let’s err toward the latter.