Witcher Stories – The Crones & The Whispering Hillock (Witcher Lore)

Witcher Stories – The Crones & The Whispering Hillock (Witcher Lore)

Warning, spoilers ahead. Nearly there now my love, just a little ways longer. This sickness will be the end of me, it’s unnatural. This carriage is worsening your state, I’m sure some rest will do you wonders. Driver, slow the horses! We will find a cure Velen, a no man’s land where crime is rife and most care not a whit for their neighbours fate. Where a cruel baron is king and his knaves are free to rape, pillage and murder to their heart’s desire. In this land, this fetid pool of human filth, lies Crookback Bog.
The swamp may look unassuming at first but do not let it fool you. At the very edge of these marshlands stands a wooden effigy adorned with seemingly scrumptious treats. Yet were one to eat such a pastry, instead of a baker’s delight, they might feel maggots wriggling on their tongue. Because these swamps are home to The Ladies of the Woods, better known to most as The Crones. Revered by the nearby village of Downwarren, loathed and feared by most others. Their powers both mysterious and frightening, they draw from the lands and the people they rule. Once per year they hold a grand Sabbath on Ard Cerbin, Bald Mountain, where three lucky youths are sent up the mountain to meet The Ladies face to face. Lucky indeed, for they would never return. Only the Chosen visit the Ladies. Every year young lads and lasses climb the mount, but never more than three. Let me guess – the young lads and lasses don’t return. No, they return, happy and radiant. But rare is the one who then stays in Velen. Off they go to seek fortune in the wider world. The youths would be eaten and their blood fed to The Crones and the monstrous tree that fuels their power further. The Ladies would take on the form of the slain men and women and descend the mountain in their radiant shapes. Of course, they wouldn’t ever stay, as said, they’d leave for greener pastures. The dead cannot remain in the land of the living.
In return for these sacrifices the villagers of Downwarren would receive acorns, sometimes few, sometimes many. Acorns that held great power to heal wounds, grant fertility to the ground and many other boons. A life for a life, did that justify their cruelty? Their lies? Perhaps the villagers thought it so. But Geralt was not so easily swayed. When he first met these creatures in his quest to find Ciri, it was through another’s unfortunate fate. The Bloody Baron and with him, his family. His wife, Anna, in an effort to get away from the Baron for good, beseeched the Crones to remove the child she was to bear him so that she and her daughter Tamara could run away together to start a new life elsewhere. The Crones agreed to help but in exchange Anna would return to Crookback Bog to serve the Ladies for a full year. What Anna did not realize however, was that the Crones’ help never came in ways one might hope. In the case of Anna, they weakened her so gravely that she eventually miscarried. That same night, on the run from home, a fiend leapt from the woods to drag Anna from her horse and into the swamps where she would serve out her sentence in service to the crones. Depending on Geralt’s choices, her fate would change drastically, though terrible it would remain.
But the Baron and Anna are not the Crones’ only victims, no, their greatest source of fresh blood seems to come from a small village by the name of Downwarren. There, all villagers are bound to the Crones from the time of their first cutting. The cutting in this case being the moment a youngling’s hair is cut and their hair presented to the Crones to weave into their grand tapestry of fate. From then on, the child’s life is in their hands. However, hair is not the only thing offered to the Ladies in this way. No, far more lucrative an offering is a child in its entirety. How did you wind up here? My father brought me. Told me to follow the trail of treats and eat my fill. He said he would wait. So I started down the trail, but then I saw a butterfly, and I ran to catch it, and I lost my way. Your father – why did he have you follow the trail of treats? Do you know? Because… we had naught to break our fast with. I don’t understand. I was naughty… broke a jug… spilled all our milk. Your parents must’ve been angry. Mother said I should be spanked, but father said ‘twouldn’t do no good – too many mouths to feed anyway. Sending me down the trail of treats – that would solve things. Do parents often send their children out to follow the sweets? Sometimes they send their children, sometimes they go themselves. In the book “The Ladies of the Wood” we receive from Keira Metz, we read the following: This is how one begs help from the Ladies:
Find a child, young and innocent, and take it to Crookback Bog. Search out the Ladies’ shrine – that is where the Trail of Treats begins. Set the child off on the trail and it shall follow its sweet track and find the Good Ladies. The child will never want for anything ever again, for the Ladies are kind and generous. Standing before their shrine, pronounce your request and the Good Ladies will hear, for they see and hear all that takes place in their demesne. If you made the offering as it must be done, your supplication will be heard.
Gretka, after she was naughty, was sent to follow the trail of treats. The trail of treats is the path that leads to the home of the Crones, at least in the physical realm. Once there, the book says the child would want for nothing. They would eat their fill and live a blessed life among the Ladies. We know this isn’t so of course. When Geralt inspects the “treats” on the trail more closely they crumble into maggots in his hands. And once the child did reach the Crones’ orphanage in the middle of the swamp they would indeed be able to eat their fill. But once they were nice and plump they’d be taken by the Ladies and tossed into a human stew. The parents, it was said, would be allowed to make a supplication, though whether any wish is truthfully granted isn’t known. And not only the people of Downwarren took part in this ritual. Gretka herself was not from Downwarren either. The poor parents must simply not be aware of what truly happens to their children. Or, are they? Well, it’s interesting how Gretka notes that: “sometimes they send their children, sometimes they go themselves.” But we don’t see any adults other than Anna at the orphanage. We don’t see any mention of adults in the book. So going themselves must be an act of desperation. If the adults truly thought that going down the Trail of Treats would solve all their worries, why wouldn’t they all go? Why don’t entire villages walk down the path together en masse? Why, if the Ladies are truly so good to all does the Ealdorman seem unwilling to talk about them until Geralt shows their allegiance first? Well, likely because in truth, they do know what happens to their children. Gretka was naughty and they sent her off down the trail. Her father said he was waiting for her but it likely wasn’t to take her back but instead to make sure she’d walk down the whole way. They had too many mouths to feed, a sacrifice had to be made. Children don’t return from their walk in the woods.
As cruel as this sounds, and it truly is, in the grand scheme of things it’s almost difficult to blame the villagers for doing such things. As Gretka said, they had naught to break their fast with. Even if in their hearts the parents knew it would be the end of Gretka, what would they do otherwise? With nothing to eat Gretka would likely die of hunger or disease eventually. If not Gretka, another in the family might. Instead they chose to sacrifice their daughter so the rest might live and the Crones who grant them magical acorns could be appeased. The Ealdorman of Downwarren notes that the Ladies are: “harsh mistresses, but they’re fair, just. Demanding they can be, but then nothin’ in life comes easy.” The villagers are forced to cut off their ears as an offering to the Crones, THESE are the statues they pray to. The villagers know. There is very little reason to believe that they don’t. Velen is plagued by famine and disease, highway robberies and murderers. Who can truly blame the villagers for turning to a higher power, one that has proven to be effective. One that demands child sacrifices surely, but the Baron’s men leave them be. The Baron’s men who are seen in other villages less pious to the Ladies to rape, murder, steal and pillage. Downwarren is untouched, well fed and, for the most part, happy.
The Crones act as the true sovereigns of Velen, whose inhabitants they help survive through harsh times in return for unquestioning obedience. They wield powerful magic, but one different from that of mages. They draw power from water and earth and are bound to the land in which they live. The Crones can hear everything that happens in their woods, predict the future, twist the threads of human lives and bring blessings as well as curses. They seem for all intents and purposes to be immortal. Magic elixirs keep them from aging and allow them to take the appearance of young women. These elixirs and their mystical ties to the swamps in which they live also give them supernatural strength and vitality.
And yet they demand child sacrifices to stay in their good graces. Why? Well, if we believe the Brewess, simply because they taste good, which is not a very good reason. But the Crones were not always alone and perhaps they were not always so cruel. Long, long ago… And why not? By Melitele why not! Surely there must be something you can do! My deepest apologies my lord but her illness is not known to our priestesses. Her life is in the Mother Goddess’s hands now. Ludicrous, charlatans all of you! They were at a loss also, then. Your face speaks volumes my love. Incompetent dogs, the lot of them. There must be someone else. Do not torture yourself so, I have consigned myself to my fate. I will fight for our child, but it will be the last of my battles. No! No there must be something we can do. I have heard of a pagan cult in the woods in the province of Velen. They are said to be… resourceful. The ladies of the woods, my love you mustn’t. I too have heard of their legend but they will not aid you lest a sacrifice is made! Very well Very well I will continue my search. Very little is known about the Crones as creatures go, save their names.
From oldest to youngest we first have Whispess, who cuts the ears of those who serve them. These ears now adorn the trees and statues found around the bog. Through them, the Crones hear all that goes on in their domain and likely all their previous owners hear outside of it as well. Brewess, one who crafts the broth drawn from human flesh. In many stories it is said that to eat another person’s flesh bestows upon them the power they had in life. Their energy, spiritual or otherwise, would flow into the cannibal and strengthen them through it. The Crones are likely no different, as they attempted to eat Ciri, or at least parts of her, specifically for her Elder Blood as well. Perhaps the reason they eat children is simply because their spirit is still pure and unburdened and thus more powerful. And finally Weavess, who would receive hair from each villager born in Downwarren to weave into her magical tapestries. Not only that, but as in many real world magic, hair holds great power over an individual. In the Crones’ case, they can weave hair into their version of Voodoo dolls, thus allowing them to cast powerful curses should the villagers displease them in some way. The three sisters take inspiration from a great many real world tales. Most notably of course Baba Yaga, an old crone from Slavic mythology who lives deep in the forest in an ever rotating house balancing precariously on chicken legs. And even though in most tales she seems to be represented as a single entity she is sometimes written as a trio of sisters instead. She is not necessarily an evil witch but decides on a case per case basis whether she wants to aid or harm. And as with the Ladies of the Woods, her help always comes at a price. Another obvious influence would seem to be the ancient Fates or Moirai. The three embodiments of destiny itself. They appear in many guises in many different cultures but the most well known one would be those from ancient Greece. There were always three and each had their own designated task. Clotho, who spins the threads of fate. Her we can most easily link to Weavess. Lachesis, one who determines one’s lot in life, how long Clotho would spin their thread for any mortal. She could be equated to Brewess who meets out the portions in the most literal sense of the word. And finally Atropos, just as Whispess she is the oldest of the sisters and she represents death or the inevitable. She chose the manner of a mortal’s demise and cut their thread when their time had come. Whispess in turn cuts the ears of those who serve her in a similar manner. She is also the one who burns Anna Strenger’s mark when she is too slow to bring them the ear on the altar and seems to be something of a leader in that regard. Obviously they’re not human, however as they’re categorized under relicts the question of what they could otherwise be is quite a broad one. The definition of a relict is “a surviving species of an otherwise extinct group of organisms”. Geralt doesn’t recognize them either and the only other link we have outside of Velen is the curious Lamen in the Professor’s house found in Oxenfurt. Yes, the Lamen. Initially I had thought it connected to O’Dimm when I brought this up in his respective video series, however, it wasn’t O’Dimm’s sigil on the Lamen at all, was it. It was the Crones. To refresh our memories, a Lamen is a magical pendant generally used to command authority and magic. The item would show the sigil of the spirit one wished to command as a sort of code of arms. They were also used to invoke spirits of the Key of Solomon, powerful demons of hell. So in this sense it’s likely accurate to refer to the Crones as demons. In the professor’s case he may have attempted to use the Crones to defeat Gaunter O’Dimm or indeed to find out more about him to begin with. However, the initial three Crones we meet are not one of a kind. There is in fact a fourth. Yes, a fourth Crone. Their sister or perhaps their mother? We know her only as The Whispering Hillock, the Spirit or She-Who-Knows and very little else is known about her as a whole. The knight who rode to the summit – who were he? Who can know? Perhaps the Ladies charmed him to serve them at the feast? Perhaps he were one buried ‘midst the oak’s roots, one come to life when the tree bore acorns aplenty? And the Fourth – who were she? Some say she were their mother, others call her Sister Four. They took cold iron nails, pierced her heart, pierced her head, then sunk her lifeless corpse in a festering mire. A book can be found within the Witcher world titled “She Who Knows” as well and it tells the story thusly. That the Crones once had a mother, the true Lady of the Wood, who came from a faraway land and as she was lonely, created three daughters out of dirt and water. She ruled alone and all was well, but as time passed she sunk into madness, madness that eventually spread across her domain. The daughters saw their land nearing destruction and decided to save it by killing their mother and burying her in the bog. Her blood watered the oak atop Ard Cerbin and from then on the tree grew wholesome and hearty fruit for the people. As the Mother’s soul refused to leave the land, the Crones trapped it beneath the Whispering Hillock instead where it still lay to this day. It is important to realize that this book was written by one loyal to the Crones without any doubt. This is what’s known as an unreliable narrator. The Crones told them a story and the story was written as if it was entirely true. But is it? Ard Cerbin, Bald Mountain, it does not look like the oak that grows there is in fact wholesome. And the Crones can be caught in many a lie throughout our conversations with them regardless. When you opt to save the spirit in the Whispering Hillock instead of destroying it they tell you the children are in grave danger. That is a lie. Once freed, the spirit sets out to save the children from Crookback Bog, taking them from that horrible place and to the orphanage in Novigrad instead. It even seems they might’ve had their memories erased as they don’t seem to react to Geralt much. Whereas if you slay the spirit, the Crones will eat the children. Which of these can be called grave danger?
When you leave your conversation with the sisters after dealing with the spirit either way, they will tell you this: “You’ll return, you shall. Our fates are bound. And one will die. But it shan’t be one of us.” And after that: “And if you find her – if – the girl will die.” Both are either a lie or their prophecies are entirely dreadful. Geralt and Ciri do return and two crones die, neither Geralt nor Ciri do. Geralt did in fact also find Ciri and she was not quite dead. She could even go for a walk.
“A word once given” is false also. They promised Anna Strenger that they would remove her baby in return for a year of her service and then she’d be freed. However, when she displeased them she was turned into a beast and if you allow the spirit to free the children she is cursed doubly so. They make it impossible to fully lift the curse even though it was not at all Anna’s fault that the children got away. The Crones even admit to this. “A word once given” but they fully intend to bend the truth to such an extent that the outcome favours them. Unsurprisingly of course.
So no, the Crones are not at all trustworthy. But is the Whispering Hillock?
She talks of the Druid Circle she’s from, but Geralt notes he’s never heard of a Druid Circle of Velen. The circle existing however is not a lie, it’s simply too long ago for Geralt to know about. Thankfully, Avallac’h comes to our rescue here. Centuries ago it was a hallowed site for druids. But then the Crones arrived – destroyed the Velen Circle and deformed the sacred oak atop the mountain. An important feast is observed here annually. The Sabbath, they call it – all the local folk attend. I suspect Imlerith attends, too – as the Crones’ guest. So not only does this confirm that yes, there was in fact a Druidic Circle in Velen, it also confirms that the Crones were the ones to destroy it and deform the oak. This directly contradicts what is written in “She Who Knows” where it is stated that the Oak flourished after the Spirit’s defeat. Avallac’h has no reason whatsoever to lie about this odd fact in the Crones’ history. It gains him nothing. Ciri does not want the Crones dead any more than she already does to avenge a group of Druids she’s never heard of before. She doesn’t care why the Crones are evil just that they are nor does Avallac’h stand to gain anything from their demise at this point in time. So this particular small part of information is very important. However it does not confirm that the spirit is in fact from this circle, merely that it existed. Although it would be mighty odd to attempt to sway Geralt with a fact she should know he wouldn’t be able to recall. The Whispering Hillock also speaks of standing in the way of the Crones. I don’t doubt that she did but it doesn’t necessarily confirm that the spirit was good. Merely that she was an obstacle in the Crones’ pursuit of total domination in Velen. This could be either because yes, she was a force of good but also that she was simply another evil power vying for control. Finally, when Geralt mentions saving the children himself the spirit states that: “There are no roads to Ard Cerbin.” This is simply a complete lie. If it wasn’t for invisible walls telling us not to go there yet because it isn’t quite that time, Geralt could easily walk to Ard Cerbin from the Whispering Hillock itself. It really isn’t that far away in all honesty. The spirit is merely trying to leverage the children against Geralt so he’s more easily swayed to save her. Furthermore, when we do eventually decide to aid the spirit we are forced to find her bones of course. Upon finding them Geralt remarks that they “Don’t seem human”. Her bones don’t seem human, but that’s the extent of Geralt’s findings. If the bones seemed elven or dwarven or really any other living being Geralt had heard of before he would’ve likely remarked on that instead of sounding so puzzled. Which means that the bones are of a creature never before encountered by him. One much like the Crones. I somehow doubt that a Druidic Circle would be inclined to include evil spirits such as the Ladies to join their ranks. However, again, this doesn’t prove anything conclusive as there are many good spirits to be found in the Witcher world as well and the Spirit may well have been one of them. So, what then? Both parties are full of lies, both parties seem capable of destruction, evil. During the bad ending of the Witcher 3 it seems the swamp has been poisoned with the death of two of the Crones, so did the Crones balance their evil with enough good? Is there a right choice? Well that depends on how one sees the spirit and I believe I can give her yet another name. Perhaps I am a fool for trying. But no, we have run out of options. This is the only way. Ladies lovely, with power o’er all, I Beseech thee, answer my call, Before you a worm crawls, wretched and small. How dare you disturb our rest. Please, I come to you in my hour of need to ask a boon of thee. My wife is with child and has fallen gravely ill. None can find the cause of her sickness and she is not long for this world. I beg thee, will you not cure her. Any riches and lands will be yours as you please. I sense your pain. I see your fear… A boon… A potion to cure my wife. Thank you… Thank you! I will await your demand for payment. The bestiary entry to the Crones reads thusly: “Sister crones, hand in hand, terrors of the sea and land, thus do go about, about: thrice to thine and thrice to mine, and thrice again, to make up nine.” This is a direct quote from one of Shakespeare’s famous plays: Macbeth. Specifically Act 1, scene 3. In this scene the Crones make ready to sow some discord in the realm, much like The Crones of Crookback Bog often seem to do. However, more important is their relation to a fourth figure. She is equally powerful, nay far moreso than the Crones. In a later act we meet her in person and hear her name. “Why, how now, Hecate! You look angerly.”
“Have I not reason, beldams as you are, saucy and overbold? How did you dare to trade and traffic with Macbeth in riddles and affairs of death; and I, the mistress of your charms, the close contriver of all harms, was never call’d to bear my part, or show the glory of our art?” Hecate. One who calls herself the source of the witches’ power in the play of Macbeth. Macbeth, which is directly referenced within the game. Hecate, sometimes evil, sometimes good. She is both the mother of evil and the mother of life.
To understand her influence completely it is important we look at her roots in ancient legends. Hecate was once a titan. The titans ruled the heavens, the earth and the sea. They gave mortals wealth, victory, wisdom and luck. Hecate was known to withhold these blessings if she felt mortals did not deserve them. Eventually the Olympian Gods would defeat the titans and cast them down, however, Hecate alone was allowed to retain her powers under the rule of Zeus. From then on, Hecate would preside over many realms. Not only magic, witchcraft, ghosts and necromancy but also crossroads, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, the moon and the night. In this early form she was represented as a single figure in a long robe, holding burning torches. She enjoyed her time in the Underworld where she could come and go as she pleased and was eventually allowed to stay as long as she liked. Hecate, unlike many other Gods and Goddesses, enjoyed the company of those who were different, unique even. Those shunned out of fear or misunderstanding.
She was never considered particularly evil, though she certainly commanded realms that struck fear into the hearts of men. People instead believed that she would often use her magic for good, that she protected young children, shepherds and sailors. One of her most well known myths in fact was that of Persephone. Where Hecate helped Persephone’s mother, Demeter, to find her daughter in the underworld by guiding her with her flaming torches. It was not until later, when her myth reshaped itself to show a darker side, that people began to fear her. As time passed, Hecate was revered less and less and fear took its place. Her darker aspects were enhanced, the people only made mention of witchcraft, necromancy and her persistant stay in the Greek underworld. They began naming her “daughter of Tartarus”, “daughter of Hel” and her depictions were no longer single-formed. She was now presented as an ever shifting visage. Typically triple-formed with three bodies but often simply three heads. From her left shoulder sprouted a long maned horse while her right shoulder held the face of a furious hound. The middle head, that of a serpent or sometimes a lion. Instead of torches she now held swords in each hand.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary reads: “Outlandish in her infernal aspects, she is more at home on the fringes than in the centre of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.” She is one of the most literal definitions of shades of grey one can find in the Greek Pantheon. As the years went on Hecate was depicted as much less powerful and instead focussed on witchcraft more and more. Her name was even invoked on ancient curse tablets and temples dedicated to her worship would partake in blood consumption during secret rituals. It was said that the Goddess herself would drink blood alongside her followers, though it would generally be animal blood, not human blood.
It is important to know that as her character developed in this way, she was still noted as having a protective side, it was simply more destructive. She was known to exact vengeance upon those who caused harm to the people she protected, more so than directly shielding those under her wing. So, now you know who Hecate was, in our world. The most obvious link of course, is Macbeth. As the play is quite literally mentioned in the game. Adding to this, within the play the Crones and Hecate meet a second time in a scene described as “A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron”, very reminiscent of the Crones at the Sabbath. However there are more crossovers we can find, such as her three-headed appearance. On one shoulder a vicious hound, the other a long maned horse. This is reflected well in the game by having a werewolf and wolves in general guard her tree and a horse acting as her vessel once freed. Furthermore, as you free the spirit from her tree she goes on to destroy the nearby village that serves the Crones directly. In doing so, she avenged the children sacrificed and delivered a blow to the Crones’ power but in her madness she neglected to protect the children still among the villagers. Other villages in the area were never touched, the now enchanted mare simply vanished and was not heard from again. She also does in fact save the children as she promised Geralt she would. As said, the children can later be found in an orphanage in Novigrad, safely playing after seemingly forgetting all the horrors they’d been through. Her supposed fall to madness would also be a direct parallel to our real world Hecate’s fall from grace in the eyes of the world. Starting as a beloved guardian deity only to see herself become a symbol of fear and purveyor of curses who relished the taste of blood.
A timeline with this in mind would look much like this. The Crones and the Whispering Hillock, we’ll call her Hecate for now, initially worked together peacefully. Perhaps Hecate was indeed a druid of Velen in her past life and perhaps they sought only to help those in times of need. Afterall, the villager at the feast does mention the following: Ladies of the Woods visit you?
If they favor us. My father told me they descended once, passed from fire to fire, listenin’ to hopes and grievances. So each year we wait for them to walk amongst us once more. Haven’t done it in a long time, then. So the Crones did once, long ago come down from the mountain to speak to the villagers, listen to the troubles and worries. But they haven’t done so in a very long time, a very long time. The man who gives us this information is old himself already and he speaks of his farther witnessing this event. We don’t know how old his father was at the time though, he might’ve been a child himself. So why haven’t they come down since then? Likely because something changed. From Ciri, we get the following information: Avallac’h told me of beings who commune with the Aen Elle elves. They can be found in every part of our world. In velen, the Crones do this. Apparently, Imlerith came here at Eredin’s behest, to order the Crones to keep their eyes open and ears pricked. In case Avallac’h were to seek shelter in his Velen hideout. As the Crones and Hecate worked together, either as sisters or as mother and daughter, something caused a rift between them. That something, I would guess, was the Wild Hunt. The Aen Elle approached them and offered them a deal. Power of some kind but in return they would act as their agents in this world. The Crones were eager to accept this deal, to gain influence and power. But Hecate turned the elves down, either because she recognized them for what they were or because she was unwilling to bow and with that, she turned down the Crones as well. Even though at the time, the Crones may well have had good intentions. They may have thought to help their followers further with their newfound strength. Afterall, Keira does tell us that in better times the witches of the nearby villages would act as messengers between the villagers and the Ladies. There was direct contact and the witches were allowed to return to their homes afterwards. However, power corrupts as is well known and the Aen Elle would’ve welcomed such corruption given their aims all the more.
The Ladies of the Wood fear Imlerith, fear the Aen Elle, so we know for a fact that the elves hold far greater power than them. With their help, they would be able to overthrow Hecate, who was likely the stronger one of the four, in order to seal their deal with Eredin. To explain this sudden change the Crones spun a story to make Hecate look like the truest of all evils. The book “She Who Knows” talks of them only as saviours who defeated their wicked mother when she spun out of control. Others call them the Crones, but you call them the Ladies of the Wood. Those who name them Crones, them’s heartless fools. The Ladies of the Wood have watched o’er this land for ages. In what way?
They drive out evil powers. They say a hundred springs ago, they saved Velen from a plague of werewolves ravaging our flocks. Forgive me… I Didn’t know ye came from the Ladies of the Wood. They help you often? From the time of his Cutting, every man is theirs… They be harsh mistresses, but they’re fair, just. Demanding they can be, but then nothin’ in life comes easy. Who drove off the plaguey airs? Who gave us seeds to plant? Round the other villages they be eatin’ the soles of their boots. Whereas we? Well, we get along well enough. The Crones threw Hecate out and took over as the sole power in Velen, slowly losing their connection to the villagers as those to aid, instead seeing them as those to use. They could make demands easily as famine ravaged the lands around them. Through blood sacrifices they could grant the villagers magical seeds that would feed their hungry kin, cure all that ailed them and in so doing it tied the people to their masters. But even with the help of the Wild Hunt, they could not completely kill Hecate, merely bind her spirit to the tree. And as she lay there thrashing in impotent rage with the years passing her by endlessly, she truly did start slipping away further and further into darkness. Until nothing more was left but a husk of her former self, now as ruthless as the Crones who caged her. But even a spirit needs sustenance to stay alive and so she took to calling victims to her in their sleep. Throughout my first fortnight in Velen, I had horrible nightmares. Something was claling me out into the swamps. One night I decided to enter the dream consciously, render it lucid. I confronted the… thing directly. It broke contact at once. Peaceful nights ever since. Those who fell into her trap were devoured but those who refused ran to the Crones for aid. And the Crones sent Geralt. Because The Ladies too were still afraid to face Hecate directly, even in her weakened state. Afraid of what she might do without the protection of the Aen Elle to aid them. So they sent a Witcher to deal with their problem. And if Geralt does his job and kills her, all’s well that ends well for the three sisters, but if not… Well, Hecate, weak as she is in her newly regenerated body, likely ran off to regain her strength after destroying Downwarren and one day aims to return and have her revenge. Not that it would be entirely necessary given Geralt and Ciri would’ve taken care of that problem already.
Although… Even that we can’t be sure of. Should you find yourself dealing with the bad ending in the Witcher 3 you guide Geralt to the final Crone, Weavess, who escaped. Before Geralt approaches her we can hear her talk to the tapestry, to her sisters. Patience, she urges, for they shall yet have his soul. The tapestry itself is heavily scarred, the images of the dead Crones ripped out entirely. When Geralt eventually confronts her she comments on the approaching monsters as well. The monsters are angry because Geralt slaughtered their brethren for a fistful of coin. Weavess seems to imply that her sisters are still technically alive though not in the sense that humans can comprehend. That isn’t all that strange given our earlier comparison to the Witches from Macbeth and Hecate who are are all said to exist on the fringes of existence. She also specifically notes taking Geralt’s soul which leads me to think that through the consumption of flesh the Crones don’t only devour their lifeblood but their very souls, their memories, their emotions, everything. Gaunter O’Dimm collected souls similarly though in a different manner.
It’s not surprising that in the Witcher universe, much like many other tales, souls hold great power. But it is striking that the only creatures we cannot truly describe in detail are the ones known to covet them. Did the dead Crones’ souls retreat to the same realm as Gaunter did when he was defeated. Is that realm accessible to mere mortals? And if not, are we ever truly safe? Perhaps Weavess meant to use Geralt’s soul, his strength to bring her sisters back. Given enough hair infused with soul energy she could weave the tapestry anew and that may well be how they exist in this world at all. The tapestry could be their physical link to this world and to defeat them fully and truly one would need to burn it wholly. Perhaps… And although the Crones were evil in many ways, they did save the villagers from starvation also. Seemed to keep the land healthy and mostly kept their promises. Hecate herself I do believe was a good soul long ago and I think she can be again, but is it worth the risk?
I don’t believe we’ll ever get complete answers to our questions, but I hope I’ve gotten as close as possible with my theories at least. Nothing is certain in our dealings with the Crones, save that their aid always comes at a price. A boy, Andras a boy. Look at him he’s beautiful. I dared not dream I would live to see him take his first breath. A strong son, a blessing my love! Andras… His hand, what’s that on his hand? I… how strange, a birthmark perhaps? That is no birthmark. Andras… It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t have. I offered them all the gold and lands they wished! Tell me you didn’t. The ladies, the crones. Please Andras… I’m sorry, Breen I’m so sorry I did not know, I should have listened! Thank you very much for listening on until the very end of this story. This will likely be the format going forward so I truly hope you enjoyed it. And in case you’re wondering who those other voices were, they were Taliesin & Evitel from the Youtube channel of the same name. They do a lot of World of Warcraft content but don’t let that put you off if you’re not into Warcraft in general, they’re truly fantastic in their own rights and even though I myself haven’t played the game in a very long time I still watch their videos too simply because they’re entertaining to watch. So if you have a moment to spare, do go check them out, I promise you won’t regret it. Now, though I don’t often do this I want to vocally thank my Patrons, as well. I know there are long draughts between videos now and I cannot thank you enough for sticking with me for this long. I’m working on a few things specifically for those of you who have been here for a while now and I hope this video was worth the wait. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, you are the reason I continue to make videos at all. And don’t worry, there will be a lot of Witcher Netflix content to come once the show is out. No droughts there. Alright guys, I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. Va fail.

48 thoughts on “Witcher Stories – The Crones & The Whispering Hillock (Witcher Lore)

  1. In Toussaint, the waypoint of Chuchote Cave (just north of the lady of the lake pond) has in its description mention of a woodland witch named "Whispess", I have seen people theorize that this Whispess is the one from the crones, however it could also be a reference to a fairy tale as it is Toussaint after all.

  2. The ambiguity of whether or not many of the people were truly aware what fate they were sending their children to rattled me pretty good. It's a detail I enjoyed. I also can't remember where I heard it in the game (or if it was outside the game), but there seems to be speculation that the Crones are partly behind the famines and such the plague Velen. It's not that they're particularly kind to Downwarren, it's more that they leave that village alone more than others.

    Your reference to the Gaunter O'Dimm video also makes me wonder if he has a connection at all to the Crones. Obviously not a direct one, they're not the same kind of being (for lack of a better word), but have they ever had contact? I would say such creatures are below his notice, but he is pretty fixated on Olgierd. Perhaps it would be a different story had Olgierd not entered a contract with him.
    Also, regarding the length of time before this video was released, I'm a fan of quality over quantity. I like these types of videos, so I look forward to more! If they come out more frequently, that's great! But if they come out at a slower pace, with a few months between? That's okay, as long as you're not getting burned out.

  3. Hi Jinzee!! I was wondering if, time permitting, you could consider doing a read-through of the Michael Moorcock Elric of Melnibone books?? Please and thank you in advance, hope all is well and happy holidays from one of your biggest fans! ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  4. Seriously this video was AMAZING๐Ÿคฏ๐Ÿคฏ๐Ÿคฏ!!!! It was well worth the waitโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธ!!!

  5. I love the theory about Greek goddess Hecate and the hillock.
    But I couldn't help but think of it this way.
    Maybe the spirit in the whispering hillock is Pheobe., while the Crones are Selene, Hecate and Artemis.
    Just trying giving them a sense of relation to each other.

  6. Taliesin and Evitel working with Jinzee?

    My favorite Youtubers have come together!

    This is like the Avengers or the Justice League coming together!!!

  7. This video makes me so happy ๐Ÿ™‚
    I've waited for this video for about two years. The crones and their mystery were fascinating to me. I tried to find all the information on them I could, but I didn't get much.
    Thanks Jinzee ๐Ÿ™‚
    Awesome job on the drawn and voiced story of the guy with the dying wife, btw.

  8. Certainly one of the most fascinating group of characters from the Witcher 3, and told in such a brilliant way. Great to see how well you did your research and compliments on the intertwining story and artwork!

  9. The visiting of crones is a funny thing to explore. With Geralt's forced roll at the end of a jump you can scale the big hillside above the festivities and this way you can slay Imlerith twice, visit the NPC versions of the ladies, and so on. There is also a way to leave that place that doesn't include scaling the hillside downwards. We all get bored on the 6th playthrough sometimes..

  10. And here I was JUST thinking of the line "We had naught to break our fast with!", and lo and behold, the greatest of The Witchers loremistresses has returned!

  11. To say this is brilliant piece of work would be understatement of the century ๐Ÿ˜Œ you'll never stop to amaze me ๐Ÿค˜

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