Celebrating the Crone
By: Ruth Gardner
Webmaster's note: This review is reprinted, with permission, from "Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit," September/October 1999 Issue. Llewellyn Publishing can be contacted directly at 1-800-THE MOON, or you can visit their Web Site at www.llewellyn.com .
Although growing old is looked upon in the U.S. as something to be avoided, women around the world are learning to accept - and even honor - the "third age"
This is probably one of the worst societies in which a woman can grow old. America has long honored the sprightliness of youth, with all its bubbling chatter, its energetic sportiness and rampaging sexuality. Everywhere we turn, we see the ongoing campaign for youthfulness. Television bombards us with images of svelte young beauties. Manufacturers offer to rescue us with a million different products guaranteed to tighten, tuck, avoid, replace, prevent, and otherwise insulate ourselves from the enemy - age. The horror of gray hair and crow's feet, the blaring alarm of our biological clocks, empty-nest syndrome, the threat of losing our jobs in midlife and of outliving the added support of our husbands. - all perpetuate a society terrified of what was once considered the most powerful phase in a woman’s life.
To make matters worse, we are a society of nuclear families. No longer do children grow up surrounded by grandmothers and great-grandmothers to serve as role models for aging. Too often, we put these elderly fountains of experience in nursing homes, where their lives lose meaning and their contributions to the knowledge of future generations are thwarted.
But all this is changing. Thanks to a number of outspoken female writers who have emerged in the last few years, we are beginning to see a different attitude towards aging women in America. In the spirit of the best-selling When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, these writings encourage older women to assert themselves, embrace the power and wisdom that has come with their years, and share their experience with others. The latest addition to this library of liberation is Ruth Gardner's Celebrating the Crone.
Says Gardner: "There was a time when Crone meant crown, and Crone was called Wise Woman.... Two thousand years ago, very old women were particularly important members of communities. They were leaders, counselors, healers. They were the fulfillment of the female experience and wisdom. Young women moved from the excited, unconstrained youthfulness of the maiden, through the life-sustaining position of the mother (biological or otherwise), to the loving, mature, and confident wisdom and understanding of the Crone. Age was seen as a time of arriving, of reaching the pinnacle when those elders could share their wisdom.
"Choosing the name 'Crone' is a deliberate act by women confronting the biased belief system so prevalent in our culture. That system devalues old women and ignores the experience, knowledge and wisdom that they have acquired by living. They are wise because they have had to be to survive. By bringing 'Crone' into common usage, these survivors defy those who disparage and invalidate them. Crones champion their rights to be recognized as contributing members of society, as strong valuable resources entitled to respect."
This attitude is being adopted by women around the world. It exists as an unorganized but assertive movement that is slowly changing the way women think about themselves as they grow older, and therefore, the way others think about them. In her book, Gardner guides us through the history of the Crone, her images and myths, her repression and her resurrection. She reminds us of this valuable part of ourselves that has, until recently, been lost, and gives us guidelines for recovering and honoring this powerful rite of passage in our lives as women. Gardner shares the experiences of many women, including herself, accepting and acknowledging this powerful time in life through ritual and celebration.
"Croning" ceremonies exist in many forms, and can be enjoyed by all women, regardless of religious belief. Since aging is a universal experience, a Croning ceremony can be relevant and meaningful in any woman's life, as a recognition of her personal contribution to community. Here is what women are saying:
"The Rite of Croning is an externalization, a peer recognition of one’s new status as an Elder, and a formal acceptance of the role of Crone. The difference between having such a rite when one reaches this age and not having one is like the difference between getting married and shacking up."
"I count myself lucky to live in a time and place where Croning is possible. I have lamented that our society does not provide coming of age initiations and ceremonies in a formal way. Having experienced my Croning, it became very real and very sacred because it was a physical manifestation of my internal designs.
With an introduction by Patricia Monaghan, Gardner's book is highlighted by a chapter of various Croning rituals that can be used or adapted for your own ceremony It also includes a bibliography of books and videos and a list of national organizations devoted to supporting and celebrating older women.