By Phyllis Kennemer
A fifty-year-old woman stands in the center of a circle of women her own age and older. A crown of olive twigs intertwined with flowers is placed on her head. She listens reverently as group members step forward sharing words of wisdom and greeting. This woman is being welcomed into a Society of Crones.
Crone ceremonies, common in ancient times, have been making a comeback in recent years. The procedures and rituals vary from group to group and from one occasion to another, but the unifying principle is the celebration of a woman’s embrace of the final phase of the life cycle. The accompanying objects may include altars, robes, staffs, goddess oracle cards, crone wisdom cards, or any number of other objects deemed sacred; but crowns of some type are central to the rites. This is fitting because the word Crone means crown.
Prehistoric people revered women as the creators of life and worshiped goddesses representing the three stages of female existence — Maiden, Mother, Crone. The Maiden was youth and independence; the Mother produced children and cared for them; and the Crone was a respected elder conducting or overseeing many of the rites and ceremonies of the culture. This final cycle of female life and its value have been so denigrated and disabused that the ancient meaning of Crone has been lost.
Anthropologists believe that in the beginning, all societies were matriarchal, ruled by women, with lineage traced through the mother. Women were honored as the creators of life, the teachers and transmitters of the culture, and the source of knowledge and wisdom. It wasn’t until thousands of years later that men discovered they played a role in the creation of children. Societies slowly shifted from matriarchal to patriarchal; lineage was traced through males and men took the power in ruling tribes and, eventually, nations.
Once men took charge, women were subjugated into servant roles. Religions based on male supremacy evolved with the imposed belief that women existed to serve men. They did give slight acknowledgement to the role of women as mothers, but they eliminated all positive references to old women, using the term Crone as a derogatory judgment against any female who managed to live beyond child bearing years. Images of crones as ugly witches and cruel stepmothers were conjured up and appeared in folk tales and traditional lore. These negative images are so deeply ingrained that old women have been killed and abused for hundreds of years.
In our country the very act of aging is denied and condemned. Huge industries exist to support the obsession with looking forever young. Anti-aging products, plastic surgery, and other age-related medical procedures reinforce the notion that looking old is beyond undesirable, it is a sin against society.
Many modern women have consciously chosen to reject the negative images of aging and to reclaim their rightful role as esteemed elders. These ladies are stepping into the Crone stage of life with joy and dignity.
A woman may claim her crone status at any time after she has become post-menopausal. Some women choose to step into this role at age 50; others wait until a later time. It is all a state of mind. These ladies recognize that Cronehood isn’t static, but rather part of life’s ongoing journey. Participating in a croning ceremony is not necessary, but it is a lovely experience and establishes a sisterhood of support.
There are crones among us. They are not necessarily the women of age that we see on the news, the politicians, or the business women who have made it in our male-dominated society. Many of the ladies in these public roles are denying the aging process, attempting to hang onto youth by their fingernails. The crones among us are mothers, grandmothers, aunties, teachers — women who are aging gracefully and quietly interacting with those around them in ways that are wise and productive.
Mature women who are seeking the status of Crone can look to at least one magazine and one organization to help them along the way. Crone Magazine: Women Coming of Age (www.cronemagazine.com) states in its mission statement that the publishers see themselves as crones; mature women who embrace their experience, wisdom and power in ways that are personally satisfying and culturally enriching. The articles and poems in this publication are honest about the aging process and the reality of death, but the overall tone is uplifting.
The Crone Counsel (purposely not named council) is an organization which focuses on the empowerment and wellbeing of older women. This group has been holding annual gatherings in the western part of the country since the first conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1993.
All of the workshops and sessions are conducted and presented by the attendees as forums for older women to share their stories and counsel each other. There are no stars, no keynoters, and no hierarchy of organization. The focus is on creating an atmosphere of trust, as women share their personal and collective wisdom. Women over 80 are designated as “Elders” and honored at a special ceremony. Ritual and entertainment contribute to the sense of community.
The next Crones Counsel Gathering will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 22 – 26, 2010. (www.cronescounsel.org)
The aging process does not automatically qualify every older woman as a Crone. The Crone status is a matter of attitude. Crones embrace this third stage of life. They welcome wrinkles and gray hair. They ignore the constant yammering of commercials and billboards proclaiming the desirability of holding on to youthful appearances and mannerisms. Crones step into their wisdom and claim their power as significant and influential members of humanity.
Dr. Phyllis K. Kennemer is a Certified Veriditas Labyrinth Facilitator. She is a life-long learner and educator with a specialty in children’s literature. She wishes to expresses gratitude to these crones for their wise counsel: Maggie Rowlett, Dottie White, and Grace Zach.
Some Things to Know About Crones:
Crones have an attitude.
Crones embrace change.
Crones accept what life offers.
Crones don’t make excuses.
Crones are good listeners.
Crones are good talkers.
Crones aid in life’s rituals.
Crones step into their wisdom.
Crones live in a consciousness of love.
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