Sunday, April 28, 2013

Postmenopausal Women: Embracing the Crone




Some of the most dogged limits that bind us, that keep us from achieving the fullness of a life most richly lived, are the boundaries imposed upon us from outside forces. I’m thinking social injustice of all kinds, here. But most particularly, I’m thinking of unequal access to things like food and shelter, education, and of course, health care. 

Indeed, in the US, the list seems unrelenting and inexhaustible sometimes; and unless we simply haven’t been paying attention, we know that the weights and shackles are tighter around the necks of some of us than others. Think children. Poor folks. Sick folks. People of color. And as crazy as it seems, given the reality that the starting position for every human fetus is female, we know that girls and women continue to struggle inordinately with these inequalities as well.

As far as US culture is concerned, the current and ongoing right-wing conservative assault on women’s reproductive freedom sharpens my point, don’t you think? Add to that the globally situated atrocities against women’s bodies that continue across the planet on a widespread scale. After all, there’s the reported increase in rape in India; the ongoing horror that is female genital mutilation; the continued fondness for infanticide of baby girls in some South Asian locales. And let’s not forget the tireless use of rape as a weapon of war in Uganda - and against female soldiers in the US armed forces as well - not to mention the monstrous explosion of human trafficking that thrives as a result of a sex trade wherein the largest numbers of victims world-wide are women and little girls.

But beyond the array of traumatizing, externally-imposed shackles, or perhaps, in conjunction with them, there’s this: our problematic willingness to buy into the notion that we’re powerless in the face of it all. 

And far from a positionality that blames the so-called victim, what I’m advocating here is a return to the blood-oath that, psychically, at least, we lay ourselves down for our sisters - by standing up for them. That in the solemn depths of our hearts and in the naked consciousness of our spirits, we come to each other’s aid and defense. That in every way we can, we help each other push back against the rabid darkness, in a woman-to-woman, substantive sort of way. The way women used to, back in the day, before some of us, (most of us?) bought into the bald-faced lie that we were powerless, without agency. Condemned to swallow the inequities whole, adrift on a leaky raft in a testosterone sea.

And the truth is, although many of us do an exemplary job of extending our hands in sisterhood, we used to be a whole lot better at it, you know. The women-as-each- other’s-keepers-dedicated-to-helping-each-other sensibility, I mean. Especially as we grew older and approached the age of menopause, when while remaining sexually vibrant, the competition for sperm - and babies - from the most enviable gene pools had come to an end.  It was at that time, back in the day, when helping each other became a moral imperative as those of us fortunate enough to live past menopause shouldered the stresses of our younger sisters, and standing bare-breasted against the nullifying winds, welcomed the Crone.  

Succulent and wise with the juice of long living, the Crone in this original context was wild and uncowed by mindless social convention. Beautiful in her spirit and in the glow of her aging body, she was far from the malevolent necromancer we were taught to fear in our childhoods, the long in the tooth beguiler of innocents with eyelids sunken down into dead and soulless sockets.

Far from it indeed. Rather, she drew her breath in perfect time with the Universe; the lifeblood of the ages flowed beneath her skin and in the years after menopause, she rose like hypnotic, pungent smoke and spread herself out like a potent shield over younger women, children and those with the ample forethought to seek her wisdom.

Ancient traditions around our planet have histories of embracing the Crone, both as a  symbol of female sexual freedom after menopause as well as a manifestation of wisdom and power for the communities in which they lived. But most importantly, as a fountain of strength and knowledge for younger women, Crones were a source of hope and psychic protection. 

Revered and respected, they were a source of healing and wisdom. A bulwark against social orders that kept women and children among their lowest priorities, the Crone represented a vibrant, resilient brand of empowerment, a boldness and a sexual freedom that rose up on the wings of knowledge hard-won. 

Of course, fear of her ability to upset the social order often resulted in her craven persecution. Think of the religiously backed witch-hunts in medieval Europe and the infamous Salem witch trials in the US.

In spite of all that, the Crone was, and is, a material manifestation that the third stage of life – the years after reproduction – are a precious resource, a discovery-filled threshold for exploring creativity and sexuality in ways that transcend reproduction.

In cultures older than ours, women in Asian, African, and European societies routinely left their child-bearing years joyously behind by marking that milestone with ritualized ceremonies as a way for them and their communities to acknowledge their new-found power and status. Moreover, such ceremonies were also a way for younger women and older ones to formalize their de facto covenant with each other – the former to seek protection and wisdom, the latter to freely and lovingly provide them. 

And in many cases, the Crone’s powers were absolute. Needed a midwife? Or an abortion? Needed an arbiter, a healer, or a fix for an abusive husband? Maybe you needed someone to care for the ill or the dying. You went to the village Crone.

Of course, that was then and this is now. But societal circumstances being what they are, I’d argue to all of us who’re past the age of menopause that the Crone’s needed now, just as ever, wouldn’t you say?

So where’s she gone?

Thankfully, sometimes, old habits, old traditions, ancient ways of walking in the world find rebirth. Even as I write, increasing numbers of women who’re reaching menopause have begun marking that time – that acknowledgement of their new-found status  - with the resurgence of Croning Ceremonies.


As a way to reconnect with this ancient tradition that rejoices in the power and responsibility of older women’s wisdom, any of us can give ourselves a Croning Ceremony. Usually not done until after menopause, or alternatively, the age of 50, happily, many of us choose to incorporate aspects of our own cultures when we do.

Even today, the Meo of Northern Thailand continue to mark menopause, or the birth of the Crone, with a ritual celebration that the woman herself provides for her entire village.

Many contemporary Jewish women have begun creating their own menopause rituals that utilize special menopause prayers, and the mikvah, or ritual bath, as a way to embrace the Crone through a symbolic rebirth. Frequently these rituals include the esoteric use of the number 4 which has special meaning in Hebrew tradition.

Often, Croning Ceremonies are held in quiet, natural outdoor settings with circles of women relatives and friends, supportive males as well. There's usually an officiant, a woman of the new Crone's choosing. The Crone enjoys a preliminary ritual bath or cleansing. 

Wine or fruit juice is offered to all present as well as poured onto the earth as a libation to female ancestors. There may be music, recitations, chanting, drumming, and the burning of incense. There’s often an altar of sorts, with symbols, photos, objects that have meaning in the new Crone’s life. 

And as the ceremony ends, she steps over a threshold or through a floral archway as a symbol of her entrance into the wonders, freedoms, agency and responsibility, of the third stage of life. A celebratory feast often concludes the ritual. 

Is there sex? Sometimes.

Elation? Always.

And the Old Crone emerges into the warmth of her new role. Powerful and wise in the traditions of the ancients. The Crone, our wisdom. Helper, protector. And in the last fiery years before the sun goes down, she's the brave, unfettered sister of the soul she was always meant to be.






What does the role of the Crone mean in your life? Might you consider having a Croning Ceremony of your own?


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