Before the 1900s, women didn't live many more years past the age of menopause. And if they did, they tended to look much older than they actually were. One might also think that this is how the term "crone" became associated with death. But in fact, the ties between death and the crone originated from the followers of the Great Mother Goddess who believed that the crone had the ability to both restore and take away life.
This fallacy of a crone being associated with old age originated in centuries past, when women who had achieved the status of crone did so without the help of modern medicine and proper nutrition.
The term "crone" has received a great deal of unfavorable notoriety over the years. For centuries, the expression was used to describe a woman's appearance rather than her ability to think and act on her feet. Characterize a woman as a crone, and people would conjure up a picture of an old, decrepit, prune-like grandmother with a sour look on her face. Or they would assume you were referring to a witch, a term which has also received its share of negative publicity.
The Times Are Changing: Crone Wisdom
Thankfully, times are changing, and for the most part, the word "crone" is now accurately being used as a synonym for a woman who not only embodies postmenopausal wisdom, but shares it with the world. It is the time when the wisdom and healing of a woman's menopausal journey quickens in her heart, and her desire to share all that she has learned drives her back to the outer world. And so, just as the maiden years symbolized the time when a woman gave birth to herself, and the childbearing years the time when she gave birth to others, the crone years symbolize the time when a woman gives birth to the planet by sharing all that she has learned.
This seventh, and last, ritual of the voyage, begins when the postmenopausal woman steps off of the island of her inner world and back onto the barge. Again, the menopausal barge represents the strength of a woman's psyche and her ability to ride across the waters of emotion without sinking. The barge is much stronger now, having made two trips across the lake (one during menarche when she first journeyed to the outer world, and of course the most recent one, when she journeyed from the outer world back to Avalon). Fortunately, this third trip is quite different than either of the other two. Unlike the first two trips, when the waters of the lake were murky and rough, the trip back to the outer world is soothing to the woman's soul. The postmenopausal woman is more confident and self-assured; she knows these waters and she knows her barge. The journey then becomes an expedient one, and she arrives back on the shores of her outer world almost immediately.
Ageless Wisdom and Healing Powers
A woman is officially crowned a crone the moment she proactively reenters the outer world, and begins sharing her ageless wisdom and healing powers with the planet. The ceremonious crowning of a crone usually goes unnoticed by those in the outer world, but back on the island of Avalon the wise-woman and wise-child are both celebrating this joyous event. For this crowning symbolizes a blending of two worlds. At last the inner world of the woman's soul is spread freely out onto the planet in the form of spiritual gift-giving, and the journeying woman earns the title of Goddess and Crone.
It is important to remember that one doesn't have to have lived to be 50 to be considered a crone, though. Crones come in all ages and sizes. I've known women who have embodied the postmenopausal wisdom of the crone by the time they were 30, and I've known women who were 70 and still hadn't achieved it.
Just because a woman has journeyed to the inner world of Avalon and had her last period, doesn't mean she has reached the status of crone, either. Being officially, or unofficially, crowned a crone means being ready to return and serve the outer world as Mother Goddess. It signifies that a woman is willing and able to share her wisdom, not only with the other women of her tribe, but with the men as well. And it is with the authority of the crone that the woman returns to the outer world to reseed the planet and spread what she has learned with all living creatures.
Willingness to Serve
Mother Teresa was probably the best known crone. Her name and memory is synonymous with the word service. She personified the Mother Goddess in a way that few women have. She started out by comforting one man on the streets of Calcutta, and ended up comforting a planet of men, women, and children. What made her a such a wonderful example of crone wisdom? I believe it was her willingness to serve. Not her ability or how many she actually did comfort and serve, but her willingness to attempt the task. She wasn't afraid to reach out to the dying and she wasn't afraid to reach out to the living. It was second nature to her. But we don't all have to be Mother Teresas in order to embody the Goddess. We only have to be willing to serve our tribes.
Another, perhaps lesser known but nonetheless genuine crone, was my great-grandmother. When I was a young girl, I loved to watch this woman, who we called "Fat Mamma," feed the chickens on her farm. She was a short, stout woman with thick forearms and strong, muscular legs. Her apron would be filled with seeds, and every few steps she took, she would reach into her apron and grab a fistful of feed and throw it haphazardly out to the chicks. Fat Mamma embodied the crone, and she not only nourished the chickens but she nourished the minds of her family as well. This is what being a crone is all about; it means reseeding the planet and feeding the younger "chicks." It means bringing back what you learned on your journey and tossing it all over the planet.
Actually, this willingness to serve is second nature to most women. In fact, the majority of volunteers at any given organization are women. What stops some women from achieving the status of crone in their latter years, though, is their inability to differentiate between being of service, which means to contribute to the welfare of others, and being subservient, which means to be useful in an inferior capacity. What often happens is that a woman is so burned out from being used in an inferior manner, that she rebels against being of use to others in any capacity. This type of thinking is a major factor (along with decreasing hormone levels) in a woman's midlife depression and anxiety. An additional element comes in to play for women who have not been employed outside of the home.
There is often a let down period that dominates a woman's moods when the children leave home. On one hand, the postmenopausal woman is ecstatic to see her offspring fly, and on the other she finds it lonely sitting on an empty, eggless nest. She is glad to be rid of the busyness that comes with raising children, but at the same time she feels as though a hole has been left in her heart. And indeed it has been. However, this is the time when being of service to the community can not only permanently fill that hole, but can expand her heart as well. At this time, a woman who has achieved the wisdom of the crone hears the calling of her tribes, her community, and steps up to the challenge. She either obtains a paid, creative position, or she volunteers her time to the many agencies who would love to benefit from a wise woman's ways.
As crones, women become the butterflies who have not only emerged from their chrysalis, but have taken flight and are soaring across God's garden. They are the magnificent creatures with strong, colorful wings that pollinate the land. Their long, thin, mystical antennas alert and navigate them to where they need to volunteer and whom they need to serve. This is the time for women to hone their skills and seek out new ones. Their wisdom is at its peak now, and they need to share it with whoever is willing and intelligent enough to listen. Unfortunately, our culture is not as aware of the wisdom of the crone as it should be. There is still a stigma against the aged, especially women.
Wisdom of the Aging Population
But the time has come for America, and cultures like her, to finally acknowledge the wisdom of its aging population. As we pass into the next century, the majority of the population will be over the age of 55. In fact, there will be 50 million postmenopausal women living and breathing on this great planet by the year 2005. Never has the planet been so ripe to absorb the knowledge from those who will be holding the blood in the twenty-first century. And we, as crones, must not let Mother Earth down. We must not let each other down.
The crones of our land must not back down off their thrones of wisdom. They must exchange their rocking chairs for pedestals, and their knitting needles for scepters. It is time to acknowledge the wisdom of the crone years and be proud to wear the title. It is also time that postmenopausal women not only envision and speak the truth, but that they actively seek out the truth in everything they do.
Most importantly, the crones of our land must take up storytelling. For true wisdom can never be harnessed and experienced until it is shared. We must bear witness to each other's journeys, and we must tell what we know to all who will listen. Young maidens need to know what to expect of their own menopausal journey to the inner world, and they need to be warned of what happens once they give their sealskins away. Young boys, too, need to be taught the power and wisdom of the Goddess and crone. They need to be shown how to respect and appreciate a woman's intuitive nature. When a crone tells what she knows, truthfully and with an open heart, she becomes the mandala, the healing, completed circle for her sisters. She becomes not only a storyteller, and bearer of wisdom, but she becomes the story itself.
And so now our journeying woman is at the end of her voyage. She has embraced the internal world within and returned to the shores of the outer world, not as childbearer, but with the authority and power of the crone. She has forever become the storyteller and the story. She is, truly, whole and holy. She is feminine wisdom at its peak. She is the culmination of Eve, and Mary, and the Great Goddess within. She is truly all that The Great Divine created her to be.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Santa Monica Press. ©2000.
The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause: The Spiritual Journey to the Wise-Woman Years
by Kristi Meisenbach Boylan.
The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause is a groundbreaking work that will usher in a new way for women to cope with the emotional and physical challenges of menopause.
Venturing into uncharted territory, Kristi Meisenbach Boylan takes an intriguing and original look at the seven rituals that menopausal women move through on their voyage to the wise-woman years. Author Meisenbach Boylan believes that these seven ceremonial milestones should be viewed as celebrations—not as symptoms of an illness—and that the menopausal life passage isn't just about a woman's body fighting to correct hormonal imbalances, but is really about the soul
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About the Author
Kristi Meisenbach Boylan, the author of both The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause and The Seven Sacred Rites of Menarche, is the former publisher of The Parent Track Magazine. She began writing about women's issues and the relationship between spiritual growth and fluctuating hormones after her own menopausal transformation, resulting in the widely praised The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause.
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