Croning celebrates wisdom years
by Jane Greer
Aging is a sensitive subject for many women, especially after they reach 50 and feel like their social value has become diminished in a youth-crazed culture. Some may face an empty nest and the end of active mothering, others may experience age discrimination in the job market, and almost all find little affirmation for the aging process. Many UU women, however, are fighting the stereo types of aging and celebrating their arrival at the age of wisdom in an in -creas ingly popular traditional rite of passage: croning.
In pagan traditions, women’s lives were divided into three phases: maiden, mother, and crone. Croning is the ceremony in which women celebrate the end of their years as mother (which may or may not have involved the raising of children) and the arrival of old age and wisdom. Says Neen Lillquist of the Headwaters UU Fellowship in Bemidji, Minn., when a woman becomes a crone “she lets go of mothering and perhaps fears she may have of aging. Her energies are now directed towards spiritual goals, healing, guiding, teaching, and being a living model for younger girls and women.”
While it is fairly easy to identify motherhood, cronedom is more ambiguous. Some groups say that a woman becomes a crone at age 50, while others say it is at age 56. Some say it is when she has not had a period for 13 months, or when she becomes a grandmother. And other groups let women decide themselves.
Just as there are many definitions of crone, there are many ways of conducting croning ceremonies. Says Helen Lane of the First Parish in Needham, Mass., “There are no specific elements which are necessarily a part of the croning ceremony. Generally, the ritual is developed by those who have been croned or in conjunction with the new crones.” In many ceremonies, words and gifts of wisdom may be exchanged, with the new crone sharing things she has learned, sometimes summarized by each decade of her life, and others in the circle asking for blessings and spiritual gifts to be given to her. Sometimes the women in the group are invited to share stories and insights about the new crone. Recalls Rhon da John son of the UU Church of Augusta, Ga., “one of the crone honorees described it as ‘being at your own funeral and hearing all the wonderful things everyone has to say about you!’”
In addition, groups may have other rituals, such as having the new crone walk through veils, celebrating her arrival at clarity in old age, or inviting her to walk through a birthing arch, symbolizing her rebirth. The ceremonies usually include food and festivities—and humor is an important part. “We need to have fun along with the seriousness,” says Lillquist.
And how does it feel to undergo a croning? Lane says, “I felt empowered, supported, loved, and ready to live every minute to the fullest.” Says Chris May of the First Parish in Wayland, Mass., “Women of a certain age tend not to recognize their own power. Croning is a wonderful way of affirming it.”
Katherine Roback, a lay chaplain at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, B.C., thinks that “aging and saging” ceremonies should be available to men, as well. “To celebrate and mark aging gives us validity and worth. It’s a sacred and pivotal moment.”