croning: an article and a ritual

Croning: coming of age in the 21st century. by vyvyan ogma wyverne
Old age is not a slow death unless your body is sick. We’re so accustomed to negative images of ‘crones’ in folk-lore and fantasy, where post-child-bearing, independent females are portrayed as a crooked, arthritic, ugly old scolds, that some people are surprised at the idea of a ‘croning’. Why would anyone want to be called a ‘crone’? Shouldn’t we seek positive images and archetypes and leave the old negative ones behind? We need ideals, but do we find them in archetypes generated in the past? Is that how we should honour our ancestors?

The archetypes preserved in folklore are interactive – do we need their power in our lives? They represent real people who lived in or before the middle ages, or during the renaissance or thereabouts. Our genetic inheritance comes from a population which not only included them, but fore-grounded them in story and song. The genes that determine our natures were hammered on the forges of their zeitgeist, just as we now find ourselves fine-tuning them in our 21st century interpersonal dramas. The crone of the middle ages incubated the spirituality of the crone of today, just as we are now shaping the nature of crones to come. It helps Gaia if we maintain the continuity of such evolutions – it’s a way of helping to repair the web of race memory, making subtle psychic connections between our times, allowing healing as in the repairing of damaged nerves.

Our ancestors had their own rightful place in the nasty past and are now fading from memory, while we live in the enlightened here and now, consciously working towards an ideal future. Shouldn’t we be imagining new role-models based on current experience? In the late 20th century, feminist scholars deeply explored the range of stereotypes generated by our culture, in the mass media, pop culture and in the popular imagination – many of these made use of carl jung’s work on archetypes and the collective unconscious. They found themselves awed at the power of the archetype as the shapers of society, of society’s response to individuals and their expectations of people who fall under their spell.

Some archetypes are distorted, like caricatures. They seem to exert a distortive power over the personality they misrepresent and over social situations involving them. Persistent images of independent old women have come down to us from a time when few people enjoyed long lives, and those who did were skinny, bent and rickety, with voices as croaky as that of the pet raven on their shoulder. Their faces are sometimes depicted as resembling death’s heads, the skull all but visible beneath the skin – and indeed, they seem close to death. It is this image of the crone that people fear.

The focus is not always on her decrepitude. In many folk tales the crone presents the symbolic gifts at rites of passage, and there’s usually nothing said of her other than that she is an old woman with high standing in the palace – at a time when a palace might be anything from a small populous city with a king and queen in residence to a lonely roadside cottage in the woods with a skeleton staff of one. This one is the dominant image in folk memory, and she still fascinates us. We continually create her anew, complete with rickets, toothlessness, croaky voice, distaff in hand and pet raven, but active pagans are more likely to up-grade her in the light of many generations of further evolution to a healthy, motivated, energised elder, rich in experience, a veteran of a lifetime of good living and ready for decades more of useful, dedicated work and enthusiastic participation in life.

Actors justly fear ‘type-casting’. It exerts metaphysical, magical power that can lock them into expected patterns of limited and inappropriate character-acting, stifling their creativity and limiting their opportunities for advance. So powerful are stereo-types, often unrecognised though held in the popular imagination by most people, that the second wave feminists of the 1970s called upon the image-makers of our culture, the educators, mass media, and the general population, to revise our fixed notions about old women, to take a reality check, to close the sizable gap between what old women, for example, really are and what most people think we are, how we are represented in the media and how this affects us. This radical rethink resulted in broad changes to our culture which now offers enhanced life experience for all older people.

As the mass media is now aware, if the general populace regards old women as typically sick, requiring full-time nursing care, headed for Alzheimer’s and kept alive by up to 20 different kinds of designer drugs, they can magically swing it that way. Advertising exploits this power for profit. We can wield it for the good of all. If we foreground the increasing sanity surrounding aging in current medical research, and focus on the many fit healthy role-models we see all around us, we can adjust our image towards the reality and thus connect more effectively with the beauty and blessing of old age, the value of the contribution of the aged to our culture and the special gifts and talents and sweet rewards that come with the wisdom of years. Then we can begin to shift them towards our own consciously crafted ideals. Thus we get magical control of our own evolution. Learning to use this awesome evolutionary force, this ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ consciously, we avoid being distorted into creating dysfunctional social situations that plague life today.

We can learn from the archetypes, recognising their flaws in us and filtering them out, selectively inheriting their goodness, tweaking their spiritual ‘software’ creatively, participating in the crafting of the archetypes themselves. They aid us in discovering, cultivating and co-creating our own identities. The extent to which we resemble the archetype in question determines how much our spirit resonates with hers – or his in the case of a male. We can consciously avoid resembling an undesirable norm, the wicked witch who explodes in a jealous rage for example, while adopting features of the desired types, such as the chivalrous youth who marries the princess.

Through the evolving crone archetype women maintain continuum between ourselves and the old women of the past, receiving from them the power of their enchantment, and giving to them the blessing of their descendants. But be warned: when we conjure the crone from within our own beings, we might find ourselves with a friendly raven on our shoulder after all!

crow and crone
crone with crow

The Ritual
In preparation: crown (wrapped) and gifts are placed on central altar or other convenient surface in full view of all.

Rituallist: I proclaim the Rite of the The Spiral of Life
for the croning of vyvyan ogma wyverne,
companion of the order of bards, ovates and druids
in the cooringal groveof.
I give vyvyan greetings.
Saturn has twice returned to where it
was at the time of your birth.
You have turned fifty eight.
You have been a maiden,
and you have been a matron,
and now you are ready to become a crone.

Birch Spirit as Birth Guardian: As a spirit unborn you called together
father and mother, bodies and souls,
ancestors, past lives, dreamings, pathways:
you grew brand new from a single cell.
On a sunny day in spring,
you entered through the womb of life
into the arms of family love,
you entered the universe of human experience,
of perception and understanding,
you entered the succession of seasons,
of the circles and spirals of time and event
and you became a human child,
growing stronger every day.

East: As a bird in the wood,
around and around you flew,
you wove wakes in the shining air,
in the radiant peace of the east.
From the family to the greater community
you learned the established practices of our culture,
you took up the symbols of holiness and power,
you drank the nectar, spoke the ancient vows,
submitted to the curses of life, blessed the blessings
and learned to love the law,
and so became a maiden, fit for life.

North: As a flame in the fire
you went to work with a will
embraced the fuel, did the magical work of transformation
in the joyful peace of the North.
In the great crescendo of life
of culture and community, of work and of play,
as part of the vital fabric of earthly reality
there you matured, suffered, triumphed,
learned much, taught much, erred and sinned
and yet still loved goodness and just laws.

West: As a fish in the flood, questing,
you navigate instinctively.
you dream the mystic visions of the waters
in the deep inner peace of the west.
Now let the harvest be abundant,
as it ripens from the seeds and flowers
of your childhood and youth.
Since quiet questing, patient industry
and the simple prayer
of a steady mind with a good conscience
are the rich rewards of a life lived truthfully
and humbly in search of health and wisdom.

South: As a clod of clay, flesh of the earth,
you will come to know and cherish
the solid logic in the forms and forces of reality
in the still, silent peace of the South.
Now as your material body ages,
you will have learnt the hard lessons,
won the difficult harvests, stored the gains
and gathered the bountiful rewards
of living upon the material planet
as a material being. You will age,
you will approach death itself as we all must.
Yet you will not fear this death in its time,
knowing that it is the doorway to new lives.

Yew Spirit – the Death Guardian: From the earth came your body,
from the unknown came your soul,
and finally they will return,
replete with each other’s imprint,
your soul to the unknown, your body to the earth,
the memory of you to the mythos
of the ancestors, or to oblivion
in a world that keeps on turning
through the cycle of the seasons
and the spinning spirals of the day.

Rituallist: As a maiden you learned to be useful.
As a matron you worked in the world.
As the crone you will share your wisdom
bringing understanding to the world
and foresight to the young.
(picks up crown)
This croning is the crowning of your life.
Perhaps the words are related –
older women once wore crowns
though they were not queens.
(placing crown on w’s head)
Yet, within the circle of this crown
you are queen of your own dominions,
as every woman is when she is croned.
You are queen of your own soul
queen of your own mind
queen of your own experience.
autonomous, empowered and free.

wyverne: I am grateful to the guardians of birth
who helped me into this world.
I remember with affection and something more
the children with whom I played
and the teachers who gave me my lessons
while I was a growing girl.
I am grateful to them all.
I am also grateful
to the friends of my adolescence
and those who prepared me for adult life.
My family, friends and teachers
both human and other,
animals and angels
and the beings of all worlds.
And my co-workers, comrades-at-arms
my fellow humans, I am grateful
to have been so blessed and so sustained
through hard times and good
in so many ways by so many.
(praying)
Gaia, you have been good to me
Given me more than you’re able to give others.
I go forward with a right good will
in trust and affection with you
to bring help to the hurt,
provisions to the needy
healing to the sick
wisdom to the bewildered
and comfort to the weary
in the best way I can till I can do no more.

To you who have spoken the ritual words for me,
and to you have listened, I am especially grateful,
because you are here to revive that consciousness
of magic, and the ritual response that sanctifies
the stages of my life as they ought to be sanctified,
without which life is less.

For this reason I ask each of you to accept this gift.
(goes round circle then returns to centre)

I came into this circle today a matron
a maturing woman with a lot of memories
and I’ll leave it a crone, autonomous and free.

All: (return to places ready to resume ceremony)

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