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Croning Ceremony Celebrates the Wisdom of Age
Clad in purple, surrounded by memorabilia, Linda Sanda stood
in her Urbandale, Iowa, dining room and talked about turning 50.
About 40 close friends, co-workers and family members came to
mark the occasion. But there were no mocking black balloons or teasing "You're Over the Hill'' banners.
This was a croning ceremony, designed to invoke spiritual reflection,
dignity and wisdom.
An ancient rite of passage to honor older women, croning ceremonies
had become nearly extinct. But they are making a comeback. And they're going mainstream.
With the oldest baby boomers turning 50 this year, many women
are evaluating what it means to stand on the threshold of old age. For some women, croning ceremonies serve as an ideal way
to make a statement about that passage.
"I see so many people fighting the aging process,'' says Sandra
Bury, another Des Moines-area woman who went through the ritual. "I wanted to celebrate that to become old is a gift. I didn't
want to be afraid of it.''
The rising interest in croning ceremonies also reflects a larger
movement to reassert the value of older women, says Edna Ward of Boston, editor of Celebrating Ourselves, A Crone
Ritual Book (Astarte Shell Press, $6).
In ancient times, she says, old women were known as crones.
They held power and enjoyed status as "the healers, the mediators, the wise of the communities.''
Gradually, that power and recognition were lost. In modern times,
the old woman has become nearly invisible, pushed aside and forgotten.
"We don't listen to her. We shut her up,'' Ward says. Only a
few groups - blacks, Native Americans, Asians - honor old women in this country, she notes.
To recapture the value of becoming a crone, the Feminist Spiritual
Community of Portland, Maine, began holding crone rituals in the early 1980s. "Since the patriarchy isn't going to value old
women, we celebrate ourselves. It's becoming quite widespread,'' says Ward, now 67 and a member of the Portland group. She
had her croning ceremony in 1990.
More recently, the Crones Council was formed, drawing women
from all over the USA. Last year, about 300 women attended Crones Council III in Scottsdale, Ariz., says Ann Kreilkamp, 53,
a member of the council and editor of The Crone Chronicles - A Journal of Conscious Aging. As a result, crone groups
are forming all over the country.
Circulation of Kreilkamp's journal also testifies to the growing
interest. Started six years ago with 100 copies sent to friends, The Crone Chronicles now has 10,000 subscribers. The
quarterly journal, published in Kelly, Wyo., dedicates itself to "re-activating the archetype of the Crone within contemporary
The magazine typically prints one crone ritual every issue,
she adds. But nothing about the ceremony is prescribed. Many women write their own, though books of crone rituals are now
available. And there is no preferred setting. The rituals can be done at home, in a church or outdoors. They can last 10 minutes
or go on for days and include lavish feasting. Women often wear purple, the color associated with old age and wisdom.
There is also no set time to hold a crone ceremony. Some women
wait until after menopause or when they turn 56 - a significant point in the astrological world.
In all cases, the rite of passage carries individual meaning.
For Linda Sanda, the ceremony acknowledged the troubled waters she had crossed in her life. For Sandra Bury, 61, who had hercroning
at 56, it was a celebration of old age. For Maureen Barton-Wicks, 53, of Des Moines, it was a way to publicly commit her life
to God and acknowledge her wisdom.
"I wanted to say to the world, `I'm proud of who I am, and I
claim the crone in me,' '' Barton-Wicks says.
For these three women, preparation was intense. Each spent months
reading, writing and reviewing events in her life. Bury, a Des Moines school counselor, says the power of the croning ceremony
was more in writing it than going through it.
For Barton-Wicks, reliving various events "was horrendous,''
she recalls. What's more, it was hard work. She revised her ceremony seven times before she was satisfied.
Barton-Wicks had her croning during the regular Sunday service
at her church. No meal or celebration followed. "To me, it's a sacred ceremony. It's not a birthday party. That was enough
for me,'' she says.
Bury's ceremony, held at the church with a few relatives and
friends, took about 15 minutes and didn't cost anything. A former harp teacher, Bury wrote a chant that everyone sang. She
brought objects from home that had been important in her life.
Sanda, who directs community education programs for the West
Des Moines public schools, wanted a celebration in addition to a ceremony. She sent invitations and had a buffet supper in
She had been a nun for 13 years, and she says she struggled
for years with feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty about her relationship with God and the desire to marry and have children.
Now she's married to a former priest and the mother of two. She says the croning ceremony felt like a coming out after years
What does a woman gain from a croning ceremony?
Five years after Bury had hers, she feels vigorous and joyful
about her age. "Right now, I'm thinking about what my next careers will be. I hear people talk about feeling burned out. But
I'm just getting started,'' she says.
Two years after Barton-Wicks' ceremony, she is studying to be
a minister. "I'm allowing myself to be led by spirit, rather than ego. And today, I appreciate my fears. They're only trying
to protect me,'' she says. As a bonus, she says, "I no longer feel life is too short or I am too old.''
Since Sanda's ceremony a year ago, life has been richer and
more joyful. "I've had some real healing experiences. I still get mad at things. I have a teen-age son who's challenging.
But I know he can teach me.''
And what's even more important, she says: "Instead of feeling
as though I'm fighting life, I feel as though I'm one with life.''