Lately I have been thinking about aging and how it is viewed in our society. Somewhere along the line, we began to fear aging so much that we spend billions of dollars every year trying to find a way around it. People buy creams, inject themselves with poison, get surgery, cover gray hair, and many other things in an attempt to try to stall the aging process or turn back time. The fact is that we can't turn back time. From the time the sperm meets the egg and we become a zygote, then an embryo, then a fetus, and a baby, we are moving forward. Even in utero we are aging, and we continue aging for the rest of our lives. When did that come a bad thing?
I was recently giving a lecture about the reproductive system to my (adult) students, and we were discussing menopause. I said that it is something that all women go through, and one of my students asked if there was any way to prevent it. The only way to prevent menopause is to die young. The thing is, we shouldn't look at menopause or aging with fear or disgust. Change doesn't have to be a bad thing. Wrinkles and gray hair can be beautiful. When did we start fearing the crone?
What is the crone figure?
Let's start out by taking a look at the history of the crone figure. At one point, ALL of us had ancestors who practiced pagan religions. In each of the pagan religions, we see a common theme of goddesses filling the roles of maiden, mother, and crone. The crone role has been filled by goddesses like Morrigan, Babd, Baba Yaga, Grandmother Spiderwoman, Kali, Inari, Nephthys, Xochi Quetzal, Hekate, and more.
Regardless of how many, if any, deities you believe in, the archetypes of the maiden, mother, and crone can be applied to all women, and I have always liked the symbolism behind these figures. We begin as children (maiden), blossom into womanhood (mother), and eventually we all lose our ability to have children and transition into menopause or post menopause (crone). Each stage of life is divine, useful, and beautiful. The maiden phase represents youth, vitality, and innocence. The mother represents life-giving, sexuality, and fertility. The crone phase represents wisdom, change, and strength. In our society we still prize youth, and childbearing age women are becoming more empowered, but for some reason, once we hit a certain age, many women begin to feel like they are losing that power and respect, and that is wrong.
Where did we go wrong?
This attitude toward older women was not always the norm, and in some countries it still isn't. In more matriarchal societies, older women represent the core of the family. They hold knowledge, wisdom, and experience. Older women were the healers, medicine women, and midwives. They played a significant role in the function of a family and community. At various points through history, people began to fear these wise women. Women were no longer encouraged to learn and were taken from places of power. The more knowledge we have, the more power we can wield, and women were no longer supposed to wield that power.
And so the archetype of the witch (a term which originally referring to women who were learned or wise) was born. Now we begin to see the depictions of knarled old women with warts and stringy hair huddled over cauldrons plotting terrible harm to others. This archetype began popping up in stories and was used to scare children. How many folk tales have the witch who eats children's souls, or the evil step mother, or other equally ridiculous stereotypes? Women were now being hunted and killed as witches for such infractions as reading a book, and the stories children grew up hearing were full of old women who wished harm to others, especially children. This fueled that fear toward older women, and while most of us today don't believe that the older women in our lives are evil or mean us harm, we still have that residual fear of aging. It is not an inherent trait to fear aging and death, it is something we have learned over generations.
What can we do?
The way we view aging in our society is very unhealthy. We fear getting older, and to a certain extent, fear those who are older because we see them as representatives of our fears. I often say that I do not fear aging and generally people tell me that it is because I'm still young, and wait until I get my first wrinkle, but I don't foresee myself changing my mind. In fact, I think it is important that other people begin to stop fearing aging. We need to start recognizing that the older population still has much to give and if we acknowledge them as important human beings, eventually, we as a society will stop fearing aging.
I encourage you to embrace signs of age as another facet of beauty. In fact, in my observation, people who try the least to prevent aging, tend to age more gracefully because they radiate confidence. On the other hand, those who insist on altering themselves to try to appear younger wind up appearing older because they are trying to hide who they are which is energetically very harmful for an individual.
Next time you read a story or see a movie with a creepy old woman as the antagonist, remember where those stereotypes come from and how damaging they can be. Let's take back the word crone and return it to its original meaning, one of respect. We are all always aging, and that isn't a bad thing, so let's stop acting like it is.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.