Planning a Ritual for Your Third Age
Excerpt from Reverence, Creating Ritual in Modern Life (November, 2021)
A thoughtful and intentional ceremony can aid in an easeful flow through the physical and cultural changes that come in midlife, and be like a graduation into a new time of creativity. The pagans and unitarians have long done this- it's called a "croning" ceremony, but that term is so loaded- it has connotations of “hag” and some fairy tale kind of bad witch. In more expansive spiritual traditions, croning is a stepping into the fullness of what you've learned and been gifted with thus far, seeing where you still are growing, and being recognized in your community as a wisdom keeper. In the Unitarian tradition, the “croning” rite of passage can be called when a woman has either reached the age of 50, gone through menopause, become a grandmother or has “decided, for a reason deemed right by the woman herself, that it is now appropriate to claim this status.”
When we visibly practice this ritual, it’s not only for ourselves: we are reclaiming reverence and status for the wise woman and the elder in the culture at large.
The writer Elaine Mansfield wrote a beautiful essay in which she describes her own ceremony of gathering in the wilderness with women of many different ages, to mark her transition to cronedom. She writes, “Now, I’m safe from her reproductive demands—no more babies, no more birth control. I’m relieved, but also sad. My cycles of bleeding, so central to the last thirty-four years, are over. I marked my life on the calendar of those cycles, I depended on their familiar rhythms, and now they are gone, irrevocably gone.”
Author Tara Kreauweaumonn writes, “To me, the life transition that makes a woman a crone is the most important and beautiful transition we get.” She points out that puberty happens when we’re not quite intentional yet about who we are becoming, and that the intentions of elderhood are self-created.
The end of menstruation ritual may include, as it did for Elaine, saying goodbye to bleeding and pregnancy and fear of pregnancy. It may include discarding the male gaze if that’s still a thing for you. By this age, we’re no longer primarily defining ourselves in relationship to men, but rather, welcoming a new time of standing in our own power. That may include choosing a more expansive relationship to other women- as sister, mother figure, leader, mentor. We like to think that at this point we are lifting up the next two generations, and still standing in reverent relation to our elders and peers.
The invitation of the period is to love and accept all of yourself, to forgive yourself and others, to get in touch with your own innocent heart, to make a commitment to ongoing learning, to release “desirability” as a source of value, and to craft a vision for a powerful future for yourself.
Planning your blessing:
-- Like all rituals, these affirmations are best when witnessed. Not many people will have been invited to a Croning or a Third Age celebration. Consider inviting men and breaking the gender isolation of this important ritual. If you are doing it only in a community of women, you might invite your mother, your daughter, your granddaughter - and any women whom you teach or learn from, women you respect and love, and who will support you dreaming the future into being.
--Consider a sacred or wild or natural location, something that stretches you physically.
--Consider a change of dress, hair, name, totem- what will mark the before and after state? How will you behave differently before this ritual and after? How will you be known?
--What symbolism of transformation will you use in your ceremony? Water, fire, wind? Dance, movement, acting, staging? How can you encourage a physical sense of the change that is happening in you? Are there any physical artifacts that need to be released?
--Consider the feedback, encouragement and support you would like to receive from participants. Do you want to hear how you’ve impacted them, where they respect you and would like to learn from you, what they thank you for and release you from, how they might support the vision you’ve shared?
--Consider what memento or artifact you wish to create to help you remind yourself who you are becoming now.
This is a sample affirmation for a crone ritual. Personalize this one, or write your own.
If you’re having trouble naming a vision, consider a three day period of silence or a vision quest.
This is your time to listen for what is bubbling up for your future, and a rich psycho-spiritual initiation into the wisdom years.
May it be one of deep enjoyment.