Circles of Crones

Illustrations: Narcissa Weatherbee
Illustrations: Narcissa Weatherbee

Wise Women Walking Together

[dropbox]I[/dropbox]t was June of 2012 and I was about to celebrate my sixty-fifth birthday. It seemed like a milestone of some sort, an achievement or, possibly, an arrival. Medicare notices had been coming in the mail for months so it was hard to ignore this one. And besides, some of my Quaker sisters had been nudging me to organize a get-together to really talk about this time in our lives. So, for myriad reasons, I invited a few women to my house for lunch as a kind of birthday present to myself. I called the gathering a coming-out party for crones. Not everyone around the table was comfortable with the word “crone” or identifying themselves as such.

What is a crone, you ask? A crone is a postmenopausal woman who is ready and willing to acknowledge her age, her wisdom, her power. Together, we are women who speak our minds from a place of inner wisdom and experience. Crone (or hag) is defined as “holy woman” in early English. However, somewhere in the evolution of the language, the word has become synonymous with old, wizened, wrinkled, and worthless. The connotation of crone in our society is negative, thought to be a blemish—a big pimple, in fact.

As we sat together and shared our stories, we were sometimes amazed at what we heard ourselves saying. At other times, we were nodding our heads in a quiet understanding that “the sister speaks my mind and connects to my heart.” We are wise women with decades of life experience and have become elders in our communities. We have much to share and still much to learn on this journey. We have been maidens and mothers and are now crones. Becoming one with the wise woman within and re-defining the concept of crone needs some mutual support and some action.

Collectively, we were grieving many losses: our youth, our work, our mothering role, our aging bodies, our relationships, etc. We wondered out loud what happens next. “What are we going to do until we’re 102?” asked one woman. The others smiled, then got serious. As we looked around the circle at our fellow beautiful, vivacious sisters, we knew we had so very much living to do in the coming years. What a gift we gave each other that day.

We decided to organize a gathering for women over 50 to see if others were interested in joining us on this journey. We crafted the following statement:

Wise women walking together: discovering our true and authentic selves. We gather to embrace the wisdom within us and nurture our true nature. We seek to redefine retirement and acknowledge our aging process with fierceness, passion, and patience. We share our journeys and seek support from our sisters. Soul collage art, walks in the woods, meditation and journaling, movement and massage are all part of this day. Together we learn to live into our whole selves as women—maidens, mothers, and crones.

We sent an email invitation around to our Quaker women Friends who forwarded it to their friends. We decided to limit the registration for our first day-long workshop to 30 spots to keep it manageable. We set the agenda and divided up leadership roles. Food and beverages were purchased. Registrations came from women and their friends from six different meeting communities. The excitement grew and the word spread from woman to woman. It seemed we had touched on something that resonated with many.

Crones2Our gathering of crones was magical. A broad goal for the day was networking—gaining sister support and accompaniment on our journeys. More specifically, we intended to rethink retirement, share our wisdom, let go of expectations, learn to care for ourselves as well as for others, grieve the losses as they come, acknowledge our age, step out of our comfort zone, find our true, authentic selves, live with authenticity, and embrace the crone within us. Piece of cake!

During the opening circle, each participant introduced herself, and we shared sentiments about being a crone. As we explored these feelings, each woman was encouraged to speak from her heart and her own experience. A few guidelines were agreed upon to help the process flow smoothly: give everyone the opportunity to speak once before speaking again; be mindful and listen deeply without judgement; honor confidentiality; and be supportive, non-confrontational crones.

We settled into silence with the query: “What is on your heart that brought you here today?” Crones were advised to write their thoughts onto sticky notes. Those written responses were then arranged under the headings: 1) economics and aging, 2) staying healthy and centered, 3) creating supportive community, 4) “third mission” and spiritual journey in life, and 5) other.

In small group time, the conversation was dynamic and deep chords were struck. We gathered again into a large group for some reflection and a chant or two before breaking for lunch. Whew! That was just the morning, and already so much richness had been mined.

In the afternoon, there were choices to be made. Women could sign up for SoulCollage, meditation and walking, movement and massage, or journaling your journey of aging. It seemed like we needed more time and yet the timing was perfect. We each created a seven-word mantra to take with us. Words arranged themselves into such statements as: “surrendering to the creative, compassionate, wise crone” and “honoring the crone within, letting her LIVE.” We shared some more words of wisdom around the circle and parted ways much the richer for the time together.

Evaluations of the day reflected the positive vibes and included suggestions for subsequent circles. One response was repeated in variations: “Expectations were more than exceeded, and the gathering was beyond words.” Another question asked: “Would you attend another of such gatherings or recommend it to friends?” To which one woman replied, “I would go to any and all such gatherings. I had a great day and felt like my brain was shaken up out of its usual rut.” And so, as they say, the rest is herstory.

Our committee of seven crones continues to meet monthly. Over lunch we share our journeys, and the nurturing we give to and receive from each other continues to deepen and inspire us. We look back over the year and marvel at all that has transpired. We have facilitated six gatherings for more than 100 women. Shared leadership has gone so smoothly that we barely notice how it moves among us. We wonder out loud how we could possibly go this journey without the abiding love and support of each other.

At a recent weekend retreat at the beach, we acknowledged our journey of the past year and committed to another year. We considered whether this work with crones is a ministry, and we continue to live into that question. In the meantime, we have committed to meeting monthly and organizing quarterly gatherings for the wider community of crones.

According to Hopi elders, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” In the midst of loss and inevitable change, they remind us to be good to each other, create community that is supportive, and, above all, look within ourselves for the leader. The world needs us more than ever to step into our power—as wise women, as people of conscience, as crones.

As we activate the crone archetype in our contemporary culture, we unleash passion and tap into seasoned wisdom. As women living fully into the maiden, mother, and crone within, we serve ourselves and the world around us equally. So be it!

Bette Rainbow Hoover

Bette Rainbow Hoover is a grandmother, bodyworker, peacemaker, and circle facilitator. Her house in the woods keeps her close to nature and offers a space for crones and others to gather. She is a member and former clerk of Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting.

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