Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Wise Crone Archetype Is Depicted in Long Interviews with Real Women

Interest in the third face of the maiden-mother-crone archetype is spawning books, articles, and even a magazine. One of the best is The Living Spirit of the Crone, fluently written by Sally Palmer Thomason (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, Theology and Sciences series).

The wise crone is emerging as a woman symbol for conscious aging.

Fluently Written and Very Readable

This highly readable book is a serious contemplation on growing old for women. Starting with feminist efforts to reclaim the wise crone archetype as a woman symbol of feminine power, Thomason effectively uses the long interview format to bring into focus the epiphanies of late life for specific women.

This is both the strength and the weakness of The Living Spirit of the Crone. Thomason uses the best practices of ethnographic research by checking back with her sources to comment on whether her interview descriptions capture the essence of what each wanted to express. In one instance, she has even translated the interview into a prose poem.

Interviews Offer Depth Not Glib Anecdotes

I don’t want anyone to think that this means the work is a dreary academic tome fit mostly for researchers. These interviews are deep and rich insights into how women built a new life stage in a society that worships sexual youth and beauty, overlooks the second face of the triple goddess, and denigrates the last stage of the maiden-mother-crone.

The contrast favorably with the anecdotal stories that little popular psychology and often barely scrape the surface of an exemplar’s life story. Such stories often imply that they are somehow universal descriptors of human experience.

To her credit, Thomason avoids this pitfall by pointing out the deficiency of interpreting the case histories as universal. She writes:

Each Interview Story Is Unique

Trying to comprehend the multiple and mysterious facets of aging is like trying to embrace a giant amoeba. When squeeze in one direction, it squirts out and dribbles off in another direction . . . this is not surprising, for the process of aging mirrors . . . [the] changing process of life itself. . . . Extemporaneous stories from other women give profound testimony to the reality that personal meaning is situated in place, time, and culture. . . . We all have a story within. If we listen carefully, we find clues of what we value and who we are becoming” (p. 18).

Walker reviews some well-worn material for the reader who may not have done much previous reading about aging. This includes tracing the history of the crone archetype and etymologies of words such as hag and witch that have origins reverencing older female as sources of wisdom. This is all part of decades-long feminist historical research to bring to completion the maiden-mother-crone triple goddess as a woman symbol of for the wise crone.

Aging Is Not a Disease To Be Treasted

Thomason summarizes the trend of science to identify aging as a medical condition to be treated, rather than as a stage of life to be honored. The book culminates by referencing the work of Carl Jung.

She suggests that successful aging is a time of growth and increased connection with the unconscious.

She proposes the last trimester of life as a time to write a “new script” for our lives. This includes reflecting on what we have learned, being aware that we may choose our conscious responses to the unbidden and often unwanted conditions of our elder years, and to greet the imminence of our own ends as part of the mysterious processes of birth, life, and death. By doing so, the older woman may hope to grow into the role of the wise crone.

Get inspired! Write your unique late-life script.

Source: Thomason, S.P. (2006). The living spirit of the crone: Turning aging inside out. In K. J. Sharpe (ed.) Theology and the Sciences series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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