Yesterday, with my old friend Rich, we spoke about the Saturn Return — first return at 30, second return at 60, third return at 90: three 30 year cycles as developmental stages. Rich is now 64, well into the third cycle. Back in 1989 I started Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging, in part because as an astrologer I had always found myself talking about the third cycle of Saturn as meant to be an evolutionary step from the second, just as the second is intended as an incorporation and further development of the first. If the first cycle of Saturn is the one where we learn what the rules and roles are of the society that we grew up inside of; and the second cycle is that of individuation, where, knowing the rules now, we carve out our own lives despite them; then the third cycle is . . . what? To call it the cycle of wisdom begs the question. What is wisdom? What does it mean to be moving through a cycle when you are a fully developed individual now, no longer needing to prove oneself to the world in any way?
For women, these three stages are illustrated by the triune nature of the old Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
And for men, the same. Let’s call him “Elder.” So what is an elder, what is a crone?
Well, you might say, it depends. In part it’s cultural, and in part, not. See for example:
Me? I’ve always found myself drawn to Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Just their name itself turns me on. Reminds me of another evocative name, the title of Pinkola-Estes book Women Who Run with the Wolves.
And now I see where Great Old Broads are gathering in Michigan May 15-18. Hmmmm. Can I carve out time for this journey? Sleeping with the Bear: A Great Old Broads for Wilderness Broadwalk Event at Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Meanwhile, after seeing scuttlebutt somewhere about babushkas in Ukraine defending their land, I tried to find out more. This is all I came up with, at least so far.
Some of the toughest militants I met in the last two weeks were women over the age of 65. This generation grew up in the shadow of World War II. They spent their adult years under communism. As pensioners, they now survive on around $100 a month. One woman in Donetsk had a full set of gold teeth, top and bottom. When she told me she was ready to die for Russia, I believed her. A woman in Luhansk told me that every day she prays for God to make her city part of Russia, and every day she asks the militants to give her a weapon. Luckily for everyone, the militants tell her no.
When photos showed a roadblock in Slovyansk guarded by old women in headscarves, rumors started to fly that the grandmothers had been paid to stand there. That’s entirely plausible. But it’s also wholly believable that these babushkas were the first to volunteer for the front lines.
I must add that I also met one babushka I wanted to take home with me. Lida Vasilivna, 80, of Perevalsk, was planting tomatoes and onions when I met her. She is the happiest woman I’ve ever met, even though her town resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland. When I asked if I could take her picture, she told me she was waving to everyone in America.
A.K. again: Notice how the author of the above (a young man?) seems somewhat condescending towards the old woman? (Take home a babushka, rather like taking home a stray puppy?)
The point is, it seems to me, that it’s true, being old truly “is not for sissies.” The young ones tend to ignore you, or are afraid of you. Too many of the other old ones are already decrepit, their long, bitter, lonely faces haunting. And conscious aging is even more daunting. How do you age with, as one crone group in Seattle used to say, “Power, Passion and Purpose” when your body is “failing”? For fail it will, it’s inevitable. Just how fast is in part up to us. The more we live from the inside out, the more we recognize and treat our bodies with utmost respect and tenderness — these old bodies have been our partners through thick and thin, totally faithful, they never leave us for another; why do we tend to take them for granted until they start to break down and then we curse them and feel victimized? Oh I could go on and on about how people in their 50s tend to “get” all the major chronic diseases, become more and more debilitated, mostly because they haven’t bothered all along to regularly exercise, eat well, and detoxify their bodies of pollutants we willingly and not willingly take into them. But if we do do this, if we truly care for our bodies as primary, especially in this third cycle of Saturn, then we can gift ourselves to the world, all the lessons we’ve learned, all the talents we’ve developed, all the skills and opportunities that we’ve managed to parlay into an infinitely complex and nuanced responsiveness to whatever calls our attention NOW.
Yes. Aging well is for people of great heart and stamina and, of course, as Rich was so ably demonstrating with me, LAUGHTER. Taking ourselves not at all seriously, despite our seriousness of intent as activists who aim to cherish and embrace the healing of this beautiful Earth for our children and grandchildren in these crucial beginning years of the 21st century.