Entering the Crone Age

Author Jean Shinoda Bolen talks about turning a negative stereotype into an inspiring archetype for older women.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst, is a pioneer in bringing together spirituality and psychology in such books as Goddesses in Everywoman, Gods in Everyman, The Tao of Psychology, Crossing to Avalon, and others. She is active in developing women's circles for social change, outlined in her book "The Millionth Circle." She spoke to Beliefnet about the growth potential of older women and her new book, "Crones Don't Whine."

Why did the image of the crone strike you as representative of women getting older?

It comes out of the archetype of the Great Goddess as maiden, mother, crone, which exists forever in the collective unconscious of humanity and in the historical connection that humans have had with the moon. The moon has three phases-the waxing moon, which is associated with the young woman, or maiden phase; the full moon, the mother or mature phase; and the waning moon, which is the older woman or crone.

I came to appreciate the word "crone" from women who preceded me in the women's spirituality movement. A number of them, as they turn menopausal, have been having croning ceremonies to honor this phase of their lives. In fact there is an ancient tradition of honoring women in the postmenopausal phase that has been non-existent in our own culture, which is so maiden-oriented.


The word "crone" does not conjure up a very attractive picture-it's defined as a "withered, dried-up old woman."

Crone has been made into an ugly word. Another honored word at one time-it's so unredeemable now that I didn't even think about trying to save it-is the word hag, which comes from hagia, which means the sacred one. It used to be associated with hagiography, the study of saints. But it's beyond redemption [laughs].

That's why I love to juxtapose the word "juicy" with crone. Initially, you don't think that they fit together, but when it clicks in that they do fit together-and the juicy crone might be a way to think about yourself-it's sort of a delight. And I maintain that the crone phase can truly be the crowning glory of a lifetime!

So what's good about being a crone?

It's a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, "Enough is enough." You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon.

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Interview by Wendy Schuman
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