Friday, September 7, 2018

A Deep Exploration of Elderhood

What does it mean to be an elder? That’s the question raised in Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, written by Stephen Jenkinson (North Atlantic Books, 2018). Jenkinson contends that although there are more old people than ever, there are fewer elders. Elderhood, he says, has been swept away in a time of constant change and a refusal to acknowledge limits. 

Through Jenkinson’s musings, we are led to examine our lives and values, and the never-ending quest for continued growth. This seemingly sacred value of the western imagination and way of living is at odds with what it means to be an elder. 

Come of Age is a meandering book – flowing into the etymology of words, and the shift in their meanings as a result of shifts in society; to the author’s musings on colonialism; life on his farm; the founding of his Orphan Wisdom school; and other subjects, all of which flow like streams to join the river of the meaning and necessity of elderhood for the young and for the old. 

Elderhood, Jenkinson states, “is one stout antidote to the learned insignificance that howls in the heart of those jockeying for recognition.”

With all these wanderings, I sometimes didn’t understand exactly what the author was trying to say. Sometimes I didn’t agree with his statements. Yet, I’d say this is essential reading for anyone would like to explore what elderhood means, and who wonders “where to?” in this age of ever-changing uncertainties.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Conscious Elderhood

I did not deride the old though I was young

The line above was written by Cormac Mac Cuileannรกin, King and Poet of Cashel, CE 833 – 903 (Celtic Myths and Legends, Peter Berresford Ellis)). Derision of the old in western culture appears to have been going on for a long time. And not just by the young. I’ve heard people in their sixties ridicule others a decade (or perhaps not even that much) older than themselves with the use of terms such as “old cakes” and “geris.” And terms for older women are frequently much worse. 

Do you dread the thought of becoming, or being, old? Take a moment to ask yourself why. What does being old mean to you?

Our present culture values youth but there are tribal cultures where elderhood is (or has been, until recently) acknowledged as an honored state. Take this Chinese proverb:
A family that has an old person has a jewel

The jewel of the old person is knowledge and experience that, ideally, leads to wisdom. The treasure is in having lived long enough to know the values that are important to a fulfilled and happy life. Having lived through sixty or more decades, the elder can look back with clear vision and pass on that insight to the generations behind him or her. 

Although our bodies inevitably slow down and our physical energy lessens, the gifts of age should be the time to reflect, time to turn towards our deepest selves, and inner balancing. It may be a time to take on a new task or calling and to become moral leaders and guides within our communities speaking with the voice of experience, reason and wisdom.
It is helpful to each of us to approach this stage on life consciously, deciding on our roles and how we wish to interact with the world in new ways. We are often freed from the all-consuming tasks of raising a family and the demands of career. We can be free, also, of the unthinking acquisition of “things.” It is no wonder that, for a consumer-dominated society, the older person has no value and that the voice that speaks of deeper values is ignored.
How can we combat this outlook on life, one that sidelines the elder? We can start by questioning our own thinking. We need to shift the lens through which we look at ourselves. – from one of physical ability and ego, to who we are in a deeper sense. How do you live your life with a new understanding? We can start by speaking of elders in new terms that are not disparaging or dismissive. We can start by listening, and by spending time with the aged. 

And we can begin a process of acceptance and celebration with ceremony. Creating such an event gives us an opportunity to pause, take stock and rethink. 

An elder ceremony is an event that marks a passage into the new stage, and gives us a chance to consider the meaning of this new stage. It is a way of integrating the stages of our life. The timing for the ceremony is individual. It can be at age fifty, or later, depending on the feeling and readiness of the person. Some women choose to take on the role of elder after menopause; others will wait longer. 

An elderhood ceremony helps us to focus on the experiences and goals of this new phase in life, a phase that is not one of moving to the sidelines, but of going further into our truest selves and the relationships that mean the most to us. We symbolically acknowledge where we are and we move forward without fear. We are welcomed into the tribe of elders, we embrace our role.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

To Name is to Create

A name announces our individual presence to the world. It defines who we are and how we are known. And so, the naming of a baby, the presentation of a new being into the world, is an occasion that is joyful and, also, one that can set the course in the life that is being lived. Think of how the name of a famous parent will create opportunities (and, perhaps, difficulties) for the life of that child. For the rest of us, the name may connect the child with ancestors and our family - it says you are one of us. The naming of a child is important.

I once knew someone who had been adopted. As an adult, this man decided to reclaim the name he had received from his birth mother. This was his way of saying this is where I came from, this is where I have chosen to belong.

Others of us may choose to change one or more of our names for other reasons. Many of us with some African ancestry may choose to find a connection to that continent through a name. When enslaved people were brought from Africa, their names were taken from them,signifying that their personhood no longer mattered. The often negative reaction received when a woman chooses not to take on her husband's name is a measure of the depth of patriarchal values. Some people may find that their birth name no longer fits them and they would like a new name - a rebirth - to show that they are a new person. 

Some of us may have names that are used only in particular circumstances, such as a name used by a Druid that connects him or her to a deity or some other aspect of the world of spirit. It is no small thing to give up an old name, or to take on a new one. It sets us upon a new way of being.

In one of the stories of Isis, she desires to know the secret name of Ra. Without his secret name, Isis cannot know his deepest, truest being, or claim his magic for herself.  By trickery, she finds the secret name of Ra and becomes the mistress of all magic.

A name is magic. Celebrate the giving of a name - whether to a baby, or when taking on a new name. Think about everything that this name means. It is who you are, or who you wish to become.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

To Honor Loss

Friends and companions, human and animal, will leave our lives, creating an empty space where they have been. We mourn their loss while we struggle to maintain the flow of or lives, now interrupted by sorrow. Let there be a space four mourning. Let there be the time for tears and the acknowledgment of loss. Let us not be too quick to 'get over it.'

Our grief may be private and individual, or it may be shared with close friends and family. Either way, we must not dismiss it. It remains a piece of us, always.

If a close friend or relative is dying, let us sit with that person, sharing the comfort of presence, a human touch and voice. We sit with the dying to ease their passing.

Let us come together at this time of grief with a funeral or memorial which honors the love and life of the beloved who is gone from us.

And let us, in time, find a space of happy remembrance, and a joy in what has been shared, and the love that is a part of us forever.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coming of Age: How Ritual Can Celebrate this Passage

Many of us have not taken part in a coming of age ceremony.  The transition from girl to woman, or boy to man, is not often marked within western culture. Yet, is was seen as necessary to traditional cultures around the world as a way of continuing the values of the culture in new adults, and helping the young man or woman to understand their role within their society.

Missionaries and military formed a two-pronged attack on traditional cultures around the world.  The work of the missionary was instrumental in branding the ceremonies of the colonized societies as unnecessary, or evil. It was an effective way to destroy these peoples and cultures, leaving them open to exploitation.

What could a return to marking the transition to adulthood, achieve in present-day western culture?  Could it create a starting point for a more fulfilling experience for the new adult?  I would suggest that it could.  A ceremony, by itself, cannot take away all the trial and error that comes with this stage of life, but it can provide guideposts, a mindset that causes a young woman to consider her options within a specific framework of the experiences of women who have come before her, and whom she knows within her community.   It is the family and community aspect of the ceremony that provide the support and acknowledgement for the role that the woman must consider for her future life.

Although I speak as a woman, specifically about the transition of girl to woman, coming of age rituals are equally important for men to guide their sons, nephews and other young males within their family or community.  All too often, misogyny and rape is seen as acceptable, and women's sexuality viewed through the lens of the pornographer.   Young men, too, need to consider their role and behavior. 

The rite must include frank conversations about the questions that young people have, and the experiences they are likely to face. The rite itself, is only one part of the process.  The conversations must begin before any ritual, and ideally, continue afterwards. 

The young woman has many things to consider: How will she go about building a career? What will it mean to be a mother? What would it mean to delay motherhood?  What would it mean to make the choice not to be a mother at all?  How will she express her sexuality?  How does she see her body? There will be discussions about coercion and consent.

And most of all, a ritual will acknowledge and celebrate a new stage in life.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How would you mark a life passage?

What would you look for in a ceremony to mark an important passage in your life?

The ceremony would need to be an expression of the core meaning of this change; it would need to reach into the center of what is happening in your life at this time, and point to the way forward.  You would need to feel the connection to these events within your heart.  The ceremony would be an expression of your authentic self.

It takes time to design such a ceremony - one that fits your beliefs, and is beautiful and meaningful to you.  It is important that I, the celebrant or officiant, work with you so that, together, we can bring together the elements that will be woven into this ceremony.

You may not be aligned to a particular religion.  Even so, we can be spiritual beings and touch the spiritual within ourselves and in the outer world through ceremony that gives us that connection without dogma.

If you are a Druid or a pagan, your specific path will be honored through ceremony.

We experience the spiritual and mark deep changes, finding the meaning of each passage as we move through life's changes.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Need to Mark Life's Changes

Passages are milestones to be honored and celebrated: coming into this world at birth; the naming of a new child; the transition from childhood to adulthood; the joining of your life with another; the transition to elder. Other transitions may be more painful and filled with sadness.  Or, perhaps, they come with a sense of relief when something has been outworn, and it is time to move on: a parting or divorce, a miscarriage, a death.  These, too, are events to honor, to mark, and to share with those who are close to you.
Ceremonies are not empty words and actions, they should be tailored to the individuals and families involved.  Like the events that they mark, the effects last in time and in memory.

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