Let me begin by saying that so far as I can tell, men need initiations too. I don't think anyone questions this, but being in a woman's body I have no direct experience of being a man and so I wouldn't presume to know much about men's needs and desires. Besides, I'm more interested at this moment in the experience of elder women because I'm seeing the potential of empowered, awakened elder women—whom I will refer to with the honorary title of Crones—to be an incredibly valuable untapped resource for the 21st Century.
Why are Crones a precious resource? There are the obvious reasons: the wisdom and maturity that comes with years of experience and a lifetime of accumulated knowledge. A long life doesn't automatically make you wise, but if you've been a risk taker you've made mistakes, and if you've learned from your mistakes and survived, you've become wise. If you've been fortunate enough to have some wise mentors and teachers, even better. In the East this is known as lineage, a concept often unknown or unpopular in the West and sometimes overly rigid in the East, but at its best it transmits a legacy carefully cultivated over centuries and beyond. And this is the essence of initiation.
Elder men can be wise as well, but they are more likely to be in a position where they can make good use of that wisdom if they haven't been lulled to sleep by the cultural program. Women face some formidable challenges as we grow older. The odds of losing your mate to death, despair, or a younger woman are high. The likelihood of having been guided into Cronedom by the previous generation is low. To the extent that our value as women is based on youth, fertility, appearance, and pheromones (that is, our ability to turn men on) we are going to experience an enormous loss of erotic capital. Even if sex appeal isn't your primary identity as a woman, the culture is not going to support your sense of worth in the same way it did in your youth. The cultural program is set to sabotage the self esteem of older women because once they can no longer reproduce they become expendable. We also become convenient projection screens for people still struggling with toxic relationships with their own mothers. At the same time elder women's sexuality can be deeper, freer, more authentic and multi-dimensional than ever and her capacity for intimacy and love is generally much greater than in her youth. If this is not a challenge, I don't know what is! No wonder so many elder women just give up.
Empowerment involves far more than sexual satisfaction, but because of the asexual image of the crone in our culture and the taboos surrounding crone sexuality, it's crucial to reclaim the erotic passion of the crone. It's easier to say why than how so I just might have to create some experiences to communicate it.
A Crone is much harder to control—and impress—than a young, inexperienced, immature woman (or man) who is dependent upon the approval and support of those in power for a myriad of reasons. A Crone simply knows too much be easily misled. She is self-validating. If fully empowered, she is a threat to the established order. The Crone is over it when it comes to trying to appear maidenly or motherly or sexy or queenly. Her wisdom and power come fully online only when she surrenders to death: No longer afraid of wrinkles, grey hair and an imperfect body while yet remaining full of life. She is no longer ruled by egoic concerns. She is the boss of herself. Push her aside and she'll flow onto center stage with the ease of an Aikido master.
How women become Crones is where initiation comes in. I know a lot of women hate that word, and I feel it's important to transform the word along with the whole aging meme. As I said in the beginning, getting old does not automatically make one wise. Michael Meade has brilliantly articulated the nature and purpose of initiation and its association with death when he says: "More than an empty tomb, death becomes also the womb of change… Initiation includes death and rebirth, a radical altering of a person's mode of being, a shattering and shaking all the way to the ground of the soul. The initiate becomes as another person: more fully in life emotionally and more spiritually aware. Loss of identity and even feeling betrayal of one's self are essential to rites of passage… Initiation means beginning the revelation of one's true self. It includes the opening up of the inner life of the spirit and releasing the potentials and possibilities within the individual."Women need at least three initiations between birth and death as they pass from maiden to mother to crone. If our preparation for sexual maturity and motherhood has become inadequate in modern times, our initiation into Cronedom is usually non-existent. Some of us are able to self initiate, but what of the rest? To be continued…