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Study: Spiritual Orientation Bolsters Aging Process


New research suggests a spiritual orientation could be a source of strength for some women in later life.

The study by Lydia Manning from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) is based on data from interviews with eight pagan women, aged 43 to 68 years. Five had been practicing paganism for 25 years; two for more than 10 years; and one was new to the practice. Seven of the participants were wives and mothers, and one had never married.

The study found the women were attracted to paganism because it:

  • emphasizes natured-based spirituality;
  • lacks institutional structures;
  • encourages diversity; and
  • supports personal development throughout life.

The findings appeared online in the Journal of Aging Studies (Sept. 22, 2011).

Croning ritual

All participants incorporated aspects of the Goddess or the Divine Feminine in their beliefs. In paganism, women’s development encompasses three stages: maiden, mother and crone.

Five of the women had croning rituals to mark their passage into elderhood.

"Croning" ceremonies can be adapted to suit each individual. The ritual also includes some common elements such as:

  • sharing life stories;
  • gift-giving; and
  • marking age as entry into a wisdom stage of life.

    Here’s how one participant described her croning:

    The way I look at the wisdom years really starts at the second Saturn cycle, so I figured out when that was and I had the ceremony at that time. I divided up my life into eight phases, like the phases of Saturn and I saw the theme for each phase. What I did, I picked out the important things that happened at each phase and then saw what the overlying theme was. I actually made a booklet and people could look through that if they wanted. . . .

    Most of the people at my croning knew me already; most were pagans a few weren’t. So, I talked about them too and how they made a difference in my life. I had them all bring some thoughts about what they thought wisdom was and how it was working in their lives . . .

    Celebrating the crone

    According to the participants, the crone archetype offers women a positive image of aging, in contrast to society’s negative images.

    Well, it does help that we have a Crone Goddess. A human image that we can recognize as the divine and that other people around us in our groups recognize as divine. It’s like we’re not just invisible and non-represented in spiritual life, which older women are often neglected all together in other religions and society for that matter, there’s just nothing for them to identify with. It helps to know as you change and age, you can identify with divinity.

    As well, becoming a crone helped individual women to accept the aging process, especially their aging body.

    Becoming a crone has been a pathway that has helped me with who and what I am . . . accepting the changes of life and definitely with my body. That’s a big thing; accepting change is not just all this or all that, it’s a process. The longer I’m a crone the more comfortable aging feels.

    Power of spiritual practice

    The findings suggest that a spiritual practice, such as paganism, could be a source of strength for some women in later life. Manning emphasized that a spiritual orientation helped these women embrace aging, turning it from an experience of dread to one of celebration and connection.