INTRODUCTION: A Magical Invitation
Several years ago, as I sat with a group of friends comparing our jowls and saggy arms and laughing uproariously, it occurred to me that unless we die young we’re going to get older. It’s seems like a journey to a strange land that none of us have ever visited before, and we don’t have a map. But wouldn’t it be nice if we did?
Like everyone else, I hear the perpetual yawp of our culture nattering on about the Land of Aging being an ugly, dangerous place, and how we’d better spend a lot of money pronto so we won’t look like we’re well on the way. But I’m here to tell you: our culture has it all wrong. The Land of Aging can be filled with freedom and beauty, wisdom and pleasure.
If you look at our language around aging women, you’ll notice the strangest phenomenon: the word crone actually comes from “crown,” not referring to any temporal hierarchy of power, but to the deep wisdom emanating from the head. And hag comes from the Greek word hagio, meaning “holy.” How the meanings have changed!
I know in my bones that we could all use a loving guide to aging in a way that our culture has forgotten: with a sense of magic and spirit. So, welcome to Witch Wisdom for Magical Aging, a kind of Baedeker or Fodor guidebook to becoming a Crone Queen, an elder, a Wise One. This book is presided over by four kindly, wise old witches, one for each season, who will be your helpful companions on the trip. They can be bossy. They are certainly feisty. And they want you to feel loved and supported on your journey.
In these pages, you’ll explore how to honor and care for your changing body, how to fling the “shoulds” out the window and embrace your own essential self, wearing colors and fabrics that call to you rather than blindly following the dictates of fashion. You’ll look into creating a more magical home, feathering your nest with sacred objects and mementos that reflect your passions and experiences. You’ll taste all the delicious ways to enter a more joyful relationship with food and with your sensuality. You’ll be encouraged to forge more strongly connected friendships that comfort your tender heart. You’ll meet a few powerful archetypes that light your way on the aging journey, take fun quizzes, explore rituals and guided meditations, discover nourishing recipes made with simple, easy-to-find ingredients, be inspired by poems and playful ideas--and so much more.
Witch Wisdom celebrates the Wise Woman in all of us who knows how to turn inward, who hears the voice of her deep self, who tunes out the cruel messages of our culture and ignores the siren song of advertising that promises us youthful skin and hair (for a price) because she knows that wrinkles and gray hair can be beautiful, and that connection to her own vibrant spirit is what makes her fully alive. As novelist Ursula LeGuin writes, “For old people, beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young . . . It has to do with who the person is.”
Old women are closer to the wild. We have learned so much, dreamed so much, done so much--just having weathered life past the age of 50 is an accomplishment! As we draw nearer to the mystery that is death, we become closer to Source. And having gone beyond so many of the other-pleasing concerns of younger women, we are free to embrace our magical uniqueness in a new way, living out our Crone Queen years with verve. Of course, the experience of magical aging is different at 55 than it is at 95; there are many phases of the journey, and they aren’t all easy. But they are all part of coming to terms with life, and we can embrace and celebrate this challenging and ultimately liberating time.
A friend once told a great story about watching a 90-year-old woman dancing with gusto at a wedding. “She was the most beautiful woman there,” my friend said, “because beauty is about energy, life force.”
If we yank our gaze away from the mirror--or even better, if we see true beauty when we look into it--we can devote some of our precious life force to making things better on this troubled planet. Without all the demands that beleaguered us in our middle age--young children, spouses, aging parents--we’re often free in our later years to be feisty and outspoken and passionate about our beliefs in ways we were too distracted to explore before. French woman of letters Colette said her own beloved mother entered old age “with such serenity, with the gaiety of those who have nothing more to lose and so excel at giving.”
And now a word about witches. Many of you already self-identify as a witch, but others of you may be new to the word except as it refers to the cultural image of wicked hags with warts and an evil cackle. Our culture is finally changing to embrace what witches really are: Wise Ones, healers, makers, connectors, transformers, lovers. We come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, although other cultures may call us bruja or mchawi or strega. Our English witch comes from the Old English “craft of the wise.”
So how do you become a witch? According to Z. Budapest, one of the grandmothers of the modern feminist witchcraft movement, all you have to do is say, “I am a witch” three times. Because, as Alice Hoffman, author of the book Practical Magic, says, there is a little witch in every woman. This book will offer you many ways to explore your own witchy magic: be sure to check out the list of Magical Helpers in the appendix at the end that will strengthen and aid you on your own particular path.
There is a place deep in our hearts where we are conscious and strong in our aging. In fact, we can imagine an entire generation of women sailing on magical brooms into our elder years with open curiosity and verve, celebrating our magic, our wisdom, and our connection to All That Is, embracing our queenly, croning selves and enjoying the hell out of the ride. Imagine how much happier you would be. Imagine how much kinder the world would be. I invite you to be a part of this revolution. I invite you to be an old witch.
From “Winter: Root Witch Wisdom from the Cave”
Come with me, my dear Crone Queens, into the season that reminds the world of our aging wisdom and power: Winter, the stripped-down bone time, the time of rest, but also the time of celebration, the time of a new year beginning. The season begins with the yuletide festival of the light’s return after days of Winter cold and darkness, but that festival is built on ancient roots and bones. And the New Year follows so quickly you can barely catch your breath.
I’m the Root Witch. I honor the earth mysteries. I know the magic of plants, and I’ll share with you some helpful, healing ways to use them. I listen to the song of stones, the song of trees. The animals and birds are my teachers. Up where you are, the Winter winds are howling, but it’s warm here in my cave down by the roots, with soft cushions and thick rugs, black cat purring on my lap, hearth fire merrily blazing. You too have a cave of safety and warmth at the very center of your being; all you need do is imagine it. It’s your source of deep knowledge, especially knowledge about your body. You know, whenever you have a problem or need to make a decision, there is one part of you that will always tell you the truth, unlike your poor, vacillating emotions, or your mind that always thinks it knows everything. The body never lies. Ask a question of it and notice what sensations arise.
The body is our foundation. We must take good care of our bodies all the time, but especially in Winter, when the ice is sometimes treacherous and hard as stone. If you try to move too quickly it’s easy to slip and fall. In Winter, you need to slow down and dream, like the hibernating bears. I can help you create your own cave of safety and rest. What power animals will you bring with you?
ACCEPTANCE AND AFFECTION FOR YOUR SACRED BODY
Your body is a miracle.
Listen to it,
whispering to you every minute,
telling you your truth.
For many of us, the Yuletide consists of days of frantic celebration, followed by New Year’s, otherwise known as “the Day of Self-Beating”: Why, oh why did I have that third helping of plum pudding? Did I really need that fourth cup of eggnog? Look at the size of me! The manatee is my new power animal!
For so many women, body hatred comes through the door right along with the New Year. Well, my Yule gift to all of you is to help you heal that. Part of being an older woman means throwing out all the stuff you just don’t have time for anymore. And that can start with the negative feelings you have about your precious body.
So, cook up some black-eyed peas or lentils and collards for prosperity in the New Year and then take a nap. That’s the best way to start our love-your-body tutorial. And please, throw out all your New Year’s resolutions: they don’t speak a language the soul understands. Instead, I’ll teach you to make a New Year’s revolution that will work much, much better for you.
Bodies Change: A New Year Revolution
The truth about life is that everything changes, and your precious body is no exception. Do you remember being an adolescent and gazing at yourself with wonder as you transformed? Breasts budded, hairs sprouted, hips widened, your monthly flow began--it was all so amazing! Well, we magical older women are changing, too. Why not greet the signs of aging with the same wonder? Yes, if we use our youth-mad culture as a yardstick, it can make you want to reach for the nearest bottle of scotch, but what if you adopt a different attitude completely? As American author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lived to be 85, once famously wrote, “So much has been said and sung about beautiful young girls. Why doesn’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women?”
While young women, like babies and little girls, are undeniably beautiful, older women are beautiful, too, but in a different, perhaps unconventional way, at least in part because they have become fully who they are. Truthfully, would you really want to be twenty again? You can be justifiably proud of your hard-won years, and the face and body that bear witness to all your knowledge, feelings, and experience. Imagine being asked to give up the laughter that formed those lines, or the child that left those stretch marks on your moon-round belly, or the wonder that made creases in your wise forehead. How very resilient you are!
Your New Year’s revolution might sound something like, “May I love and accept my body just as it is. And may I care for it as I would a beloved companion animal, so that it will be the healthiest and most vibrant body it can be.” And remember what English author and playwright Daphne DuMaurier, who lived to be 82, once wrote: “How simple life becomes when things like mirrors are forgotten.” There are so many wonderful things to see when you stop focusing on what you see in the mirror. Be like the wise owl and turn your head around. Because the truth is, bodies are amazing: they breathe and digest and heal from cuts and scrapes without your having to think about it at all. No, you cannot cheat death: it will eventually come for everything that lives. You cannot turn back the clock by trying to look young forever. But your body--which has learned and grown and experienced so much--is sacred. Bodies are worthy of worship.
The Magical Power of Reframing
I speak to you from outside your world, since I am a Root Witch living beneath and beyond it. And so I can tell you, it’s no news that your culture is not a big fan of aging women. Every day you’re bombarded with messages that urge you to buy, buy, buy things to help you look younger. As if looking older was a bad thing. But you can encourage a more accepting attitude around the process of aging with something called reframing. This involves consciously adopting different, more empowering and positive words and attitudes, and it will change how you feel on a very deep level. After all, you want your own spirit cave to be a warm, safe, and comfy place, not some dank dungeon. By using the right words, you can start creating your own cozy, root-deep cave. So much depends on your words.
For instance, many women have problems seeing close-up as they age--oh, the perennial hunt for those reading glasses! But one wise old woman I know refuses to label this as a negative sign of aging, and instead says, “I’m just very farsighted.” Another wise friend, dismayed by her blooming, postmenopausal belly, decided to call it her “baby,” patting it and tending it lovingly. When she worked out, she called it “prenatal exercising.” Not surprisingly, she began to feel very differently about it.
So, what if you rethought the cultural words around carrying a few extra pounds and instead called your body “zaftig,” “lush,” or “abundant”? Darling, there are cultures on this very planet who revere women of size. Your culture may not be one of them, but you can carry your weight proudly and help usher in an era of appreciation for rounded bellies and hips and luscious thighs. If you don’t already own it, please rush right out and buy, not the latest youthening treatment, but the wonderful, classic book Women Who Run with the Wolves, by storyteller and Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, herself a woman of substantial weight. The chapter “Joyous Body” is a must-read for every woman.
Maybe you’re one of those older women who don’t gain weight-- you may even worry about being underweight, feeling a little frail or fragile, afraid that the next nasty intestinal bug will carry you off. I just want all of you, whatever your shape, to nourish yourself with delicious, healthy food and enjoy a fully alive and sensual life. When you meet my sister the Kitchen Witch in Autumn, she will show you how. . . .