Friday, June 17, 2011

Goddesses in Older Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women Over Fifty: Becoming a Juicy Crone by Jean Shinoda Bolen is a follow-up to her wonderful Goddesses in Everywoman.  Rooted in Jungian psychology, Bolen once again visits the classic archetypes from Greek mythology to explore the experiences of older women, those who are in the third phase of their lives.

Bolen does not simply re-explore previously defined territory; instead, she draws on the mythology of goddesses from other traditions—Sekhmet (Egypt), Kuan Yin (Japan/China/Korea), Sophia (Jerusalem), and others.  The first half of the book is especially strong, suggesting new ways of being for a woman who is now transitioning into the final stages of life.  No longer a maiden or mother, a woman who carries her own wisdom can now give political rein to her anger or center herself in compassion and forgiveness, whatever best serves the self and the community in which she lives.

The third part of the book returns to the Greek goddesses of her previously published book, suggesting ways in which such goddesses as Athena, Persephone, and even Aphrodite still lend their influence in a woman’s life.  While interesting, some of this content is redundant, not because so much of it has already been discussed in the other book but because Bolen repeats herself within this one book, sometimes even within the same chapter.

No woman is likely to recognize herself in every one of the goddesses and it can feel sometimes like one has to read through a lot of “other stuff” before getting to anything relevant.  For another reader the experience may be completely different as some of the earlier goddesses may be the ones with which one resonates and other ones are merely filler.  I mention this because I found myself bored at times through no fault of Bolen’s writing or choice of content.  It is, after all, human nature to want to see one’s self on the page as much as possible and when I did not feel drawn to a particular archetype I was eager to move onto the next one.

The final chapters suggest a third wave of feminism that is spiritual in nature, building upon the foundation of the first wave suffragettes and the second wave equal rights activists.  These third wave women are presumably gathering in circles where a more democratic way of being in community is shared by one and all, where juicy crone women are sharing wisdom and carrying this out into the wider community.  I don’t know how true this is for I have not personally witnessed this nor have I met any women who are of that age who belong to anything like this.  I doubt that Bolen is referring to the Red Hat Society or wicca groups that are less ecumenical in scope.  No.  More likely she’s talking about such organizations as the Crone Counsel (which ironically met in Atlanta GA in 2009), something that embraces women of all races, classes, and beliefs.

For the Jungian woman “of a certain age” this book will be interesting and insightful.  Perhaps even inspiring, supporting the possibility of allowing other formerly neglected archetypes to manifest.  For those who are not interested in the idea of archetypes, it’s probably best to skip this book and find another one on embracing the crone self.

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