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Goddess "" Earth "" Cosmology "" Women's Health "" Reader Contributions "" Book Reviews "" Editor's Desk

Non-Fiction in Review: The Queen of My Self, Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife

The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife by Donna Henes. 2005. Brooklyn, NY: Monarch Press.

Donna Henes is an acclaimed urban shaman, contemporary ceremonialist, artist and writer. She has designed and produced countless public participatory ceremonial events in celebration of the universal cycles of the seasons in more than 100 cities in nine countries since 1972 (

Henes is the author of three books and a quarterly newsletter, Always in Season. I found myself resonating so much with her latest book that I want to share stories from my own experience, and with the mighty power of the pen (or in this case, the computer disc), I can (and Queen that I am, I by Goddess, will).

Last May, my good friend Deborah approached me with the desire to mark her 49th birthday in some significant way. I priestess in my community by co-creating ritual that marks life passages and calendar events (I'm a Donna Henes wannabe). Deborah, a deeply spiritual woman but one uneducated in the ways of the Goddess, initially suggested that perhaps she would like to have a croning. Cronings have even made it to the mainstream press; therefore, we may be familiar with the concept. But I think that many of us are not ready to embrace this archetype, even though on some level we think perhaps we should.

I provided Deborah with Z Budapest's The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (1986, Wingbow Press), marking the page that describes a queening, and with The Women's Wheel of Life: Thirteen Archetypes of Woman at Her Fullest Power (Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard, 1996, Penguin Books, New York). The latter, an excellent book, is unfortunately out of print. I then wrote Deborah the following email:

I hope the materials I provided will give you further thought about your desired 49th birthday ritual.

In my opinion, 50 is too young to be crone — particularly when you are still bleeding and still have young children. However, please — if that is the archetype that calls to you, then it is right. As I related to you, a friend of mine had a great croning on her 50th birthday because she works with and so admires the elderly: Linda couldn't wait to be a Crone. Others wait until they have stopped bleeding or until their second Saturn return at around age 56-58. [Reviewer's note: As my second Saturn return quickly approaches me, I'm thinking about waiting until Saturn comes around the third time. Then maybe I'll have a Hagging.]

I suggest, however, that you consider other ideas, such as the Queen, Matriarch, or Empress. I think that you are the Matriarch of your family and should be honored as such. I'd be thrilled to help you with this, whatever you decide.

I'm enclosing a short little article as well.

The article, which I had recently received by email, was "On The Queen of My Self By Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, On Finding Myself Middle Aged With No Role Model I Could Relate To Because I Am Not a Crone."

I enjoyed the article very much and am thrilled to have a whole book on the subject. Charmingly written and aesthetically pleasing, Henes' book fills a great need for those of us who are beyond the Mother stage of life but do not feel the crone fits. The idea of expanding beyond the Mother-Maiden-Crone model (and who thought that up anyway, Robert Graves?) has been around and hinted at or longed for by various writers (Budapest and Davis and Leonard, among them), but Henes completes the idea with great style.

Deborah loved the alternative ideas — I had to wrestle the books back from her — and we designed a ritual that I thought was appropriate to her stage of life and one that has given her deep work for this year.

Henes says, ". . . it seems to me that the Triple Goddess has perhaps outlived her relevance to many of us in the modern world," and I must recount an example. Many years ago I was in the Kansas City area for a work seminar at Beltane. I connected with a mixed pagan group there and had a most interesting experience in my desire to celebrate this holiday with other pagans. That experience, although entertaining, has one point of relevance to our present conversation. At the Beltane ritual, I was sitting on a blanket with two other women and one of the group's men said we made a portrait of Mother, Maiden, and Crone. I remember being mildly offended and thinking, Now there's one silly model, because the speaker clearly meant for me to be the crone because of my silver-streaked hair (I love my silver hair, by the way.). Although my only child was then in college, I had some solid life experience, and was in a leadership position, at 47 I hardly felt (nor do I still feel these good seven years later) that I was a "Crone . . . the ancient wise one, cultural repository and visionary counselor-in residence, who dispenses Her profound sagacity with patience and largesse."

In this situation, the woman on the blanket that the commenting pagan meant to represent the Mother was at least as old as I, but through the aid of Lady Clairol was cast as the younger member of the trinity. That Triple Goddess had outlived her relevance, indeed!

As I was recently out walking my dog (when my best thoughts occur), I wondered if this imposition of the Mother-Maiden-Crone pattern could be misogyny cloaked in a quasi-religious-mythological guise. You're done with your mother thing — now we relegate you to the role of a dried-up old woman. Could it be a piece of the "profoundly heterosexual bias" in neopaganism that Vicki Noble wrote about in The Double Goddess (and that I commented on in my last book review for Matrifocus)?

With her explanation of the Queen, Henes surpasses this old trinity model with an archetype that fits:

The mythic model that I came to envision is recognizably like me, like us. Not yet old, yet no longer young. She is a regal Queen standing in Her proper place — after the Mother and before the Crone in No Woman's Land. She plants Her flag and claims Her space in this previously uncharted midlife territory. Still active and sexy, vital with enthusiasm and energy of youth, the Queen is tempered with the hard-earned experience and leavening attitudes of age. She has been forced to face and overcome obstacles and hard lessons, including Her own self-limiting tendencies, and in so doing has outgrown the boundaries of Her old self. Impatient with the inessential and restless for authenticity, She sheds all attachment to the opinions of others and accepts complete responsibility and control over Her life. She is the Queen of Her Self, the mature monarch, the sole sovereign of Her own life and destiny.

Henes goes on to describe this fourth stage with humor, wit, poetry, and stories from her own life. I particularly like the tables of correspondences and the section on the deeper mysteries of the four queens of the tarot — an innovative description that helps me better understand those puzzling court cards. Henes asserts that "Becoming a Queen is not automatic," and although this is far from a how-to or self-help book, Henes does provide many practical ideas for stepping into sovereignty. Every few pages, this lovely book features a lavender page with purple type and the title, The Queen Suggests. These pages are like a talk with Mama Donna as she counsels women working on their Queendom in matters of health, beauty, sex, and good solid magical practice and fun.

I have wondered at times if I resist the Crone archetype too much — am I a secret ageist? When somebody says something about my incipient Cronedom or assumes that it has arrived and I cringe, am I in denial? Do I disrespect the elderly? Yet I agree with Donna Henes that I am not ready to rest on my laurels because I'm still planting them. Henes gives me a framework and total permission to feel what I feel.

And I am not alone. Henes beautifully articulates that this trinity is not necessarily applicable to today's older woman. At a recent Reclaiming Winter Witch Camp, the community introduced the role of the Venerable Geezer and those who wished to be honored as elders proudly joined the ranks. Yet, when one of the Venerable Geezers suggested I join, I resisted, as did my friend Zoe, a woman of a certain age (whatever it is) who simply rails against the Crone archetype. Zoe says: "I don't resonate with that at all (because) I like sex way too much!"

Hoorah for Donna Henes, the Queen who has given us a healthy, empowering way to perceive and present ourselves.

Long live The Queen!

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