A Few Thoughts on Aging and Paganism

by Clio Ajana

Lately, I  have been thinking of what happens when we age. I watch my mother, her gait slowed by arthritis and the effects of a life ravaged by urban living and the urgency of our modern times. She is Christian. She can find any place she wishes in a variety of Christian denominations, should she wish to enjoy assisted living or even a nursing home in a Christian-positive religious setting.  Yet, when my time comes, as I know it will, where will I go? As a witch, as a pagan, as a lesbian, there are few places for me. For a witch of color, there are even fewer places.

I have observed the vagaries of aging in our society through the lens of assisted living and nursing home practices during the past ten years. I have watched how those who manage and interact with the aged on a day to day basis treat those who age. The administrative detritus that swamps the nurses, aides and staff build on a daily, monthly and yearly basis to the point where the aged are no longer individuals, valued for their wisdom, but bodies, numbers and problems.

Privacy and rights that many of the able-bodied and young take for granted erode during the process of a slow decline in the present state of assisted living and nursing home facilities. For each vibrant ninety year old who lives at home, drives his or her on car and amazes the world through the maintenance of an ordinary life, there are dozens of aged who are simply marking time in a listless, institutionalized existence.

As Pagans, we embrace free will and  the freedom to do as we please. We enjoy festivals, gatherings, rituals and the beauty of honoring nature, Earth and the Gods who exist around and among us.  We have made great strides in coming out of the closet as individual religious traditions under the common umbrella known as Paganism.  Soldiers’ tombstones can now be marked with a pentacle. Clergy are more frequently granted access to Pagans of all religious traditions in hospitals and in prisons.  It is not perfect;however, it is progress.

Yet when one looks around at Pagan gatherings and festivals, there is a segment that is greying. Current crones and elders in their fifties and sixties soon shall become the blessed guides of wisdom in their seventies, eighties, nineties and beyond.  The gods grant us time to learn, to enjoy and to embrace the world around us and each other. We speak of personal responsibility to ourselves and to the the larger community of Pagans. If we truly wish to continue and to prosper, even as those of the first and second generations raise third, fourth and fifth generations, then we need to honor a placed for the aged among us, as we do the young.

We are saddened when a crone or an elder passes. I have observed recent obituaries in our local PNC. None of the elders was over 65 or 70. As I care for my own mother, who has passed that age, and my nonagenarian grandmother, I think of what can be done now, so that those whose mundane lives will be dependent on non-Pagans will have a home to embrace and enjoy as Pagans.

We are many and widespread throughout the world.  Perhaps there might not be a senior building, but perhaps a series of homes, places there are wheelchairs and eldercare friendly. These spaces would have wide doorways, lower countertops and shelving units, and companions  who share earth-based and nature based values. Companions can be paid and volunteer. They can live onsite or off. Ritual would be a common occurrence, bi-monthly or more as moons and sabbats allow.  Eldercare friendly ritual materials would be a common sight. Unlike the current system of care for the aged, where activities are subtly or openly monotheistic and primarily Christian or Jewish based, a new system based on the variety of religious traditions would be permitted.  Given the nature of some in the Pagan community who are also LGBTQIA, there would be room for those who affiliate with both groups.

Will there be costs and questions of how to finance such an an undertaking, as well as where to locate it? Absolutely.  I used to teach a course called “Voices on Aging”.  One of the final projects that I would give to students was the challenge to design a greenhouse, an intentional living community for the aged.  Only one student ever included an actual greenhouse for plants because she farmed. Her idea of an intentional community included giving back to the larger community with a food bank consisting of fresh, greenhouse-grown vegetables.

In a model greenhouse, crones and elders are not tagged or institutionalized, but thriving in an emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually nurturing environment. Such communities can include care centers, hospitals and joint community centers to encourage interaction. The benefit of the greenhouse approach opposed to current standards is the emphasis on avoiding isolationism and the encouragement of freedom for those who live there. This would not be a place, similar to one Midwestern home my student described, where you could look out back window of the assisted living facility and see the cemetery where you would eventually be buried and the nursing home where you might stop along the way.

This is a place that considers the economic reality and the rights of those who only have social security as being equal to the rights of those who have several hundred thousand set aside for retirement. In each case, students were required to figure out how such facilities could be reasonably financed.  For some partnerships with local and state governments in addition to plans that start 10 to 30 years before a resident expects to enter are solutions. For the more able-bodied, bartering services, time and resources to support the cost are options.  For some greenhouses, private pay with a small circle on private land was the key.  There is more than one method and more than one location.

I live in a cold weather state, blessed by winter four to five months during most years. I was not surprised at the range of student suggestions for greenhouse communities set anywhere south of I-10, in the desert, or close to vibrant locations that cater to retirees, such as Ithaca, NY. Other potential locations could be close to educational communities, good quality and inexpensive medical facilities and a plethora of family.

Each time I leave my adopted home and return to the temperate climes of the mid-Atlantic region, I think of these things. My nonagenarian grandmother has her sights set on the century mark, in a monotheistic facility. I hope that in the coming years, each of us will find a place where we can freely and openly commune and identify as Pagan.

This was just to get the ball rolling.

What are your thoughts?

 

Clio Ajana is a high priestess at Our Lady of Celestial Fire, EOCTO in Minnesota.  She is deeply passionate about numerology, astrology, and writing as a spiritual practice. A writer for Daughters of Eve, her current projects include how race, homophobia and religious non-acceptance intersect and how Paganism can address the needs of aging Pagans or non-Pagan relatives.

 

  • stevewhiteraven

    hi Clio .. I am a pagan in UK I 55 and look after both my parents who are disabled this has gradually become full time , My father would be terrified well is of ending up in a home because of the institutional aspect especially in the uk where there have been a lot of bad practice in care homes and I think most do treat people like numbers not individuals , I do think as Pagans we have a duty to care for our elderly so many near where my father lives don’t get any visitors or rare visitors from family which is such a shame its getting to the point now where I have to stop and chat to half a dozen elderly on my way to my fathers .
    I understand a lot its hard to care for elderly and work and family I certainly would struggle if my daughters were still young . but often its not caring that’s the problem just so many elderly seem abandoned where a visit once a week or a phone call would make all the difference to them.

    • Guest

      In the States Aging in Place could be cheaper if the NH Lobby wasn’t so strong. The insurance & government money should follow the person into their homes or a NH. We should not be forced to live in an institution. Maybe putting ons efforts into helping money follow the persons A few years ago they were going by MiCASA & Olmstead.

  • WitchWay

    I am so in agreement with your article Clio, I am facing my 67th birthday this year. I have often thought that we should have some sort of message board or place where we could sign up – leave a contact – in order for folks of my age to connect with others. I am still in good shape but there are some as you say, who aren’t. We could look after each other. Perhaps the answer might be to look within your communities (pagan) and see if there are seniors with homes that may be mostly empty (single resident) where several of us could live under one roof – and keep each other company, share meals and chores. I tell my son that if I ever win a lottery – my first goal would be to build such a home and then I would start inviting people to come and share with me.

    • Clio Ajana

      HI WitchWay! You can do that now. I know of a friend who lives with a fellow pagan in a pagan friendly household. It helps with company, meal sharing, chore sharing and just pagan friendly companionship. I don’t know what part of the country you are in, but have you tried to set up a message on Witchvox? That might work. And blessings to you on your 67th birthday!

  • prairiecricket

    Both my parents lived their last years in “facilities.” In both cases I felt that their lives improved when they moved. They had much more social interaction, they got their meds on time, they got regular, balanced meals. But I do hope for more/different options when the time comes for myself. I am mostly vegetarian, mostly dairy-free, and I don’t see myself eating the food they serve at nursing homes. I just don’t know what I would do if I had to live there.
    I think multi-generational living would be good for everyone. I envision a house or compound with 1-2 families including several abled adults, children, and elders of varying levels of ability. Everyone could contribute what they could, and those who needed more care could receive it. Homes like this could be organized around commonalities, so holistic vegetarian pagans who garden could live together, for example. (The Christians can be in a house next door.) Think how much wisdom could be passed from elders to children, how enriching it could be for everyone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

      This would also help those who are low income, with children to get help too. However we need to realize that just because one may be holistic vegetarian not everyone is.

    • Clio Ajana

      Multi-generational living would be ideal. If there was a “Craigslist” for aging and specialty niches such as dairy-free vegetarian pagans, then that might help as well. Families living together is how life used to be for many. The independent spirit that allows us to leave home and go all over is the same spirit that will help make this transitional living concept work. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

    I have thought about doing something like this, but never got much further than thinking about it.

    Recently, a group of feminists in Paris got together and built their own communal facility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

    This is very thought provoking. Maybe instead of nursing homes(which from a friend of mine who almost ended there, due to being disabled, and who take all but 30.00 of your social security money, and who also try to make grabs on any other assetts, we could look into more of a commune communities. Unless our aged need more medical care, then we as a community could give, there is no reason we can’t do what some churches do, and deliver meals, or offer transport to more of a Pagan center. No reason we can’t discuss this along with Unitarian Universalist places, to gain more support.

    • Clio Ajana

      Bianca,
      Absolutely! A Pagan center would be ideal. There used to be one here and it closed a year ago. There is now only one left in the country as a community center. Some areas do offer meal transport, but it is not as well-organized as what monotheists offer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/olwen.bkld Olwen Bkld

    Pagan elder care is a continuum from one’s own house or apartment, group housing, assisted living, to skilled care. Fast approaching the beginning of my seventh decade, and facing such considerations myself in that decade, I would suggest following demographics in locating some of the first Pagan eldercare facilities where there is a larger proportion of Pagans residing, such as the Twin Cities – mpls/stpaul, the Bay Area in CA, Madison, WI or possibly an already retirement-ready area of Florida.

    One can imagine potential difficulties in a small Pagan care facility of perhaps 20 residents when differing traditions start a good argument – BTW, eclectics, Asatru, Druids, Hellenics, oh my! Another concern for some would be that such a facility, especially in a rural or small town location, might become a target for hostilities from outsiders, ranging from hyper-scrutiny from local health departments to vandalism or worse from militant and violent fundamentalists of several kinds.

    There is a tension between the ideals of multi-generational family care with children and grandchildren vs being near the elders’ old friends and companionship of other Pagans. A multi-generational home allowing home care of elders is an ideal that may not be achievable in a high priced real estate market such as Washington, DC and some parts of the Bay Area, while a quite achievable goal in a Milwaukee
    suburb. Oh, add to that dream some kind of senior Pagan social center, perhaps
    the UU church where there are wheelchair friendly circles on Sunday afternoons
    for the eight Great Sabbats and a wheel-chair capable van for transport.

    Another option for elderly, but able Pagans could be “Lady Pixie’s Home for Genteel Witches”, much in the style of the old boarding house, where in Pixie rents out three bedrooms of her one level ranch style home to able-bodied older pagans and has paid household help come in for cleaning and heavy work, perhaps verging into the early phases of assisted living.

    If you are attending Pagan Spirit Gathering 2013, I have submitted a workshop proposal – Pagans and Aging – a brainstorming session. Further details upon approval.

  • Rebecca Crystal

    I have been giving this serious thought for about 20 years. I am reaching the end of seminary as a Unitarian Universalist in order to move towards manifesting a conscious community complete with retirement community, nursing home, funeral parlour and sacred burial grounds. I have also entered the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes because my plan will take a lot of money.

    Perhaps a step we could take next is to have a conference of commitment and communication to begin discussing how we can support our elders as they near these stages of life.

    I live in Texas which is becoming another retirement location for many.

  • Miranda 133

    Interesting and timely. As a Canadian and one who has retired from working in Nursing Homes for 26 years, I have no particular fear of living in a Nursing Home as a Pagan. Through the years I have learned that most people are interested in learning new things and new viewpoints. Our Homes have been especially cognizant of dietary issues, spirituality issues even down to death and dying issues. Our Ethics Committee, Palliative Care Committee, Spiritual Programming Committee, works hard to address just such concerns. Bigoted attitudes simply are not tolerated and the Union promotes the zero tolerance.. Small wonder that I have directed my son and POA that if needed, I shall return to the facility at which I worked for so many years.

    As one who had done Activity Programming for most of those working years, I love the Greenhouse plan but I also understand many of the logistics of making it real. I’m guessing that it’s not feasible in the next 20 years of so unless there is a major reversal of social care perspectives.

    I admit though, the idea of a Pagan community is compelling. Someplace to be as eccentric as I like and just be normal instead of eccentric. But then, sometimes Pagans are as confined in their thoughts as any Christian.

    But then too, I am not Pagan for the security of rituals or the comfort of a circle. I am Pagan for my perspective of my place in the creative force of all that is, a force which is intrinsiclly Female and Male. That simplicity of perspective places me outside the realm of ‘regular’ Pagans anyway.

    But, there is no doubt that Paganism perse is becoming more open and as we hit the Long Term Care Facilities, we will blaze a trail just like we have always done to each decade since back in the 60′s.

    • Clio Ajana

      Miranda133

      Thank you! This is refreshing to hear. Was your nursing home work solely in Canada? Would you wish to disclose (privately to those who wish) areas or nursing homes that follow the same or a similar policy regarding dietary and spiritual issues?

      I agree that Paganism is more open and that current Pagans who are hitting the Long Term Care circuit will make changes. My concern is how long these changes will take to fully implement.

      Thank you for your honest response to the Greenhouse plan. It would take a lot and that is why there are not many in the United States. My hope is that the current economy and attitudes towards aging will spur a new change in where more elder friendly homes can and will be built.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nancy-Henion-Godfrey/749177780 Nancy Henion Godfrey

    My family has been multi-generational for as long as I remember. When I was little, my mother’s parents lived with us, when they passed on, my sister, brother-in-law and their two daughters moved in with us. Fast forward twenty years and my father moved in with me, may husband and my daughter and lived with us until he passed. Not long after that, my daughter, her husband and their little girl moved in with us. I have every hope that when my time comes, my daughter will have a place for my husband and I in her home. This is the way it’s always been in my family and hopefully this is the way it always will be!

    • Clio Ajana

      What a wonderful thought! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Rose Welsh

    In the States Aging in Place could be cheaper if the NH Lobby wasn’t so
    strong. The insurance & government money should follow the person
    into their homes OR a NH. We should not be forced to live in an
    institution. Maybe putting ones efforts into helping money follow the
    persons A few years ago they were going by MiCASA & Olmstead.

    • Clio Ajana

      Rose, can you say more? What do you think has caused the change? I’m interested…

  • Juneberry

    This is something I have long been concerned with, and now, at 65 with health issues even more so. I used to visit Pagan friends, closeted in my region, in the nursing home and listen to their complaints. I’ve noticed the same treatment in the hospital by the clergy affiliated there. Even athiest friends have complained about the insistance of monotheistic worship in nursing homes…he was in a wheel chair and wheeled to services even when he protested. In our area there is no alternative choice except Catholic run nursing homes and Protestant run ones (usually Lutheran). Neither are places I want to go to.

    • Clio Ajana

      Juneberry,

      Hmmm… it sounds like you are in (or close to ) this part of the country. Have you begun to contact those who are nearby and not in homes about group living, while you are still able? I made a suggestion earlier about Witchvox, but it sounds like you are in the position where you need something now, not in several years. Are there any “liberal” Lutheran ones that are more accepting or do you have assisted living facilities in other areas where you might consider moving? That is a huge step;however, it sounds like you are in a bind in your current area. Are there those Pagans who are younger than you with whom you could live or share a home? This might help the transition stage a bit more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vivianne.crowley Vivianne Crowley

    Hi Clio

    It was great to read your post.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue too and set up a course last year at Cherry Hill for those involved in ministry to and for older Pagans.

    If anyone is interetest, the first course ran in Fall 2012 and I hope to run it again soon. Here’s some info:

    http://www.cherryhillseminary.org/students/past-courses/crones-and-sages-ministry-to-and-for-older-people/

    Love

    Vivianne

    • Clio Ajana

      Vivianne,

      Thank you for bringing this up! This sounds like a good course. I found myself more drawn to this topic due to my own family situation and teaching the course Voices on Aging. I am glad that Cherry Hill is taking the lead in the Pagan community to bring this as a ministerial issue, since clergy in the different traditions will face this.

      Thanks again & Brightest Blessings to you and the work you do!


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