Many earth-based spiritual traditions identify three aspects of the Goddess — maiden, mother, crone — that become roles individuals can assume.
The work of the crone is to pass on wisdom gained over a lifetime of experiences. For one self-identified crone, this wisdom is passed on at play parties — sex-positive group events — and through being an example of a post-menopausal woman who is still rejecting labels and boundaries and sexually exploring.
Helen Hazlett is an interfaith minister, pagan priestess, and spiritual activist helping to build a world that works for everyone. She is currently retired and happily mentoring a number of younger people in discovering and using their personal and community power. She is simultaneously learning from them to challenge beliefs and behaviors learned while growing up in a patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalistic culture.
Jera interviewed Helen about her role as a crone and passing on sex-positive lessons to younger generations.
Jera: I think you’ve told me that you don’t identify as a Pagan. Are there other traditions you lean toward?
Helen: It’s not that I don’t identify as a Pagan, it’s that that particular identity really only captures a part of how I identify spiritually. My spiritual identity has certainly evolved over the course of my life, and there was a particular phase of my life when I was younger where I identified as a witch, which is an aspect of being a Pagan. Not everybody who is a Pagan, identifies as a witch, and not everybody who’s a witch identifies as a Pagan.
For me, the word Pagan is a shorthand phrase for the much more cumbersome phrase of “earth-based spirituality.” And so part of my identity is that I seek my healing, I do my worship, I communicate with a greater reality that often is called God — in nature. That’s where I feel the most connected to whatever we want to call divine. In that respect, that feels very Pagan just because earth-based spirituality is about being connected to nature.
It’s also been a part of my spiritual identity that I’ve always been a seeker. So wherever I have landed in terms of my spiritual expression has never felt like it was “quite it.” Paganism has come closest,but it still doesn’t feel like it’s “it.” And so I’ve explored many different paths. I’ve explored Buddhism; I’ve explored Hinduism; I’ve lived Christianity; I’ve lived Paganism.
When I decided that I wanted to become a hospice chaplain, I went online to look at different ways in which I could get ordained. I came across the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary which is where I got my ordination, and when I read their description, I knew that I was coming home. And so the term that I use now to describe my spirituality is interspirituality. It’s a term that Wayne Teasdale coined and it refers to the understanding that there is a larger reality than the one we perceive with our five senses.
Once you realize that there is this larger reality, you also realize that we’re all connected, that there isn’t any separation. So you recognize that the way to behave is to be kind to everything and everybody because it’s you!
And I identify as a crone, even though that’s a concept that comes out of certain traditions. For me, it is very much a recognition of the wisdom that we gained through surviving life and orienting ourselves towards growing. If we survive long enough, we accumulate a certain amount of wisdom, and if we’re willing to put it in service to the greater good, we achieve the role of being the crone, because that’s what crones do. They gain power and they put that power in service of their community.
How does your spirituality impact your sexuality?
Part of why interspirituality appeals to me is because it more closely approximates that sense of wholeness. So it transcends the boundaries that we’ve put on spirituality. I like being more inclusive and having a fuller experience.
I would say that my sexuality is influenced by my time in Paganism. A line in the Charge of the Goddess says “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” And I took that very, very deeply to heart that if I’m engaged in any act of love, it is for me a way of worshiping the divine. Partly that’s because I believe the act of sharing love with other human beings is a life-affirming thing, and I do believe that we’re all life expressing itself. So my sexuality was very much influenced by that.
Labels are really tough. For many years, I wouldn’t have said that I identify as bisexual and now I’m actually playing with that label as being too restrictive. And so I’m in process with that right now. I get attracted sexually easily. I don’t find any particular limitations as far as being attracted. I’m more attracted to what I experience as the soul of the person and that soul can take many, many different forms in the body.
And, again,, it’s a form of worship. When I have played with people at play parties, it’s not even like it’s a fantasy that I have to generate, it very much feels like I’m a priestess, and I’m in the temple engaging in an act of worship.
Worship to the divine?
Our language will never have the words to capture that larger reality for sure. For me to say that I’m worshiping the Goddess is shorthand that many of my pagan family would immediately recognize the truth in that, and yet it doesn’t even come close. Because I’m also a Tai Chi practitioner. When I’m making love, I’m doing Tai Chi. I’m connected with the life energy and moving it through me helping to move it through the other person. And together we’re creating this sphere of energy … words fail.
I am engaged in exchange with that reality that is both a form of acknowledging: I hear you, I see you, I am honored that you’re there. And I am so moved, grateful., energized to make that connection that I am in a state of ecstasy. All of those things are what worship means to me. What worship doesn’t mean is subjugating or diminishing myself in order to your greatness, which is how I experienced the teachings. And I could be completely off base about this, but this is how I experienced the Catholic church. That we were diminishing ourselves before God.
The whole Pauline: I become less so that God becomes more?
Yes, exactly. Paul was serving a very important function in Christian thinking, but there’s a limit.
Tell me how you discovered play parties.
So I had been going to cuddle parties for three or four months and starting to get to know people. And we did a number of exercises around sexuality and small group shares and stuff like that, and one of the questions that came up was would you ever consider attending a play party, and I needed an explanation. Someone explained that it was a very similar to cuddle parties, but without the rule of no sex.
I started asking around. This is how I understand messages from the universe was that a new path was opening up for me.
You said that at these parties, that you see yourself as a priestess in an act of worship. How does that relate to being a crone?
So I’m definitely at the phase of my life now where I’ve lived long enough that I’m very aware of what my personal power is. I’m very aware that I have accumulated a certain amount of wisdom and that I only have a certain amount of time left on earth. And so the whole point of accumulating wisdom is to give it to the people coming after you so that they can use it. So I’m very much in that stage where I want to be giving that wisdom and handing it off to be used or tested or discharged — whatever — but it needs to be passed on.
Obviously. I’m also very interested in sexual expression and that hasn’t stopped just because I’m post-menopausal. I see very, very few examples of post-menopausal women being sexually active. If you just go by popular culture, it pretty much looks like the faucet turns off some amorphous place between 45 and death. And a piece of wisdom that I want to share with younger people is no, that’s not true. It actually is still a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a different kind of fun, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, so keep playing and exploring. How does that evolve for you? And so I see myself as a part of the wisdom and giving is showing how I’m living my life.
In the past, we’ve talked about working with tension and tolerating the discomfort. Regarding sexual play and crone work, where does discomfort come in for you?
There are relatively few people who are doing this kind of thing. The majority of people that I know are either paired off and monogamous or they’re single and maybe they’re dating, but they’re definitely not exploring. Doing something that’s outside the norm like going to play parties feels like a stretch only because it’s so different from what we typically do in this culture, but then compound that with the fact that I’m a minister. And people have certain ideas that people have ideas about what women are like when they grow up and what ministers do and don’t do, and I’m playing at those edges. I’m definitely learning to tolerate the discomfort of exposure, of letting people know about me, and tolerate the discomfort going into play spaces because I’m, generally speaking, the oldest or one of the oldest going there. And tolerating the discomfort of not seeing other people like me in the space. And truthfully every single party I’ve been welcomed and embraced, but that discomfort doesn’t just go away. I always come into the party feeling a little bit like an intruder because I really see that as being a cultural thing. That young people can play sexually, but older people don’t do that.
Whenever we challenge cultural beliefs, because we’re pushing outside of the accepted norms, there’s always going to be discomfort, and I think life demands that we keep pushing because that’s where the growth is.