in the garden
July 19, 2023 — By elsa

the elder/alchemist

Living for any length of time on this earth is both an accomplishment and a gift. In June I turned 70 and while I’m all about ‘endorsing yourself for your effort’ …f*cking 70! Most evident to me with this transition is the long list of accomplishments that must be dropped from the resume (that epic […]

Living for any length of time on this earth is both an accomplishment and a gift. In June I turned 70 and while I’m all about ‘endorsing yourself for your effort’ …f*cking 70! Most evident to me with this transition is the long list of accomplishments that must be dropped from the resume (that epic slapshot on the All-American men’s lacrosse captain in college for one).

And how is it I no longer look like myself? How is it that when I did, I didn’t feel like myself? How even though I knew to ask, I couldn’t know what questions I’d want the answers to when my grandparents were gone? How is it new lines of study can lead me back down the path of not belonging? How is it some people’s not belonging really does trump others? How is it any degree of privilege might require relinquishing a personal blessing for one greater? 

Is there really a purpose beyond tasting the earth in a really good tomato? Introducing one person to another? Letting the sun catch you up early on a summer day? Might dreams and journeys be travel enough? What dreams of yours (not someone else’s) remain? What is there still time for? To take up the guitar again? To learn Arabic? To have a retrospective? To live by the sea? How does one rectify the need for stillness with a culturally pathological need to do? How can I cross the threshold and age on purpose, with dignity, with grace?

While traditional ceremonies exist for many life events (birth, bar/bat mitzvah, sweet sixteen, graduation) there’s really nothing after marriage …until death. The label crone doesn’t do it for me. Elder is a loaded term but accurate, so adding alchemist feels right. Non-binary, it encompasses the process and the processing required of each of us willing to cross the thresholds of life with intention. I created this ceremony for myself. Feel free to use it, to add or subtract from it, to craft your own ceremony …you’ll know when it’s time!



On Becoming an Elder/Alchemist…a Ceremony for Crossing the Portal

(a bare bones version)

Set an Intention:

  • Surrender internal ageism.
  • Don’t force it birth it.
  • Bring something forward to serve Love.
  • Make peace with time.

Say a Prayer/Blessing:

  • Bless this moment in time and space. (Breekh Rakhmana Malka d’Alma, Marei d’Chai Riga – transliteration for the original Aramaic)

Preparation (for a specific date, over time, or daily) :

  • Bathe: shower/dip in a natural body of water, pool, or mikveh/wash your face, hands, feet
  • Scent: spritz/smudge/light incense/put on perfume “Since ancient times fragrance has been understood to possess the power to shift perception, restore memories, and illicit strong emotional responses”. – Herbal Academy (current favorites Jo Malone’s English Pear and Freesia, Hermes’ Un Jardin Après La Mousson, and Sweet Orange essential oil)
  • A ritual garment: a shawl/wrap/shirt/dress or create one (I thought about making this ZW Gather dress, then found something similar at Eileen Fisher, and then my sister made me a beautiful shawl)
  • Jewelry/amulet: “Jewellery and personal adornment hold power. They are thought to protect, bless, and heal… Jewellery, …form[s] the material component of values …wearers believe in…Looking at jewellery from a perspective of …informal ritual helps us to [see] …the hopes and wishes and world of the people that [wear] it. Magic as a companion to science. Magic and Medicine.” – Sigrid van Roode, Bedouin Silver
  • Set a beautiful table/create an altar with flowers/herbs/salt/honey/crystals/etc.
  • Light a candle. (Big Moon Beeswax)
  • Call in your Higher Power for the journey (Gd, the great mystery, your guides, the Moon and the Stars, the Gddess Cerridwyn, your ancestors, your animal familiars).

The Ceremony:

  • Make TEA (or coffee) Bless it/appreciate it/appreciate you/drink some!
  • Have something to Eat with it that grounds you …fruit and nuts? a favorite cookie? a full blown feast or potluck
  • Possible Readings:
    • Natasha Trethewey ‘Theories of Time and Space’  
    • We’re often led to believe that getting older is in itself somehow a betrayal of our idealistic younger self, but sometimes I think it might be the other way around. Maybe the younger self finds it difficult to inhabit its true potential because it has no idea what that potential is. It is a kind of unformed thing running scared most of the time, frantically trying to build its sense of self — This is me! Here I am! — in any way that it can. But then time and life come along, and smash that sense of self into a million pieces. Then comes the reassembled self, the self you have to put back together. You no longer have to devote time to finding out what you are, you are just free to be whatever you want to be, unimpeded by the incessant needs of others. You somehow grow into the fullness of your humanity, form your own character, become a proper person — I don’t know, someone who has become a part of things, not someone separated from or at odds with the world. – Nick Cave
    • David Whyte ‘Sweet Darkness’
    • Right now, I can sense you—you who are younger than me—wanting to push things down the bar in my direction. Things like wisdom. If you do that, I will politely (not politely) push it back to your side of the Grand Canyon divide you see between our stages of life. Wisdom isn’t a real thing. There are words for many things that don’t exist, like human potential and the soul. I’m not sending these things back because they don’t exist. I’m saying there is no essence to being a certain age. And if there is no essence, the age group you’re in, no matter what it is, has no intrinsic qualities. You already know this by looking at where you are and where the other people are you went to college with. Still, I had this awareness the other day of a thrilling and reckless impatience that I felt had sprouted—I would put money on it—from being alive a long time. I’m impatient when people tell me about how the world works, as if they’ve invented the wheel, the light bulb, and the sudden understanding that men own most things. I’m impatient with the tendency of humans to view the past as a pageant of mistakes. A past they didn’t live through, don’t read about, and don’t understand has been purposefully erased or misrepresented by the male humans who own most things. And, yes, also by the women who love these men. Or need them. Or whatever. I don’t really care. – Laurie Stone
    • Alice Walker ‘Calling All Grandmothers’
    • One doesn’t walk this path because they’re seeking certainty. But, if one is persistent and more than a bit foolish, you can gain a certain amount of resiliency and the ability to love the unpredictability of life… It is the unpredictability of the world that allows for the most profound of healings to occur. We think, “the heart is too broken and can never be well again” and somehow, strangely, and without reason the heart begins to mend and grow back differently… The wisdom of the …Wise Old One grows with the passage of time. She teaches us that …aging is an invitation to make and shape the world within and around us. No matter our age, through aging we have the opportunity to gain wisdom and to pass it on in the form of blessings …because wisdom is deeply entwined with love and it is in love that we bless others and ourself. – Alexis Cunningfolk
  • Watch
  • Create:
    • a Collage or Vision Board/an ‘Inner Weather’ Map (see above)
    • a Poem, a Song
    • a Painting
    • a Playlist
    • a Medicine Pouch
  • a Tarot Spread:


  • Source of Life, Sacred Presence, open up for us the entrances up above and down below, doors of truth and doors of prophecy, during this night and the nights to come. Source of Life, help us to lie down in peace and rise up in peace. …Blessed are You, Giver of dreams.” – gleaned from Rabbi Jill Hammer

Follow Up/Follow On:

  • Read/Explore:
  • Write a Will.
  • What do you want your obituary to say about you? Starting writing. It will tell you who you are now.