Since 1991, the United Nations has designated October 1 as International Day of Older Persons. Canada has named this date, National Seniors Day. The day honours the contributions of seniors and draws attention to the increasing greying or aging of the population. From a psychological perspective, being a senior marks a shift from mid-life, usually viewed as between age 35-60, to full immersion into the second half of life. However, what is the purpose of this stage of life?
In Latin, senex means old man and less commonly, seneca refers to old woman. As with any archetypal figure, they exist in both positive and negative forms. These figures often show up in dreams and represent currently held attitudes and traits we may be unknowingly harbouring.
In the positive realm, senex is the wise old man, often presented in the guise of a wizard or magician. Examples include Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Constructive qualities of senex are wisdom, discipline, dedication, responsibility, courage and reason. Thus, we also see the positive senex as holy man, shaman, benevolent ruler or judge.
In the negative form, senex is the devouring father or the floundering fool. The dark and underdeveloped side of senex is shown by feelings of sterility, bitterness, brutality, coldness and heartlessness. Examples are the tyrant, ogre, hermit, outcast and any power-hungry position.
Seneca or crone represents the old woman. In the positive form, she is associated with compassion, patience, transformation, healing and wisdom. She is the respected older woman at the heart of the family who still enjoys life. Her gift is the sharing of her insightful perspective and experiences. Examples are the fairy godmother and the compassionate yet astute grandmother.
In the negative realm, crone becomes the hag or witch, whom is rigid, bitter and has failed to learn from and adapt to her experiences. This crone is blaming, co-dependent and fear-based. Here we see the cantankerous hag, the bitter old maid and the wicked witch.
Faced with a significant social denial of aging, as seen in the plethora of anti-aging regimes and products, cosmetic procedures and ageism, how does one rise to the archetypal images of positive senex and crone?
Jung advised, “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”
This shift involves a surrendering of ego-driven externally based youthful ideology in service of truth and authenticity in how we choose to live our life. Ideally, it is during mid-life where one turns inward for answers. We begin to reclaim parts of our self that were once sacrificed to these past beliefs, creating increased hope, energy and creativity.