The Triple Goddess and the Queen
Is the Triple Goddess too limited to describe women’s lives today? Some Goddessians answer yes and suggest changes to the Mother, Maiden, Crone triplicity. The most widely discussed currently is the addition of "Queen." I will get back to this in particular, but first I want to give a little background on the Triple Goddess concept in general.
As commonly used in contemporary Goddess and Pagan groups, the Triple Goddess relates 3 phases of the moon to Goddess aspects: waxing crescent=Maiden (sometimes called "Virgin", but not necessarily chaste); full moon=Mother, waning crescent=Crone. Where does this come from? Not from antiquity. Although in ancient times there were goddesses who had 3 (or more) aspects, and though there were goddesses, such as Hecate and Brigid, who were grouped together in various cultures in triads (and other combinations), they were not called Maiden, Mother, Crone, nor were they related to moon phases, until the 20th Century. Here’s a brief historical breakdown:
–1913: Sigmund Freud in "The Theme of Three Caskets" describes three aspects of women (or at least how he understands? women) and goddesses, particularly the Three Fates. Freud's theorizing is based on his analysis of fairy tales and some of Shakespeare’s plays. He names the aspects "birth," "love," and "death." However, they are unrelated to moon phases. Here is some of what Freud writes:
...the three inevitable relations that a man has with a woman—the woman who bears him, the woman who is his mate, and the woman who destroys him....the three forms taken by the figure of the mother in the course of a man's life—the mother herself, the beloved one who is chosen after her pattern, and lastly, the Mother Earth who receives him once more....More about Freud's essay can be found here , here , and here .
–1946: Robert Graves, in King Jesus, describes a Moon Goddess with the 3 aspects of birth, love, and death.
–1948: Graves, in The White Goddess, gives a number of other names to aspects of the moon-related triple Goddess, such as: Mother/Bride/Layer-out (related to death, particularly in the sacrifice of the god); Maiden/Nymph/Hag; Maiden/Mother/Crone. (Note: In this work, Nymph and Bride are different words for the same idea because nymph and bride are linguistically connected by their Greek, and possibly also French etymology).
–1955: Graves, in Greek Myths, writes of triple goddesses, usually characterizing them as maiden, nymph (bride), and crone, and associating them not only with moon phases but with the 3 seasons of spring (maiden), nymph (summer) and crone (autumn). He apparently didn’t include either the "mother" or "winter" in this work.
Some scholars and writers , including Graves (who at times identified 5 aspects), and also Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, and Raphael Patai, also wrote not only of triple goddesses but also of the quadruple goddesses. However in Jung and Neumann these are separate goddesses, not 4 aspects of one goddess.
Relating the triplicity Maiden-Mother-Crone to contemporary women’s lives appears to be a bit more recent, occurring in 1960s and '70s when spiritual feminists adapted and adopted the Triple Goddess. However, as I remember it, the association was not intended to be limited to only specific ages in a woman’s life, but rather expanded to include qualities in her life at any given time. That is, a woman as Maiden does not necessarily denote a young woman (though it could be and is often used to mean a young woman, beginning just after menarche), but can also mean an independent woman of any age, whose sexuality manifests outside partnership. Similarly, "Mother" and "Crone," though often associated with certain ages in a woman's life, are not necessarily limited to those ages. Further, "Mother" does not necessarily denote having given birth to biological children. It can also mean nurturing of any type or creativity in general. At the beginning of the contemporary Goddess movement in the U. S., Maiden-Mother-Crone wasn't a doctrine. For example, in a "Dianic New Moon Ritual," in the Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Part II, 1980, (p. 35) Z Budapest uses the triplicity Maiden, Nymph, and Crone. In The Spiral Dance, 1979 (p. 79) Starhawk writes that there are many aspects to the Goddess, only one of them being "triad of the moon" [maiden-mother-crone]. She describes this triad becoming "the five fold star of birth, initiation, love, repose, and death," with "love" (also called "consummation") being considered "the stage of full creativity."
So to summarize what we know at this point: The concept of the Triple Goddess as 3 aspects that relate to moon phases is a 20th century idea, initially most fully developed by Robert Graves and a few decades later adopted by spiritual feminists developing contemporary Goddess religion(s). The linking of Triple Goddess concepts to women’s lives (as in "I’m in my Mother phase" or "I’m a Crone") is also a 20th century phenomenon, and as initially used, was not meant to be linked only to specific ages of women, but also to the way a woman was living her life at any given time.
In some cases today, the Triple Goddess seems to have become close to doctrine, yet as far as we can tell at this point, the triple Goddess of the Moon as Maiden-Mother-Crone, and its application to phases in human women’s lives, does NOT have ancient roots. Does this mean we should reject it? That may be an option, and I’d be interested in hearing your opinion. But my view is that if a Goddess form is meaningful to us today, we should use it, whether its roots are ancient or modern. If the Triple Goddess as Mother-Maiden-Crone has become an important part of your spiritual life, if it seems complete to you, I don't think you should feel pressured into changing it. It seems it has been changed sufficiently by Goddessians and Pagans from the original Freud/Graves descriptions to be a sustaining Goddess form. Further, we should consider that many people using it spiritually has endowed it with spiritual authenticity. But if you are one of those who is dissatisfied with its present form, who feels its limitations, or feels that authenticity depends on historicity and/or scientific compatibility, then knowing that it is a recent invention, (and one in which in its Freud/Graves origins may include some misogynist stereotypes) may give you more freedom to modify it.
However, how and what the change is may be a matter of concern. Though some feel uncomfortable applying the "Mother" aspect to all women (not all women are, want to be, or can be biological or adoptive mothers of human children), most Goddessians have come to understand that mothering can also mean nurturing in general and/or creativity (as in "giving birth" to art, poetry, a beautiful garden, etc.) The really big stumbling block for many is the Crone. Not as an aspect when considering the Goddess archetype, but when it is applied to human women. Some comments I’ve heard include: "How old do you have to be to have a croning?" "I’m 60, but I don’t feel like a Crone." "I won’t be a crone until I’m 80." "I feel like I’m past the Mother aspect, but I don’t feel like a Crone yet."
These types of feelings and statements, especially the last one, have sent women in search of a fourth aspect—one that would come between "Mother" and "Crone." And while it could be argued that some of this discomfort comes from the ageism in our society that we haven’t yet completely divested ourselves of, it is also true that because women’s life expectancy is longer than even in the 1940s, that today the time in women’s lives after menopause needs to have 2 aspects assigned to it, not just one. Further, four aspects is actually more accurate when related to the moon, which astronomically has 4 quarters: new or waxing, full, waning, and dark. In the Maiden-Mother-Crone triplicity, waning and dark are combined.
But what to call that additional aspect? Some women have suggested "Queen"; at least one journal has devoted an entire issue to it, and at least one group has adopted its use. Yet I have a problem with "Queen." Why? Let me ramble a bit....It strikes me as odd that we Americans, though rejecting royalty in our national political life, seem to have an affection for royalty in our pop culture. We have prom kings and queens, beauty queens, and I bet you can think of more. On radio from 1945 to '57 and television from '56 to '64, there was an show called "Queen for a Day" where women competed to be a "Queen," and win prizes that would make their lives easier. The desire to be a "Queen" was in direct opposition to reality at that time, to women’s actual status, both in and outside of the home. The desire of some involved in Goddess spirituality to call themselves Queens in a way reminds me of this show; I feel that part of the motivation is similar. We may wish we have the power, riches, respect, and honor we associate with royalty, but, in many cases, we don’t yet have the respect and honor bestowed upon—okay I’ll say it—men at a similar age or level of achievement. Will calling ourselves "Queens" help us get this? Will calling ourselves "Queen" help us break through barriers to achievement that still exist? I doubt it. I think, rather, we need to continue to work to change how society treats and portrays women, and, most importantly, we need to continue to achieve in our everyday lives. That, rather than naming ourselves royalty, is what is likely to give us respect and honor.
I also have other objections. The first is political/philosphical. We spiritual feminists claim to object to and avoid establishing hierarchies. We don’t like them in politics, we don't like them in social groups, we try to replace them with "teams" at work, and we don’t like them in religion. How, then, can we claim for ourselves a title, Queen, which denotes a rank in a hierarchy? Real-life Queens don’t work for or earn their elevated status. They either inherit the title or marry into it. Is this a paradigm we want to follow?
My second objection is linguistic: "Queen" is not analogous to the names of the other aspects. (I’m reminded of the Sesame Street song,"One of these things is not like another...one of these things doesn’t belong...") Maiden, Mother, and Crone are descriptions of women—any women. Queen is a description of a royal woman. To have an analogous grouping, we would have to change the other three titles so that Maiden becomes Duchess, Mother becomes Princess, and Crone becomes Empress. I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT WE DO THIS. I’m just saying that this is the logical extension of calling one aspect "Queen." For it to make sense, they either all need to be royals, or none of them should be royals.
There are other ways to add a fourth aspect that would not be hierarchical and which would provide a title more like those of the commonly used three aspects. I’ve made a little list of possibilities for the fourth aspect—maybe you can add more. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (with notes for some of them):
Mentor (a woman who has arrived at a point where she can help others develop their skills, their careers, their parenting.)
Truth Teller (a woman who has reached an age or place in life where she can risk telling her truth)
Wise Woman (I know this is sometimes used interchangably with Crone, but maybe we could use them separately? It differs from Truth Teller because it implies not just personal opinion and experience, but also deep knowledge and learning that includes the mystical/metaphysical.)
Matriarch (Some of us have rejected using the word "matriarchal" to describe certain cultures to avoid its being misunderstood as a reversal of the hierarchical patriarchy, but I’m thinking Matriarch may not have as much of that implication—as in "matriarch of the family," which is used even today to mean a strong older woman whose opinions count heavily in a family.)
Speaker (a woman whose opinions are valued and listened to due to her accomplishments and achievements; a woman who is so respected that she can speak for, or represent, the community)
Guide (a woman whose guidance we seek due to her wisdom, experience, and expertise at giving guidance.)
If we also relate the new quadruple goddess to the four seasons (as Graves attempted), then we have not only a quadruple Moon Goddess but also a (drumroll please) quadruple Sun Goddess. Think about that for a while....
TAGS: life Goddess Triple Goddess spiritual feminism Goddess spirituality