Monday, May 03, 2010

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 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....


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At Monday, May 03, 2010 4:56:00 PM, Blogger Thalia said...

Hey who's the artist that did that AMAZING SageWoman cover? She's really good and I bet you all want to buy her stuff, like a lot. ;)

I like Truth Teller. I think that's where I'm beginning to be, though I'm only 41. And no, I'm not so sure about 'Queen' either; but then I've never been sure about 'Mother' for that matter. I don't feel like I'll ever get to 'Mother', though I am certainly a creative person. It just doesn't feel right.

I've always had a problem with the triple stuff and the Moon because it seems so obvious to me that the Moon has four phases and it didn't really fit.

It's all just so more complicated than that. It might work in myth, archetype, or fairy tale, but in someone's real life? I don't know.

At Monday, May 03, 2010 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

You're right, that cover is amazing. Now if I could only remember the name of the artist. The style looks sooo familiar. It reminds me of a blog where the artist does these great pics for "Goddess of the Week."

I agree with your comment about the "triple stuff" in real life. That might be the crux of the problem. We're not archetypes, after all.

Thanks for your comment, Thalia.

At Wednesday, May 05, 2010 4:45:00 AM, Anonymous Max Dashu said...

Great article, Medusa. I have the same feelings about Queen, to which my gut reaction is, Up the rebels!

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 12:22:00 AM, Anonymous Kathleen Jenks said...

Medusa, I agree 100% with your objections to "Queen" -- love the way you lay it out. I'm actually ok with Maiden, Mother & Crone because each is roomy enough to be a vessel for a wide range of appropriate attributes. But I'd like to see "Girl Child" as the opening phase, not "Maiden," which implies a teenager. The "Holy Child" in sacred narratives is almost always male -- Horus, Moses, Jesus, Adonis, Krishna, etc. Little girls shouldn't be left out, especially since our Child is an often deeply-wounded part of our lives as women. So we should have a Girl-Child phase .

Kathleen Jenks

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 9:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: fourfold Goddess

Yes, and I have even made Goddess rosaries that are broken up into 4 groups of 7 beads - the 4 phases of the moon (look at your calendar) with 7 days in each week.

Gotta get around to writing some meditations/mysteries for them, and prayers to go with it.



At Thursday, May 06, 2010 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Nancy Vedder-Shults said...

I loved your newest column, Medusa. When women in my community began to use the "Queen" designation for the 4th aspect of a woman's life (this must have been 15 years ago), I had an immediate negative reaction. I agree with all of your objections, but especially with the hierarchical/royal objection, which I see as essentially the same thing. We need to continue to associate women's power with power-from-within (spirit) and power-with (influence), rather than with power-over (dominance). And anything that has to do with hierarchy (i.e. the designation "Queen") is related by definition to power-over. We can't get rid of those connotations with the word "Queen," because we keep seeing real-life queens with crowns on their heads, doing "queenly" things.

The connotation of "queen" with being a sovereign of one's own life is wonderful, but it's not everything that we associate with the word. So I think we need another.

I like your suggestions for a 4th term, especially "Wise Woman" or "Elder." I realize that with the first one of these, we'll have to deconstruct and reconstruct our ideas w.r.t. the crone, but actually adding a 4th term necessitates that already.

As a 63-year-old woman, I've been feeling lately (and thinking about it quite a bit) that I'm what we've defined as a "crone" in some ways and not in others. I know that it's my time to pass on my wisdom, especially to younger women, so I feel like a "wise woman" of "elder." But I'm not yet a crone in her other connotations, since I'm still engaging (very) actively with life, not yet beginning to say "enough" nor taking a sort of final stock of where i've been. So a 4th term seems right on to me on a personal level.

I also want to thank you for your description of where the "Maiden/Mother/Crone" came from. In my researches, I've been surprised at not finding Her as much as I expected, although I would say the Norns or Fates come close. And I agree with you that it doesn't matter whether She's historically verifiable if She manifests in our lives today and reflects how we experience (at least one of) the Goddesses. I'm a pragmatic witch, or a kitchen witch as I like to say. If it works, then it works.

Thanks again,
Nancy Vedder-Shults

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 2:27:00 PM, Blogger Syren said...

Interesting discussion! I have been contemplating, reflecting, and playing with this as well; the Triple Goddess construct as applied to women's lives has never seemed right to me. This is what I have come up with so far, though I am still working on it:
Child - Maiden - Amazon - Creatrix - Queen - Crone
with the 7th place being held for the Dark, the Cauldron, the aspect of spirit at death.

I consider to Moon to have at least 5 phases: New, First Quarter, Full, Last Quarter, Dark. Dark and New are two distinct aspects- the Dark being the Unseen, the New being the freshly Reborn.

Thank you for the discussion on Queen, as well. It also does not quite feel right in reconstructing these aspects, and that is one I am going to continue to play with.

Asheville, NC
Mother Grove Goddess Temple

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 2:58:00 PM, Anonymous Kathleen Jenks said...

Tracie -- what a great idea! Never thought of Goddess rosaries (left behind the rosaries of my Catholic girlhood many decades ago). I'm a cross-cultural mythologist, btw, and time-permitting, might be interested in helping with meditations/mysteries, if that would work for you.
Myth*ing Links

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 3:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Thank you.
For me I believe what Mary Daly says in Pure Lust and that is 'father, son and holy ghost' are a direct reversal of maiden, mother crone. The difference being that the latter are in no way similar to the former. They are symbol concepts of stages of spiritual growth and women's spiritual growth is not at all like patriarchal abstractions. They are like anchors on the subliminal sea and they repeat like a spiral;the same, yet different on every curl of the spiral.

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 7:40:00 PM, Anonymous Glenys Livingstone said...

I left a comment yesterday ... trying again - thankfully I saved it elsewhere,

... why start the "historical breakdown" with Freud and Graves? what about the historical and "pre-historical" references that Marija Gimbutas makes, the ancient triple images offered by Durdin-Robertson, the references and images in Adele Getty, the book on the subject by Adam McLean, the references in Baring and Cashford's well researched book "The Myth of the Goddess. Mary Daly has great though brief spiel on Triple Goddess in Gyn/Ecology (p.75 -79). Your reference to Starhawk's take on it was good .. I feel that Starhawk has indeed expressed it well - the Triple Goddess as a dynamic of Creativity essentially... and surely she has had enormous influence given that her book The Spiral dance is in its 3rd edition. Michael Dames also makes reference to the ancient (2400 B.C.E.) Triple Spiral motif as in part representing the 3 aspects of the Triple Goddess: and has not named them as Maiden, Mother, Crone but as the differentiated parts (Fodla), the whole (Eiru) and the hidden sentience within (Banba). These aspects have resonances with the terms "Maiden, Mother, Crone" but these terms are only one valency of the Creativity represented by the Goddess Trinity ... much older even than the term "Goddess"- another problematic term really As Max Dashu has pointed out on occasion, SHE however we name Her is at the root of human language for Deity itself.
How do we know that the association of the Three with the Moon is only 20th century? but I agree that the hard linking of the Three with the chronological/biological phases of women's lives is 20th century it seems. I think the problem is with trying to pin women to the Creative Dynamic (is that the boys of the 20th Century who have done that?): that is a Reversal .. all being houses this Creativity - women like all being manifests the Urge to Be, the Place of Being, and the Sentient Space Out of Which Being Arises. Women are of course many more archetypes ... many more selves - as all being is.
And the "Queen" issue ... well I agree that it may well be an outmoded term, but essentially I think if we re-term it as "sovereign" and re-store our notions of power - that is that Power has to (i) with agency and (ii) connection and (iii) tapping into power of the Cosmos (again the Threefold Dynamic) then we understand that "sovereignty" is something essential to Being. Persephone re-storied to Her integrity as Seed, as Shaman, may be a model for such sovereignty.
cheers ... good discussion. The Triplicity that runs through the Cosmos is a good topic

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 7:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I get a little crazy with beads; click here. You'll see all kinds of prayer beads I've made. I just haven't figured out what to do with them yet.

RE: Queen

As a person who has often felt disempowered in her life, like she didn't have any influence and in fact has been victimized by someone she was supposed to trust, if "Queen" indicates a person who calls the shots in her life, I'm all about that. Even if it means being dominant. I think women have been told for far too long that "dominant" is "bad" or "power" is "bad" and I feel like that is strongly psychologically unhealthy for me. I'm tired of feeling like I'm a loser all the time. I WANT to be a Queen. Don't take that away from me or convince me I'm wrong or not enlightened enough if I rather like the idea of Queen.

RE: Norns

No, they're not even close to Maid-Mother-Crone. They are described in the Eddas as giant maidens. I live with an Asatru man and believe me - they aren't that at all.

Just my two cents.


At Thursday, May 06, 2010 7:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and ps: no, I also do not agree with Mary Daly's take on it either. I'm entirely too influenced by a reconstructionist Heathen (my Asatru man) to think of it like that.



At Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to know why just about everyone I encounter in the pagan world hates history (and I mean REAL history, not the revisionist stuff that has been twisted to fit a specific political agenda) so much.


I'm really getting fed up with it and am seriously contemplating leaving ALL forms of Goddess spirituality and paganism, etc.

I've never encountered SO MUCH intellectual dishonesty in my life!

And here's the thing -- it dishonors Goddesses like Frigga, Who (among other things) is a Goddess of wisdom and knowledge. She knows the fates of all beings in all the Nine Worlds, but She doesn't speak up about it much; the last time She did, She lost Her beloved son Balder.

Dishonoring real history dishonors Saga, a Nordic Goddess who is said to drink with Odin and swap stories.

It also dishonors Athene, and I know a lot of women have problems with Athene but I just adore Her. She too is a Goddess of wisdom and knowledge and the gifts of civilization, which includes knowing a people's history, who they are, where they came from. From this knowledge comes art: poetry, songs, stories. Those things that make us civilized beings, not just animals.

It dishonors Sunna, Nordic sun Goddess - the Sun often is a symbol of Light and Clarity and Vision and Truth.

Hail the mighty WISDOM GODDESSES!

They encourage women to be INTELLIGENT! To be critical thinkers! To ask questions, to learn, to sift through BS to find the truth!

I really get very upset when I see people of any gender, of any path, just blowing history off as if it is completely unimportant - or spending time on revisionist history that teaches no one anything other than lies.

:shakes head:

History is important. It is to a country or a culture what memory is to an individual.

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way: everyone got up in arms when the Texas State Board of Education wanted to revise the history textbooks (used in most schools all over the nation) to lean more favorably towards John Calvin as an influence on our nation's early days, as opposed to Thomas Jefferson.


Because that would be revisionist history.

So why is revisionist history ok when it comes to Goddess lore, but it's not ok when it comes to secular American history?

That's what most of what passes for "scholarship" is in the Goddess and pagan worlds - revisionism. That's how we wound up with this business of Maid/Mother/Crone to begin with.

Oy vey.

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wrote an entry dealing with a very similar topic:

click here

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:48:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. As I said in the body of this post,
"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."
And there is no evidence that I can find of the Maiden-Mother-Crone being various phases of human woman's lives until the 20th Century.

I am sitting here with Gimbutas' _Language of the Goddess_ pressed between me and my computer table. I just looked up Triple Goddess in the index, and although she discusses the triple Goddess (or triple goddesses), I couldn't find a discussion of Triple Goddess as related to the moon phases in the book (although she also discusses moon phases in the book). On page 97, Gimbutas writes of triple Goddesses that are found in antiquity, particularly as related to the "tri-line" sign which "repeatedly appears engraved or painted on the body of the Goddess, most often emanating from her eyes." But again this is not related to moon phases, as far as I can see. On p. 109, she writes of the Three Fates, and of Brigid as a triple Goddess, but again, there doesn't appear to be a lunar relationship. Nor are the they called Mother-Maiden-Crone (or related to phases in women's lives).

So that is why I started with Graves, preceded with a soupcon of of Freud. If you can quote me a passage from any of the sources you list, when the author is writing about the triple goddess in antiquity being related to the moon phases, and where the author also names the aspects something similar to Maiden-Mother-Crone and further, relates these to women's lives, I'd certainly be most interested.

Again, as I wrote in the post, just because this association appears to be recent, not ancient, doesn't mean we shouldn't use it. Be I do think we should be aware of its origins.

At Friday, May 07, 2010 8:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the current triple stands, and I'm in favor of five tiers myself, as I think that fits a modern woman's life more. Whether or not we know "virgin" or "maiden" really just used to mean "unmarried young woman", nowadays it implies very young and sexually inexperienced women. Some women choose never to marry, never to have children, or at least to delay these things for quite a while. It feels awkward to me to call a 30 year old child "free" woman with several lovers in her experience and a career either "maiden/virgin" or "mother". Neither archetype fits. What is she?
Similarly, people don't typiocally die at 40 or 50 any more. We are living to be 90. A crone may have been 40-60 in 1200 C.E. - nowadays some women are even still having or raising children at this age - more are finishing up their tasks of raising children and working during this twenty year stretch of time before even beginning to consider themselves old or beginning to ponder retirement. What do you call that age? Once my son is grown in a few years, I will be 42, and I hardly have a grey hair on my head - I won't really be in a "mother" phase of my life anymore and I hardly think I qualify as a crone yet! I understand the desire to use the word queen but I see the problems with it - but I think it SHOULD be a word that emphasizes strength and solidity. In spite of the culutural narrative that declares women over 40 to be useless, all evidence points to the 40s and 50s being a time of strength, financially and psychologically, for women in the western world.
Matriarch is an awesome word - are there seriously women who are against its use and against the matriarchy? It's our only way out, sisters! I'm not usre in this context it's the one we're looking for though...

At Friday, May 07, 2010 8:56:00 AM, Anonymous Glenys Livingstone said...

Hi Medusa
thank you for your reply ...
re "And there is no evidence that I can find of the Maiden-Mother-Crone being various phases of human woman's lives until the 20th Century".

I mostly agree with you that this hard wiring is a 20th Century thing, but indigenous cultures definitely have rites of passage at menarche (and at menopause?) ... that is, the three phases and the marking of fertility in this way are important.

And re "Gimbutas' _Language of the Goddess":

Yes it is that whole section p. 89-97 and particularly p.97 where she links this to the Triple Goddess. That seems to give the Three very ancient roots. I didn't think that she related this to the moon phases. Baring and Cashford do that p.18-22. and they discuss the fourth phase of dark moon - and I do discuss a possible understanding of 4 in my book at the end of Ch3, but I think the fourth phase - the dark moon - is the One out of whom the Dynamic Three arise.

But I actually didn't say anything about association with the Moon in my post. I am glad you noted (and re-affirmed that you did note!) the triads of many cultures - that are not named as Maiden/Mother/Crone. Though they may often have resonances with those qualities: such as Kali who is praised threefold as "the creative force""the protective power" and "the destructive power" in the Devi-Mahatmya (Hallie Iglehart Austen p.78). And I think Hecate's three aspects have resonances also with Virgin (sword in hand), Mother (corn in hand) and Crone (serpent in hand). That is why I usually prefer to name the Three as Urge to Be, Place of Being, and She who Creates the Space to Be. And I understand them as Poetic and complex - fuzzy.

Adam McLean's book "The Triple Goddess" is very good too.

I am sorry to be a bit cursory in my attention ... I have Samhain ritual tomorrow and my Mum is also quite unwell. But your topic is very alluring ... !!

At Friday, May 07, 2010 9:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I got so excited up there. But it's something I've run into so much in the neo-pagan world, and it's almost painful to me when I do encounter it - this utter dismissal of all things historical, in favor of revisionism.

I just wish people wouldn't try to pass off as ancient history something that is not ancient history. I wish people didn't view the ancient Celts as a dead culture, because they aren't. Et cetera.

I see the book "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet over on the sidebar. DO read this book; one of my relatives has long had very close associations with The Family and its leader, and the things he writes in that book are no joke.

At Friday, May 07, 2010 4:43:00 PM, Anonymous glenys Livingstone said...

oh Medusa ... I woke up with more references:
The Michael Dames reference linking the Triple Spiral to the Triple Goddess is p.192 "Ireland: the Sacred Journey" .. once again his understanding (like mine) seems to be with the M/M/C being Qualities (of the Land in this reference) not anthropomorphised:: that is as differentiated parts - the particular, the whole, and the hidden parts.

Then there is Miriam Robbins Dexter's great book "Whence the Goddesses" Ch. 13 addresses "the three life phases and the distributuion of energy".

My own references are ch.3 of "PaGaian Cosmology" ... p.88 -108 ... some of which may not suit your purpose - you may have preferred the academic version which had more references. Then there is my summarised explanation of the Triple Goddess as Cosmic Dynamic - as I think She was understood in ancient times in Old Europe (and in other cultures) -

I think too of the Three Zorya's of Russia ... they are associated with times of the day ... clearly linking them to M/M/C qualities but not named like that - once again evidence that the ancients understood the Three as Creative Dynamic. And I write more on that - developing the Three as Cosmic Dynamic of Creativity (again in our times) - in Ch.4 of "PaGaian Cosmology".


At Friday, May 07, 2010 6:12:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

Thanks for the additional info. I think then you and I mostly agree that although goddesses in triplicities are found in antiquity, and although individual goddesses that we in retrospect can see as "maidens" or "mothers" or "crones" are found in antiquity, and although moon goddesses are found in antiquity, there is no linking of one or more triple goddesses with moon phases AND "Mother-Maiden-Crone" AND women's life phases until the 20th century.

I don't have the Michael Dames' book, but skimming quickly over Robbins Dexter's Chap. 13, I see she relates individual ancient goddesses to being either a maiden/virgin, or a mother, or a crone. (This can in a way, been see as retrospective, since the ancients themselves didn't use these terms, and the terms were already in circulation when this book was published in 1990). But she doesn't describe isn't a Goddess who is all three, nor is there one who is related to all 3 moon phases, as far as I could see in her description.

In your PaGaian Cosmology, a book with wonderfully originally thinking, I love your explanation of the "virgin". You write that in patriarchal times the Virgin "is a distortion of the original understanding of Her. She is originally primarily in relationship with Herself and is not asexual. She is decidedly self-determined, remains her own property, whether or not she has sexual relationships. The term virginity signified autonomy...."

I think this sense of autonomy and self-determination may be what women are now assigning to "Queen"? in a nonrecognition that one can be a Maiden/Virgin at any time in one's life and that the meaning is not connected with whether or not you are sexually active.

At Friday, May 07, 2010 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

Amananta: Yes, the word "matriarchy" is avoided by some because it seems to imply the reverse of patriarchy--that is still a hierarchy but with women on top. Riane Eisler discusses this in her book, The Chalice and the Blade and offers some alternatives. Max Dashu also discusses this issue on

T.L.: There is some sound history out there, for example go to the home page of the url above.

At Friday, May 14, 2010 5:33:00 AM, Anonymous Glenys Livingstone said...

Hi Medusa ... we do agree that the hard linking of "triple goddesses with moon phases AND Mother-Maiden-Crone AND" chronological/biological phases of women's lives is apparently 20th century ... (I leave room for indigenous oral traditions) and generally I think this hard linking is a superficial understanding of how the Holy Triad represents core Creativity of the Cosmos (which of course in indigenous cultures, our own included, female biological capacity represented also ... they were/are regeneratively focussed).

And another word about the "Queen" issue (if anyone other than ourselves is still listening). I like what you say in your May 7th post, about it perhaps being a substitute for the autonomy offered by a re-storied Virgin term. I also think that if Queen is still "bitch" "bad" "mean" for you, then I feel that means it is so in your own mind, and could be re-storied if you want: or just turf her out with the patriarchal paradigm as many have done. There is the option of finding a new name as you have offered... I had to find a new term like "sovereign", when challenged with including some gay men in my Demeter-Persephone rituals and not wanting to turn into a comedy by addressing them as "Queen"! :) It was a good move anyway - and some of the reasons have been mentioned. ""Sovereign" includes all genders and has less hierarchical implication.

Re the term "Virgin" ... I have re-storied this word for myself, and quite prefer it to "maiden" which I cannot identify with at all. It is clear to me what "Virgin" is - as you describe above: and I have heard men in my rituals identify as Virgin - in the Imbolc dedications - knowing clearly what may mean, having re-storied it. It is possible to re-story any term, Goddess, or prayer - the sense of ourselves! - that has/have been distorted by patriarchal narrative.

At Sunday, May 16, 2010 7:21:00 PM, Anonymous Glenys Livingstone said...

I have been inspired to make my website's homepage sacred image this month a Triple Goddess image: with some notes there.

At Tuesday, May 25, 2010 4:04:00 AM, Blogger John Webb said...

When some people speak of 'Goddess' they mean something that they would like to aspire to, often in some secular manner.

Alternatively, 'Goddess' can be regarded as a symbol, that occurs in myths and dreams. This is not something that we can arbitrarily change.

Taking the later view, and going down the Jungian route of archetypes, then Jung goes as far as saying that each God/Goddess corresponds to some physiological thing. It's easy to understand how Aries represents aggression, and Eros represents physical desire. They are physiological things, which motivate human action. They have physical origns in the primitive part of the brain.

Jung also pursued the idea of triplicality. Three occurs frequently in myth - the 3 Norns, the 3 Parcae, 3 Gorgons, 3 Hecates, etc. In the interpretation of dreams, when three of anything occurs, there's often a fourth, and the fourth usually turns out to be the more important.

In my opinion, it's not a case of 'inventing' a fourth goddess, based on any kind of human wish or desire, but more of 'discovering', or finding it.

At Friday, March 02, 2018 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Motherpeace says there is a fourth who must not be named. "Queen" perhaps denotes the ego? But I always thought of Kali.

At Friday, March 02, 2018 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My mother, a dianic pagan, named me Diane. so as the maiden I am so very curious.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.