The Triple Goddess in the sense that I want to address here is a concept commonly found in Wicca. It ascribes three 'phases' to the Goddess - the maiden, mother, and crone.
First, we need to talk about the origins of the Triple Goddess. There have been several examples of such 'Triple Goddess' deities throughout the ancient world. The Celtic Goddess Brigid is one such example. In her three forms she is Brigid of the Forge, Brigid of the Arts, and Brigid of the Hearth. There is some debate amongst scholars as to whether these were three separate Goddesses, all named Brigid, or whether they were three aspects of the one Goddess.
In Roman mythology, the philosopher Porphyry was the first to record an explicit belief that the three aspects of Hecate represented the phases of the moon: new, waxing, and full. In his 3rd century AD work On Images, Porphyry wrote:
"The moon is Hekate, the symbol of her varying phases and of her power dependent on the phases. Wherefore her power appears in three forms, having as symbol of the new moon the figure in the white robe and golden sandals, and torches lighted: the basket, which she bears when she has mounted high, is the symbol of the cultivation of the crops, which she makes to grow up according to the increase of her light: and again the symbol of the full moon is the goddess of the brazen sandals."
As you can see from these examples, the concept of a Triple Goddess is one which has existed for thousands of years. But where did these maiden-mother-crone associations come from?
The first thing to note is that the Triple Goddess in the maiden-mother-crone form seems to begin with Jane Ellen Harrison. Of her, it is said that Ronald Hutton wrote:
"[Harrison's] work, both celebrated and controversial, posited the previous existence of a peaceful and intensely creative woman-centred civilization, in which humans, living in harmony with nature and their own emotions, worshipped a single female deity. The deity was regarded as representing the earth, and as having three aspects, of which the first two were Maiden and Mother; she did not name the third."
I would love to find the actual text which he wrote as context is everything, but I need to research this further as I haven't found the direct source. However, wherever it was first suggested or whoever first suggested the notion of the maiden, mother, and crone, it is generally accepted that Robert Groves was the man who really pushed this notion into the mainstream consciousness.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of Graves. There is very little historical accuracy in his work (don't get me started on his Celtic Tree Calendar), and I can't help but feel that the maiden-mother-crone aspects are most likely another fabrication of Graves. There is no denying the place of the Triple Goddess in history, whether that be of three aspects as Brigid was, or representing three distinct 'phases' as Hekate did the moon, but the whole maiden-mother-crone thing seems to be a very modern invention.
What exactly do these three aspects represents? The maiden represents the new moon, youth, purity, creativity, curiosity, and sensuality. She is generally a young woman. The mother represents motherhood (unsurprisingly), nurturing, patience, love, the full moon, and self-care. She generally represents women in the middle of their lives. Finally, the crone represents the waxing moon, wisdom, knowledge, and death, and is assigned to women in their older years. These represent three phases of a woman's life. Supposedly.
This is where the majority of my discomfort with the Triple Goddess aspects come into play. It cannot be denied that as we grow our focuses and our priorities change. I remember being in my early twenties and thinking 'I just want to party forever!' Now I'm nearing my mid-thirties, I can't imagine anything worse. However, the rigidness of these three aspects doesn't sit right with me. Why can't a woman be curious and creative in her older years? Why can a younger woman not be focused on learning and gaining knowledge? And why must a woman in the middle of her life be a 'mother'?
This is possibly my biggest issue with the whole concept. Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman's main goal in life is to have a child. By assigning the 'mother' as one of the key phases in a woman's life - one of the three main phases of her life - it seems to assume that if you don't want to be a mother, then you can't relate to or connect with the Goddess. Even more infuriating when you consider that it is a man which has popularised this myth.
I do like the way that these aspects empower the older woman, instead of turning her into a burden or someone who is past their prime and therefore not worth paying attention to. However, this is a small 'win' compared to how I feel about the rest of this ideal. I also have to mention the whole notion of the maiden and her purity; the fact that this has to be stated as belonging to one of the phases gives the impression that once a woman becomes a mother she is no longer 'pure'. Which is...well, kind of gross. I have very little doubt that when Graves and others talks about the maiden being 'pure' he basically means 'virginial'. Women not being 'pure' and somehow dirty or lesser once they have had sex really is an idea that could do with dying out completely, and soon. I will repeat myself - it's kind of gross. However, that is just my interpretation of it.
I do like the idea of the Triple Goddess; three has long been known as the magick number. The three aspects of the Triple Goddess can provide us with inspiration, especially when we think of the Triple Goddess in the context of Goddess' such as Brigid. Having three distinct functions is a much more palatable idea. The artist, the warrior, and the sage perhaps? Or the sorceress, the healer, and the hearth woman? These are all ideas I can get behind. However, I feel that the notion of the maiden, mother, and crone is extremely outdated (and it isn't even 100 years old yet!), and really doesn't have much of a place in modern witchcraft. A lot of people I that I have spoken to feel the same, but there are also some who do work with these aspects and enjoy it! If you are one of them then more power to you. However, one of the biggest challenges those new to witchcraft face is feeling like they 'have' to believe in and worship certain parts because it is expected of them. If you are one of those who feel uncomfortable with the maiden-mother-crone associations, then it's OK to play around and find a Triple Goddess format that works for you if you wish to work with the Triple Goddess.
The Weekly Witch:
Once I week I talk about something 'witchcraft' related I have done with my week. How we incorporate witchcraft into our every day lives is always a topic that has interested me, so I wanted to start this blog to explore it further!