The Triple Goddess

Images of the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother, and Crone have dominated Wicca, and through it, paganism in general. This vision of the divine feminine reflecting the cycles of women’s lives has become so popular, that some have attempted to develop similar schema for men as well.

Well, the whole thing is really made up.

Yes, truly. The notion of a Triple Goddess reflecting the Maiden, Mother, and Crone and standing for the waxing, full, and waning Moon, has about as much historical veracity as the myths of the Burning Times or the Golden Age Matriarchy. As in, none.

And Fire Lyte has been kind enough to point this out. In detail.

That Triple Goddess, as defined by modern authors of Pagan works, was said to be a divine cycle of Maiden, Mother, Crone. These three monikers not only delineate differences in age, but in life perspective, position, wisdom, power, and phases of the moon. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychotherapist and darling of the modern Pagan community for his work on archetypes, put forth that the notion of a triple deity (or triad), generally speaking, was a pattern throughout myth arising from the most primitive level of human mental development and culture. Divine Triads exist in Hinduism – where the concept is known as the Tridevi and includes Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati as manifestations of Shakti, Norse mythology – the Norns which are cognate of the Greek Fates or Moirai, Irish myth – both Brighid and the sisters Ériu, Fotla, and Banba have been presented as possible triads. The Morrígan is a figure from Irish mythology said to have possibly been a triad, though which goddesses exactly were supposed to make up that triad varies between authors and historical accounts.
But, let’s take a moment to pause and note that the concept of the Divine Triad has rarely, if ever, been depicted in myth as being a young, virginal girl, a woman in the prime of her life, and an old crone who is past the age of child-bearing. Indeed, the Greek Fates were depicted, both in art and story, as old and ugly. Likewise, the Norse Norns are both the same age and rulers of destiny, not of specific times in a person’s life. Indeed, throughout myth and culture, the notion of the young maiden, the fertile mother, and the ancient crone seems to exist mostly in the modern day, supporting the proposition by Hutton that this concept came about at the turn of the 20th century.  While it is an interesting influence of art and entertainment – this theme has run rampant in modern fantasy literature, television, and film – it does not have as much historical veracity as other parts of modern Paganism.
And with this veneration of women based upon their reproductive status, Fire makes some really good points regarding Wicca and sexuality.
You might immediately see something that’s a bit disconcerting for a religion whose deities are supposed to represent balance and shared authority. While the Goddess must be the Mother in any incarnation of her triad, the God gets to skip out on the title of Father in favor of the much more masculine and testosterone-filled moniker Warrior. These ideas, granted, are argued ad nauseam online in message boards, chat rooms, blogs, podcasts, and any other form of new social media you can use.
I find this absolutely fascinating and inspiring and the source of my answer to the problem of identifying with only one of three potential archetypes at a time.
Let’s assume that the reason many permutations of the God triad exist is because it is generally accepted that men can be, and are, more than just fathers and more than just warriors. What if we stuck all of them together? A sort of Choose Your Own Adventure style of deified life phases? What if we said the God could be Youth, Warrior, Father, and Sage? Is that less neat and tidy because it gives us four options rather than the classical three? But, what if you choose the path of the academic or poet or scientist rather than the path of the warrior? Could the God then be Youth, Warrior, Academic, Father, and Sage?
I realize that the argument can quickly be made that the word “warrior” is a stand-in for an idea, and it is not to be taken literally, but that is false. Words mean things. They have definitions. While we can say that a Warrior can also mean a fertile adult male in the prime of his life, that isn’t what the word means, and, thusly, can be hard to relate to should a man not think of his prime as Warrior-hood.
The same is true for the Wiccan triad of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Mother can mean a woman in the prime of her life, but that isn’t what the word means. The word is specifically defined in relation to the children she either has given birth to or otherwise cares for. But if you choose to be childless, how can you relate to a word that is foreign to you? What if you’d rather be a Maiden, Warrior, Crone yourself?
It is explicit that Wicca values women primarily in their ability to bear children. Its construct of deity is based up this. Explicitly. And for a fertility religion that is supposed to trace back to pre-Christian times, I suppose this makes since, since only women can bear children, and that’s a pretty big deal.
But while ancient pagan religions certainly valued the act of giving birth and the role of motherhood, even they has some options or variants. A lot of that is probably negated by Wicca’s soft polytheistic approach that mashes all the goddesses into one, but let’s think about this. Wicca supports a rather rigid view of feminine nature that didn’t even fit comfortably for ancient pagans, let alone for modern sensibilities. Especially when we consider the massive influence and presence of feminist thought in modern neopaganism.
But let’s not leave the masculine out. As Fire points out, the masculine role is not divided into stages, and efforts to do so have produced a multitude of options that far outnumber the 3-fold manifestation of the feminine. But don’t be deceived into thinking this gives men more option or respect. The message as it relates to fertility is a bit different that “male privilege”: men exist only to serve the needs of women in their fertility. Indeed, the Wiccan cycle of the year tells the tale of the male who is obligated to provide for, impregnate, defend, and ultimately die for the Goddess. His various roles as Father or Warrior or Sage or Scholar are all centered around his utility to the divine feminine and enabling her to fulfill her role as sacred mother.
From a strictly biological point of view, I guess this makes some sense. But I’m not sure that many Wiccans have thought about how their view of the divine supports male disposability and traditional female gender roles.
Many queer individuals I have spoken to are much more aware of this. Fire Lyte mentions this as well, and the response is usually some form of “Wicca celebrate creation, and there are many forms of creation out there!” And while that is true, it misses the fact that Wicca is explicitly a celebration of sexual creation. Forgive me for saying so, but the idea of sublimate the overt sexuality of Wicca into an metaphor for abstract creative and artistic processes falls flat. The Great Rite was not originally symbolic: it really did involve two people fucking in a field.
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2 responses to “The Triple Goddess

  1. I just posted on my blog today mentioning my recent move beyond Wicca, and one of the main reasons being that I have had such a hard time connecting to Divinity through Wiccan principles. I can understand where many of the beliefs come from, but as a gay man I can’t entirely connect to Wicca without running into many spiritual blocks. I used to dismiss ideas of Wicca being strictly a ‘fertility’ religion, but I’ve had to come to terms with the facts, and accept that maybe Wicca as a complete spiritual path is just not for me.

  2. Very good. I thought Mothe Maiden Crone was made up by Graves in 1948, actually.

    Also, th the hierosgamos was. Celebrated in the ANE between the king and a designated priestess.

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