The Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone

Three Generations of Women
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In many modern Pagan traditions, the triple goddess in the form of Maiden/Mother/Crone is honored. She is seen as the feminine counterpart to the Horned God, the female who provides polarity to the male essence. In some traditions, such as many Dianic Wiccan groups, the triple goddess is the only deity worshiped.

Popularized by Folklorist Robert Graves

It's important to remember that the concept of a single goddess representing the Maiden/Mother/Crone is primarily a Neopagan and Wiccan one—most ancient cultures did not have a Maiden/Mother/Crone figure, although they did include other triune or triple goddesses. The contemporary notion of the Maiden/Mother/Crone was popularized by folklorist Robert Graves, in his work The White Goddess. Graves theorized that there was an archetypical triad of goddesses found in the mythology of various European cultures. However, much of Graves' scholarship has been discredited due to lack of primary sources and poor research.

Modern Feminism and Today's Maiden/Mother and Crone

John Halstead, over at Patheos, attributes much of today's Maiden/Mother/Crone focus to modern feminist writers, rather than Graves himself. He says, "Graves described the Triple Goddess in other ways, including Mother-Bride-Layer-out and Maiden-Nymph-Hag. Graves was primarily concerned with the Mother-Bride-Layer-out trinity, which describes the experience of the Triple Goddess from the male perspective of her son-lover-victim. The adoption of Maiden-Mother-Crone as the Triple Goddess’ principal formulation can probably be credited to Starhawk’s Spiral Dance and Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, both published in 1979."

In modern Wicca, however, and many Pagan religions, the Maiden is seen as the virginal young woman, or girl, who has not yet awakened. She is all about enchantment and new beginnings, youthful ideas and enthusiasm. She is associated with the waxing phase of the lunar cycle, as the moon grows from dark to full.​

The Mother is the next phase in a woman's life. She is fertility and fecundity, abundance and growth, the gaining of knowledge. She is fulfillment—sexual, social, and emotional—and she is represented by the full moon. Springtime and early summer are her domain; as the earth becomes green and fertile, so does the Mother. A woman does not have to have biological children to embrace the role of Mother.

Finally, the Crone aspect is the final stage. She is the hag and the wise woman, the darkness of night, and eventually death. She is the waning moon, the chill of winter, the dying of the earth.

TV Tropes and the Freudian Interpretation

TV Tropes—which is a fabulous rabbit-hole of pop culture facts and information—points out that the Freudian interpretation of the Maiden/Mother/Crone appears in a variety of forms in film and television, although we may not always recognize it as such. "The three aspects of a triune goddess or trinity of goddesses appear as sisters. They are the maiden (often blonde and beautiful, and either a naive ditz or a budding seductress), the matron/mother (often plump and rather eccentric, or pregnant, as the page image shows) and the crone (often sharp-witted, sharp-tongued, bitter and unsentimental). In terms of a Freudian Trio, the maiden is the Id, the crone is the Superego, and the mother is the Ego. Even though they are the same being, they seem to know and think different things, so they bicker."

Society's Treatment of Women

In some forms of feminist spirituality, the Maiden/Mother/Crone is used as an example of society's treatment of women. While the Maiden is revered and the Mother is honored, the Crone is pushed aside and reviled. Many women are trying to turn that around and reclaim the title of Crone, much like the gay community has reclaimed "queer." Instead of allowing themselves to be "old ladies" at Cronehood, these women are taking back the notion that with age comes wisdom. They are vibrant, sexual, life-embracing women who are proud to be labeled as Crone. Instead of hiding in the shadows, they celebrate the later years of life.

A Fourth Category

Recently, many Pagans have discussed the idea of a fourth category in this archetype, representing women who are no longer in the maiden phase but who—for whatever reason—have not become mothers yet. In some traditions, this phase is called the Enchantress. Whatever stage of life you may be in or approaching, embrace your sacred feminine, and celebrate your personal power!

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "The Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Wigington, Patti. (2023, April 5). The Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "The Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone." Learn Religions. (accessed June 4, 2023).