As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, authors often use archetypes to help readers connect with their characters. These are universal, symbolic patterns, that, according to Wikipedia, “serve to relate to and identify with the characters and the situation, both socially and culturally.”
In researching archetypes that might help readers to better identify with the story I’m writing, I’ve come across one that fascinates me: the archetype of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Many myths deal with the cycle of life, and the triple goddess figure exemplifies many of the types of life events that women of all cultures experience.
In doing my research, I found that there’s a bit of controversy around this archetype. Robert Graves, a folklorist, theorized in his work The White Goddess, that some stories in European mythology depict a “triple goddess” archetype, representing the three phases of life (youth, adulthood, old age). His theories were discredited due to poor research, but others have argued both for and against the existence of the triple goddess in history.
Overall, research suggests the Maiden/Mother/Crone as a single entity, widely accepted in the Neopagan and Wiccan culture, may be a more modern invention. That said, while there may not be many instances of a unified “triple goddess”, examples of each of these individual feminine archetypes appear together throughout history. In either case, the triple goddess archetype can still be used to depict different faces of the female experience.
The youngest of the trio is the Maiden: a virginal woman, not yet awakened to life. She represents enchantment, new beginnings, youthful ideals, and excitement, and is depicted as the waxing moon. She is Id, or instinct.
The Mother archetype embodies fertility, abundance, growth, gaining of knowledge, and fulfillment. She is often symbolized by the full moon, and is the Ego, or the practical, rational part of our personality, and the face that we show the rest of the world.
The Crone is the Super-ego, the wise old woman who plays the critical and moralising role. Side note: I find it curious that the Crone in mythology is often depicted as disagreeable and wicked, and can only wonder why the wise old woman is so reviled, when the wise old man is revered as kind and wise, an older father-type figure. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…
In Greek mythology, Hera embodies the Mother archetype as the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. However, there are examples in later Greek mythology, specifically in one area of Greece called Stymphalia, that worship her in all three forms: The girl, the adult, and the widow. Hecate, goddess of crossroads and magic, is sometimes depicted as a triple-goddess in later Greek mythology: Persephone (young maiden), Demeter (the mother), and Hecate (wise-woman, old “crone”).
Most of the other female triads do not have the same clear delineation between Maiden, Mother, and Crone, but elements of all three often exist within the trio.
For example, The Moiroi (also known as The Fates Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) in Greek mythology control every aspect of a person’s life. Clotho spins the threads of a person’s life, and decides when someone is born, so could be seen as the Maiden, representing birth. Lachesis, “the apportioner”, decided a person’s fate after Clotho starts spinning the thread (representing the middle part of one’s life), and Atropos who decides when to cut the thread and end a person’s life.
Hindu myth also includes a 3-fold form of the female goddess: the Tridevi Saraswati, Parvati, and Lakshmi. Parvati is known as the “Mother Goddess”, and is goddess of fertility, love, beauty, and marriage. The goddess Saraswati, is often referred to as a mother, she could also be representative of the Crone, as she is goddess of knowledge, art, wisdom and learning, Lakshmi is the goddess of fortune, and in some texts can be seen as Mother Maiden and Crone herself,
“Every woman is an embodiment of you. You exist as little girls in their childhood, As young women in their youth And as elderly women in their old age.— Sri Kamala Stotram
The Norns in Norse Mythology are very similar to the Fates in Greek mythology, in that they also decide the course of one’s life. The three Norns represent the past (Urðr), future (Skuld) and present (Verðandi).
In my story, the triple-goddess shows her form in the three witches that instruct the protagonist, Nira: Callali, the youngest, embodies youthful exuberance and adventure. Vala, the middle witch, is the mother-figure Nira misses, who nurtures and educates her. Romellia is ancient, has lived many lives, and teaches Nira about blending in, restraint, and ultimately is her first “grown up” experience with death.
Have you seen examples of the Maiden, Mother and Crone in stories you’ve read or seen?