The Maiden, Mother, Crone archetype of the Goddess is an entirely modern myth, a misreading of ancient myth. Yes, there are triple goddesses in myth and legend, but they do not conform to this pattern, which may have been invented by Robert Graves. The Goddess Badbh appears in triad with Nemain and Macha under the collective name of Morrigan, and these do not appear to be maiden, mother and crone in any way; all are battle goddesses. Neither does Brighid who is a triple goddess: the Brighid of poetry, prophecy and inspiration who invented ogham; the Brighid of healing waters and midwifery; and lastly the Brighid of fire who oversees the hearth, and the forge and who is the patroness of craftsmen and women.
A triple aspect doesn’t even apply to the moon, which has four phases, not three. A thirteen day waxing phase, one day of full moon, a thirteen day waning phase, and a one day dark moon phase, a ratio pf 13:1:13:1. The moon phases are:
11 days waxing
3 days full
11 days waning
3 days dark
1 day new
The lunar cycle is 29 days not 28 (or actually 28 and a bit, nearly 29 for the pedants)
Now the waxing moon is supposed to be maiden, the full moon mother, the waning, the crone. The dark phase isn’t mentioned, though presumably it equates to death. How does this tie in with the life of a woman?
In representations of maiden, mother and crone, the maiden is usually depicted as a girl of fifteen or sixteen, the mother as a woman of twenty five or so, and the crone as a woman in her eighties at least. There is a gap of ten years between the first and second stage, but a gap of sixty years between second and third stage, so most of a woman’s life is lost in some kind of archetype-less limbo.
The received Pagan wisdom [at least of the last forty years or so] is that the Maiden represents the young Goddess and is “initiated” by the blood mystery of menarche. The Mother represents the fullness of the mature and ripe womb and is initiated by the blood mystery of pregnancy and birth, either literally or metaphorically. The Crone aspect of the Great Goddess represents the elder years of wisdom and is initiated by the blood mystery of menopause.
Maidenhood doesn’t seem to include childhood, but starts at the onset of puberty, so the maiden phase lasts possibly from twelve to sixteen i.e. four years, give or take a couple of years either side. After the loss of virginity, embarkation on sexual activity and the possession of a fertile womb, a woman is said to enter a mother phase. But is a barren or childless woman still in her mother phase, or is she booted straight to crone? And when does the crone stage begin exactly? At twenty five when fertility starts to wane? When the menopause starts, anytime from the early thirties to the late fifties? Or at a woman’s last menstrual cycle, anytime from her thirties to her sixties? Can a woman of thirty two, in early menopause, really be a crone? Read any Pagan book and it will say something like: “The crone is the wise old woman at the end of her life, she represents decline and death on the way to transition of new life.” At thirty two, when she probably has sixty years of actual life left? If we accept this we are accepting the patriarchal view of a non fertile woman as redundant and useless
So, a woman is maiden for four years, mother for, say, twenty to twenty five years, and crone for up to sixty years or more? A ratio of 4:25:60- how does that fit our archetype of equal thirds maiden, mother and crone? It doesn’t. The archetype doesn’t fit at all unless we conform to the patriarchal stereotype of woman as nubile at puberty, fertile mother, and useless crone as fertility begins to wane. Thus a woman is booted into cronehood in early middle age, well before we account old age to have begun in today’s society. Like the Church of the Middle Ages, modern Paganism deems her to be in decline. This is not an image that empowers women.
If we really want to equate the stages of a woman’s life with the moon there are four phases. It seems obvious that the missing stage begins at menopause and ends at the onset of old age- which is not the same thing. A woman in her middle years is often at the most creative and active phase of her life. These women are lawyers, politicians, doctors, artists, scientists, world leaders, musicians and carers making important contributions to society. In the real world menopausal women are in mid-career, not on the decline or verging on retirement. A menopausal woman is just entering into her power, whereas the crone is passing it on, is in the process of passing away in late old age. Thus the menopause is a powerful stage of transition, an initiation into mature power.
In one of the Strega [Italian witchcraft] traditions there are 4 names and aspects to the Goddess: Diana the waxing moon (maiden) Losna the full moon (light mother) Manea wanning moon (dark mother) and Umbrea the dark moon (crone). After all, there are four seasons, four directions and four elements. Donna Henes, urban shaman, writes:
We have outgrown our tenure as Maidens and as Mothers, yet old age no longer follows immediately after menopause, which is why so many midlife women don’t see ourselves (yet) as Crones. Where is the authentic archetype for us?
And this of the Queen:
Still active and sexy, vital with the enthusiasm and energy of youth, she is tempered with the hard earned experience and leavening attitudes of age…She is the Queen of Her Self, the mature monarch, the sole sovereign of Her own life and destiny. Here, finally, is an archetype that fits.