The triple goddess is a classic, fixed feature of Wicca. I don’t think the concept goes far enough, though. I can see where it came from. Threes are common enough, and women do have these defined stages of life, much more so than men. Three stages are easy to tie into the stages of the moon, and the presence or absence of fertility. I’ve been pondering this a lot, though, and I really think there should be five stages.
1. The Girl — This stage would last from birth to menarche. Our society does not pay enough attention to the end of this stage. It is surrounded by mystery and secrecy, and often even women do not share this mystery with each other, or between mother and daughter. Gone are the respectful rites of passage to celebrate the ending of childhood. I want to bring this back for my girls.
2. The Maiden — This stage would last from menarche to childbirth. The Maiden is a full-flowered woman, grown but not quite matured. There is an important difference between the Maiden and the Girl. The Maiden is privy to more of the secrets of adulthood. She has earned autonomy in her actions and control over her life, but has not yet acquired responsibility for another’s life. Again, while childbirth is an important rite of passage for every woman, it is no longer treated as such. Gone is the respect for the power of the birthing woman, replaced by a series of laboratory procedures. This is beginning to change.
3. The Mother — This stage lasts through the childbearing and nursing years. The Mother is full of the power of creation, growing new life and nurturing it with her body and soul. Her life is focused on this task. Her sleep is disrupted. Her body is ravaged. Her children, born and unborn, demand her attention every hour of every day. This stage is given short shrift in our modern, feminist society. Women are told they can “have it all,” that they can go right back to work while their children are young without missing a beat. The women who choose to dedicate themselves to this job of early motherhood are looked at as less committed, unproductive, “housewives”.
4. The Matron — This stage lasts from the weaning of the last child until that child is grown. The Matron has moved from the physical creation and nurturing of life to the mental support of that life. The Matron is focused on teaching her children to grow and learn, preparing them for their launch into the world, independent of her. Her body is now her own again, but the demands on her mind and time are no less. The Matron’s arms are more frequently empty, but her heart is even more full, as she faces the coming day when her children will be gone and her nest will be empty.
5. The Crone — This is the final stage of life, the one we are familiar with as “The Crone.” Lasting from menopause or the empty nest until death, this is a time when the woman moves into an elder advisor position. She is the grandmother, the matriarch of the family. No longer active in the day-to-day raising of children, she is consulted by the younger generations for wisdom and advice, and she gets to bestow her love on new babies without having to lose sleep over them. I think the Crone also does not get enough respect anymore. Women try so hard to pretend they are nowhere near this stage for as long as they can, dying their hair, surgically altering their body, masking the signs of age. When they do give in and show their age, they are relegated to the retirement communities and nursing homes, shunted away rather than listened to and respected. I think it is so sad that women do not feel proud of the gray hairs they have earned. Those gray hairs and wrinkles are a badge of honor, marks of a life lived and lessons learned.
I think these divisions are more understandable and definable. The hardest part of incorporating them into religious practice would be relating them to the stages of the moon. We are used to the symbol of the Triple Goddess, with the waxing crescent, the full moon, and the waning crescent; these represent the Maiden, Mother, and Crone aspects. However, the moon is also divided into quarters, with the full moon and new moon in between. Perhaps the first four stages could be related to the four quarters of the moon, with the full moon representing childbirth. The Crone would be the night sky, always in the background supporting the other aspects. A symbol for this new 5-faced goddess could be the original triple-moon, with the crescents raised a little above the full and connected by a new moon, the whole on a background circle.
Maybe I can get Caitlin to draw that up for me.
It occurs to me that some women never have children. How do they fit into these different aspects of Goddess? Even women who do not physically bear babies have their children. Perhaps they adopt children, and still go through spiritual childbirth and physical nuturing. Perhaps they choose or are chosen to be childless, and devote their life to something else, a career or a calling. Their life’s work then becomes their child, something they nurture and grow, and then eventually they retire and become an elder to their community. If you look closely, you can see these stages, these aspects, in virtually every life path a woman can choose. Their markers may sometimes be less obvious, but they are no less there.