The Maiden, Mother, Crone debate
In the early dawns of time…When I first started my pagan pathway one of the main themes running through my study and anything I read or researched was the idea of the Maiden, Mother, Crone. That theme has continued to present itself over the years and it is one that I have worked with.
This is an article I wrote back in 2017, I want to add some more thoughts to it – which I have added at the end:
Maiden, Mother, who?
The triple goddess is a familiar term within the pagan world (albeit not strictly an ancient one). She is usually three facets of a single Goddess or a triad of Goddesses and represents the moon phases – waxing, full and waning. Those being maiden, mother and crone.
I want to add a category to this…and make it four stages – maiden, mother, matriarch, crone. I think as we now have much longer life spans and the way that we live is very different from that of our ancestors, we need that extra stage otherwise the jump from mother to pensioner seems too long.
These phases in life are rites of passage, sadly we don’t seem to celebrate them as such although we tend to mark the ‘big’ birthdays we don’t really have definitive celebrations to mark the passing from one phase of life into the other, although I plan to have a Croning ceremony when I reach that stage. When I feel ready…which isn’t yet!
Let’s start with the Maiden, she is Spring, new beginnings, youth, vitality, innocence, carefree and your inner child. The Maiden is usually thought of as a virgin too although the meaning of virgin has changed, originally it just meant ‘unmarried’. How does that relate to our current times though? You don’t usually see fair maidens with flowers in their flowing hair dancing down the high street … at least not where I live. I guess the modern-day equivalent would be a group of teenagers walking home from school carrying their books in fashionable hand bags, mobile phone in the other hand, wearing makeup and talking about who is seeing what boy and what the latest gossip is. That isn’t to say the youth of today is bad, I have a teenage daughter myself and am a very proud mother.
My own youth was in the eighties, a time of ra ra skirts, leg warmers and electronic pop music and I loved every minute of it, my teenage years played a huge part in shaping the person that I am today (although I no longer wear the leg warmers, one or two ra ra skirts remain).
To me the Maiden Goddess isn’t about floaty dresses and running through fields of corn with gay abandon, it is about remembering that you were young once, reminding yourself that you made rash choices based on all sorts of outside influences but also that you had fun. You had few worries (apart from what to wear to the Friday night disco). Looking back life was totally care free, although it probably didn’t seem so at the time, ask my parents…I had my fair share of dramas! But although I wouldn’t want to go back to being 16 (I like being a grown up and being able to make my own life decisions like being able to have chocolate cake for breakfast if I want to.) Although I wouldn’t mind the figure that I had then. I learnt very valuable life lessons from those years and it is good to look back and remember how I dealt with certain situations and how good it felt to just dance, laugh and let some situations just sort themselves out without getting involved in all the drama.
I guess the period from maiden to mother can vary greatly now, our ancestors would have had children at quite an early age – yes, I know that happens now and it worries me greatly when I see or hear of teenagers having children as I do feel that they haven’t had time to grow out of being a child themselves, but everyone has their own journey. I came to motherhood fairly late really, in my early 30s and it was the right time for me, I had no desire to be a mother until I hit the milestone of thirty and then panic set in as the biological clock started to tick incessantly loudly.
The Mother Goddess is a provider and a nurturer, she is Summer, loving and giving and does whatever she can for anyone that needs help. When I think about Mother Goddesses I am probably visualising the stereotypical mother figure; slightly plump and wearing an apron with flour on her hands from making bread. Yes, I know that is so outdated, but I look like that quite often.
When I first became a mother I also worked in an office and believed that to be a mother I had to be perfect – a perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect home maker and perfect at work. Believe me it doesn’t work, there just aren’t enough hours in the day, trying to do it all is incredibly stressful there must be some compromise. The key (for me anyway) in the mother stage is to not beat yourself up, having a dust free house is not a high priority when you have small children. I suspect although they didn’t have the same outside influences even our ancestors sometimes found motherhood stressful, worrying about the cold or the damp and whether there was enough food to feed all the hungry mouths. Sadly, that still happens in parts of the world today too. I also don’t think to connect with the Mother stage in your life that you necessarily need to have your own children. This part of your journey is perhaps just about being comfortable, feeling secure and knowing that you are working towards being happy with yourself and who you are. You may not have children, but you may have those that are dependent on you; dogs, cats, partners, friends or relatives.
I have put the matriarch stage in because I do feel that from mother to crone is such a big leap. If you are a mother you will always be a mother, even when you are of crone age and then what age do you class as crone? If you have a child at 20 you could say you move out of the mother stage at 40 perhaps, which seems way too young to be a crone. This is where I see the matriarch stage fit in. The official meaning of matriarch is a leader of a clan or group, one that is a respected elder.
I think of this as the autumn stage in your life, when you have achieved goals that you set in your early years, maybe you have a job that you have worked hard for, a nice house, nice car and all the material things if that is how you measure success? But from a spiritual point of view I also think that it is when a woman is maybe at her strongest point, she isn’t young but isn’t old, she is mature and knowledgeable, good long-standing friends, confident in herself and able to deal with situations as they arise with wisdom and dignity, well hopefully anyway! This is perhaps also the period in a woman’s life that she has a bit of spare cash and some time to herself to follow her dreams and wishes, to take up hobbies and maybe travel to places she has always wanted to see and discover more about herself in the process. On the downside this stage of life sees the menopause but even then, perhaps it should be something that is celebrated as a rite of passage?
And then on to the crone phase she is the wise woman and the sage. Our ancestors would have revered the crone for her wisdom, knowledge and possibly the fact that she survived to old age! I don’t think the pensioners of our modern age always get revered or even respected which is a real shame because they have so much knowledge and insight to share. Although as time moves on the pensioners now, the people in their sixties and seventies, are possibly more likely to be riding Harleys and taking holidays to the South of France rather than retiring to the seaside to sit in a deckchair and eat fish and chips.
The Crone is the winter phase of life; wisdom, knowledge, experience, guidance and transformation in the guise of destruction and death which brings the circle around again to new life and new beginnings. My vision and possibly the archetypical one is that of an old woman with white hair, a hunched figure and a wrinkled face. Our pensioner generation today, those in their 80s and 90s may fit that image but those just starting under the pensioner bracket (60/65) may still be fighting the battle of hiding the grey hair under hair dye (hey I am in my late forties and I am fighting that battle), be dressed fashionably and still be rockin’ the ‘live life to the fullest’ idea. But it is the phase in your life journey that maybe gives you the most time to yourself. Retirement offers days free to follow pursuits or just to potter about in the garden, reading, relaxing and perhaps spending time with your grandchildren. Not so relaxing if you are grandparents though because our generation relies a huge amount on grandparents looking after the grand children so that the parents can still go to work.
A lot of the crone goddesses are also linked with death and destruction and to me that makes sense. There must come an age in your life when you think “I must have less years left in my lifetime than those I have already lived” and that can be scary. I believe that part of the Crone phase in your life is to accept that life is a circle, a never ending one, one of birth, life, death and rebirth. Thinking about death is not pleasant but it is a reality and one that should hopefully make us think about how we are as a person, what kind of life we live and how we have treated others. The crone stage is also one of introspection and maybe even one of making amends. Do you get to the crone stage and think about all the decisions you have made, all the people you have helped…or not helped, those that you have hurt or cared for? It is an interesting exercise to do when you are in your twenties, thirties or forties but I would imagine extremely eye opening to look back over, say eighty years and review every part of your journey, good or bad.
The question is…when you get to the crone stage what will you think and feel when you look back over your lifetime?
Life is precious and no matter what stage, phase or age you are I urge you to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, make time for the important things in life, be respectful to the planet and all the creatures that live on it and make sure you live life to the fullest.
More recently I have seen quite a lot of debate about the Maiden, Mother, Crone idea, some discussions have been interesting and polite, others have turned into fisticuffs…
Here are my thoughts, not that you want them, but just in case:
I do believe that the basis of the Maiden, Mother, Crone idea is sound (with the fourth phase slotted in to bring it more up to date). For me it works not just as phases in a woman’s life (there is a similar idea for men too) but it echoes the seasons, the moon phases and the turning of the Wheel. But I do think that the titles are being taken very literally and if you do that, it doesn’t work so well.
Mother seems to be the sticking point, and I can totally understand that it would be IF taken literally. There are a lot of women that don’t want children, can’t have children or those that identify as a woman but don’t have a womb. It would be a boring world if we were all the same! But it does make the whole ‘mummy in an apron with kids hanging off her’ idea a bit moot. So, I want to change the term ‘mother’ and add to it – don’t think of it as a child bearing woman, think of it as:
- A working woman
- A business woman
- A career woman
- A total creatrix
- A woman in command of her life
- even a Queen if you like
This woman has grown from her teenage/maiden phase and become someone who works hard for what she wants, she is working towards total control of her life and knows how to reach for her goals. She is creating the life that she wants with hard work, effort and determination. Her ‘mothering’ is all about creating and designing a life that she wants and being in control of it, she holds the spindle to weave her own design of web.
Each of us is on our own individual and very personal journey, when you reach each stage, I believe is up to you. There are no time frames, no dates in the diary – it has to be when you feel ready to embrace the next stage of life. I hit 50 this year but I am sooooo not ready to be a crone, I believe I am moving into my Matriarch phase and I am going to welcome it with open arms…except for the peri menopause bit, coz that sucks…
And if you don’t want to identify with any of the phases at all, then you absolutely don’t have to either!