MAIDEN, MOTHER, QUEEN AND CRONE
Sowell Magazine Spring 2000
I wish that when I was younger someone had shared with me an understanding of a woman’s life cycle. Something more profound than... "You must save for retirement;" something that honored the changes I would be going through rather than the social fear of growing old.
We are always changing and transforming ourselves. If we clung to what once was, we would be resisting the natural changes and rhythms of our being. Imagine if the trees hung on to their leaves and didn’t allow them to drop in the fall. The branches would not be bare in the winter, so the trees would send nutrients to the old leaves, still clinging, when it should be sending all of its energy to the inner tree, preparing for the spring. Imagine then in the spring when the new leaves tried to stir and could not come through because the old leaves were blocking their way. We have seasons of our lives just like the trees and it helps to understand how we move through them.
There are many ways to explore the changing stages of a woman’s life. One way is to see the cycles of a woman’s life reflected in the three stages of the Triple Goddess: The Maiden, The Mother, and The Crone. In many cultures we find myths of the Triple Goddess. For example in Greek mythology we find the story of Hera. She is made up of three aspects; Hebe-the Virgin (Maiden), Hera -the Mother, and Theria -the Crone. On February 2nd Celtic tradition honors Brigid who also has three aspects called the Three Blessed Ladies. In France, on May 24th, they honor The Mother of Arles, another triple myth. The Moon Goddess is celebrated in Greece on November 16th. Her Maiden is Artemis, the Mother -Selene and the Crone- Hecate. All of these myths speak about the cycles of the feminine, the changing seasons in life and in nature: birth, death and rebirth.
As the human experience evolves so do the collective archetypes. We see in the collective feminine the archetype of the Queen taking her place between the Mother and the Crone. We now live long enough to have many years between the stages of the Mother and the Crone, and we see this evolutionary shift reflected in the archetypal world. The Queen must now take her place in mythology, transforming the collective feminine into what we may now call the Quadruple Goddess.
Each stage has particular tasks that are best when accomplished at that time. When the tasks of the previous stage are actualized then a solid foundation is laid for the accomplishments of the following stage. It’s like building a house. If the foundation of the house is not solid and well built than no matter how beautiful and well built the house, it rests on unstable support. Eventually the beautiful house will begin to show signs of stress and strain. Until one day they may have to jack the house up so they can get underneath to reinforce the foundation. If we have not properly completed the earlier tasks in our lives we too, at a later date, may have to "jack up" parts of ourselves to allow us to get underneath to deeper levels of earlier experiences and make "repairs."
Though each stage may be symbolized by a woman of a particular age and stage of life, their essences interweaving within us. They exist as archetypes. Think of an archetype as an aspect of the human experience that continuallyoccurs, a pattern of behavior that becomes represented or embodied by a symbolic personality. We embody aspects of the Maiden, Mother and Crone within us always, yet we can see where one archetype may more powerfully influence a particular stage of our life. But for the sake of understanding our progression through these stages, I will speak of them as symbols of distinct times of our lives.
The Maiden: (developing ego) She is a young woman, pure of heart, full of love and curiosity, experimenting with life, trying new things and having new experiences. She carries the seeds of all potential: anything is possible and all possibilities are within her. She does not limit herself by the needs or beliefs of others. She is in love with the mystery of life. She is whole unto herself and finds complete meaning within herself. Sometimes you may find the Maiden also referred to as the Virgin. This is not referring to a girl who has not yet had sex. This is speaking of the fact that she is whole without other. She is complete by herself.
The dark aspects of the Maiden: She can get lost in her own world, dangerously taking risks, becoming self destructive, holding a deaf ear to the inner voice of her own Wise Woman and to the wisdom of others. She may be the dutiful daughter, her self worth linked to pleasing others in order to receive their approval. She has not developed a strong sense of self and may "lose herself" when she enters the next stage.
The Maiden’s job: To come to know her own thoughts, ideas, values, and purpose, and to dream and generate vision for her life. It can be difficult when she doesn’t have the encouragement she needs to explore and believe in herself, especially when other peoples opinions of her take on more power than her own journey of self discovery. In this stage the Maiden must find herself and her voice.
The Mother: (actualizing ego) The mother births creation and devotes herself to "other": people and things outside of herself. Often the archetype of the mother makes you think of a woman giving birth to or devoting herself to a child, but here we are speaking of all of the possibilities of creation. This could be a work of art, acquiring knowledge, a profession: some process that allows the birthing of the creative energy within us. She is a selfless soul whose devotion and love are unconditional. It is here that a focus, a path of some kind must be chosen and her responsibility and commitment to it established. In her choosing lies the creative responsibility for her life. She is taking the visions of the Maiden and manifesting the dreams of her choice. The strong self she hopefully developed as a Maiden now learns to be humbled in service as she develops selflessness and unconditional giving, it will be a choice to act selflessly, not a duty.
The dark aspects of the Mother: We depend on the mother to nurture us and protect us and so she has the power to abuse and abandon us. She can control, criticize and reject the young maiden within us. If she does not have a strong maiden inside of her she may lose herself into the "other", and dissolve away, taking care of other while denying herself, becoming a martyr.
The Mother’s job: To actualize the dreams of the Maiden by allowing and
encouraging them to be manifested in the world. This is a stage where she learns to put someone or something before herself, her ego. If she has a healthy Maiden and Mother inside she won’t lose herself in this process and she can discover a deeper aspect of being. For some, a spiritual awareness is discovered as the ego is tempered and humbled by love, service and creation. She begins to find the wisdom of the Crone.
The Queen: (mastering ego)
The queen can be seen as the later phase of the mother archetype. She is a woman owning her own power and authority within herself and in the world. If she had children they are now older allowing her greater focus on her other creations. This is a woman negotiating her responsibility and power and reveling in all that she has mastered and accomplished. She has much to teach and remains actively engaged in society, either directly or through her teachings. She is renegotiating the all encompassing giving of the mother and creating clearer boundaries around herself, her time and her expenditure of energies. She reaps the benefits personally of all she has done and directs more of her power and attention to her own needs and creations. This can be a powerful personal, spiritual, and political stage of her life.
The dark aspects of the Queen: - The powerful queen can abuse her power and direct her knowledge and status for negative purposes, clinging to all she has achieved, becoming consumed with acquiring more and more power. She may respond to her sense of personal, familial or social responsibilities by withdrawing and withholding. If she did not experience a positive mother phase she may feel drained, resentful and misdirect her anger. She may not feel she has anything to offer this stage of life.
The Queens' job: To renegotiate her boundaries, realize and actualize her power and knowledge, and use her expertise for the good of all. This might be difficult for her if she lives in a patriarchal culture that devalues women and is threatened by her power.
The Crone: (surrendering ego) This is a very wise woman, no longer focused on others she has turned her reflections inward, as the Maiden did. She is not detached from the world; just not involved in the ways she was before. She seeks more solitude. Others seek her out for guidance and she welcomes them. She has a wide perspective, gained from years of experience. Been there! Done that! She can be completely honest because she has nothing to lose. She holds the wisdom, teaches and shares stories with those who will listen.
The dark aspects of the Crone: She can be bitter if she did not complete actualization of the previous stages of life, making it difficult for her to let go of her youth, dreams, people and living in the body. She may isolate herself and may blame others for her misfortunes. Her rage can be fiery. Her sadness and pain deep.
The Crone’s job: She is hopefully fulfilled by a life well lived, dreams and visions actualized. Her children, if any, are grown. Her responsibilities have moved into the arena of sharing the knowledge that she has acquired and she welcomes the invitation to share it. She returns the seed of vision back to the Maiden. Within her is a lively Maiden and a creative Mother. Our culture tends to devalue our elders, retiring them from work and often from the family and life in general. We lose so much of ourselves, within and without when we lose connection with the wisdom of the Crone.
We all have within us the good aspects as well as the dark aspects of these archetypes. If we find Maidens, Mothers, Queen’s and Crones who can serve as role models, we can learn from how they are negotiating the cycles of their lives. Life is a thread of single moments woven together, side by side, creating one continuos experience, each moment separate but connected to the whole.