The Full Spirited Four-Fold Goddess: The Maiden, the Mother, The Queen and the Crone by Mama Donna Henes


Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, Queen of my self, crones,

The Queen paradigm promotes a new understanding of what it might mean to be a middle-aged woman today who accepts complete responsibility for and to her self, and it celebrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual rewards of doing so.

Although I have been passionately devoted to the Many Splendored Goddess in Her complex multiplicity for more than thirty years now, I am not a believer in the Triple Goddess paradigm. It has never resonated with me because it belies what I believe to be the true nature of nature. The Triple Goddess in Her tripartite phases is widely understood to represent the complete cyclical wholeness of life. She who is Three is likened to the moon, the tides and the seasons, whose mutability She mirrors. And therein, lies the rub.

I am sorry, but forty years of researching, teaching, and writing about Celestially Auspicious Occasions — the cycles of the cosmos and the earthly seasons, and the multi-cultural ritual expressions that they inspire — I can state unequivocally that the moon has four quarters, not three, and that there are, as well, four seasons in the year.

While certainly there is still much to learn from the Tripartite Goddess model, the old triple-header construct is no longer all-inclusive. It no longer resonates with an entire generation of women who are in our middle years. We are no longer Maidens, nor Mothers, and not yet wise aged Crones. For us — more than 60 million climacteric women in the United States alone — the tri-level ideal is flawed.

It doesn’t include a description of my life or the lives of other contemporary women in their middle years living in modern developed countries. It does not address our issues and needs, nor does it embrace our unique and unprecedented position in society. It does not even recognize our existence. The old stereotypes simply do not apply to us.

Where is the authentic archetype for us?

Clearly it is time for a change of paradigm. Which is as it should be. Change, is, after all, the greatest teaching of the cyclical Goddess. In the absence of a traditional mythic example to inspire and sustain me through my midlife changes, I felt the need to invent one. So I formulated a fourth stage of development that would place me after the Mother and before the Crone in a newly defined continuum of Womanhood, thus providing me and other women of my generation with a recognizable role model for our mature, masterful and majestic middle years: The Queen.

The mythic model that I envision is recognizably like me, like us. Not yet old, yet no longer young, she is 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. The Queen paradigm promotes a new understanding of what it might mean to be a middle-aged woman today who accepts complete responsibility for and to her self, and it celebrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual rewards of doing so.

Is this hubris? Who am I to challenge so powerful an archetype? Well, I am in fact, a proud member of the pioneering Sixties Generation, and consequently, I have certain modest experience in rebelling against out-lived archetypes. Our generation has long created our own characters, composed our own scripts, and authored the sagas of our own lives. Bereft of affirming depictions of our midlife, we are more than ready, willing, and perfectly capable of creating our own. We are our own role models, which is only fitting for Queens.

Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, has been a contemporary ceremonialist for 40 years. Mama Donna, as she is affectionately known, is the award-winning author of The Queen of My Self, The Moon Watcher’s Companion, Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles, and Celebrations, Dressing Our Wounds In Warm Clothes and Moon Watcher’s Companion, as well as the CD, Reverence To Her: Mythology, the Matriarchy, & Me. She is also a columnist for UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum. In addition to teaching and lecturing worldwide, she maintains a ceremonial center, spirit shop, ritual practice and consultancy in Exotic Brooklyn, New York, Mama Donna’s Tea Garden And Healing Haven, where she offers intuitive tarot readings and spiritual counseling, and works with individuals and groups to create personally relevant rituals for all of life’s transitions.

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Categories: Aging, Embodiment, General, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Women's Spirituality

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41 replies

  1. Amen!
    Thank you for this passionate, eloquent, well-written piece. I am not able to have children and so I’ve never identified with the “Mother” phase; the symbols make me feel isolated and less of a woman rather than more of one. Now (with your change), I feel I can see myself in the sky!
    In joy,
    Melinda Eliza

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    • I experience the Mother archetype in my creative endeavors — writing, composing, singing, workshopping, helping younger women find a positive way through the negative systems of patriarchy. For me, it has never been solely — or even significantly — about giving birth, but more about nurturing and caring for other people or projects. In fact, Susan Starr Sered in her groundbreaking work _Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women_ (in which she analyzes a dozen women-dominated religions) shows that the impetus for women’s religions may be mothering — the caring, nurturing needed for any project, person, or activity — not the biological process of birth. I think at as women socialized in this culture, we all experience that quality and that activity. So it’s never been an exclusive, nor a biological, category for me.

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      • I forgot to add that I’m currently writing an article for SageWoman magazine about all of this, tentatively entitled “A New Era for Women’s Religions.” Hope some of you read it, because this is the group of women with whom I would like to talk about these issues. (P.S. When editor Anne Newkirk Niven asked me to contribute a column to SageWoman about thealogy, she said I would be following in Carol Christ’s footsteps…big shoes to fit, I thought.)

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      • Ooh, ooh, ooh! Can’t wait to read it!

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      • I agree, Nancy, I think of myself as a mother all the time, even though I have no kids and am post-menopause. I am mother to my kitty, my tortoises, my garden, my students, to me mother love is embodied care and concern for others.

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      • To be a mother, we needn’t necessarily bear children. The Mother archetype gives birth to something of Her passion — a baby, a book, a career, a business, a political engagement — and works to nurture it so that it can flourish. We have all been mothers. We are the mothers of generations, the mothers of invention, the mothers of necessity.

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  2. Yes, you are so right! While I appreciate the triple goddess for what She teaches us about non-duality, for us real life, modern goddesses, it really does miss a huge stage of life which you have aptly named the Queen years. I thank you for that. I also think the Queen has a place on the medicine wheel of the four directions. I gave birth to my first and only child at 41 and am now 58 and have proudly worn the crown as sovereign queen of my domain since turning 50, when I really stepped into my power. Don’t know when I’ll be ready to wear the crone mantle, but I like it that I can choose when I’m ready.

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  3. The more I come into my “Queendom” years, the more I understand the importance of this concept and the truth of your book’s title “Queen of Myself.” As I see myself and my friends close to my age grow into this time of life, what I see is not so much that we are Queens “over,” though many of us do hold positions in academic, corporate or public service hierarchies, but that we are, as you say, Queens of and within ourselves. We lead not simply by the positions we hold, but by the people we are — by example and being a role model, by fostering good relationships, by being strong enough in our visions of ourselves to see and appreciate other perspectives so that we can work with a diversity of people, and so much more. Thank you for this post and your book!

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  4. Yaaaaaaayyyyyy, Donna! I’m glad you wrote this blog. My guess is that nearly all the bloggers on FAR are Queens and are celebrating our majesty. I’m glad we’re spreading the news that there are more fours than threes and that Maiden matures into Mother who grows into Queen before she grows further into Crone. Yay!

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  5. When I was young, I heard a friend who was 50 say she didn’t feel like a crone. I thought why not? Now I see why. I am not sure i will feel like a crone at 70, maybe at 85?

    I don’t have a better word, but Queen still smacks too much of hierarchical power for me to want to use it.

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    • I agree, Carol. I think Donna is right about needing another life stage to describe our ripe, almost over-ripe years. But I have always had trouble with the hierarchical connotations of Queen.

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    • Unlike real life Queens who come by their status as the wife or daughter of a King, we Queens crown our own heads and create our own thrones. There is not just one Queen above all others, but millions and millions of empowered Queens. And speaking for myself, the more Queenly I become, the more I desire to be in the company of other Queens. Together, we Self-empowered women can and will change the world.

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  6. Thanks so much for your thoughts on our passages. I agree with you, they need updating! We are certainly living a lot longer than women did in ancient times. I can’t help but get creative with your ideas a little, hope that’s okay. I was thinking it might even be interesting to work with 8 phases, with 12 years per each, assuming a possibility of 96 years. One of the additions that came to mind was “the Champion” (maturity in the sense of accomplishment in our chosen field of endeavor).

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  7. Donna I agree totally about the need for a fourth stage. I don’t feel ready to be a crone, but I don’t fit the Mother stage, either. I often think of myself as a Queen and my land as my queendom, yet I think Carol is correct to point out that this sets up a hierarchy. I do like the idea of Healer, though, or maybe Wise Woman?

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    • I see the crone archetype as the wise woman, since she gathers within herself all she has learned and experienced in her long life.

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      • Nancy, you are so right about the crone being a wise woman. I also agree with June that we shouldn’t expect to totally fit an archetype.

        I’ve really enjoyed everyone’s comments and found them enlightening.

        Thanks all!

        Linda

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    • When we think of the Queen as hierarchal, we are thinking with a patriarchal headset that defines power as power over. As Self-designated Queens we own our own power and understand that true power, feminist power — empowerment — comes from within. We each have the potential to be powerful, not at the expense of anyone else, but alongside and in partnership with other powerful women. There is a throne for each of us. And when they are all filled, just think of the changes we can make!

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  8. I agree totally. I like Queen but as Carol reminds us, it is associated with the old paradigm of hierarchy. Maybe we have to make a new word.
    I don’t really like the word “crone” for any age. When I was doing the research for my article and painting of “The Cailleach” most spoke of her and envisioned her as an ugly old hag or a crone. Old doesn’t have to be ugly. I found only a couple of sources who felt this depiction of Her as a hag to be a result of the patriarchal take over of the old Goddess Ways; who felt that she could appear as whatever aspect she wished.

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  9. my most wonderful sister Anna Maree has been resonating with the crone way to early – she is THE QUEEN!! We have been searching for this name – so far from her Croning years, yet such wisdom. Well done and thankyou for sharing

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  10. Hi, Donna, and thank you for your post.It ‘s nice to hear from another pagan and Goddessian. We pagans are sadly underrepresented on these pages and have to work hard to get our voices heard ! However, as the saying goes ,’where there are four pagans you will find five opinions’, and I cannot help but take issue with some of the points you have raised.

    A lot of women have a problem with the word ‘crone’. This is partly because of the western taboo about age, but also because the word itself is a bit silly: a ‘crone’ is someone who belongs in a Disney animation, not real life.
    But the word ‘crone’ is a very recent introduction while the tripartite Goddess is the most ancient of deities, and known by more names than anybody can list (as witnessed by Apuleius’ prayer in The Golden Ass).So we could better name her as ‘Love’, (innocence, youth) ‘Power’ (realization, maturity) and ‘Wisdom’ (transcendence, old age).
    In perhaps more familiar Catholic iconography, she is the Virgin to whom the Angel Gabriel appears; the Mother of the Nativity; and the Pieta who cradles her dead son. She is the Goddess from whom we all come, and to whom we shall all return: Queen of the Living and of the Dead. In Pagan Europe the tripartite Goddess was recognized in the image of the Three Fates and, in the Northern tradition, as the Three Norns. But is is as Hekate that she was, and is, most powerful.
    Now, Hekate, as all pagans know, is a lunar goddess, and as such, mistress of witchcraft. She guides, empowers and blesses women and is especially helpful when it comes to magical practice – particularly that deep, ancient folk magic that all women at all times, whether they realize it or not, have drawn upon at moments of crisis. Magic begins at least 30,000 years ago with a woman in a cave looking up to the moon while crooning her sick baby to sleep. Her womanly power draws on the power of the moon to bless and heal. (It is, of course, this womanly power that the patriarchal religions have so jealously tried to destroy, but that’s another story).
    Why is the tripartite nature of the Goddess so important to magic ? Because of the 3-fold nature of the moon’s phases, by which traditional witches work their magic. Three (and multiples of three, especially nine) is the sacred number of Hekate and of the moon, which is why spells, blessings and curses are all uttered in threes, and why magical ritual employs three-fold repetition.
    Now, those three phases are further divided into 5 faces: 1) crescent waxing; 2) gibbous waxing; 3) Full moon; 4) Gibbous waning; 5) Dark moon; (when the moon conjuncts the sun and is hidden for three nights) So there are no sudden or abrupt changes, just the gradual transformation from one state to another, as in life.
    The witch works with each of these phases in turn: spells for blessing and increase are made during the waxing moon, for example. The dark of the moon, the third face of Hekate is a time of hidden mystery, and of the special power and wisdom of post-menopausal women (should they choose to realize it).Nothing to do ‘crones’ here. The post menopausal woman is recognized, and feared, in many cultures precisely because of her mysterious, witchey power. Sexually, she is more potent than ever. However, if she is a witch, she no longer gives her sexuality to a man (unless for pleasure) or to get children, but uses every bit of it for her own purpose and intent. Hekate is the Beloved Mother of all women, but blesses especially her post-menopausal daughters with the power-knowledge of the Dark Moon – and who wouldn’t want some of that ?

    In Her Name, June.

    ps before anybody asks – no, not all pagans are witches – nor witches pagans !

    ps why doesn’t this spell check accept ‘Goddessian’ or Hekate ? Shame !

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    • It is interesting to realize that Hecate is called Hecate of the Crossroads. She is the divine crossing guard, leading the newly departed souls across the boundary that separates life from death. A crossroads clearly indicates two intersecting paths creating four corners, four quarters. Could Hecate have been an early Quadruple Goddess, perhaps? She is usually depicted as three-faced: one face looking straight ahead, full front, flanked by two faces in profile, each facing outward. Her fourth face, if she had one, would have been looking backward, and thus rendered invisible by the other three — just like the dark fourth phase of the moon when She hides Her face from us.

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      • Well, traditionally Hecate’s ‘cross-roads’ were the meeting place of 3 roads, not the familiar cross intersection of 2. offerings to her were placed where the 3 ways met.

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  11. Oh, I just love this idea! It makes so much sense. Thank you, Mama Donna, for sharing it. As a 58 y.o. woman, it makes sense to me and gives me a way to view myself that I haven’t had before. Ah, the comfort of settling into who I am now….

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  12. Reblogged this on Journeying to the Goddess and commented:
    I REALLY enjoyed this! I personally believe that there are so many more aspects of the Goddess than the usual three found in Neo-Paganism and Wicca. “Clearly it is time for a change of paradigm. Which is as it should be. Change, is, after all, the greatest teaching of the cyclical Goddess.” ~ Mama Donna Henes

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  13. Really enjoyed this post – Also, to be honest, as a 27 year-old woman, I don’t think the transition between Maiden and Mother is so clear-cut, either! Motherhood may mean the blossoming of creative endeavours for those of us who aren’t going to be Mothers in the traditional sense, but I think there is a gap between the Maiden and the maturing Mother that isn’t explored, either. Almost like the knights in the Tarot; that questing, pioneering pathway into maturity…just a thought. xxx

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    • Having become a witch at 29, I didn’t go through the age you describe consciously, at least not thinking about what archetypal stage I was experiencing. I think you’re right — the Maiden covers childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood, way too much for one archetype. The Reformed Congregation of the Goddess uses 8 archetypes, corresponding to the 8 lunar aspects. I’ll have to go look for their names. Good conversation here!

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  14. The ‘Maiden’ (new, waxing moon) is just that. as an archetype she represents the virgin, the girl who has no experience of sex.
    But I don’t think we should be in such a hurry to personalize these icons. Our human lives are unique and particular each to herself. We can’t spread ourselves into an archetype, and shouldn’t want an archetype to sqeeze herself into one us !

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  15. It is great to see this post (which a woman-friend sent me the link to) but I feel the need to let you know that you did not “invent” this concept of the Queen phase….it has been circulating around various women’s communities for many years. In fact, about 18 years ago, I experienced a “Queen Initiation Ritual” with a community of women I’ve been doing ceremony (Womans Way LongDance) with for nearly 25 years here in the Pacific Northwest. And I’ve brought the Queen Life-Phase to the Rites of Passage ceremonies we do at Womens Summer Solstice. Since you hadn’t heard of it, I assume many other women have not heard of it either. So your post will help spread the word. But do understand….”there is nothing new under the sun” and you did not invent the notion; you just tapped into the collective womyn-wisdom and re-membered it! Blessings on your work.

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  16. I saw and read this post via a friend of mine on Facebook. I agree that for some, the aspect of a 4 part deity makes sense in some areas. However, if you are in tune with yourself, as we all should be, most women in their 40’s ( late) and up would have been considered “wise” or “crone” according to history, simply because of experience, not necessarily because of age. Life experiences add to the “wise” aspect of the crone, and I feel that I am in the early stages of the “crone” or “wise” aspect at this time of my life. There are times when I feel “queenly” and others when I feel “wise”. I think I personally prefer the term “wise” over “crone” regardless.

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  17. Long live the Queen. As I read this, I felt my spine getting straighter as I stood taller. Feeling rather regal now. At 58, I was not sure exactly where I fit in either. Now, to shop for the perfect tiara…Thank you.

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  18. This paradigm of four phases resonates with me also. I tend to agree though with some others about negative connotations to the name Queen.
    I have seen this structure of four phases somewhere else, although ten minutes’ googling has not found it! In this alternate structure, “Queen” is replaced by “Guardian”.
    This naming makes a good fit in my eyes. There is important work to be done in the outside world in this third phase of our lives, a lot of it to do with activism and, as we grow in strength, the guarding of what is precious to us and to the earth. So Guardian is probably what works best for me.

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  19. Thank you all so much for your comments. I am delighted that the Four Fold Goddess has generated so much interest and such a spirited conversation.

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  20. I want to thank you all for your comments, insights and ideas. I am delighted the the Queen has sparked such interest and wonderful, insightful conversation. Long live the Queens!
    xxMama Donna

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  21. I simply adore this article. I am a woman in my 60th year and this resonates with me on a very deep level. Thank you Donna for this.
    Much love
    Jaitara

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  1. The Full Spirited Four-Fold Goddess « WiccanWeb
  2. Tending the Fire of Our Circle of Older Women by Carolyn Lee Boyd «

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