In her comment following my last post which was about mythology, my friend, Carol Christ, expands on my paragraph about how the so-called “ancient triple goddess” was really invented in 1948 by Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess. (Thanks, Carol.)
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Goddess movement was just getting up on its feet and our ovular books were being published, the idea arose that if “they” have a holy trinity, “we” have one, too. And ours is older and holier. We see it in the three phases of the moon, new (Virgin), full (Mother), and dark (Crone). Here’s a tiny sample of these books that changed the lives of so many women and men:
- Woman’s Mysteries Ancient and Modern by M. Esther Harding (1971, but first published in 1933)
- The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974) by Marija Gimbutas
- When God Was a Woman (1976) by Merlin Stone
- Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths (1978) by Charlene Spretnak
- The first edition of The Spiral Dance (1979) by Starhawk
- The Chalice and the Blade (1987) by Riane Eisler
- Laughter of Aphrodite (1987) by Carol P. Christ
- The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries (1989) by Z. Budapest
- The Reflowering of the Goddess (1990) by Gloria Feman Orenstein
- Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book (1990) by Miriam Robbins Dexter
Triple goddess? ’Tain’t so. Our beloved triple goddess is one of our foundational myths. It’s nice and it’s perhaps inspiring, but it’s only a myth. Anyone who looks at a calendar or almanac—or up into the sky every night for a month—can easily see that the moon doesn’t have three phases. It has four: waxing, full, waning, and dark. And since the late 20th century, women have lived long enough to go through more than three stages of life.
Let’s pause and look at the “traditional” three stages of Goddess and of women’s lives. The Maiden, or Virgin, is the prepubescent girl. Or maybe she’s the teenager before she gets married, though today she may or may not be a physical virgin. Or maybe she’s the grown woman who, devoted to her career, remains unmarried. And let’s remember that the Crone recycles as the Virgin, so maybe this phase also represents the older woman who is cycling into a new phase without the bother of boyfriend, husband, or family. In 1933, Jungian analyst, M. Esther Harding, discussed moon goddesses and the Greek word parthenos, which means “no more than unmarried woman.” (Thus the Parthenon was dedicated to the never-married Athena.) Harding goes on to say that being a virgin “involves the right to refuse intimacies as well as to accept them. A girl belongs to herself [Harding’s emphasis] … she is ‘one-in-herself’” (pp. 101-03).
The Mother is the grown woman who has given birth to at least one child. Or maybe it’s the woman who is a “mother of invention” or of her career or who mentors younger women. But what about the teenage mother—where does she fit? What about surrogate mothers? If a woman gives her baby away, is she still a mother? What about movie stars and other women who use surrogate mothers to have children for them after they’ve passed menopause?
The Crone is said to be the “woman of the fourteenth month,” that is, the post-menopausal woman who has not menstruated for a lunar year plus one month. Some people say that the crone also has to have passed her second Saturn return (approximately age fifty-six). But some women say that “Cronehood is a state of mind” and accept Cronehood in their twenties and thirties because they “feel like crones.” (I think this is nonsense.) What about young women who have had hysterectomies? Are they crones because they no longer menstruate? What about women who don’t feel old at sixty? After all, AARP Magazine proclaimed that “sixty is the new thirty.” Some people seem to believe that a ritual called a Croning has ancient roots. Again, ’tain’t so. The earliest Croning rituals I know of were performed in the 1980s by Prof. Carolyn Harrison of the Claremont Colleges in southern California.
But in the 21st century, our lives are too long for a mere three stages. We cannot look to the “ancient wisdom” for solutions to modern issues. Until the late 20th century, most women did not live past menopause. Historically, how many old women can we name? Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess (1098–1179). Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England and France (1122–1204). Catherine de Medici, Queen of France (1519–89). Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1558–1603). Mbande Nzinga, Queen of Angola (1582–1663). Victoria, Empress of the British Empire (1819–1901). Tz’u Hsi, Empress of China (1835–1908).
Around the turn of the millennium, Mama Donna Henes, an urban shaman, and I conceived (or received) the idea of a fourfold goddess because there are really four stages in the lives of the Goddess and women: Maiden, Mother, Queen, and Crone. My friend, Donna, wrote the best book on the topic, The Queen of My Self. I wrote articles in magazines. (Notice that Donna and I live on opposite edges of the continent. She lives in Brooklyn, NY; I’m in Long Beach, CA. Is “universal” too strong a word here?)
In the 21st century, at least in developed countries, women commonly live twenty or thirty years past natural menopause. What this means is that we need to acknowledge and name the fourth phase of life—the phase between motherhood and cronehood. Donna and I proposed that before getting to Crone, women spend a couple decades as Queens. When we finally get the kids out of the house, we find ourselves at the top of our game. We are energetic and creative. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, both allopathic and holistic, we’re healthier. If we’re working in the corporate world, we reach upper management. Many women leap off the corporate ladder, however, and successfully open their own businesses. (That’s what I did.) Because we’ve already lived fifty years, we have experience, knowledge, and wisdom. As the saying goes, we’re been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. We’re not still making the old mistakes,though we may be inventing new ones. We no longer hesitate to be as smart as we are and we seldom hesitate to speak our minds. Whether our realm is a house well organized and smoothly run or a corporation or an entrepreneurial endeavor, we’re at the top of our form. We’re Queens, and we deserve to be proud of it.
Let us claim the power of the fourfold goddess. Numerologically, 4 is the number of work and discipline. In the Tarot, it’s Card IV, the Emperor, whose quality is intellect, and the fours in the Minor Arcana represent the foundation and structure needed for things to manifest. It’s being “four-square” and perhaps “forthright.” Four is the number of the earth, says J.E. Cirlot in A Dictionary of Symbols; it is symbolic of “the human situation, of the external, natural limits of the ‘minimum’ awareness of totality, and … of rational organization” (p. 222). There are four seasons, four cardinal directions, four elements, four Guardians of the Watchtowers, four solar festivals in the wheel of the year, four humours, four kinds of people in Jungian psychology, groups of four animals or divine creatures in many mythologies. Four is a good, solid number. It’s got corners in which we can stack our books and our tools, and there’s enough room in four to spread our work out and really get something done.
So let’s say, “Pax, Robert Graves. You invented a swell model. But it’s not real. We’re real. Some of us are Queens.”
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.