Triple Goddesses in the Celtic World by Judith Shaw


Judith Shaw photoMany neopagans and modern Goddess worshipers mistakenly equate the triadic nature of some Celtic Goddesses with the Triple Goddess concept first popularized by Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess. Graves stated that Goddesses were frequently found in triplets as Maiden, Mother and Crone. But there is nothing found in the ancient stories of Celtic Goddesses to indicate that they were known as Maiden, Mother and Crone. 

Quite the contrary – though the Celts had a number of both triadic Goddesses and Gods, they did not represent stages of life. Instead these triple deities were seen to represent the mysterious nature of the cosmos. They expressed and ruled over the more mystical aspects and truths of life rather than the mundane and practical ruled over by the deities connected to geographical locations.

The Flower of Life painting by Judith Shaw

Life Awakens Within the Great Unknown, oil on canvas, 34″x36″ by Judith Shaw

Celtic mythology reveals their understanding of the mysterious quality of the universe. They recognized that there is a deeper reality just beyond our everyday physical reality; that there is a limit to human consciousness; ultimately it will encounter the unknown and the unknowable.

In general the Celtic imagination was filled with the number three as a sacred number – the three-fold Celtic spiral know as the Triskel, the Triadic, verse in three parts used to pass on knowledge and wisdom, and the three loops comprising the Celtic knot to name a few. 

Triskele from the Book of Kells

Illustration from The Book of Kells

Newgrange entrance stone

Three has a special place in many world cultures. Three is the first number that moves beyond the one of individuality and the two of duality. Three takes our minds beyond duality into a unity of otherness. Four brings us back to earth as it represents the four cardinal points. In addition beyond three we are able to divide the numbers into various groups, groups which are part of the duality of life.  Therefore three is the number of the great mystery which will be forever beyond human comprehension. In viewing their Goddesses and Gods with three names or three aspects the Celts were alluding to this great unknown from which we come and to which we return.

Brigid, Celtic Goddess

Brigid, an ancient and important important Celtic Goddess, is the most well-known of the Triple Goddesses. She was worshipped from Ireland all the way to Gaul. According to the 10th century research of Cormac’s Glossary, there existed three Brigids, all sisters. This is in accord with the three aspects of life over which Brigid reigns – as poetess, as smith, and as healer. Her multiplicity does not imply different stages of human life but does imply that She was a master of many arts, arts important to our well-being.

From the first century AD we find the earliest depictions of the Triple Goddess in Celtic art. These are the reliefs of three well- dressed women known as The Matronae, or the Mothers. Some of the figures appear to be married as seen by their head attire and some are not. They represent a Triple Goddess of Abundance as they are all holding flowers, fruit, wheat – the things of human sustenance. They are often given a secondary name beyond Matronae, a name which represents the local goddess of the land or a river.

Matronae, three mothers

And there are other sets of important Triple Goddesses. One of these sets deals with the physicality of our lives on earth, another triplicity presides over inspiration and creativity, and yet another deals with life and death.

The first is Anu – Danu – Tailtiu, a Triple Goddess of sustenance and abundance, of movement and change, and of strength and endurance.  Though there is much disagreement among Celtic scholars as to whether or not Danu even existed or what Anu’s real name was or if in fact Anu was another name for the Morrigan, still reverence to their wisdom persists today.

Danu, Celtic Mother Goddess, painting by Judith Shaw

Danu, Celtic Mother Goddess, by Judith Shaw

tialtiu-earth-goddess72

Tialtiu, Celtic Earth Goddess by Judith Shaw

The Paps of Anu are a pair of breast-shaped mountains near Killarney, Ireland. They are named after Anu and are topped with nipple-shaped cairns.

 

Breast of Anu- sacred Irish hills

Paps of Anu, County Kerry, Ireland

The second triad places Brigid, who Herself is a Triple Goddess, within a triplicity. Boann – Brigid – Ceridwen are the Triple Goddess of Creativity, Inspiration and Vision. This Triple Goddess governs our experiences of creative expression as we face life’s challenges.

Boann, Celtic Goddess of Inspiration painting by Judith Shaw

Boann, Celtic Goddess of Creativity, by Judith Shaw

Cerridwen, Celtic Goddess, painting by Judith Shaw

Cerridwen, Celtic Goddess of Vision and Transformation, by Judith Shaw

brigid triplet statue

Brigid, Triple Goddess of Inspiration

The Morrigan can be seen as another Triple Goddess which includes Neaim, Badh, and Macha. These The Morrigan, Celtic War and Fertility Goddess, painting by Judith Shawthree aspects of The Morrigan guide us in aspects of fate and sovereignty, death and war, and rebirth. The Morrigan is a very difficult goddess to pin down. The multitude of different names and interpretations of The Morrigan can leave one’s head spinning in confusion. Yet Her place as an important Triple Goddess, expressing the enduring mystery of life and death cannot be denied. 

The Celtic propensity for viewing their most mysterious Goddesses in triplicate form indicates a belief that the many comes from the One Source, simultaneously expressing oneness and individuality. The Celt’s Triple Goddesses guide us on our paths through the various aspects of life on Earth, while opening our hearts to the numinous beyond.

Sources: Jones Celtic Encyclopedia, Goddess Isis, The Morrigan,

Update – Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is ready for publication.  Pre-order your deck at her crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo -9.19.17 – 10.19.17 – and help bring the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses into the world.

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork.  She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and sells real estate part-time.  She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.

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Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Paganism

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21 replies

  1. love it Judith, as always … very resonant with my understandings of the Triplicity, with lots more lovely Goddess stories. I feel a special connection with Boann because of Bru-na-Boinne being the home of the Triple Spiral, which came to me at some point along my journey as I strove to understand and develop the Triple Goddess as Creative Dynamic of the Cosmos. I didn’t know about this triad: Boann – Brigid – Ceridwen. Thank you.

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    • Glenys, I also feel a special connection with Boann and with Bru-na-Boinne. I began exploring the Celtic Triple Spiral visually long before I started actually researching and studying Celtic mythology. I hope to be able to visit Bru-na-Boinne someday soon and feel its power.

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  2. Birth, Death, and Regeneration. Perhaps the original trinity?

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  3. Beautiful! A non-linear way to contemplate the three and the goddesses! Thank you!

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  4. And love the images, especially the three green shoots arising from the ground of the triangle!

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    • Thanks Elizabeth – that painting began with my planting of sunflower seeds which sprouted first in small pots in front of my living room window. The sprouts inspired me then to do a small drawing which led to a small painting which led to this large painting all entwined within Sacred Geometry.

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  5. Thank you for pointing out that the Maiden-Mother-Crone triple goddess was invented by Graves in 1948 and is not ancient. Thanks also for for showing us the triplicities of Celtic goddesses who were sometimes sisters. And triple thanks for your wonderful illustrations! Do we all have the triplicities within us? I think perhaps we do.

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  6. Barbara, I first learned that it was Graves who invented the Maiden-Mother-Crone concept during my research for this article. I have always kind of hated the concept and have really resisted the Crone label. When I learned how it originated then I understood – of course, who but a man who cast an elder woman in such an ugly light….. We do not become Crones – We become Wise Women
    I think perhaps you are right about having the triplicities within us – shivers – your thought just gave rise to an amazing image within my mind’s eye – thanks

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    • I am also glad to read that the Maiden Mother Crone thing is not ancient wisdom as I’ve never liked it either! Judith Shaw, I’m always pleased when I see your name come up at the top of a FAR post because I know I’ll read something interesting.

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  7. Sacred Geometry has tremendous depth of meaning as geometry, not just the image of something but what it reminds us of. I was following the outlines of the star flowers at the top of the page here and I noticed how the outline of one petal doubles as the petal of another flower – if that isn’t love, I don’t know what love could be. Thanks so much, Judith, for sharing your work here so generously at FAR.

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    • Sarah, I love your term for the flowers found within the Flower of Life – “star flowers.” Yes Sacred Geometry is so deep and leads us to a contemplation of the Divine. I heard one time (no idea if this is true or not) that within “the Field” (as described in quantum theory physics) the pattern discovered there that is the first to emerge into physicality is the Seed of Life. It’s all interconnected and like you say what is that if not love. I also have this concept in my mind that gravity, which is still not understood by our science, is in fact love.

      Also I am personally so grateful to the FAR community. We might disagree at times but we always come together with love. It is a safe haven for us in these difficult days.

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      • Yes, Judith. Your final statement is so true. FAR is a safe haven for us in these difficult days.

        It’s interesting to me how important it seems to many women that Robert Graves created the Maiden, Mother, Crone triad. Or that Gerarld Gardner came up with Wicca. For me, these facts don’t necessarily undermine the validity of the concepts. They work for me; maybe they don’t work for you. That’s what I love about paganism. There is no catechism.

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      • Hi Nancy,
        So true – no catechism in paganism. We don’t need to be upset with each other for having differing views on things. For me I never really resonated with the Maiden, Mother, Crone concept, though I always thought that it came from the very ancient times. So when I discovered that it had been first popularized by Graves I didn’t feel like such a rebel any longer.

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  8. Judith – a wonderful post. thank you so much for sharing.

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  9. Reblogged this on Unexpectedly Magical and commented:
    Very interestin!

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  10. it’s indeed very interesting to hear but has anyone seen these in action, a lot of people read about it, hear about it, thought about it but have not felt it in person or witness the power I am proudly African and here we have the idols that functions LIVE

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