The Threefold Goddess
To understand the concept of Goddess requires more than the ability to visualize God as a woman. The Goddess concept is built around the myth and mystery of the relationship between God and Goddess, and beneath that, and part of it, Her Threefold Aspect .. Maiden, Mother and Crone.
One of the oldest recognized Goddess forms is the first Greek Goddess - Gaia, the Earth Mother; the Universal Womb; Mother of All. The most ancient Goddesses were most often Earth and Mother Goddesses. They were worshipped and revered as bearers of life .. fat, healthy, pregnant and fruitful. As the Goddess concept developed, then came the
Harvest Goddesses, who were also Earth Goddesses. Understand that this was a time when people did not even understand the basic mechanics of procreation. Life was very sacred and mystical indeed!
Gradually, myth and mystery developed and revealed themselves, creating the legend which we honor in the modern Wiccan Craft.
We recognize the Goddess as the mother of all, including her Mighty Consort, the God. To Her he is Lover and Son, and together they form the Ultimate, the Omniverse, the Dragon, the Mystery.
Now that is a pretty tough concept all things considered. Especially in our society as it sounds rather incestuous. From a mundane perspective, it gets worse as the Wheel of the Year Turns, and the Oak and Holly Kings battle .. eternal rivals and sacrificial mates.
In the pages that follow, we will explore the Goddess foundation concepts and try to reach an understanding of the basis of the Mystery.
I don't want to get off into all the names of all the Goddesses in all the mythology in all of history. While that is certainly a noble endeavor, it is not the objective here. What I do want to do is look at the Goddess, in whole and in part, and see just who and what she is.
First and foremost, the Goddess is the symbol of the Cycle of Everlasting. She is constant, ever present, ever changing, and yet always the same. She could be compared in that respect to the oceans.
As a part of that, she is that from which we have come, and to which we will return. She is the Universal Mother, the Cosmic Womb. While those are largely symbolic images, as opposed to literal ones, they are important to bear in mind about any aspect of the Goddess. She never harms, she is Mother.
One of the most difficult throwback mentalities to dispell in a student is the difference between "dark and light" and "bad and good". Societally, and often religiously, we are trained to see bad and dark and evil as being the same. Hence, we are also taught to hate and fear our own mortality. All too often I see practicing Wiccans, who ought to *know* better, fall back on these concepts when trying to explain or understand a concept.
The Goddess is dark, she is light, she is birth, she is death, and she rejoices in all things. With death comes joy, for with death comes renewal. With life comes joy, for with life comes promise. With growth comes joy for with growth comes wisdom. Sorrow and fear
are not a part of her, not the way we feel those emotions. She is incapable of sorrow without joy, she fears nothing, because fear is not real. It is a creation of the mind.
Whether you see the Goddess as a Warrior Queen, or like the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz, she is the Goddess. And she has many parts and facets which defy comprehension as "One". She simply IS, and in that, can be whatever you need her to be in order to establish a relationship with her. But none of that changes what she IS.
"I greet thee in the many names of the Threefold Goddess and her Mighty Consort. Athe, malkuth, ve-guburah, ve-gedulah, le-olam, Amen. Blessed Be."
So here, at the Circle Door, greeted by the High Priest or Priestess we first see mentioned the Threefold Goddess. Full-sized covens have three priestesses who take the specific roles of Maiden, Mother and Crone, the High Priestess being Mother. The Threefold Goddess however is NOT three entities, she is one. Her aspects represent Enchantment, Ripeness and Wisdom.
Taking first things first is usually best, so we shall start with a look at one side of the Maiden.
Quoting "The Myth of the Goddess" as found in Gardenarian Wicca (Gerald B. Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, Aquarian Press, London, 1959.):
Now Aradia had never loved, but she would solve all the Mysteries, even the Mystery of Death; and so she journeyed to the Nether Lands.
The Guardians of the Portals challenged her, "Strip off thy garments, lay aside thy jewels; for naught may ye bring with ye into this our land."
So she laid down her garments and her jewels and was bound, as were all who enter the Realms of Death the Mighty One. Such was her beauty that Death himself knelt and kissed her feet, saying, "Blessed by thy feet that have brought thee in these ways. Abide with me, let me place my cold hand on thy heart." She replied "I love thee not. Why dost thou cause all things that I love and take delight in to fade and die?"
"Lady," replied Death, "it is Age and Fate, against which I am helpless. Age causes all things to wither, but when men die at the end of time I give them rest and peace, and strength so that they may return. But thou, thou art lovely. Return not; abide with me."
But she answered, "I love thee not."
Then said Death, "An' thou receive not my hand on thy heart thou must receive Death's scourge."
"It is Fate; better so", she said, and she knelt, and Death scourged her and she cried "I feel the pangs of love."
And Death said, "Blessed be" and gave her the Fivefold Kiss, saying "Thus only may ye attain joy and knowledge."
And he taught her all the Mysteries. And they loved and were one, and he taught her all the Magicks.
For there are three great events in the life of Man: Love, Death and Resurrection in a new body, and Magick controls them all. For to fulfill love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved one, and you must remember and love them again. But to be reborn you must die, and be ready for a new body; and to die you must be born; and without love you may not be born. And these be all the Magicks.
So there in the Gardnerian Myth of the Goddess we have her Maiden aspect, seeking, searching and opening herself to the mysteries. But it is well to remember that the Goddess herself is a mystery, and the primary gift of the Goddess is intuitive Wisdom.
Beltaine (Bealtain) is the only Sabbat where the Goddess is entirely devoted to the Maiden. Here, she revels in the enchantment, in the joy of coming into fullness and mating with the God. Here, she is maiden bride and we can most easily understand that facet of the Maiden aspect. I should probably note here that some see this festival as
maiden turning into mother, with the maiden being in full at Candlemas, but I do not agree with that.
Youth, newness, innocence and beauty are fundamental facets of the Maiden aspect. But beneath those are seeking, and love, and love of seeking. There is more to understand of the Maiden though. Enchantment does not end with maidenhood, it is simply the beginning of the Mystery of Life, for that, above all, is what the Goddess stands for.
In Circle, in the Balanced Universe, the Maiden takes her place in the East. In examining this most comfortable quarter, you learn more about the Maiden Aspect. East (Air) rules the free mind and intellect. It is the place to seek the ability to learn and to open spiritually, to open your mind and find answers. It is a masculine quarter, ruled by
intellect, and analytical logic, but she brings to it an intuition which is required to use these to best advantage.
"The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing back to the sea. Mother carry me, a child I will always be. Mother carry me, back to the sea."
This Circle chant, sung in joy, sung in sorrow, is a cry to the Mother Aspect for comfort and warmth, a power chant calling upon the steady power and fullness of the Mother and a plea for guidance. While the Earth Mother, and the fully aspected Goddess are placed North in the Earth quarter, the Mother aspect alone belongs in the west.
Comfort and love rule here. Emotions, sorrow, joy, tears, these belong to the ripeness of the Mother. Caring and loving for all her children, watching in pain and pride as they struggle to gain their own, knowing full well she could reach out and do it for them, but being both bound and desirous to let them do it for themselves.
There is a considerable difference, as you might have interpreted from the above, between the Earth Mother and the Mother Aspect of the Goddess. That is why we've started with her quarter, because it reveals the limitations of the Aspect.
The Mother aspect is ripeness, the ancient bearing of fruit, child and grain. She represents emotion and sexuality. The Goddess in that aspect is most of the altar (as discussed in the Great Rite lesson.) It is interesting to note the practice in numerous ancient cultures of lovemaking or outright sex magick in cornfields to help make the corn
The Dark Mother should also be placed here, although culturally, I have a tendency to think of the Dark Mother as more in keeping the Crone Aspect. It is a bit of work to see the Dark Mother in the West, to separate Dark Mother from Crone, but it is worthwhile. If you have any background with the tarot I would suggest you take it in that context, it is beyond the scope of this text.
Our exploration of the Goddess and her Aspects brings us now to the Crone. For me, the Crone is the most fascinating of the Aspects of the Goddess. Partly I suppose because she is the most mysterious and paradoxical.
"Blessed Goddess, old and wise, open mine, thy child's, eyes. Speak to me in whispered tones that I may know the rune of Crones."
With life and growth comes age and wisdom, and the Crone is this in part. She holds fire and power, which wisely used can be of great benefit, but hold great danger for the unaware. Hers are the secrets of death and of life, and the mystery beyond the mystery.
Part of the pleasure in knowing the Crone aspect is that while, unlike the fully aspected Goddess, she is not also Maiden and Mother, she does retain the experiences of both those Aspects in order to be Crone. The Crone, wizened though she is, must still be able to reach into herself and recall the innocent joys and high passions of the Maiden and the love and warmth of the Mother. To be Crone and to not have forgotten, to still be able to experience Maiden and Mother is, to me, very appealing. More importantly, to be comfortable in that Aspect, where you have truth and knowledge but have left youth and physical beauty behind, and to still _feel_ youth and beauty without being desirous of them is an admirable quality.
Crone is the least paralleled Aspect of the Goddess to our human society. We discard our old and wise, not understanding their value as teachers and models, and fearing their appearance as a reminder of our own mortality.
Knowing Crone is a door we much each open for ourselves for to know and love her is to cast aside a great many of our cultural and societal malteachings.
While the individual Aspects of Threefold Goddess are certainly valid concepts and paths to knowing Goddess, I should caution that most mythological Goddess figures are composite Goddesses. Earth Mother Goddess figures are fully aspected Goddess by definition because they represent the full cycle of the Wheel. Most other Goddess figures can be classified as having a dominant (or operative) aspect and recessive (promised, or in some cases past) aspect. Future and past should not be taken literally, mythological Goddess figures are always whatever they are eternally, they do not tend to change (ie age).
Maiden Goddesses possessing their operative in the Huntress or Warrior aspects most often have a promise of Crone. Maiden Goddesses expressing their dominance in beauty and/or love usually have their recessive aspect as Mother. For example, Athena is a Maiden Goddess with Crone attributes (the combination produces many Mother-type
qualities, and this results in the Crone aspected Maiden being the most complete of the Mythological Goddesses, with the exception of Earth Mother Goddesses.) Aphrodite is of course a Maiden Goddess with Mother attributes.
Similarly, Dark Mother Goddess figures mostly find their promise in Crone and Light Mother figures their recessive in Maiden. Crone recessives work the same way, although sometimes it takes a bit of close examination to find the "hidden" aspect.
One should note that this is not a formula, rather a tool to assist in examining and understanding Goddess figures and creating one's own personal spiritual link with Goddess. It is also a useful consideration when invoking a specific Goddess with purpose in ritual.
The purpose of this course has been to open avenues of approach in discovering and developing a relationship with Goddess. For me personally, I do not "believe" in the reality of mythological Goddess figures as they were presented, but I do believe they are a valid way to establish communication with Goddess. I also believe Goddess will appear in whatever form we are most ready to accept. The real Goddess, by my belief (and this is personal, not trad) is an entity beyond my comprehension, perhaps composed of light (could 5000 sci-fi films be wrong?), most assuredly unlike anything I could ever imagine in true form. However, I do find mythological Goddess figures highly useful for ritual, and of some help in my personal relationship with Goddess. I hope you will too.
- Category: Deity
The Threefold Goddess