The Triple Goddess…


Triple deities are common throughout world mythology. Indeed, the number three (and its multiples) has a long history of mythical associations. In religious iconography or mythological art, three separate beings may represent either a triad who always appear as a group or a single deity known from literary sources as having three aspects (Greek Hecate, Diana Nemorensis). The Morrígan is known by at least three different names. Ériu, Fotla and Banba, the goddesses of Irish sovereignty, are three sisters. At her sacred grove at Aricia, on the shores of Lake Nemi, a triplefold Diana was venerated from the late sixth century BCE as Diana Nemorensis.

Spells and hymns in Greek magical papyri refer to the goddess (called Hecate, Persephone, and Selene, among other names) as “triple-sounding, triple-headed, triple-voiced…, triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked”. In one hymn, for instance, the “Three-faced Selene” is simultaneously identified as the three Charites, the three Moirai, and the three Erinyes; she is further addressed by the titles of several goddesses. E. Cobham Brewer‘s 1894 Dictionary of Phrase & Fable contained the entry, “Hecate: A triple deity, called Phoebe or the Moon in hecatemaxinemillerfrontresin heaven, Diana on the earth, and Hecate or Proserpine in hell”. The Roman poet Ovid, through the character of the Greek woman Medea, refers to Hecate as “the triple Goddess”; the earlier Greek poet Hesiod represents her as a threefold goddess, with a share in earth, sea, and starry heavens. Hecate was depicted variously as a single womanly form; as three women back-to-back; as a three-headed woman, sometimes with the heads of animals; or as three upper bodies of women springing from a single lower body – “we see three heads and shoulders and six hands, but the lower part of her body is single, and closely resembles that of the Ephesian Artemis”.

The Matres or Matronae are usually represented as a group of three but sometimes with as many as 27 (3 x 3 x 3) inscriptions. They were associated with motherhood and fertility. Inscriptions to these deities have been found in Gaul, Spain, Italy, the Rhineland and Britain, as their worship was carried by Roman soldiery dating from the mid 1st century to the 3rd century AD. 

While many Neopagans are not Wiccan, and within Neopaganism the practices and theology vary widely, many Wiccans and other Neopagans worship the “Triple Goddess” of maiden, mother, and crone, a practice going back to mid-twentieth-century England. Indeed, a modern Triple Goddess is central to many of the new religious movements within Wicca.

Wiccan Associations

The Maiden represents enchantment, inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, youth and youthful enthusiasm, represented by the waxing moon.

The Mother represents ripeness, fertility, sexuality, fulfilment, stability, power and life represented by the full moon.

The Crone represents wisdom, repose, death, and endings represented by the waning moon.

The triple goddess as identified with Greek moon goddesses

Artemis – the Maiden, because she was the virgin goddess of the hunt.

Selene – the Mother, for she was the mother of Endymion‘s children and loved him.

Hecate – the Crone, as she was associated with the underworld and magic, and so considered to be “Queen of Witches”.

Some Neopagans assert that the worship of the Triple Goddess dates to pre-Christian Europe and possibly goes as far back as the Paleolithic period and consequently claim that their religion is a surviving remnant of ancient beliefs. They believe the Triple Goddess is an archetypal figure which appears in a number of different cultures throughout human history, and that many individual goddesses can be interpreted as Triple Goddesses. The wide acceptance of an archetype theory has led to Neopagans adopting the images and names of culturally divergent deities for ritual purposes.

The Triskelion

triskele1 Atriskelion or triskele is a motif consisting of three interlocked spirals, or three bent human legs. Although it appears in many places and periods, it is especially characteristic of the Celtic art of the La Tène culture of the European Iron Age. The triskelion symbol appears in many early cultures. The triple spiral motif is a Neolithic symbol in Western Europe. It is considered a Celtic symbol, but is in fact a pre-Celtic symbol. It is carved into the rock of a stone lozenge near the main entrance of the prehistoric Newgrange monument (the west’s earliest known astronomical calendar) in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange which was built around 3200 BCE predating the Celtic arrival in Ireland, but has long since been incorporated into Celtic culture. 

newgrange-stoneThe relationship between the Neopagan Triple Goddess and ancient religion is disputed, although it is not disputed that triple goddesses were known to ancient religion. The term triple goddess is infrequently used outside of Neopaganism. Instead, historical goddess triads and single goddesses of three forms or aspects are the norm. In common Neopagan usage the three female figures are frequently described as the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, each of which symbolizes both a separate stage in the female life cycle and a phase of the moon, and often rules one of the realms of earth, underworld, and the heavens. The feminine aspect of Wicca is sometimes portrayed as a Triple Goddess, her masculine counterpart being the Horned God.

Modern neo-pagan conceptions of the Triple Goddess have been heavily influenced by the prominent early and middle 20th-century poet, novelist and mythographer Robert Graves who regarded the Triple Goddess as the continuing muse of all true poetry and who speculatively reconstructed her ancient worship, drawing on the scholarship of his time, in particular the Cambridge Ritualists. Many Neopagan belief systems follow Graves in his use of the figure of the Triple Goddess, and it continues to be an influence on feminism, literature, Jungian psychology and literary criticism. Although Graves’s work is widely discounted by academics as pseudohistory, it continues to have a lasting influence on many areas of Neopaganism.

White_goddessThe White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth is a book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making by author and poet Robert Graves. First published in 1948, based on earlier articles published in Wales magazine, corrected, revised and enlarged editions appeared in 1948, 1952 and 1961. The White Goddess represents an approach to the study of mythology from a decidedly creative and idiosyncratic perspective. Graves proposes the existence of a European deity, the “White Goddess of Birth, Love and Death,” much similar to the Mother Goddess, inspired and represented by the phases of the moon, who lies behind the faces of the diverse goddesses of various European and pagan mythologies.

Graves argues that “true” or “pure” poetry is inextricably linked with the ancient cult-ritual of his proposed White Goddess and of her son.

Many of the book’s themes are also explored in a fictional form, through his depiction of a future society dominated by Great Goddess religion in the 1949 novel Seven Days in New Crete. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Goddess

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