Thursday, October 2, 2014
The Triple Moon Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone
The Triple Goddess of the Moon symbolizes the processes of life and fate. Maiden, Mother and Crone can represent the phases of a woman's life as well as the life process of birth, growth and decline. Let's look at how the ancients understood Her powers.
The first face of the Moon goddess, the crescent Moon, was her Maiden aspect, representing youthfulness, expectancy, innocence, newness. She is the dawn, enchantment, seduction and fruit fulness. Through her eyes, we see the freshness and beauty of life and hold reverence and wonder in our hearts. She is open to all experiences for she is unafraid of the unknown.
The Maiden is also called the Virgin. Many of the ancient goddesses were virgin goddesses. A virgin was a woman who 'belonged to no man', a young woman who was unmarried. Possibly this is the meaning of Mary being a virgin when she conceived Jesus. Esther Harding's work on women's mysteries suggests that to be a virgin means to be 'one-in-herself', a woman who accepts her own sovereignty. It did not mean a young woman who is sexually inexperienced. To be virginal means being true to nature and to your instincts rather than giving over to another's needs or demands. Virginity is a creative submission to the demands of instinct, rather than a rejection or denial of those instincts.9 Virgin forests are not barren places, but rather ones that are especially fruitful, for they are unexploited and still totally natural. How many of us, whether woman or man, know how to be virginal in this sense?
The virgin acts according to her own nature. She gives herself to lovers but is never possessed by them; she is never just the counterpart of a male, either god or man. In ancient Greece, this aspect of the Moon was honored as Artemis, goddess of wild things, and leader of the Dance. This Virgin Goddess watched over childbirth and was the womb opener because childbirth demands that we surrender to instinctual rhythms. In surrendering to her instinctual nature, a woman becomes creative.
Each month, a woman can become virginal again with each new shedding of menstrual blood which prepares the womb for new life. At this time, a woman stands grounded in her instincts, ready with her creative potential to meet the demands of her life. This stage represents young women through their 20’s, as they go out into the world to work and to prove themselves in the world. This is a time of adventure and exploration, when we learn how to listen to our own natures and learn to be free.
Psychologically, the crescent Moon is an image this new beginning. It stands as a sign of psychic energy emerging out of the darkness of the unconscious, continually evolving, continuing to bring us new life experiences. Each month the new crescent moon stands in the western sky at sunset, shining with fragile beauty, evoking a feeling of hope and new life to come. It is during this part of the Moon cycle that we experience a sense of expectancy, for who knows what experiences are waiting for us. It evokes our youthful sense of independence and individuality that sometimes gets lost in the midst of our hectic lives. Our bodies, our emotions and our thoughts can open to new possibilities, where we think outside the box, start new projects, and permit ourselves new feelings.
As the Moon comes to its fullness, it fully turns to meet the light of the Sun. This second aspect of the Moon is the Mother, a stage that represents the creation and ripening of life, the state of adulthood and parenthood. It is the time to take responsibility for yourself and others, to learn the lessons of patience and self-discipline. As the nurturing mother, this stage knows and teaches the mysteries of Life, just as a mother teaches her children how to grow up to be good human beings. This is the stage where we learn the power of Love as an exchange, the energy that connects us to others. We first learn to love ourselves in the Maiden stage so we can learn to love others in the Mother stage. One without the other doesn't work, because if we can't love ourselves, we won't know how to love someone else. Jesus said, “There are only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” We must be grounded in self-love to do everything else right. And this self-love comes to us through honoring our instinctive knowing.
A mother's love is unconditional and compassionate, and yet not without discipline. We nurture our children to teach them the mysteries of life, and sometimes that means not giving them what they think they need, but letting them learn how to get it for themselves. The mother has the wisdom of life at her core, and she teaches this wisdom by example as well as through any creative endeavor she takes up. The care and nurturing she gives her children, both outer and inner, is reflected in the strength and truth of those creations. Full Moon consciousness nurtures the newly born baby, a new behavior, a new creative project or a relationship in the same way – with love and devotion.
Psychologically, this full Moon experience is the 'rounding out' of an idea, a desire or a feeling by coming into relationship with others or bringing it into the world in some creative fashion. This full Moon consciousness can look at an ego decision, which thinks there is only one truth, and show it another, equally viable, way to see things. It can hold both ideas until the third, transcendent path opens.
Women in their 30’s and 40’s are in this stage of life. This is the time of motherhood and marriage, where we learn to partner and to parent. We become involved in our schools and our communities as we help our children grow into adulthood. This is when we learn to work with a partner toward a common goal. It is a time when we can be perfected in our sense of ourselves. To really meet the Other entails an openness, a willingness to be totally present in yourself for the Other; it entails an ability to allow new perceptions or awareness so we can meet the world without retreating back to the stability of old habits or values.
The third aspect, the waning Moon, represents the Crone or Wise Woman. This was the most feared, least understood aspect of the Moon goddess. This is the aspect that was called the Hag, the Terrible Mother, the Witch, the Wise One. This aspect of the cycle deals with death, the end of cycles, and the mysteries surrounding re-birth. The more we fear old age, death, and the unknown, the more we fear this aspect of the cycle. But if we can accept this part of the cycle, we will find the treasure of wisdom that we've been seeking: the wisdom that sustains life, the wisdom to evolve our consciousness.
The Crone, whose name means crown, symbolizes the achievement of Wisdom culled from the experience of loving and nurturing that we learned at the full Moon as well as the wisdom of the Virgin who knows herself. Just as we find a peace and harmony within as we grow older - as the fire and impatience of youth is felt but is no longer overwhelming to us - so too the waning Moon is a time of introversion and withdrawal. It teaches us to be alone with ourselves. It is a time to realize what we understand and the wisdom that comes from that knowledge. No one would ever mistake the waning moon for the waxing moon, for there is a wholly different feel to each of them. I am always struck by the beauty of the waxing crescent, which fills me with hope and excitement, whereas the waning crescent rising after midnight always leaves me with a feeling of mystery, of being far away and alone. You can tell the light is sinking toward death.
This is the aspect that was worshiped – and later feared - as Hecate. In ancient Greece, the power of the Moon also belonged to the goddess Hecate. She was called, like the Moon itself, the ‘most lovely’ and had three aspects: Hecate Selene, the Moon in heaven, Artemis the Huntress on earth and Persephone the Destroyer in the underworld. Hecate originated in Egypt, where she was the midwife or wise woman, who commanded ‘the mother’s Words of Power’. The Greeks finally came to worship her as the Crone who guarded the triple crossroads, the central axis where the different worlds meet. She held the powers of prophecy and magic, as well as the ability to commune with the dead. We no longer fear, as later Christians did, Hecate as the goddess of Witches and Magic, for we know that magic is the power to see the energies of life and direct them with our will, not necessarily the work of evil powers. It can be used for evil, but that depends on the person. We create magic when we use the power of intention and ritual to enhance our lives. This is Crone energy, and it represents the power and wisdom of Moon consciousness. Women in their 50’s and older begin to feel comfortable with this energy, and as healers and wise women they bring healing to their families, their communities and to the world.
It is the wisdom that facing death can bestow, the energy which sinks into the darkness of the new moon, the psychic energy that sinks back into the unconscious to be renewed. The old life must pass away so that new life can come. The wisdom is not lost in that darkness but rather transformed, so that it becomes part of the new virginal energy which re-appears at the crescent moon once again. With each new cycle, we add to our understanding and go deeper within the mysteries of life.
The Goddess also has a fourth aspect, the dark and hidden side of her nature. This is the mystery, her death aspect, the time of her descent into the underworld, the time of the dark of the Moon. In ancient Greece, this dark side of the Moon was ruled by Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, the guardian of the treasures of the underworld. It is why she is also the Spring Maiden, for she comes back to the outer world with the gifts she has wrestled from the darkness of the unknown. The fact that this Goddess was worshiped as life-giving and death-dealing shows that these aspects cannot be separated. But since we have separated them, the terror of death is ever with us. The ancients worshiped this Goddess through the initiation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which gave them the immediate experience of a death and rebirth which helped them to accept the terror of death and separation from their old life. It is this initiation that we have to undergo if we want to experience the power of feminine wholeness.