For millennia, the three faces of the Triple Goddess have, in fact, accurately reflected the stages of women’s lives
by Donna Henes
Although I have been passionately devoted to the Many Splendored Goddess in her complex multiplicity for more than thirty years now, I am not a believer in the Triple Goddess paradigm. It has never resonated with me because it belies what I believe to be the true nature of nature. The Triple Goddess in her tripartite phases is widely understood to represent the complete cyclical wholeness of life. She Who is Three is likened to the moon, the tides, and the seasons, whose mutability She mirrors. And therein, lies the rub.
I am sorry, but thirty years of researching, teaching, and writing about Celestially Auspicious Occasions — the cycles of the cosmos and the earthly seasons, and the multi-cultural ritual expressions that they inspire — I can state unequivocally that the moon has four quarters, not three, and that there are, as well, four seasons in the year.
For millennia, the three faces of the Triple Goddess have, in fact, accurately reflected the stages of women’s lives — the developing youth, the nurturing mother and the wise old woman. She still corresponds with the real life expectancy and experience of most women in the world even today who live pretty much as they always have. The reality of their existence dictates that they grow quickly through girlhood into early and prolonged maternity then, if they are lucky enough to survive multiple childbirths and general poverty, they pass through menopause directly into old age.
Photographs of my own grandmother when she was younger than I am now, picture a matronly looking lady with the Old Worldly stately countenance of a grandmother, a bubby, an abuela — a full decade before I was born. Part of her elderly appearance is purely the style of the period, the rest a reflection of her hard life and times.
While certainly there is still much to learn from these models, the old triple-header construct is no longer all-inclusive. It doesn’t include a description of my life or the lives of other contemporary women in their middle years living in modern developed countries. It does not address our issues and needs, nor does it embrace our unique and unprecedented position in society. It does not even recognize our existence. The old stereotypes simply do not apply to us.
We have outgrown our tenure as Maidens and as Mothers, yet old age no longer follows immediately after menopause, which is why so many midlife women don’t see ourselves (yet) as Crones. Where is the authentic archetype for us? There are now, for the first time in herstory and history combined, entire multi-national generations of women for whom the Triple Goddess paradigm no longer resonates. For us — nearly 60 million climacteric women in the United States alone — the tri-level ideal is flawed.
Folk tales and historical documents featuring positive depictions of powerful middle age female figures are few and far between. There is no codified body of literature to which we can turn for affirmative examples of profound and potent midlife. Real life role models are sparse, as well, although there certainly have always been, in every society, notable and remarkable exceptions — powerful middle aged women who were rulers, adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, spiritual leaders — mature, glamorous, and courageous sheroes of all stripes. The popular media has typically portrayed menopausal women as over-the-hill, overwrought, flakes or furies, completely undesirable in either case. So who are we supposed to be? And who can teach us how?
We occupy a truly unique position, poised on the brink of uncharted waters. This extended and vigorous midlife period which we are now beginning to experience is largely unaccounted for in myth and archetype for the simple reason that such longevity has never before occurred for the great masses of women as a whole. We desperately need a new body of role models, examples, and teachers to encourage us as we explore the unfamiliar terrain of our changing lives and create new and joyful ways of being in charge of our own destiny.
Clearly it is time for a change of paradigm. Which is as it should be. Life is about nothing if not change, which is, after all, the greatest teaching of the cyclical Goddess. Her power and inspiration lies in Her infinite flexibility, Her adept adaptability, Her unbounded ability to always, always, always change. The Great Goddess, supreme mistress of the art of tranceformation will surely respond to the changes in our lives and times by enlarging the vision of Her Self to include Her fourth dimension — and ours. The Great Goodess is, even now, beginning to expand to include us in Her archetypal embrace.
In the absence of a traditional mythic example to spur me on and sustain me through my midlife changes, I perceived the need to invent one. So I formulated a fourth stage of development that would place me after the Mother and before the Crone in a newly defined continuum of Womanhood, thus providing me and other women of my generation with a recognizable role model for our middle years: The Four Fold Goddess: The Maiden, the Mother, The Queen and the Crone.
My construct of the four stages of a woman’s life is a much more accurate description of the current Way of Womanhood. Her four periods of growth and transformation resonate deeply with contemporary women. And they seem so natural, somehow. They are in complete metaphoric alignment with the pervasive way that peoples have always ordered existence into Four Quarters. The Four Quarters of the Moon, the Four Seasons of the Year, the Four Solstices and Equinoxes, the Four Elements, the Four Cardinal Directions of the Earth, the Four Periods of the Day.
Is this hubris? Who am I to challenge an archetype that has been so powerful for so many for so long? Well, I am in fact, a proud member of the pioneering Sixties Generation, and consequently, I have a certain modest amount of experience in rebelling against the status quo of old archetypes and striving to replace them with new, more inclusive and relevant ones. Our generation has demonstrated time and again that it is possible to create our own characters, compose our own scripts, and author the sagas of our own lives. We are our own role models. Bereft of affirming depictions of our lives, today’s women-of-a-certain-age are more than ready, willing, and perfectly capable of creating our own.
The mythic model that I envision is recognizably like me, like us. Not yet old, yet no longer young, she stands in her proper place — after the Mother and before the Crone — in No Woman’s Land. She plants her flag and claims her space in this previously uncharted midlife territory. Still active and sexy, vital with the enthusiasm and energy of youth, she is tempered with the hard earned experience and leavening attitudes of age.
She has been forced to face and overcome obstacles and hard lessons including her own shadow, and in so doing, has outgrown the boundaries of her old self. Agitated with the unessential and restless for authenticity, She sheds all attachment to the opinions of others and accepts complete responsibility and control for her own care, feeding, and fulfillment. She is the Queen of Her Self, the mature monarch, the sole sovereign of Her own life and destiny. Here, finally, is an archetype that fits.
The Queen paradigm promotes a new understanding of what it might mean to be a middle-aged woman today who accepts complete responsibility for and to her self, and it celebrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual rewards of doing so. Becoming a Queen is not automatic, nor is it instantaneous. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”
The Queen bursts forth from adversity and previous constraints, actual or imagined, to become a proficient player in the game plan of Her choice. The Queen does not invite hard times and trouble, but She chooses to use them well. Actualized, organized, efficient, self-sufficient, competent, ethical, and fair, the Queen has struggled for and earned Her authority and respect. Determined and firmly centered on Her own two feet, She dares to climb, step after step, with nascent surety into the heady realm of Her own highest majesty.
Once on her throne and crowned, the Queen glows golden with confidence, competence, and grace. She is fully aroused and takes great pleasure in the feelings of freedom, elation and wellbeing that come from personal empowerment. This thrilling post-menopausal period of vitality, renewed energy, enhanced self-esteem, optimism, and enthusiasm comes to us in direct proportion to the intensity of our own conscious, conscientious engagement in the process and consequences of transformation.
Another gift of self-enfranchisement is the potent and extremely liberating sexuality of the Queen. Shining from the inside out, Her attractiveness and attraction is rooted deeply in Her self-actualization, self-worth, and inner strength. She exudes a primal excitement, Her power palpable in her very presence. Her desire reaches the boiling point and her inhibitions melt in the heat of Her renewed passion for life.
It was through my own process of coming of age that I conceived of the Queen as the missing link in the chain of life for modern women in the here-to-fore incomplete Triple Goddess archetype. Through my own intentions and concerted efforts, by constantly questioning and reconfiguring, by struggling to mourn and then release what was irrevocably lost, I was trying to recover my own misplaced vitality, interest, and energy after the long hard painful years of my disconcerting midlife changes.
Finally completely self-realized, I was ready and able, and for the first time in my life, I was actually willing to reign; to accept the responsibility for the truth and complete consequences of my own dreams, decisions, and actions. I was a maturing monarch prepared to regulate all of the inner and outer realms of my own domain. By the time I reached 53 or so, I knew myself to be the uncontested mistress of my own fate. Miraculously, it seemed, I had succeeded in turning my midlife crisis into my diamond-encrusted crowning achievement. Surely I was a Queen, and not a Crone. I was the Queen of My Self.
When I first began conceptualizing the Queen, I dreamt of a ceremonial crowning. My dreamtime punster made herself proud as she at once confirmed my passage as through the birth canal into a new life, and acknowledged my newly earned sovereign station — both in a single, concise, and vivid image. In this Crowning Ceremony, I ascended the throne of my passion and power and pledged myself to my Self. Always aware of the promise of that dramatic nocturnal ordination, I have worn my crown of self-confidence ever since. The more I think about the Queen, the more I become her. And the more Queenly I become, the more I desire to be in the company of other Queens.
DONNA HENES, Urban Shaman, has been a contemporary ceremonialist for 30+ years. Mama Donna, as she is affectionately known, is the author of The Queen of My Self,The Moon Watcher’s Companion, Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles, and Celebrations, Dressing Our Wounds In Warm Clothes and the CD, Reverence To Her: Mythology, the Matriarchy, & Me. She also publishes the highly acclaimed quarterly journal, Always In Season: Living in Sync with the Cycles. In addition to teaching and lecturing worldwide, she maintains a ceremonial center, spirit shop, ritual practice and consultancy in Exotic Brooklyn, New York, Mama Donna’s Tea Garden And Healing Haven, where she works with individuals and groups to create personally relevant rituals for all of life’s transitions.
For information about upcoming events and services and a complimentary copy of Always in Season contact:
Mama Donna’s Tea Garden & Healing Haven
P.O. Box 380403
Exotic Brooklyn, New York, NY 11238-0403