The “Triple Goddess” was an idea first proposed by Robert Graves in “The White Goddess” and nowadays taken as gospel by modern neo-pagan groups. However, I have a problem with it – for the following reason. The “Triple Goddess” supposedly represents three ideals of womanhood, Maid, Mother and Crone, or to put it another way:
- In the first stage of her life, a woman is a chaste virgin (Maid);
- Then as she enters adulthood, she becomes a dutiful wife and home-maker (Mother);
- Then she becomes a nice old Grandma (Crone).
Seen in this way, the Triple Goddess, far from representing the ideal of womanhood, represents the apotheosizing of a patriarchal, sexist and chauvinistic male idea of what womanhood should be.
If, however, The White Goddess had been written by a woman, i.e. a woman living in the twenty-first century, I suspect that the idea of a “Triple Goddess” would not have been proposed at all. Rather, she would have come up with the idea of a “Quadruple Goddess,” to wit:
- Mother; and
I.e. to represent the fact that in between being a Maid and settling down to become a Mother, most young women – and certainly all those of my acquaintance – want to spend several years going out and having a good time.
I appreciate the fact a lot of people might attach stigma to the idea. Indeed, I was wracking my brains to find an appropriate word to describe stage two: most of the epithets of which I could think have been or are used perjoratively. So in the end I just said to hell with it!
Now before I start getting criticised by the fluffy-bunnies for coming up with an idea at such variance to their cherished beliefs, I would like to back up my claim with some evidence, to wit: the phenomenon of the “Love Spell.”
I read a lot of neo-pagans say “Oh you cannot cast love-spells! It’s dangerous! It’s unethical! It would saddle you with lots of bad karma! It would mean interfering with someone’s free will! Think of everything that could go wrong!” Etc etc etc. So if Love Spells are so bad, how come they exist at all??? Unless the old village wise-woman – who existed to service the needs of the Maid, Mother and Crone – also serviced those of the “Whore” as well.
Herodotus writes about “sacred prostitution” or rather “sacred-random-sex-encounters” taking place in temples of Aphrodite, whilst even the Old Testament uses the word “Qadeshah” in some places to describe prostitutes – a word which literally means “a consecrated woman.” (The context was a mitzvah prohibiting women from being Qadeshahs, but at least it points to their existence.)
Thus there is a historical precedent for claiming that the Goddess has a “Whore-aspect,” yet a lot of neo-pagans are still buying into the Robert Graves inspired paradigm, thereby helping to stigmatise an aspect of feminity that many women want to indulge in.
5 responses to “The Quadruple Goddess”
Being at the other side of the mother archetype, i.e. 50 years of age, I hardly call myself a crone, and thought I would read that you were going to include a ‘sovereign’ aspect, which is what women my age call the period between mothering and really wrinkly. This too is an aspect where women in the 21st Century are living so much longer and at 50 to 60 are still very active and not at all crone like. This is where women claim their sovereignty before they don the cloak of cronedom.
So instead of the quadruple goddess, you better think of the quintuplet goddess of five aspects.
The Goddess herself is sovereign in toto. To say that one aspect alone is sovereign is to deny that status to the other aspects. By ascribing divine status to all categories of the Goddess instead of the one that happens to coincide with your own state in life, you come to reverence all women, as opposed to just worshipping your own ego.
Actually, a closer reading of The White Goddess reveals that Graves was hardly the first person to suggest the concept of the triple goddess. Similar ideas of a seasonal goddess who alternates between young, middle age, and old age is an underlying motif of Frazer’s Golden Bough and Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion–both were published decades before The White Goddess. Similar ideas also underlie Robert Briffault’s 1927 study The Mothers and M. Esther Harding’s 1938 study Women’s Mysteries Ancient and Modern. Frazer and Harrison are two of Graves’s primary sources and he cites them several times. He never cites Briffault or Harding, but a comparison between their ideas suggests he had read them. Graves cites Briffault in other works and many of the artifacts Graves describes in The White Goddess appear in Harding’s book–often with the exact same info given.
Lastly, there was Charles Seymour’s inspirational essay The Old Religion: A Study of the Symbolism used in Woman’s Mysteries which examines Harding’s work. These essays weren’t published until after The White Goddess and Graves probably never read them, but Seymour was a friend of Christine Hartley. They did occult work together and Seymour’s essays were circulated “underground” among occult circles long before Graves published The White Goddess and perhaps even before Gardner published Witchcraft Today (1954). Seymour cites not only Harding, but also Frazer, Harrison, Margaret Murray, Celtic historian John Rhys, Charles Leland (author of Aradia: Gospel of the Witches), and Mead’s translations of the Hermetic texts. The concept of a triple goddess could easily have entered neopagan circles from Seymour’s works rather than Graves.
None of these sources depict the old age phase of the goddess as anything like “a nice old Grandma”. In fact, she becomes the embodiment of death; a sort of female grim reaper. Much of The White Goddess (and Graves’s later poetry) examines the concept of death personified as a female. Frazer explored the same idea in European folklore, where traditions often suggested that the young goddess who planted the crops became the same old woman who chopped them down and ate them–an attitude that he extended to human kings in his hypothetical recreation of early matriarchal cultures. Graves spends much of The White Goddess drawing parallels between these early kings and poets who spend much of their life writing romantic love poetry only to be betrayed by a female who turns bitter over time, eventually equating to the female embodiment of death.
In all honesty, Graves wanted to write about the goddess as a pentad, with 5 phases which would probably connect to the 5 points of the pentagram and 5 phases of life which Graves placed on a circular calendar much like the Wiccan “wheel of the year” but he was unable to develop the idea fully. The idea of a triple goddess was, in fact, already so entrenched in Western literature that Graves had a hard time trying to develop the other 2 phases. The White Goddess mentions the goddess as a pentad at least once but only the 3 phases are developed because they were the easiest to find evidence for in the ancient paganism and later literary traditions which Graves researched.
My understanding of “The White Goddess” was not that that was the conclusion to be drawn from Robert Graves’ sources, but: Robert Graves said “that is the conclusion to be drawn from my sources,” or words to that effect. Graves’ treatment of e.g. Frazier may be poetic and highly subjective, but it’s hardly scholarly.
Mind you, all attempts at historical revisionism are highly subjective to some degree, so the question becomes not “who is telling the truth, and who not?” but “who has the best quality bullshit?” 😉
Hunh? Plenty of us out here already working with four or more aspects of the Goddess — including my own trad, which has included the sexually-hungry Nymph as an aspect of the Goddess since our inception 21 years ago, as well as the Sorceress/Enchantress. I think a lot of people are over the whole Triple-Goddess-only paradigm.