Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maid, Mother and Crone

From my email group: "How do you determine if you are a maiden, mother, or crone within Paganism? Is it age, experience both? And if so what are the guidelines?"

I've actually put a heck of a lot of thought into this question. Indeed, I've even posed part of this question on list recently. So I'm going to give you my thoughts as they are currently. Like the wind and the river, this is subject to change!

Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, theorized these archetypes. A lack of primary sources and primary research has discredited his theory. Nevertheless, it has caught on. Probably, as Carl Jung would say, because archetypes work through our collective unconscious. They become a way to reach into our souls and to connect us across language, culture or age boundaries.

To me, maiden is partly youth. It is also a time before a woman before she moves into mothering/motherhood (with or without children). It is the time of Diana, the Huntress. The place of Warrior Goddesses (maiden does not mean virgin--it means not mother). She is Persephone, Innana. In addition, while I don't agree, some see the maiden as virginal. My attitude is that we are a fertility religion and we celebrate sexuality. Thus I choose to interpret the maiden as unmarried, unpair-bonded. In an arbitrary sense, I often see maiden as teens and twenties. She is the spring before Beltane. She is the young woman in the wheel of the year who is courted, who flirts and who dances the maypole. She is the waxing moon.

Mother is the woman with children, but she much more. Not all women have children, and yet they pass through stages of nurturing. This can be the time of creativity, vibrant energy, and powerful growth. Often this begins in twenties, but can also be thirties and forties. The mother is the summer and fall (pregnancy-harvest). She is the woman of fertility and fecundity, abundance and growth. She is the woman of knowledge. She is Demeter. She is the woman who faces the loss of her daughter six months a year to the Lord of the Underworld. She is a woman touched by love and by grief, who celebrates her children and suffers birthing pains. Mothering is not required for passage through this phase. Freya did not have children, though she was a goddess of unbridled sexuality. She was also a goddess of love and birthing. She loves music, spring and flowers. She is also a goddess of war and death. She was consort to Od. She is the full moon.

Crone is the old woman. Occasionally this begins in the forties, as it has with me, when a woman determines that she has passed through the time of the mother. In my case, mothering ended prematurely, and assuming the role of the crone is comforting, fulfilling. I would argue, however, that I'm still edging into it and this stage will carry me through the rest of my life. More often, women are fifty or even sixty before assuming the role of the crone. This is the time of Ceridwen, of wisdom, of discernment. I would also argue that is the place of the Sacred Enchantress. The woman who knows and revels in her sexuality. This is also a place of post-menapause. This is the time of responsibility and taking responsibility for one's community. This is the waning moon. This is the place of death, of mystery. The chill of winter.

So yes, age and experience have a lot to do with the differentiation between these stages of life. I believe them to be highly individualistic and somewhat self determined. I've been told I'm too young to be a crone, yet my inner wisdom rejects that belief. I'm post menapausal, my children haven't lived home in many years, and in fact, I rarely see them. Because of youthful appearance, folks often say that I project a motherly affect. However, I don't feel motherly -- I believe it to be a step removed and more grandmotherly (which I am a grandmother of two).

Also, I find a lot of psychological healing in restorying my place in life as a crone. Mothering is associated with a great deal of pain and loss. While I care deeply for my clients and patients, I also keep very firm bounaries in place and do not mother them. I find that as I move into the crone aspect, I also move with more confidence, trusting in what I have learned. I also find myself moving into places of responsibility I shied away from when I was younger. But that is my journey, which is different from everyone else.


  1. I too, feel that it is mostly self determined.
    I feel that I have entered my own time of the crone, not so much in age, although I qualify that way also. And not in terms of knowledge, I am an avid student of many things. But in terms of my own confidence on my path and my comfort level with being myself.

  2. I think the Maiden, Mother and Crone archetypes operate on several different layers at once. The most basic level is a chronological age/stage correspondence like you've explained so well in this post. But another level is pure energetic correspondence and I don't believe that is tied to chronological age at all. I've known women in their 70s and 80s who burst with Maiden energy and young girls who can manifest Crone energy or Mother energy. We can all fluctuate at any time, I believe, depending on which energy is being lived out in your life. Although chronologically I am transitioning now between Mother and Crone, for example, I also know that at a fundamental energetic level, I have been, and will continue to be, a Maiden all my life.

  3. I'm pagan to my little happy heart, but some one calls me an old crone I'll bip them till their head rattles.