I read “The Maiden, Mother, Crone Debate” by Rachel Patterson on the Patheos blog Beneath the Moon this morning while laying in bed between the Scotsman and our son, waiting for them to wake up, too, and it has given me food for thought. I have always appreciated and utilized these phases (Maiden, Mother, and Crone), but only as as a means of better connecting with Goddesses, especially when they tend to work in threes, when they can be grouped in threes for the sake of a certain ritual — for example, Persephone, Demeter, and Hekate — or when it helps me to develop a great connection with one Goddess who is so multi-faceted that my human mind needs a method to organize her attributes. I have never even considered attempting to give women these labels — they’re too mythological, too archetypal, for any human to fit.
However, I enjoyed Rachel’s new suggested twists on the archetypes as they can be applied to people. I was particularly taken by the reminder that “virgin” originally meant “unwed,” and that therefore the meaning of “Maiden” is someone who hasn’t begun a family; using “Creatrix” and “Queen” instead of “Mother”; and the addition of “Matriarch” between Mother and Crone.
Though I have (had) the desire and ability to bear my own children (miraculously in spite of having endometriosis), and though Motherhood is my main occupation, I still identify with the labels “Creatrix” and “Queen” intended for those who can’t or don’t want to have children. Hel yeah, I’m a Queen — Queen of my domain, the home. And I create more than children. I create words and art, clothing and other useful crafts, atmospheres and ideas.
Personally I think I would do away with the label “Crone” entirely, partly because I’m a mostly-Gaelic witch and a Druid and I like my things in triads, but mainly because I think it perpetuates the unfortunate notion that older women are useful occasionally for their wisdom, that they can be consulted on their areas of expertise, but that they are otherwise unpleasant, non-sexual wizened things. Maybe I’m the only one who has heard “crone” used one too many times as an insult, and who doesn’t have any interest in reclaiming it. Or maybe it’s having heard my mother talk for years of the way she’s treated more as an “old lady” (to use another term that has been given unpleasant pejorative connotations) who people can reward themselves for having been nice to rather than as the powerful head of the family that she is. Or maybe it’s because older women of mixed and African heritage like my mother (who is mixed African, Asian, indigenous Caribbean Islander, and European) and grandmother (who was African-American — my mom was adopted) aren’t held in as high esteem as some cultures hold their older women. My grandmother was physically abused and stolen from as an older woman, and even by the community which had once adored her as “the minister’s wife.” Whatever the cause, I know I don’t like it! But I love the term “Matriarch,” and I find it so fitting.
I still have two issues with all these concepts as applied to human beings, though. Firstly, these stages when associated with humans lack fluidity between them — once you become a “Crone,” you can’t go back to being a “Maiden,” but the Goddesses that inspired the concepts certainly do — and we as humans do, too! There is a certain dogma there which I do not like. Secondly, and this is a problem I have with English in general really, is that the words are inherently gendered. What would a non-gender-binary equivalent of these phases look like? The non-gendered triad that I am most fond of is the triad that is most commonly given as the male equivalent: Youth, Warrior, and Sage. I have never identified with the Warrior class of Dumezil’s tripartition hypothesis about Indo-European society — I would gladly devote my life entirely to religion if I could, and so I’ve always identified the most with the Priest caste — so I can’t entirely identify with it, but if that second word could be expanded to encompass all professions, or if it were interchangeable with that work to which you devote the most of your time and efforts, I think it would be universally applicable.