[Editor's Note: ChangingAging will periodically re-publish blog posts from the archive. This post was originally published March 30, 2011. ]
This post discusses some nearly forgotten ways of thinking about women’s lives and the way culture shapes the female experience. Some of the concepts presented below have been suppressed and even vilified. Given their rather charged historical context it is important that we separate the concepts from the theology from which they are drawn. I am exploring the maiden/mother/crone nexus mainly because I find it to be an ancient and illuminating station from which to view contemporary culture and expose its rampant ageism and sexism.
If you think this might offend you, skip over this post and read something else.
In his book Goddess as Nature. Paul Reid-Bowen writes…
“The model of the Triple Goddess is comprised of three idealized or normative stages of female development: the youthful and independent Maiden (or Virgin), the fecund and relational Mother, and the degenerative and wise Crone. [...]
The idea that women can experience life-stages each of which contains its own intrinsic claim on dignity and value is especially valuable in today’s world. But, there is more to the story.
Some feminists have examined the growing interest in the maiden/mother/crone nexus and found that its use in contemporary society is being colored by an over-emphasis on women’s fertility and sexual desirability to men. Rather than reflecting authentic experience, they argue, these archetypal life stages might actually represent how men perceive women of differing ages. In other words, they ask is the maiden/mother/crone nexus an expression of female experience or is it a representation of the perspective on the female life-cycle?
This criticism seems well founded when we look at contemporary cultures nearly single minded focus on the maiden aspect of the female experience. In times past a randy mythologist has lingered lovingly over the smallest details of mythic “Nymph.” Today, it is abundantly clear our society has elevated the “nubile woman” to an archetype against which all women are to measured.
Robert Graves’ 1955 book Greek Myths associates the maiden/mother/crone nexus with the three phases of the moon (new, full, and old) and three of the seasons (spring, summer, and autumn). Graves transforms the static tri-form spatial division of the goddess of antiquity into a living process, which he then relates to the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the human life cycle. More HERE
Because the burden of ageism falls most heavily on women, it is especially important that we search for, seek to understand and restore, long lost understandings like the maiden/mother/crone nexus. Our culture’s incessant celebration of the “Nymph” traps men and women alike in a dangerous cultural cul de sac. We need new symbology (some drawn from ancient sources), new modes of expression and new systems of understanding that are capable of according the full measure of dignity to each the stages of a woman’s life.
We need a set of iconic images that can, you know, fit on a T-shirt.