[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.
As we all know symbols become icons and if done repeatedly associated with ideas, concepts. products. The most obvious are Coke, Apple and many many more. Ad agencies spend many hours conjuring images and slogans that are repeated into our conscienceness for brand recognition. So while it’s all well and good excellent even to feel good about yourself internally that does nothing for the preception of Seniors by the outside (dare I say real world) where Seniors are way too often portrayed as addled, feeble in body and mind and unattractive. So yes I repeat I’d prefer it if the symbol for the crone was softer more approachable and not so ominious looking as I mentioned in original post. Although looks are not enough if there is no substance, looks still play an important part in how we are preceived. This may not be “fair” but it’s true.
what are you actually saying?
or Are you just throwing an idea out there for discussion?
How would changing symbols change our reality of the way women are viewed by the majority of society? Changing the names of the phases won’t change their attitudes.
Surely it’s more about how we as women portray and veiw ourselves as we move through the aging process. I’m so comfortable with my age, for the first time in my life I don’t have to figure out who I am or where I fit, i’m so comfortable with who i have grown into, no label is going to take that away from me, nor is someone else’s attitude to me or my aging. I’m exactly the me I’m meant to be and it’s taken 49 years to discover that.
It’s all about our own attitude rather than societies
Mary Evans Young says
Thank you for this very useful post. Yes, women are measured by the nymph; the crone is to be feared and the bit in the middle is squeezed. Women aren’t supposed (or supported) to embrace and enjoy the various stages … which means many woman are in a constant state of longing for the past, fearing the future, under-valuing (therefore missing) the present.
Naturally Curlie says
Why must the Crone symbol be so threatening and ugly? I think it should be a contemplative figure of a woman looking happy and wise and kindly rather than an ugly mean looking bird. Becoming a Crone should be revered and honored. It means a woman has prevailed and lasted and perhaps outlasted all that has been heaped upon her. The symbol should reflect the beauty of a long lasting life. This is an attractive and desired portion of life and the symbol should convey this beautiful and well earned time of a woman’s life.
Lydia Manning says
Please excuse the shameless self promotion, but I’ve explored this nexus in recent research endeavors and feel it’s an important topic. For more on the experiences of women who identify as crone, check out this paper: Manning, L.K. (2012). Experiences from pagan women: A closer look at croning rituals. Journal of Aging Studies, 26(1),102-118. For more on related research, visit: http://www.lydiamanning.com. Thanks, Paul Reid-Bowen! I’m going to read your work!