Heroine's Journey Archetypes
These archetypes fall under the traditional maiden-mother-crone, which are seen, and the spirit, who is not. They are not always relegated to this place in the life cycle: their are warrior-crones like Scathach, death-maidens like the Valkyries, and Trickster-Mothers like Molly Cottontail.
The Triple Goddess
The anthropomorphic representations of the Goddess—the young Maid, the mature Mother, and the old Grandmother or Ancestress, all the way back to the original Creatrix—are, as the Greek philosopher Pythagoras later noted, projections of the various stages of the life of woman.[i]
The now-popular archetype of the triple-goddess, divided into maiden-mother-crone is a relatively recent theory. It was first postulated by Jane Ellen Harrison, who noticed both the maiden-mother split and the frequency of triple-goddesses in Greek myth: “We find not only three Gorgons and three Graiae, but three Semnae, three Moirae, three Charites, three Horae, three Agraulids, and, as a multiple of three, nine Muses.”[ii]
The theory was eagerly adopted by Robert Graves in The White Goddess. He depicted the triplicity as Maiden, Mother and Crone, and many neo-pagans revere this imagery. While some scholars attributed this archetype to the lively imagination of the poet, recent archaeology has made it abundantly clear that “Goddess Triplicities” echo back into antiquity, as the Creatrix-Preserver-Destroyer triad in India, or the Norns who foretold fates in Norse myth.
Women’s mythology is all about cycling from larger to smaller, pregnancy to slimness, waxing mother to waning crone. “As the Moon regulated women’s menstrual cycles, the ancients worshipped the Moon as Goddess. Her changing faces as she waxes and wanes throughout the month unfold her triple-aspect as Virgin of the New Moon, Mother of the Full Moon, and Crone of the Dark Moon.” [iii] For a few days each month, the moon vanishes. This is like the woman’s withdrawal and rest during her cycle of menstruation. Once the whole Goddess reflected this entire spectrum: kindly and terrible, as the awesome Mother Earth. However, the conquering patriarchy split her into her three aspects. Although patriarchal cultures could find a place for the use of the virgin and mother energies, they could find no such use for the old woman.[iv] The young virgin could represent stored energy, and she maintained some numinosity for that reason. The mother transmitted energy, gave it to others. The old woman however, only had knowledge; this could be threatening, and was increasingly trivialized, as well as actually being truncated in its development by a discriminatory environment.
Thus the crone was frequently divorced from the pantheon: just as Athena, Artemis, Demeter, and Hera were respected goddesses, the Furies and their mistress Hecate were relegated to the underworld, demonized, discarded. The remaining maiden and mother reflected each other:
The two cardinal conditions are obviously to a primitive society Mother and Maiden. When these conditions crystallized into the goddess forms of Demeter and Kore, they appear as Mother and Daughter, but primarily the conditions expressed are Mother and Maid, woman mature and woman before maturity, and of these two forms the Mother-form as more characteristic.[v]
Demeter quests to retrieve Persephone, her missing Childself, whom she must reintegrate into herself in order to regenerate. Likewise, the questing Psyche is trying to achieve motherhood. These two archetypes are inescapably interwoven, as each craves the other to become whole.
[i] Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (USA: HarperOne, 1988), 25.
[ii] Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (London: Merlin Press, 1962), 286.
[iii] Demetra George, “Mysteries of the Dark Moon,” Woman of Power 1 no. 8 (Winter 1988): 33.
[iv] Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book (USA: Pergamon Press, 1990), 177.
[v] Ibid., 263.