Each aspect represents a stage of life, but also certain traits of womanhood. For example, the maiden represents purity and potential; the Mother personifies sexuality, fertility, and creation; the Wisewoman is a teacher and healer or midwife.
Sometimes there are light and dark aspects of each stage as well (making a sort of sixfold goddess). The dark side of the Maiden is the warrior/huntress, such as the valkyries. The dark side of the Wisewoman is the Death Crone. I'm not actually sure what the dark side of the Mother is.
Various goddesses from classic mythologies fit into different aspects of the threefold goddess, for example Sophia is a wisewoman, whereas Artemis is a maiden.
I have been thinking about these ideas a lot lately as I contemplate leaving the having-babies stage of my life. We are very accustomed to aligning these three phases of womanhood with fertility--virgin, mother, and menopausal woman. For many of us (due in part, I'm sure, to the ageism that is rampant in our culture), the Wisewoman is seen as less-than the others. As all these ideas were swirling through my head I thought "I am not ready to step on from the Mother stage, I'm not old enough to be a Wisewoman! I'm not old and crusty! I'm not all washed up yet!"
And then I had an epiphany.
We spend way too much time fixated on the fertility perspective. The threefold woman is much broader than fertility. There is one primary trait of each age.
The maiden is LEARNING
The mother is BEING or DOING
The wisewoman is TEACHING
I've always been caught up in the fertility side of the aspects, and so I was troubled by moving into the last phase because I felt too young for it. Now I recognize that it's not about age or lack of vitality, it's about having learned and done enough to have something to share and teach. I think that with each stage we still maintain the traits of the prior stages--a mother is still learning (she just knows enough to be able to do as well), and a wisewoman can still learn and do, but she knows enough to begin to teach other women.
I may be finishing with having babies, with nurturing them from my body via pregnancy and breastfeeding. But that is not the end of fullness or beauty or powerful womanhood! Now I am preparing to move into being a Wisewoman: one who teaches and shares, one who nourishes minds as well as bodies. I now realize that I have been looking forward to this for a long time actually--concrete plans are developing for the things I want to put out into the world. But I will write of those later, because I have one other thought to share about the three faces of womanhood:
- A daughter influences just herself as she learns and develops her own identity and personality.
- A mother influences a small circle of others (her own children)
- A grandmother influences a larger circle (other people's children--be they her grandchildren or others)