MAIDEN, MATRON, CRONE
The number three is a repetitive number in the world and has been brought up in many cultures throughout the years. Three is the number of balance and stability.
A chair is required at least 3 legs to balance. In many cultures across the globe, there is a group of a triple deity such which includes the Hindu trio of Vishnu, Brahman, and Shiva, and the Greek trio consisting of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. According to Isis Books: “Something may be given a triple-aspect in order to draw out its more mysterious element…it reveals the strangeness of Nature and human existence in an unusually powerful and poetic way” (http://www.isisbooks.com/triple-goddess.
asp). The number pops up again in the three phases of womanhood. So what does the cycle consist of? The first stage is the maiden, also known as the innocent. The second stage is the mother or matron and the last stage is known as the crone. Throughout mythology and tales, these three stages are portrayed and are often symbolized by the moon phases as well as colors.
Some tales that portray these three phase are Snow White, Demeter and Persephone or the Abduction of Persephone. Artemis, Greek Moon Goddess later named Diane in Roman Mythology, Selene the original Roman Moon Goddess, and Hecate, Goddess of crossroads and transition, also form a triple deity and the three stages of womanhood. Have you ever wondered why the tale of Snow White always includes “White as snow, Red as blood, and Black as ebony”? Throughout all of the retellings I’ve read or came across, they never forget to mention these three colors. Why you may ask? They are simply a description of her features, her snow white skin, blood red lips, and deep black hair. These three colors, however also are symbolic of the three phases of womanhood. White is a universal symbol for pureness and innocence.
Children are also often symbolic and every character is born innocent of the world including Snow White. Snow doesn’t realize her step-mother the Queen is trying to kill her. Snow white is a naive girl who does not see danger. The Queen takes role of the Matron. She knows beauty, love and hatred, jealousy; she is a woman of the world, symbolized by Red.
Many people believe Red symbolized love, but really it represents any intense emotion, which can include hatred as well. In her book Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman’s Life Joan Gould introduces the idea of the evil mother, who may not always be the actual mother but is in the stage of the Matron who tries to stop the maiden transforming into the next phase. When the Maiden transforms and moves to the next phase, so does the Matron. And so the Queen tries to kill Snow who grows more beautiful each day, in fear that Snow White will become more beautiful than herself. Fortunately for Snow White, the huntsman can’t bear to kill such a beauty and lets Snow White run off.
The Queen finds out and finding no other option goes out to kill Snow White. As you might seen in Disney’s “Snow White and The Seven Dwarves” the queen transforms into an old, wrinkled hag dressed in Black. Yes, Black, the color resembling the third phase; the crone. The crone is a woman who has much experience and hardships throughout the years and one who may be close to death. As the Queen transforms, so does Snow White, but an act of sexuality is always required before the transformation from maiden to matron takes place; it is only after Snow White is kissed by the prince that Snow White takes the role of the mother. And so Snow White becomes the next Queen and the old Queen is punished or dies (depending on the version).
The Abduction of Persephone also known as the Rape of Persephone is another tale showing transformations between the three phases. This myth starts off with Demeter Goddess of Harvest leaving her daughter in the care of some nymphs in the meadows and goes off to her duties. Demeter’s daughter, Core (meaning maiden in Greek and Persephone’s name before becoming Queen of the Underworld) was picking flowers, when the Earth rumbled and split open. Hades emerges from the earth riding a golden chariot and kidnaps Persephone, who is screaming, and takes her back as his bride to the underworld. Demeter searches all over for her daughter; Helios the only witness (and in other versions Hecate) of the abduction tells Demeter.
Demeter then begs Zeus to send someone to retrieve Core. Zeus ignores her pleas and only after Demeter stops the earth from growing does Zeus takes action. He sends Hermes to bring Core. Hermes is quite surprised to see Persephone adjusted life in the underworld. As he leads Persephone, Hades tricks Persephone into eating the seeds of a pomegranate from the land of the dead.
Due to Persephone eating food of the Dead, she has to return every year for three months, as Queen of the Underworld. For the three months that Persephone leaves to the underworld, mortals experience winter due to Demeter’s Grief. Although the theme of changing seasons is more obvious, the changing of phases is greatly emphasized in the myth. Laura Strong, PhD states in her article “The Myth of Persephone: Greek Goddess of the Underworld”: Other interpretations of her story focus on Persephone as one aspect of the Triple-goddess, a powerful feminine archetype where maiden, mother and crone are seen as one. While the three parts of this trinity are sometimes seen as Demeter, Kore and Persephone, many modern authors focus on Demeter and Persephone’s relationship with the moon-goddess, Hecate.
Core’s name itself indicates her phase, she is a maiden and her mother Goddess Demeter, the mother-goddess is the Matron. Persephone’s abduction is the event that triggers the start of her transformation. She is forced into the underworld despite her pleas and screams of fright. At Persephone’s return, her mother feels a change in Persephone and sense things will not return to what there were like before. This is because Persephone has moved to the next cycle. Being tricked into eating pomegranate seeds is symbolic as to Hades raping Persephone; she is tempted into something without knowing what it will cause(keeping her in the underworld) and in the process she also loses a part of herself (her innocence) and she is forced into something(she has no choice but to stay).
This completes the gaining sexuality part to complete her transformation in to a matron. The Three colors also come up again through the Pomegranate; pomegranate seeds start off white, and turn pink and finally a deep, dark red when ripe to eat. After being dried they turn black. Demeter, being a Mother Goddess, will always be a in the phase of a Matron, but Persephone is also a Spring Goddess and is offered gifts as well, taking place as Matron and Demeter is bumped up to Crone for all the people who offer to Persephone instead of Demeter. Hecate does not appear in some versions at all, but according to Damira Norris and Anne Weller, authors of “Hecate” (rainewalker.com): Hecate alone heard the cries of the naive maiden Kore as she was carried by Hades into the underworld. It was Hecate who bore a torch for Kore as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the dead, and also Queen of life’s rebirth in the Spring. Hecate is the guide of souls through…the initiatory journey into mature womanhood…Hecate stands quietly at the threshold, unseen until she hears the soul-cry of those who ask Her to light the way. Hecate takes the role of the Crone and it is only with her experience and her distance from youth that she can help others move through their own phases and observe live; to help not in short-term and selfish wants, but look over the world and help for the improvement for the all. She is given knowledge which many mortals and immortals have yet to acquire if they ever get the chance. She helps and guides Persephone with her life in the underworld as well as with her return.
Hecate Goddess of Crossroads and Transition is able to complete her task as Goddess because of her position as crone. One of the most symbolic objects that represent the three phases of womanhood is the moon and its three phases. The moon starts off dark, with no light. It slowly starts to wane, creating a crescent and as the month passes, it becomes fuller and fuller until it becomes a complete circle. After reaching its apex, it starts waxing until the moon disappears completely.
One aspect of the moons symbolism connecting to woman is that of the womb. The womb starts growing slowly, becomes full, and then shrinks. Each phase of the moon can be associated with each goddess, in the triple deity of Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. Artemis, Goddess of nature, fertility, and hunt, is represented by the first phase of the moon, “always new and virginal, reborn and ready to hunt” (Carl Woebcke). Artemis was known for staying a virgin and safeguarding her chastity and the chastity of her companions, which kept her from moving on to the next stage of Matron.
The Second Phase of the moon, the full move is represented by Selene Goddess of the moon. Unlike Diana/Artemis, Selene bore many children, showing herself to be a giver of life and as a example of a matron. Hecate resembles the waxing moon and the new moon as Hecate is the crone and Goddess of Darkness and Transition. Hecate completes the cycle from dying to rebirth and renews the cycle. Clearly, the three stages of woman hood come up over and over and are definitely present in different forms and colors, in multiple stories, and by different figures.
There are three colors: innocent white, sexual red, and black that are related to the phases of womanhood and three phases of the moon as well as three icons/figures associated with the moon that relate to the phases of womanhood. Throughout the tale of Snow White and Abduction of Persephone, girls transform into woman so on to the next phase with the help or push of certain characters, and once changed, can’t turn change back.