The Triple Goddess of Modern Paganism

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The belief that the various Goddesses (such as Venus, Aphrodite, Inanna, Astarte, and Ishtar) are parts of the Great Goddess (a single Goddess) is prevalent in modern Paganism. The Great Goddess is often understood as the Triple Goddess, who is the Maiden, Mother and Crone. Examples of the Triple Goddess for modern Pagans are Diana, Isis and Kali or Kore, Persephone and Hecate. (Note 1)

The Triple Goddess could be regarded as a Trinity of the Divine Feminine. The Maiden, the waxing crescent moon, is the young woman of new beginnings. The Mother, the full moon, is the mature woman of fertility. The Crone, the waning crescent moon, is the elderly woman of wisdom. Modern Goddess religions often add a fourth – the Dark Mother, the new moon, who is the Shadow of the Mother.

The concept of the Triple Goddess was introduced to modern feminists through Robert Graves’ work, “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” (1946). Graves, a poet and Greek scholar, theorized that there was an archetypical triad of Goddesses in European polytheism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Starhawk in “The Spiral Dance” and Margot Adler in “Drawing Down the Moon” fleshed out his ideas to be “the Maiden, Mother and Crone.”

The concept of the Triple Goddess did not originate with Graves. It came earlier with Jane Ellen Harrison of the Cambridge Ritualists (Note 2). This classical scholar argued that the Greek religion had triple Goddesses who combined he phases of the moon with the cycles of a woman’s life. Harrison based her ideas on the theories of Sir Arthur Evans, the noted British archaeologist. While excavating Crete, Sir Evans decided that the Minoans (ancient peoples of that island) worshipped a Double Goddess (Virgin and Mother). (This is reminiscent of the Christian Virgin Mary.)

The Triple Goddess is not a part of traditional Polytheistic religions. There are groupings of Goddesses such as the Norse Norns (the Fates). There are Goddesses such as the Morrigan (with Babd and Macha) who are tripartite. However, none of them are tied with all of the cycles of the moon with the cycles of a woman’s life. Many Goddesses do have aspects of the Maiden, the Mother, or the Crone, but not all three.

Notes:
Note 1. Diana is Roman, Isis: Egyptian, Kali: Hindi, Kore and Persephone: Greek, and Hecate: Greek and Roman.

Note 2. The Cambridge Ritualists, of the late 19th Century and 20th Century, theorized that myths are echoes of rituals, which are a form of magic to alter nature.

The Celtic Tree Calendar: Real or Imagined

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Robert Graves, in his book “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” suggests that the Celts followed a calendar of thirteen trees. Graves noted that the letters of the Celtic alphabet (Ogham) formed seasonal progressions of trees according to the various moons. Graves reasoned that since trees reminded the Celts of the Sacred Triple Spiral (birth, death, and rebirth), they would be the most logical choice for time keeping. However, is Graves’ reasoning correct or simply a pet theory of his? To answer that question, one must determine if keeping time by trees is feasible?

Telling Time by Plants
In Maine (Northern New England (USA)), certain plants do appear at particular times. In addition, people do plan their activities around some of these plants. Late winter is heralded by skunk cabbage, which stinks up the forest. In early spring, “Sugaring time” commences when maple tree sap rises. People tap the trees and take the sap to nearby sugaring shacks to maple syrup for sale. Middle spring is time for burdock, a bitter green plant. People used to have roadside stands selling this plant as the first greens of the year. Berry picking season starts in late spring and lasts through fall. Strawberries ripen in May-June, raspberries in July, Blueberries in August, and Blackberries in September. October is the famous fall season in New England, when hillsides are afire with scarlet maple trees. Then the snow come and the rivers freeze over.

However, these seasonal markers are not always reliable. January thaws causes skunk cabbage to bloom early. May frosts kills berries. Frosts in Maine have happened as late as July. Most people use a combination of other natural signs for seasonal changes. For example, the rivers crack as the ice melts on them. The loud booming noises are heard by towns around. After the rivers are free of ice, the lumbering season can begin.

Celts and Trees
One major problem with Grave’s “tree calendar” is that the same trees often grow at different times in different climates. Celts living in Gaul and those living in Ireland would have varying seasons for their trees. In addition, not all the tree species of the Ogham were present everywhere the Celts lived. Graves seems to assume that Celts lived in only one place. In contrast, Julius Caesar reported that the Celts lived in Gaul as well as on the islands.

My conclusion is that Graves had pet ideas about the ancient Celts. Like many people with favorite ideas, he cherry picked the data to fit his conclusions. Although, his Celtic Tree Calendar is appealing and romantic, it does a disservice to the Celts. It obscures the truth about their lives and replaces it with drivel.

Graves’ Calendar
1. Beth (Birch) December 24 to January 20
2. Luis (Rowan) January 21 to February 17
3. Nion (Ash) February 18 to March 17
4. Fearn (Alder) March 18 to April 14
5. Saille (Willow) April 15 to May 12
6. Uath (Hawthorn) May 13 to June 9
7. Duir (Oak) June 10 to July 7
8. Tinne (Holly) July 8 to August 4
9. Coll (Hazel) August 5 to September 1
10. Muin (Vine) September 2 to September 29
11. Gort (Ivy) September 30 to October 27
12. Ngetal (Reed) October 28 to November 24
13. Ruis (Elder) November 25 to December 22

14. December 23 is not ruled by any tree for it is the traditional day of the proverbial “Year and a Day” in the earliest courts of law.