Friday, December 17, 2010

What is the Triple Goddess?

The concept of a triple goddess appears in many cultures, religions, and mythologies. Essentially, a triple goddess is a goddess with three aspects, or in some cases the triple goddess may be represented by three separate individuals who are linked together and often appear together. There are a number of forms of the the triple goddess, and a number of ways to interpret her, and some people argue over the precise nature of the triple goddess in various religions.
Triple goddesses appear to be ancient, appearing in various forms in a number of religions. For example, many Greek goddesses were actually worshiped as triple goddesses, with a complex multitude of aspects. The Romans had triple goddesses as well: Diana, for example, was the goddess of the hunt, goddess of the moon, and goddess of the UnderworldIn addition to appearing in the form of a goddess, a mythological figure with a tripled aspect can also be a lesser being. The Three Fates of Greek mythology, for example, are a form of the triple goddess, as are the Three Graces. The concept of a single sacred being with many facets also appears in the form of the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Worship of the triple goddess may be so common in world religions because it allows religious followers to appreciate the multiple facets of a single personality or individual. The triple goddess symbolizes the complexity of women, and the fact that people are rarely as simplistic as to have only one side. The commonality of the number three in particular, rather than any other number, may be related to the fact that three is a number with powerful religious and cultural symbolism for many cultures.
Many good and evil figures in mythology appear in triads, and the number three pops up in other ways as well. For example, Cerberus, guardian of the underworld, is often depicted with three heads, and according to legend, the Buddha studied through a threefold training on the way to enlightenment. In Neopaganism, the triple goddess appears in the form of three aspects of womanhood, representing the maiden, the mother, and the crone. The maiden represents young women, full of potential and life, while the mother symbolizes a fully mature woman. The crone symbolizes elderly women and the wisdom which comes with aging.
The notion of the triple goddess is common in Greek mythology. There are several sets of three goddesses that work together: The Moirae (Fates), the Charities (Graces), and the Erinnyes (Furies). In the case of the Muses the triple plan has worked twice and so there are nine. It is felt that these are women because the goddesses in each case are presiding over life-thresholds which were from early times in the hands of women. The Fates are like midwives presiding over childbirth. The Graces are like bridesmaids at weddings. And the furies are like mourners at a funeral. And even though this is a pattern which is found in many cultures there are peculiarities of Greek myth which might be helpful for the interpretation of Greek myths.
In Greek myth there are even triple Greek gods. The sons of Cronus, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades form such a triple. The myth of the Judgement of Paris reveals another triple, Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. Artemis involves another triple which emphasizes the female aspect of maiden, mother, and crone (Artemis, Selene, Hecate). A lot is made of this triple but what is most important is the way the goddesses are related and the way they act and interact. One wonders, for example, if Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, may be related in the same way. But the god triple is a division of the universe into three parts, the earth, the sky, and the oceans. You can see Aphrodite as the maiden, Hera as the mother, and Athena as the wise old crone; but the Judgement of Paris suggests that the division is one of love, honor, wisdom. These are major forces in ones life which each person must choose amongst. Paris chooses the wrong one with disasterous results.
So the mechanism that causes the tripling remains to be determined. Some say this is because 3 is a magic number. Some say it is a refinement of a concept. But it has also been suggested that it conforms to a structure of worship or perhaps the structure of a culture. An example of the second type of tripling is the children of Eris. Eris is the goddess of discord. Her children are Ponus, Lethe, Limus, Algea, Ate, and Harcus. These abstract concepts--sorrow, forgetfulness, hunger, pain, error, and the oath; are clearly concepts that clarify discord in some way. In the cultural history of the Greek religion some hints open up. It seems unlikely that the Minoans are the cause of this process since they are supposed to have worshipped one goddess, possibly Minona, a name related to Minoan. The culture was named Minoan by Arthur Evans after Minos but he may be a masculinized version of the goddess. This goddess is also referred to at the Great Mother, or perhaps an antecedent of her. Other goddesses referred to as the Great mother include Cybele, Rhea, Demeter, and Hera. It is possible that these later goddesses are just the same goddess interpreted by different cultures.
The tripling would not have occurred much after the adoption of the Greek alphabet because the writing that occurred as a result served to fix the myths and it also provided a historical record. There is no written record of the tripling. So the tripling may have been a part of the Mycenaean culture since the adoption of Greek writing occurred after their dominance. It has been suggested that the tripling resulted from the fact that the Mycenaeans had three separate classes of people and each class had its own set of deities.

The Mycenaean Deities

  • Apollo -- Enyalios
  • Athena -- ATANA POTINIJA
  • Eileithyia -- EREUTIJA
  • Dionysus
  • Poseidon
  • Poseida
  • Erinyes
  • Furies
  • Winds
Artemis, Eileithyia, and Hera could have been a triple goddess as they are all associated with Childbirth. The archeological record matches Poseidon with Poseida. Early myths match Poseidon with Demeter. Our record of Mycenaean deities is obviously patchy so the data might need filling in. It is intersting to consider the six children of Rhea: Hestia ,Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. What if we put together the male triplet of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Zeus is the mate of Hera. Poseidon is the possible mate of Demeter. This comes from a suspected etymology of the name Poseidon. The 'don' of 'Poseidon' is related to the 'de' of 'Demeter' and 'da-', 'To divide' in Indo-European. That leaves Hades to be the mate of Hecate. This is a revelation. But it makes sense because both are of the netherworld. It would seem that as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are a triple so Hera, Demeter and Hecate are a triple. This is interesting because it identifies Hera and Persephone as maidens. The is a story about the rape of Hera by Zeus. Likewise there is a story of the rape of Demeter (as a mare) by Poseidon. That leaves Hades raping Hecate instead of Persephone.
Ultimately the tripling may came from the Indo-European ancestral culture of the Myceneans. Ceisiwr Serith, on the page referenced here mentions Georges Dumézil's system of three functions. He states:
This theory states that Indo-European culture (and, by extension, PIE culture) was divided up into three groups, which Dumezil calls "functions." The first function is the magical-religious one. This consists of the priests and the rulers. The second function is that of the warrior. The third is that of the producers. Shan M. M. Winn has summed it up nicely in a book title: "Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness."

Triple Goddess

  • Persephone - maiden Demeter - mother Hecate - Crone
  • three Charites
  • the three Moirae
  • the three Erinnyes
  • Artemis, Selene, Hecate
  • Aphrodite, Hera, Athena
  • An expansion of the triadic concept is that the triad can expand into an ennead, or a group of nine aspects or nine goddesses, e.g. the Nine Muses, the Nine Maidens.
  • Zeus, Poseidon, Hades.