There is an old phrase that describes the three stages of a woman’s life and growth: Maiden Mother Crone.
In Paganism, they are called the Triple Goddess: three faces of the divine Feminine.
Each woman is said to travel through these stages as part of her life journey. If she doesn’t travel through them, her journey as a woman is incomplete.
Maiden symbolizes the phase of a woman’s life before sex. (I honestly hate the reference to one’s ‘maidenhead’ as a description for virginity, but it is apt.) This is the time of a woman’s life that is free from most cares (certainly free from children) and marked by curiosity, exploration, and freedom.
The dark side of this stage is dependency and co-dependency, loss of self, shame, and refusal to learn from Life. The dark side of the Maiden emanates immaturity.
A modern-day example of the Maiden archetype is Britney Spears. She is a woman who rose to fame on the exploration of sexuality and freedom. She made gobs of money singing and dancing in heavily sexualized versions of what the Maiden does in this stage of life.
Britney, of course, remains in the shadow of the Maiden. She had herself declared mentally incompetent so her father could handle the business and its income (unlike, say, Rihanna, who decided to learn business skills so she could handle her own business, image, and finances).
She also has obviously not learned from failed relationships (we might guess, then, that she is co-dependent). Her music still tends to rely on the meme of sexuality and her latest works have been collaborations where her voice is distorted. Symbolically, she is willing to mangle her own voice- her way of being in the world, her ideas and opinions- in order to make money. This would definitely a miscarriage of the maiden’s tasks.
Lastly, I find it obvious that she is unhappy and unsure of how to take control of her life- her eyes do not shine. A happy Maiden feels confident and joyful.
Because Britney has not learned the lessons of Maidenhood, she is unlikely to reach the next stage: Motherhood. (Yes, I know she has kids. But it can be argued she hasn’t fully moved beyond the psychological space of the Maiden.)
The Mother phase happens when a woman has her first sexual experience. Of course, nowadays, this line is rather blurred: one can have sex and still remain in the ‘maiden’ phase- unattached and exploratory. But think of the era from whence this phrase comes; motherhood was the absolute next step after sexual experience.
The Mother phase is really about the choice to take on more responsibility – whether in a family or in her community. The Mother stage contains professional pursuits, the ability to make choices for the group (and fix it when the choice doesn’t work), leadership in family and society, the application of all she learned as a Maiden, as well as the learning of new skills.
The dark side of the Mother phase also contains traces of co-dependency, subservience, lack of assertiveness, loss of other aspects of self (over-identifying with the Mother), abusive mothering, and poor partnering.
We might look to Christina Aguilera as the symbol for this stage of womanhood. Christina Aguilera also rode to fame and gobs of money on the exploration of sexuality and freedom. For many years, she and Britney were pitted against each other (a well-used tactic for keeping women from growing).
An interesting point of departure for these two was when Britney created a song called “I’m a Slave 4 U” and Christina recorded “Dirrty.” Both are songs about brazen sexual expression, but while Britney sings about disempowerment (she will do whatever her partner wishes), Christina is telling her audience exactly what she wants (to get ‘dirty’). One sings about subservience, the other about assertiveness. Certainly these are not the only two flavors of female sexual expression, and there are times when subservience (or being a sexual slave) is chosen out of full empowerment, but I doubt that is the case with Britney.
Christina Augilera has also gone on to record songs that have little or nothing to do with sexuality and sexual expression. Her range of symbols and experiences has widened, and so has her creativity. This is exactly what we would expect to see in the Mother stage of female development.
Christina Aguilera shows us a picture of the Mother archetype that has psychologically moved beyond the Maiden. She is raising children, learning new skills, and continues to express herself in ways that show her broadening understanding of life.
The Crone is the phase of life after a woman has finished menopause. She is now free from responsibilities again (or, most of them) and able to apply the wisdom of what she has learned in the Maiden and Mother stages. The Crone is fierce and assertive because she knows Life and understands the World; she knows what needs to change. She is also supportive, comforting, patient, grateful, active, and inclusive.
The dark side of the Crone is withdrawal, anger, despair, and a shriveling of the spirit. The image of an older woman, in a muumuu, with umpteen cats at her feet is the dark side of the Crone.
In this case, we might think of the artist P!nk. Certainly she is not post-menopausal (far from it!). But she is beginning to display the qualities and behaviors that come from full feminine development.
P!nk also rose to fame at the same time as Britney and Christina. (She makes fun of their differences, and the music industry trying to control her, in her song “Don’t Let Me Get Me.”) She traded in sexiness and exploration as well.
However, as P!nk has grown as an artist, she seems to have also grown as a woman. Her songs have a wide range of themes- beyond those of sexuality and rebellion. Her latest album includes tracks that talk about the various aspects of marriage and long-term relationships. She is not afraid to admit defeat (“Just Give Me a Reason”), frustration in marriage (“True Love”), and to tell men where they can get off (“U + Ur Hand”).
Not only that, but her development as an artist has also show her development as a person. She dresses in a variety of styles and has learned to do acrobatics in aerial silks (I’m jealous). Her lyrics still remain assertive, yet also bring in wisdom, responsibility, and playfulness. She seems to have learned from the Maiden and Mother phases of life.
Ancient Symbols, Modern Faces
There are lots of female stars I could make these symbolic comparisons to, including Iggy Azalea and Chelsea Jane- rappers from Australia [although, I find it hard to give Iggy the label; and Chelsea Jane still seems to have a little self-hatred going on, but that’s another topic…].
The bigger point here is that these ancient archetypes still live with us today.
The energies of Chaos, Cupid, Earth Mother, Fire-catcher, Trickster, and others are not historic fables. They live and breathe among us today. Certainly within our own lives, but also within those we call ‘The Gods’ today- music stars and actors, reality-show participants, literary figures, and other popular personalities. Who but John Stewart could portray the Court Jester so well? He is allowed to tell the truth in the form of a joke and people trust him above their own government.
There is no time limit for what is eternal. The archetypes and symbols of the past will always find their way into the modern world.