Since my book, Inviting the Queen: An Emerging Archetype for Women at Midlife, recently published this seems like a good time to write a blog about archetypes and illustrate the three traditional archetypes (before the Queen) attributed to women’s life stages—Maid, Mother, and Crone. But first, a brief definition of an archetype:
What is an archetype? In layman’s terms, it is the primal form of an object or quality, the primal role model. One of the definitions Wikipedia lists is, “A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.”
The fourth-century philosopher, Plato, was the first to write about the idea of archetypes. He called them forms, and defined them as eternal descriptions of abstract concepts, such as Truth (with a capital T), which remain by essence unchanging despite endless manifestations. Archetypes carry with them all the emotional energy that the human psyche has invested in them. They have been handed down to us to wrestle with and measure ourselves against. Archetypes are much larger than our personal experiences of the qualities they carry. Think of them as universal concepts that appear in all cultures and carry the accumulated energy of all human experience. As such, they greatly influence human behavior and patterns.
Archetypes, as defined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, one of the fathers of depth psychology, are “mythological associations, the motifs and images that can spring up anew anytime anywhere, independently of historical tradition or migration.” Jung viewed mythic structures as reflective of the whole of the psyche and suggested: “It is possible to describe this [unconscious] content in rational, scientific language, but in this way one entirely fails to express its living character.”
The ancient Greeks used the myths of their gods and goddesses as vehicles to express their understanding of human behavioral patterns. Besides believing in the divinity of these figures, just as other cultures believe in their own gods and goddesses, they also projected on to them their awareness of the archetypal patterns that play out in human life. It was through mythology that the ancient Greeks devised and developed psychological awareness.
The Maiden archetype, often alternately called the Virgin, refers to the developmental phase of a woman’s life that extends from her first menstrual period to motherhood. During this time of our lives as girls and then young women, we are not defined by our relationships with others. We are fully involved in our relationship with ourselves. The terms maiden and virgin, in this case, do not denote a lack of sexual experience, but instead indicate that she is “one unto herself.”7 Historically, this is the period of life in which a young person is not defined by her connections to a man or to children, but only to the burgeoning possibilities of her life.
The archetype of the Mother does not need much defining for most of us—only a broadening of the scope it embraces. It goes without saying that all the attributes a woman must have and cultivate to bring to birth and then adulthood a viable human being are part of this archetype’s realm. But this archetypal energy may also be used to successfully gestate, birth, and raise a career, a business, creative works, a spiritual path, or any other endeavor a woman may wish to pursue temporarily or make her ongoing life’s work. So, as a positive, developmental archetype, we may include all women in the Mother’s domain.
Under the Mother archetype, the early period of our adult lives—let’s say generally from the mid-twenties to the mid-forties—will bring forth the qualities we associate with motherhood: a commitment to the care and protection of children or creations, and the devotion and unwavering sense of responsibility needed to raise these “children” to their own full, independent adulthood.
The positive Mother archetype infuses women with the ability to move their own needs, wants, and desires into second place, and replace them with doing and being whatever is necessary for the sake of their children. A woman moving from the “one unto herself” of the Maiden may be amazed at how much and how often she now willingly puts her own interests aside when it comes to her baby.
This is hands-on, personal mothering—a day and night job—where the woman’s focus is survival, growth, and protection of her offspring and every decision she makes will prioritize them before anyone else, including herself.
All archetypes have a shadow side. Carl Jung used the term shadow to describe the unwanted, rejected aspects of an individual’s psyche that are relegated to the realm of the unconscious, where they are acted out with little or no awareness. The shadow aspects of our personalities and our desires are not necessarily negative, although we may feel that way about them. Sometimes shadow issues are those that do not adhere to the social mores of the era in which we live. We find the dissonance between how we secretly wish to be and how we feel that we must be to fit in with the people around us painful, so we reject the part of us that is causing the friction. A psychologically healthy person ultimately learns to embrace the shadow; otherwise she finds it projected outwardly through her choices, which may be self-defeating.
The shadow aspects of the Mother archetype include images of the abandoning mother, the devouring (smothering) mother, the absent mother, and the all-powerful mother. Today, there are new variations on the theme of the absent mother, which may include the addict mother and the working mother.
In the paradigm of the Triple Goddess, the Crone is seen as the third and final archetype in women’s lives. It is at the core of this book’s mission, however, to show the Crone as the fourth life stage, coming after the Queen. At her essence, the Queen is a blending of the Mother and the Crone.
The following is the traditional depiction of the Crone archetype.
The Crone is a teacher, a mature woman who carries the perspective of the community in addition to her personal perspective. An elder, she cares about the well-being of the community and its culture. She sees things clearly, is of a spiritual nature, and has an internal beauty. The Crone is a wise, powerful, and holy woman.
The Crone is a woman who has developed a sense of her own empowerment through her relational nature. She has become a teacher or guide watching over the lives of individuals and the fabric of the whole community or family. She is keenly aware of all that surrounds her, while also being deeply in touch with her own subjective perceptions, and she is able to share her views and values for the benefit of all. While taking seriously her role of caring for the whole, she has a playful spirit and approaches life in a lighthearted way. It may surprise you to think of a Crone as having a light-hearted aspect, but the Greek goddess Baubo illustrates that quality beautifully.
When the goddess Demeter was wandering the earth in mourning for her lost daughter, she came to rest in the city of Eleusis, where she took momentary respite in the house of the king becoming the nanny of the king’s son. Many of the household servants saw that this was a very sad and depressed woman and did their best to bring her out of her gloom. One of the servants was the disguised goddess Baubo, described as an old woman. Baubo tried to amuse Demeter to help disrupt her mourning. She made off-color remarks and noticed these brought a bit of a smile to Demeter’s face. She continued in this way to amuse, allowing her remarks to become even more risqué and then with great flair she lifted her skirts completely, showing her vulva. Demeter responded with a hearty belly laugh at this surprising display which helped her dispel her mourning. Somewhat restored, Demeter’s depression turned to righteous anger and she demanded Zeus to order the release of her daughter. Baubo shows us the power of hilarity to overcome low spirits and how this quality is often an attribute of the Crone.
Having the ability to sense the whole of things requires balance, internal and external. This last phase of life is a time of integration and acceptance, a time for emergence of a woman secure in herself and at peace with her being. A Crone develops an outward expression of her spirituality and awareness. She is aware of a connection to the earth and to her self-defined spirituality it as well, which is expressed in ritual both personal and communal.
The foregoing is meant to give only a brief explanation of archetypes and the Triple Goddess. For more indepth material, order Inviting the Queen at Amazon.com.