In the cycle of the Moon we can see an archetypal story of growth and change. The New Moon appears, small and faint and hanging near the Sun, visible for just a few minutes in the evening before it sets. As the days pass, she grows in size, power, and independence. As Full Moon, she illuminates the entire night, bestowing a light that is strong enough for us to walk, work, or even read by; night animals are active. After full, the Moon wanes, gradually becoming weaker again, and finally disappearing into darkness.
All living and growing things go through a similar cycle: birth and growth, fullness or fruition, and then age, decline, and death. Plants sprout, grow, flower, bear fruit, cast their seeds, and return to the earth. Humans are born, grow and learn, express the powers of adulthood, perhaps through our work, or by making a family, and then enter the reflection and wisdom of age before we die. The Moon cycle reminds us that this process is not just a one-time journey from cradle to grave, but rather a cycle that repeats endlessly, linking us with life long past and lives yet to come.
Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, presented an archetypal connection between the Moon, the Goddess, and the stages of a woman’s life. The Triple Goddess is Maiden, Mother, and Crone – the Moon waxing, full, and waning. Although examples of triple goddesses can be found in ancient Pagan cultures from different times and places, the prominence of this image in modern Wicca and Neopaganism was launched by Graves. Like all powerful ideas, though, its strength comes from its resonance with deep parts of the human psyche.
The Maiden is the young goddess from birth to menarche: learning, growing, striving, searching. She is Persephone/Kore, and her spirit is also present in “virgin goddesses” such as Artemis/Diana or Athena. She is independent, wilfull, impulsive, vivacious, and aggressive. Connecting with the Maiden Goddess provides energy for undertaking a new venture, helps us assert our autonomy, and helps us summon resources and seek out what we need.
The Mother is the goddess from menarche to menopause: governing, creating, nourishing, sustaining. She is Demeter, Hera, Gaia. Although her energy can be expressed through physically giving birth and raising children, the term “Mother” should not be taken so literally as to appear limiting. The Mother Goddess is woman (or man) at maturity, with the experience, energy, and inclination to undertake large-scale and long-term endeavors, to manage resources and relationships, to promote positive change in others.
The Crone is the goddess from menopause to death: wise, penetrating, observant, challenging. She is Hekate, Cerridwen, and the Norns who spin fate. She’s seen too much of life to pull punches or care about other’s expectations. For these reasons, she is sometimes regarded with fear (particularly in a patriarchal context, where both her sex and age threaten the power-base of the warrior male). The Crone is the wise woman, the ultimate teacher and guide. In the end, she teaches the final lesson, letting go of life itself. When we connect with the Crone, we can face our fear, release our ambitions and obligations, and surrender to transformation.
When we look at the Moon cycle astronomically, it is convenient to identify eight phases. Eight is an even number, and it makes the diagrams and charts tidy and symmetrical. From a spiritual or magical perspective, however, odd numbers such as three, five, or seven, are more dynamic and meaningful. Three is a potent magical number, because it represents stepping out beyond the world of polarities and opposites implicit in the number two. Instead of pairing off Dark Moon against Full Moon, First Quarter against Last Quarter, the Triple Goddess leads us around a circle of endless becoming. One is reminded of the rock/paper/scissors game.
Whereas the Full Moon is the undisputed province of the Mother Goddess, presiding over the night as queen and caretaker, the Dark Moon is shared by the Crone and Maiden. The Crone leads us into the void of death and mystery, and it is this void out of which the Maiden is born.
For witches, all times of the lunar cycle are full of power. Many emphasize the Full Moon, because that is the peak of her light, when she is most present to our outward senses. It is a natural time for manifesting – making real the changes we seek. But there would be nothing to manifest without the full cycle, which pulls new possibilities out of the darkness and leads us back into it again as life’s changes play themselves out.
From the most ancient times, astronomers and astrologers understood that the Moon is closer to us than any other celestial body. In Western culture, the heavens were thought of as perfect, divine, and unchanging. The Moon, both because of her visible markings and also because of her cycle of phases, was a kind of bridge between the unchanging heavens and the growing, dying, evolving earth.
For Pagans, all facets of nature can be profound symbols of spirit. But the Moon is a symbol of special potency, central to the practice of many Pagans of varied traditions. In her we find a union of Goddess and worshipper, permanence and change, manifestation and mystery, calendar and body, darkness and light, life and death – and a moving energy that transcends all such dichotomies and creates without end.