If people had to choose what came to mind when they thought of Wicca, it would probably be that it practices magick and it worships a Goddess in addition to a God. And yet Goddess worship is arguably the most ancient religious practice that exists.
There are debates about how far back Goddess worship reaches. But it is generally agreed that it extends back to at least 25,000 years ago. Despite ebbs and flows, Goddess worship has been a continuous phenomenon in human society (1).
The Goddess Isis has been called the Goddess of Ten Thousand Names. There is this quote in the book Metamorphsis attributed to Isis:
“I, the mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, and first offspring of the ages; mightiest of deities, queen of the dead and foremost of heavenly beings, my one person manifests the aspect of all gods and goddesses.” (Apuleius, Met 11:5-6)
And truly, the Goddess does have innumerable names. To the Greeks She was Hecate and Persephone and Demeter. To the Romans She was Diana and Kore. To the Egyptians She was Isis and Hathor and Nephthys. To the Native Americans She was Kokyangwuti and Atabey. To the Celts She was the Morrigan and Aine. In the East, She is Kuan Yin and Tara. And these are just samples of the many, many forms She has taken throughout various times and cultures. Where there is human civilization, She is there.
The Goddess, being the Divine Feminine, the Source behind all there is, is associated with the Earth. She is in the fertile soil and the gentle rain. She is in the rushing river and the mighty ocean. She is in the trees and the grass and the air. Wiccans practice indoors usually due to practical reasons, but our church, if you will, is the outdoors. When you go to a park and sit under your favorite tree, or you and dip your feet in the river, or you wade into the ocean, you’re at church. You are with the Goddess.
Wicca in particular focuses on worshipping Her in Her form as the Triple Goddess. the Triple Goddess corresponds with the major phases of the Moon- waxing, full, and waning. The Waxing Moon represents the Maiden Goddess, the Full Moon represents the Mother Goddess, and Waning Moon represents the Crone Goddess.
This way of understanding the Goddess is far from the only way to do so. And this is not the only way Wiccans perceive the Goddess, nor are they required to limit their relationship with Her to what can be divided into these aspects. However, this does provide a useful way to connect with the Goddess in Her differing aspects.
Maiden Goddess: (Waxing Moon) This is the Goddess of youth and freshness and new beginnings. The season of this Goddess is spring, and She is a maiden (a woman unto herself, not necessarily a physical virgin- She knows who She is and does not answer to anyone but Herself). She takes care of the fledgling animals and is strongly connected to nature and natural magick. She represents the qualities of innocence, independence, strength, youth and self-confidence. She is invoked for activities such as hunting, creativity, art, and other expressions of self-confidence and skills. Some maiden Goddesses are invoked for women undergoing childbirth, like Artemis, Athena, and Bast. A woman practicing martial arts or other sports may invoke the Maiden. Artists invoke her, and those who take care of animals, as well as a woman who has just gone through a divorce and finds herself newly single with no children in the house. These phases are not necessarily linear in a woman’s life, even if they are in the moon phases. The Maiden’s colors are white and pink, and Her Sabbats are Imbolc and Ostara.
Examples of Maiden Goddesses are Athena, Artemis, Bast, Sekhmet, Devana, Persephone (spring aspect), Orihime, Aphrodite, Inanna, Hecate (according to some), Brigid, Flora, and Rhiannon (Note that these catagories are not necessarily hard and fast. Brigid has a triple Goddess form, Persephone is Queen of the Underworld as well as the Maiden, etc.)
Mother Goddess: (Full Moon) This is the phase of the Goddess most understood and worshipped by humans. “The image of the physical mother caring for, nurturing, protecting and loving her children is easily translated to the Mother Goddess. She is associated with confident adulthood and parenthood, She is summertime and the ripening of crops, She is procreation of all things earthly and universal, She is the highest point of all cycles and the sustainer of the Universe. She is the fullness of life, She turns the Wheel of all the seasons, and is the repository of all knowledge. She is the Earth Mother and the Sky Mother who walks beside us into the Labyrinth of Mysteries. The Universe is Her child and She loves and cares for it, providing it with inexhaustible resources from within Herself, even as a mother nurses Her infant from the milk of her breasts. (2)” The Mother Goddess is who Gerald Gardener’s vision of the Divine Feminine was inspired by (3).
The Divine Mother is invoked in all activities involving love and abundance and protection- for like all mothers, She is powerful when Her children’s safety is involved! She also is powerful for works of healing, psychic direction and development, wisdom and spiritual awakening. Her color is red, and Her symbols are the cauldron and chalice. Her Sabbats are Beltane, Lithia and Lughnasadh.
Examples of Mother Goddesses are Aka, Ceres, Cybele, Demeter, Danu, Isis, Hathor, Gaia, Lakshmi, Rhea, Sarasvati, Macha, Kuan Yin, and Elen.
Crone Goddess: (Waning Moon) This is the part of the Goddess that humans tend to be most afraid of, dealing as She does with aging and death. The Crone is the Elder, the Wise Woman, the Village Witch, the Matriarch. She is not always old Herself (Kali, for example) She rules over prophecy and divination. She is strong in magick and She rules over the spirit realm. She is the Destroyer, for without destruction there can be no creation. She banishes, and cleanses and transforms. Her work is done without hesitancy, but with mercy, and thus She is often called the “Dark Mother”, the “Dark Goddess”, the “Terrible Mother”. She sees over the end of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Many, however, have found that if you have the courage to look Her darkness straight in the face, there is a surprising amount of light to be found there. Hence the growth of devotion to ‘dark’ Goddesses such as the Morrigan, Hecate, and Kali.
The Crone rules over all endings. Whether that ending is the end of your college career or the end of a relationship that you were sure was “the one”, or the end of your life- that is where you will meet the Crone, and that is where you will seek Her wisdom. Wicca, however, is not a religion where death has the ultimate say; many if not most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. And those who do not believe in reincarnation believe in something like the Summerlands. Just as the earth has its circles of life, death and rebirth, so do we humans. The Crone also rules over magick, particularly initiatory and divinatory magick. Her color is black, and Her Sabbats are Mabon and Samhain.
Examples of Crone Goddesses are Anis, Cerridwen, Hecate, Cailleach, Elli, Persephone (As Queen of the Underworld), Grandmother Spiderwoman, Kali, Kalma, Lilith, the Morrigan, Nephthys, and Sedna.
Obviously this is not the only way to worship the Goddess. And this is not a hard and fast rule. Many Wiccans find a Goddess that they feel particularly close to and they work with Her outside of their “typical” time. And indeed, many of these boundaries are blurred for many Goddesses. For example, Artemis is a maiden Goddess, but She is also the patron of mothers in childbirth. But worshipping the Goddess in Her triple aspect not only helps you align your practice with the cycles of the moon and the cycles of nature more closely, but it helps you have a deeper understanding of the nature of Her being.
Some have criticized this model as being too cisgender-female-centric, offering nothing to trans women, non-binary individuals, and men. Others say it focuses too much on a woman’s reproductive capacity as if giving birth is the only thing that matters.
There is a legitimate concern here. I think some of this criticism comes from seeing these phases as hard and fast rules. In reality, people will jump around in these phases in their lives. A twenty-year-old mother will probably relate to these differently than a 35-year-old single woman, and that is fine.
As far as not offering anything to anyone but cisgender women, I don’t think that’s any more true than the statement that the spirituality surrounding the God has nothing to offer anyone than cisgender men. We all are made up of masculine and feminine energies. The Goddess is the Divine Feminine, yes, but she has “masculine” energies too, just like the God possesses “feminine” energies. If we look at gender as a spectrum, it’s like the Goddess is holding one end of the spectrum and the God is holding the other, but their various manifestations fall all along the spectrum.
Maidenhood is honoring the part of ourselves that is young, free, and autonomous. You don’t need to be AFAB to relate to that. Motherhood is creativity, bringing to life, which can happen in many different ways than physical motherhood. The Crone may manifest itself quite early in your life due to varying circumstances. And there is nothing stopping us from working with any phase at any particular time of life.
“There are masculine and feminine energies in all of us. They are the opposing energies, but also balancing and complementary to each other. They are biological, both being needed to procreate but they also exist in spiritual, mental and emotional forms too. Perhaps even more so than physical.” (Rachel Patterson, Pagan Portals- The Triple Goddess, pg. 6)
It’s important to keep in mind that while this is a popular Wiccan way to work with the Goddess, and Wicca is known for honoring the Triple Goddess, there is nothing that says you have to work with her in this way. Some are coming up with different ways of looking at the Triple Goddess, different life phases to add, and ways to adapt it to be more meaningful to those who feel like they don’t fit into this model, and that is wonderful. However, I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.