Hedge Riding: The Art of the Hedge Witch

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When Maiden, Mother and Crone isn't right...

After having spent a lovely weekend in Glastonbury with a dear friend, I noticed that there is a lot of focus on the triumvirate of Maiden, Mother and Crone. Walk into any shop and you will find this triple goddess littering shelves, books about these aspects and people talking about where they are in relation to Her.

This triple goddess, however, leaves me a bit cold. Childless by choice, I have no relationship with the Mother aspect of Her, and absolutely no desire for one.  Yet is seemed to be constantly thrown in front of me – at a certain age, we should be entering our Mother phase. My little inner anarchist said bollocks to that.

Firstly, I’ve always had difficulty with a triple goddess, reflected in the phases of the moon for, as everyone knows, there are four phases – waxing, full, waning and new or dark moon.  So, a triple goddess of the moon makes no sense for me personally, though it may work for others. 

Secondly, there are many women out there who can identify with my choice of not bearing any children and for whom the phase of motherhood may seem out of place.  I understand that the term motherhood may have many different meanings – you can give birth to ideas, or nurture your own environment. However, to me the term mother has always been a literal one. It is partly why I don’t believe in an all-loving Mother Goddess.  I have a physical mother and no need for a metaphysical one.  My deities of nature do not have the usual aspects of motherhood instilled within them. They simply are what they are, whether that is wind and rain, fog or mist, love, anger and fear, time and tides, floods and drought. 

So what is a person to do when bombarded by this triple goddess? It seems taken for granted that everyone identifies with such, especially women. This is not the case. Perhaps we need to find something else that works for us individually.

I considered over the weekend how to change the triumvirate of Maiden, Mother and Crone.  Some ideas that I have considered are Maiden, Priestess, Queen and Crone – and the aspect of Mother could easily fit into one of two categories there should the need arise.  This would also seem to fit in with the phases of the moon – Maiden as the growing, waxing moon, Priestess in the fullness of her power, Queen as we journey into the wisdom of sovereignty with our maturation, and Crone as we delve deep into the darkness and journey towards the winter of our lives.  This feels easier for me, without adding pressure of having to procreate to fit into one of her aspects.

I have heard of people replacing the Mother with Warrior, or Amazon, but this does not sit right with me.  As a Druid I am dedicated to peace, working to create peace in the world through empathy and compassion, using the Bardic arts that I am graced with, as well as the Ovatic gift of vision.

Perhaps I take this just a little too literally, a little too seriously.  As a woman who has made the decision not to have children however, I feel that it is sometimes necessary to redefine the boundaries of what we currently hold to be our personal truths in our ever-changing society.  I feel this is even more necessary in our spiritual worldviews. For me, religion should be an ever-evolving thing, growing with the person and with the society, holding a sacred relationship to our past while looking towards our ancestors of the future. 

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  Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion.  


  • Lyndsay Alt
    Lyndsay Alt Thursday, 05 December 2013

    I completely understand where you are coming from but I feel that the mother aspect can also signify our compassionate, nurturing nature for family, friends, animals and nature and not just motherhood. We all have our own perspectibes and I don't think the triple goddess was ever meant to fit securely in one concrete mold. :)

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Friday, 06 December 2013

    Yes indeed - however compassion doesn't always have to relate to motherhood. The Priestess can be compassionate. The Queen, Crone and Maiden can be compassionate - what do you think? x

  • Lyndsay Alt
    Lyndsay Alt Friday, 06 December 2013

    No, compassion doesn't have to fit the mold of mother, as I said before, no aspect has to fit in a distinct mold. Each aspect becomes what you want it to and how it applies to the individual at that time. Each can be compassionate and each can signify strength and wisdom as well. I am a single mom and still see myself as part maiden, part mother :)

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Thursday, 05 December 2013

    The mother aspect does implicitly reinforce the belief that procreation is always preferable, doesn't it? That's a value which runs much wider and deeper than our religions, but perhaps, for the sake of the planet, Pagans could have a dialog about whether or not having children is always better.

    Many years ago I told friends of mine that I was planning on never fathering a child (despite how much I love kids) because I'm concerned about our cumulative impact on the planet. I spent most of that conversation with my friends -- who are devout Wiccans and respected elders in the community -- trying to convince me otherwise. "You can teach your children your values," they said, imploring me to change my mind, as if the value of not impacting the world with infinite descendants is somehow less important than the many values I could instill upon my own progeny.

    Both paths are valid, of course, but people who choose procreation unconsciously believe that they are making the greater sacrifice. It's not actually greater, it's different. I will not be surrounded by grandchildren when I am an elder, and there's a much greater risk that I will be isolated in my golden years because of that. If I had made the other choice, the stresses and demands upon my earlier life would have been much greater, but so too would have been my impact on the planet I hold dear.

    So yes, rather than simply saying that the "mother" aspect might be symbolic for some, we should find a way to honor those who make the choice to remain childless, as well as celebrate those who are gifted with infertility.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Friday, 06 December 2013

    I agree with you 100% - thankfully my friends understand my choice, and I haven't had to undergo the "you'll change your mind when you have them" or thoughts of a similar vein. The impact on the planet is a huge concern when deciding the have children. Hmmm - another blog post? x

  • Holly C
    Holly C Thursday, 05 December 2013

    I completely respect what you are saying, and I understand where you are coming from. I think the modern rise of the idea of the Triple Goddess is a reaction to the male/female polarity idea that is so pervasive in neo-paganism. I'm a lesbian, and I think the male half of our species and our deities get plenty of credit and worship without me participating. So the triple Goddess has always been an attraction for me. I have no children and am now in my crone years. I do feel comfortable with the idea of the Mother as the symbol of the productive time of our lives. But I like your proposal for the 4 aspects of the goddess. The Queen designation makes me cringe just a bit because of the "power over" implications, perhaps it could be the Adept, the Sage, or some such. Whatever the name or idea, I do like the goddess aspects as part of a circle, a spiral, and less the polarity. Four stages seems good because of the correspondence with the lunar phases.

    But will someone propose to add the "spirit" phase for when we have passed? ;-)

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Friday, 06 December 2013

    Good words! For me, Queen is power over, but power from within - she is strong and sure in herself, and the gift of sovereignity is the gift of a woman who has the freedom to choose for herself what she wants from life, and also in service to life itself. x

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 05 December 2013

    We've discussed this issue at length in SageWoman magazine over time; we had an entire issue on the Queen not too long ago: http://www.bbimedia.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3_101&products_id=595 (this is a link to the paper edition; it's also available in digital for instant download.)

  • Caity
    Caity Friday, 06 December 2013

    I get what you mean about not being able to shake the literal meaning of mother, and while I think motherhood should be honored, definitely, MMC becomes problematic when presented as The Cycle of Womanhood, as it often is. Recently, I've been trying out Maiden, Sister, Crone. I thought Sister had the sufficiently relational/involved-in-the-world feel, and just like our human Sisters who are Mothers, Queens, Artists, Amazons, Anarchists, Priestesses and everything else, a Sister phase can run the gamut.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Friday, 06 December 2013

    Funny thing is, I know people under 12 who are in touch with the Crone, and retired people who are much more in tune with their Maiden aspect now that they're free from work. Perhaps pigeon-holing into any category causes as many problems as it does help people find the good in the archetype within... x

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 06 December 2013

    I'm very fond of Maiden-Mother-Crone myself, but recognize that it's probably a historical anomaly. (It comes, pretty much whole cloth, from Robert Grave's The White Goddess, after all.) It's very a) gender-normative and b) body-essentialist. It's been very important in the history of the Goddess movement, but I expect it to fade over time.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Saturday, 07 December 2013

    Yes, I think so too Anne - for me, spirituality always needs to evolve at any rate! x

  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy Friday, 06 December 2013

    it's been a long while since I pondered on Graves. I can't say I had the impression from him that he was expressing a cycle of womanhood as much as encounters with some of the various manifestations of his White Goddess. More of a pentad than triad. I'd attribute a lot of the maiden/ mother/crone constellation more to Jung. Kerenyi touches upon it partially in Eleusis.
    Sort of a monist approach with Jung like archetypes thrown in.
    but then I have a different view, it's not likely I will ever be a maiden, a mother(though I have been called that in so many words) or a crone. That I suppose places me in the midst of the 'gender-normative' set. I can only interact with those personalities who may fall into those 'archetypes' which are made manifest to me.

  • Piper
    Piper Friday, 06 December 2013

    I have always viewed the triple goddess and other divisions of the divine as the energy you touch and the aspects you claim when needed. So with knowledge and instruction a 13yo should be able to work from any of the aspects as needed. My personal practice uses 4 types of energy or aspects of deity, Youth, Warrior, Teacher and Elder. This is in addition to direct contact and veneration of specific deities. My Wife translates these to a gender specific, Maiden, Warrior, Priestess and Crone. As it seems from the comments there is some agreement on the meanings of the words, I will just try and explain my differences. The Youth is full of love and wonder, able to accept and engage with all aspects of the world, this energy starts with love of one’s self and grows to encompass the all. I choose to look at the warrior in a protector or guardian mode, we all enter into situations where we have to stand our ground, for others, family and community. This is the energy of one who will take a stand, not for or with violence, but for what they see as right. A thousand and more words can describe the next stage and have been mentioned above. I use this aspect as a one of sharing, comforting, teaching and this is where I do my deepest work. Elder can refer to ruler and it can refer to judge, but my biggest take away is repository of wisdom, one who has insight and ideas for us.
    Trying to keep this short, and on topic. Thanks for the opportunity.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Saturday, 07 December 2013

    Thank you for sharing! x

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