Maiden, Mother, Crone, and …

The archetype of the maiden, the mother, and the crone as the three places women move through in their lives is a strong one that many of us identify with. The maiden is the girl from the time she starts her period until she starts having sex.  The mother is woman from the time she gets pregnant until she begins menopause.  The crone is the older woman from the time she can no longer reproduce until she dies.  Marking our paths through these transitions points is a meaningful one that can give meaning to our daily lives in ways that can sometimes be overlooked.

However, as times change, we live longer, and reproduce later or not at all, there is a certain need for a fourth category.  Where do the women who are clearly no longer maidens, but have not yet become mothers fit?  They fill a distinct and meaningful place in many of our lives – they are our friends, our sisters, our aunts.  They provide support, love, and community in ways that are different from the mother, but certainly highly worthwhile in and of themselves.

But their life trajectory just doesn’t fit into this archetype in a very supportive way – and so I think it is time to change how we define the archetype.

I am specifically asking because on the website for The Belly Project, my newest on the side fun, we would like to have categories for maidens, mothers, and crones, for easy searching ability.  But that’s going to be hard to do if we can’t figure out an appropriate fourth category.  So, at least for the purposes of The Belly Project website if not the entire archetype, what is a good word to describe these post-maiden, non-mother, pre-crone women?

I wait, breathless, for your input!

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I think it’s important not to define the maiden too narrowly. Young women who are having sex but not ready for motherhood still fit in the maiden archetype to me – as the maiden is also the young lover. For those women who will not be embracing the mother-energy at all, though, there is the fourth face of the goddess – the warrior or sorceress.

  2. Oh…I like warrior or sorceress. I think warrior sticks with me best. Anyone else have more suggestions or reactions to warrior or sorceress?

  3. My idea is that “mother”, in this context, is broader than someone who has become biologically pregnant. To me, the role of the “mother” is fertility, growth, creativity, sexuality and ripeness. She is someone who nurtures and is in a position of power through her life-giving forces (however those forces are channeled).

  4. I understand what you’re saying, Susan, but at least the first woman who we talked with about how to categorize her did not particularly want to be labeled a “mother” since she is not one.

  5. I like the warrior concept, me self. A sorceress would be much older, I think.

  6. I wanted to be a mother all my life, and when we didn’t conceive right away, I had to think what we would do if we were unable to have children on our own. Eventually we did have a child. I think, though, that if we hadn’t, we would not have pursued either high-tech fertility procedures or adoption; we would have tried to be accepting. This would, I suppose, have put us somewhere between childless and childfree. I think I would have been hurt being excluded from the major categories of woman. I’m not sure what word would have been appropriate, though.

  7. But this is exactly the problem, Alice! There are some women who are not mothers by choice and some by circumstance. Some of them will feel comfortable and enjoy embracing the mother archetype – which is of course fine and great – but others would prefer their childless/childfree state to be more acknowledged – either because they want to acknowledge their choice to be childfree or because they don’t want to be put into a the mother category by default when they were (perhaps painfully) unable to achieve being a parent. Or for other reasons too.

    In any event, it’s been an interesting conversation and thought process for me. For the time being, for the purposes of The Belly Project, we are going with warrior. But we’re still looking for other options, so keep bringing them on!

  8. Hi there,
    Donna Henes has written a book called the Queeen of Myself in which she addresses the question extensively.
    Her fourth aspect is the queen although she places that time period between the mother and the crone. She who answers to herself can be any age. I also kind of resonate with warrior, although I actually abhor war itself. I often think of young women who choose to do other things than raise a family as sheros.

  9. I am a crone (54), but the term crone, though positively connotative of wisdom, doesn’t feel right either. I still feel sensual, sexual, and motherful. I am raising a daughter who is only 15; she is past maidenhood but still seems to fit in the world as a maiden, surely way too young for the mother category. Maybe we need a new set of archetypes to draw from instead of adding to one that kind of limits us?

  10. I stumbled across this page as I was looking for the definition of The Triple Goddess. The reason why I was looking for the definition is that I am a live-in caregiver for a 93 year old woman who still resides in the farm house she has occupied since 1942. Myself, I am one month shy of 38 years old. This weekend, the weekend aid, a 22 year old nursing student, is moving in as well. It dawned on me that the three of us clearly represent The Triple Goddess.

    I think each phase of The Triple Goddess shouldn’t be pigeon-holed by chronilogical age, etc. I believe it to be a state of mind and individual experience.

    For instance, I definitely identify with the Mother aspect of the Goddess at this time. However, I am infertile. The one time in my life when I was able to conceive, I had my son. I was 17 years old. No matter how hard I tried, my state of mind back then was not motherly. I was in the Maiden phase through most of my son’s childhood (my poor baby!).

    We are all different and on different paths. The Triple Goddess resonates true to all who are feminine, no matter where they are on their paths. Just remember, each path is different.

  11. I want to acknowledge the pain expressed here by the women who feel somehow “excluded” by the maiden-mother-crone triplet. And to say that you ARE included.

    As others have pointed out, the problem lies in the narrow definitions, not the archetypes. Trying to tie the stages in to age, sexual experience, etc may make them simpler to understand, but inevitably leads to the archetypes becoming more like stereotypes. These archetypes do not limit us – WE limit them.

    My own working definitions are more about key attributes of each:

    ~The maiden aspect is about new beginnings & potentiality, of being untrammelled by convention and free from ties. Fun, nature-loving and a sense of exploring and discovery. The maiden is wild and unpredictable, going her own way.

    ~The mother aspect is about balanced and responsible use of power, commitment (e.g. to a family, a relationship, a career or a cause), creativity and directed growth. Nurture and bringing forth/making manifest. Also one-ness with the cyclical nature of life. (Some here have mentioned the “warrior” as an alternative. I feel this is unnecessary as the mother aspect also encompasses strength, ferocity and courage – think of lionesses protecting their cubs, or killing to feed their family group).

    ~The crone aspect is about wisdom, experience, lore-keeping, teaching. Looking INTO things as well as at them – i.e. clear-seeing. Irreverence AND respect. Also important is clearing out, recovering energy and making endings. The crone is both merciful, & ruthless. She reminds us to stay sharp – and rely on our inner wisdom and intuition.

    I think the important thing is that each woman reflects all three aspects, with some more to the fore in each woman’s character than others. Plus it can vary over your life. While the three archetypes are helpful for interpreting and empowering a woman’s life stages, there are many other ways of applying/understanding them.

    Remember too that the three archetypes are also part of a cycle – so as the mother follows the maiden, the maiden follows the crone again…

    Sexuality can be expressed in all three aspects – there is no need to limit it to the mother – indeed, this is the patriarchal religious approach.

    (Bear in mind too, that there are actually 9 aspects – as the maiden, mother,crone aspects are also present in each of the three archetypes – so within the maiden archetype, there are reflections of each of the maiden, the mother and the crone, also within the mother and crone archetypes.)

    Perhaps it is most helpful to think of crone medicine, maiden medicine and mother medicine and to try to find a balance, and to channel whichever energy feels most appropriate for your situation, visions and purpose.

  12. I am now a so-called crone by virtue of age/menstrual status. Prior to that I belonged to this fourth category, being called warrior at this time.

    (Aside: Due to my spiritual path, I understand and relate to warrior as a description. To those who do not relate to it: It does not pertain to violence!)

    Belonging (primarily) to this fourth category, I appreciate your insight/observations concerning the relevance of the traditional archetype trio and I am interested in the results of your quest and your website. My connection/relationship to the traditional archetypes has been distant/shallow and my transitions could have used some midwifing.

    While understanding that many relate to the traditional trio (thus this is not to suggest you restructure your website!), it seems to me that there is a mixture of reproductive stage and reproductive status in “maiden mother crone”. Breaking it out into reproductive stage (girl, woman, crone) and reproductive status (maiden, mother) seems more consistent and perhaps helpful to increased understanding.

    As mentioned elsewhere, reproductive status (especially motherhood) does not have to be interpreted/experienced literally. Nor do I feel that there are necessarily transitions from one (stage/status) to the next, rather there are “expansions”, wherein some perspective/role is added to the existing mix. I say this because I have come to understand that, irregardless of my bodily events/menstrual status, I have accumulated the full “cast of characters” (all 5 noted above) without having reproduced (or married). And so, as I see it, this fourth category is also a role which all females have/experience–that of “other”–not maiden, mother nor crone. It is a matter of which role is in the forefront at any given moment, what proportion of the time it is in the forefront, the depth of understanding of the role, etc, that determines one’s identification with each of the traditional archetypes (as well as this unnamed fourth). (Thank you to Helen R-H for her offered understanding of the archetypes!)

    I wish I had a terrific suggestion for a tag for this fourth group (“Women of the Village”? or simply “Women”?). Instead I applaud and encourage you/your website to foster a greater/wider understanding of the universal and unconditional nature of female “membership” in ALL of the archetype groups (including the fourth, be it called warrior or something else). A clearer understanding earlier in my life might have reduced the pain of felt-exclusion that I (unnecessarily) experienced. In these times (wherein more women may/should? abstain from literal motherhood), such an understanding is more widely needed than ever.

  13. I have to agree with the warrior one becuse even though i still fit in the maiden catagorey, when and if i dont i wouldnt want to be atomaticly labeled a mother sence i proubly wouldn’t be that mature yet. (Probly never will be though) And i relise this probly makes no sence.

  14. Greetings all,

    Just stumbled across this page. Interesting question. Still got a couple of replies to read and I hope no-one minds me jumping in like this however I just had to say that I agree with those who state that the archetypes shouldn’t be construed so narrowly.

    As with many others I am also childless by circumstance. I came to terms with it, which I admit isn’t even remotely easy and I am (now) completely comfortable with it. I was looking forward to doing a few things for myself instead and yet, ironically, I now find myself surrounded by children, mostly young women, niceces and their friends, and I find myself fulfilling the role of substitute mother to some (Life never turns out the way you expect).

    Perhaps it has already been mentioned in the replies I have yet to read but the Triple Goddess does not apply to chronological age but rather to whatever life circumstances we are experiencing at any given time in our lives. Each one applies to all women of all stages of life. Maiden, Mother and Crone exist in harmony within all of us whether we are 15 or 75 years of age. There are times when one or the other may dominate but all three are always within us.

    I prefer to see the whole of womanhood, not just one or the other. I don’t know about anyone else but I believe it is wrong to try to separate them as I feel it could lead to a separation of self.

  15. I am going to say that being a mother is what “most” people dream of. However, I am unable to conceive children and will never be able to be called mother. The term mother hurts people who didn’t have the option of choosing whether they wanted to be a mom or not. Mother’s day to infertile people is a big slap in the face. Sorry to go off topic.

    I think that mothers are women who are caring, loving and attentive to human beings, animals, children and have nurturing roles. All women, whether they can physically have babies, adopt or have four legged creatures as pets should be mothers.

    However, if someone chooses not to be a mother then maybe we should put them in a different category.

    Hope this helps.

  16. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Elizabeth. I like your perspective on this.

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