This essay is an edited excerpt from the conclusion of chapter 3 of the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.
She has three faces, but She is One. These faces kaleidoscope into each other, they blur, they support each other, they are in each other – if they were not life would not go on, for She is a continuous Thread, a multivalent Urge unfolding the Cosmos; in an infinite multiplicity of beings. The three are reflected in each other like a never-ending mirrored reflection, thus the numinosity associated with multiples of three since ancient times, and in many cultures; all such multiples were considered to speak a Divine Harmony of some kind.
As Carolyn McVickar Edwards tells the Celtic version:
… the endlessly boiling Cauldron was stirred by Nine Sisters. … The Nine Sisters represent the Holy Trinity of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, each able to manifest all three of Her selves.[i]
The Cauldron is “the Pot of the World”, the Cosmos itself, and its magic “is that of endlessly shifting shapes”, such as we are witness to in the evolutionary story of Gaia, as She is named in Western cosmology – this is Her everyday magic, displayed before us, and in which we are immersed. It is stirred by the Triple Goddess – the Female Metaphor in Her three aspects, as qualities of the evolutionary cosmic dynamics. As such, She is no simple linear process, nor only two-dimensional, nor even just a few dimensions, but a web that radiates completely in all directions filling all space, like a Cosmic Sea of Superstrings.
In my practice of ceremonial celebration of Her three phases/qualities over the seasonal year, I came to insights into each particular face but also into the collective nature – the relationship – of the triad. There was sometimes a tendency and a temptation to distinguish the Three from the One that they are, and to imagine a Background out of which the Triple One emerges; that is, to split this One into yet another aspect, to speculate about a fourth element.
As I reflected on the face of the Old One/Crone in the season of Lammas/Late Summer, in the process of documenting these insights for academic research,[ii] I was sensing and identifying this aspect almost completely with a perceived Background, the Great Void, the All-Nourishing Abyss out of which all arises[iii]… as if the Old One/Crone was the One, in and of herself, more than the other two aspects. And I have done that in other writing since then; yet I have felt there was/is something more. I wrote in my journal:
There is some distinction to be made between the formless Void/Great Sentience out of whom we all arise and the Old One who returns us to this. The distinction is always arbitrary. Is there any real distinction to be made between Manifestation/Form or the Light – the Virgin, and the Formless Void out of which it All arises? Perhaps it is that our distinctions are the mistake, the error. There is a fourth element then to this metaphor and it is the Background, the Deep Void, that is the Plenum upon which the three play out a movement, a motion. In fact none of them are distinct from the Formless Void, from Love, out of which All arises. All three are immersed in Love, are aspects of Love. Perhaps then my reason for identifying the Old One particularly with Love, in this Lammas celebration, is part of the re-storying of the Dark to Love. We so often associate Manifestation/Light with Love … that’s easy, we’ve been doing that for quite a long time – Christmas, the Birth of the Holy Child, Winter Solstice. But to re-instate the Dark One as a manifestation of Love is what I need to do, to understand. Thus perhaps my particular association of this celebration with Her, with Love.
So while I was beginning to realize and sense that each face was a face of Love, a face of the Background, of the All-Nourishing Abyss, of All-That-Is, I still needed at this stage to express the Dark One particularly as this Totality. I understood that and allowed myself this counterbalancing indwelling and expression.
The point is that our minds will often want to separate the Three out from All-That-Is, and experientially they can’t be.[iv] Further to this, some time later, it was suggested that I add “Matrix” into the describing of the Mother aspect of Goddess. However, I did not really want to put it there, though it seemed correct to do so. I was aware that at that particular point I was making some arbitrary distinction between the Mother aspect as “a” face of All/Matrix, and “the” All/Matrix. Really when we understand the faces, none of them are distinct from the All/Matrix. Together they are the All/Matrix – the Background, the All-Nourishing Abyss, the Plenum. I hold out from naming the Mother aspect alone as Matrix, though She of course is, yet so are the aspects of Virgin/Young One and Crone/Old One – and that is the point. It seems to me that as we deepen into knowledge of the qualities of Virgin/Young One and Crone/Old One aspects, we will sense the Matrix – the Ground of Being, the Womb – in those facets too; that They-All-Three cannot be separated. They are indeed a Holy Trinity, a collaborative Cosmogenetic Dynamic that unfolds All, that “stirs the Pot”. Most can sense or know a “depth of love” – the All – in the Mother aspect; yet I was just beginning through this process of re-storying and ceremony, to sense and know the Depth of Love – the All – in the Dark Old One, and to guess at the Depth of Love – the All – in the Virgin/Young One.
[i] Carolyn McVickar Edwards, The Storyteller’s Goddess, p.152.
[ii] Glenys Livingstone, The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as a Catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change, University of Western Sydney, 2002.
[iii] Brian Swimme’s term, Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, p.97.
[iv] The analogy may be made with the phases of the Moon: the Dark Moon may be understood not so much as another phase, a fourth phase, but as a revelation of the Plenum, the Dark, the Background out of which manifestation, the play of the Three arises.
Edwards, Carolyn McVickar. The Storyteller’s Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom from Around the World. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Livingstone, Glenys. The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as Catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change. Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2002.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Swimme, Brian. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos. New York: Orbis, 1996.