The modern Wiccan movement is centered upon the worship of the Goddess, popularly seen against the male patriarchal images of God that have been dominant in Christianity. As Wiccans have developed their theology, the idea of the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, often symbolized by the different phases of the moon, has become a popular expression of their understanding of the deity.
Wicca is generally traced to the writings and organizational activity of Gerald B. Gardner (1884–1964), who created a new polytheistic religion based on the worship of the Goddess, the most prominent deity, generally understood as either a young maiden or the Mother; and of her consort, the horned God. These images dominated the movement and the early theoreticians, most of whom were male. They supported the idea of Witchcraft as a polytheistic fertility religion and suggested an underlying celebration of sexuality. However, by the 1970s a number of female leaders, most with a strong feminist consciousness, had arisen to positions of prominence, began to explore the idea of Wicca as Goddess religion, and sought insights from such varied perspectives as theology, anthropology/archaeology, psychology, and history. A spectrum of belief emerged within the movement that at one end continued the Gardnerian emphasis on the God and Goddess (though the God has a slightly subordinate role) and on the other developed a singular focus on the Goddess.
Underlying Goddess worship was an assumption that statements about the divine and images of the divine directly reflected understandings of human social roles. Female witches sought images of the divine that were supportive of liberation and self-sufficiency throughout the life cycle and that looked to the divine as a reflection of human life and aspirations. The Goddess satisfies those areas of life always considered feminine while at the same time opening space for women to assume traditional male roles.
Having discovered the multitude of Goddesses represented in both ancient and contemporary religious systems, they also debated the nature of their polytheism. Was there one Goddess who was manifested in different aspects/personas, or several goddesses who appeared under different names in different cultures? While most Goddess-worshipers appear to move toward a monotheistic belief, the idea of a Triple Goddess, suggested by such ideas as the Three Mothers in Celtic mythology or Bhavani (known as the Triple Universe in Indian mythology), was compatible with both polytheistic and monothistic interpretations of the Goddess.
Essentially, the idea of the Triple Goddess suggests the three dominant stages of female life as the Maiden, just coming into womanhood in the years immediately after puberty; the Mother, the nurturing, caring, and sexually fertile woman; and the Crone, the postmenopausal elder who embodies the wisdom of the community. The Maiden is the adventurous youth who leaps over obstacles, the fresh mind with a new perspective, and the sexually vital object of young men's desire. The mother is the woman in full adulthood who gives life, nurtures it, and molds it. She is powerful and protective of her own. The crone is the experienced wise woman, full of love tempered by understanding.
Among the most popular triads used within the Wiccan movement is that of Persephone (maiden), Demeter (Mother), and Hecate (Crone), but rituals and music move broadly across world mythology to call the names of different deities. Several volumes catalog the Goddess's manifestations worldwide. As the idea of the Triple Goddess has spread through the very decentralized Wiccan movement, it has provided comfortable roles for the various female members, each of whom may choose a particular Goddess with whom to interact at any given period of her life.
Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca: The Old Religion intheNewAge. 1989.
Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess: TheFeminist Spirituality Movement in America. 1993.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. The Witches' Goddess:The Feminine Principle of Divinity. 1987.
J. Gordon Melton