Heroine’s Journey Archetypes
|Maiden||The Adolescent Questor and Warrior Woman|
|Mother||Wife and Mother|
These archetypes fall under the traditional maiden-mother-crone, which are seen, and the spirit, who is not. They are not always relegated to this place in the life cycle: their are warrior-crones like Scathach, death-maidens like the Valkyries, and Trickster-Mothers like Molly Cottontail.
The Triple Goddess
The anthropomorphic representations of the Goddess—the young Maid, the mature Mother, and the old Grandmother or Ancestress, all the way back to the original Creatrix—are, as the Greek philosopher Pythagoras later noted, projections of the various stages of the life of woman.
The now-popular archetype of the triple-goddess, divided into maiden-mother-crone is a relatively recent theory. It was first postulated by Jane Ellen Harrison, who noticed both the maiden-mother split and the frequency of triple-goddesses in Greek myth: “We find not only three Gorgons and three Graiae, but three Semnae, three Moirae, three Charites, three Horae, three Agraulids, and, as a multiple of three, nine Muses.”
The theory was eagerly adopted by Robert Graves in The White Goddess. He depicted the triplicity as Maiden, Mother and Crone, and many neo-pagans revere this imagery. While some scholars attributed this archetype to the lively imagination of the poet, recent archaeology has made it abundantly clear that “Goddess Triplicities” echo back into antiquity, as the Creatrix-Preserver-Destroyer triad in India, or the Norns who foretold fates in Norse myth.
Women’s mythology is all about cycling from larger to smaller, pregnancy to slimness, waxing mother to waning crone. “As the Moon regulated women’s menstrual cycles, the ancients worshipped the Moon as Goddess. Her changing faces as she waxes and wanes throughout the month unfold her triple-aspect as Virgin of the New Moon, Mother of the Full Moon, and Crone of the Dark Moon.” For a few days each month, the moon vanishes. This is like the woman’s withdrawal and rest during her cycle of menstruation. Once the whole Goddess reflected this entire spectrum: kindly and terrible, as the awesome Mother Earth. However, the conquering patriarchy split her into her three aspects. Although patriarchal cultures could find a place for the use of the virgin and mother energies, they could find no such use for the old woman. The young virgin could represent stored energy, and she maintained some numinosity for that reason. The mother transmitted energy, gave it to others. The old woman however, only had knowledge; this could be threatening, and was increasingly trivialized, as well as actually being truncated in its development by a discriminatory environment.
Thus the crone was frequently divorced from the pantheon: just as Athena, Artemis, Demeter, and Hera were respected goddesses, the Furies and their mistress Hecate were relegated to the underworld, demonized, discarded. The remaining maiden and mother reflected each other:
The two cardinal conditions are obviously to a primitive society Mother and Maiden. When these conditions crystallized into the goddess forms of Demeter and Kore, they appear as Mother and Daughter, but primarily the conditions expressed are Mother and Maid, woman mature and woman before maturity, and of these two forms the Mother-form as more characteristic.
Demeter quests to retrieve Persephone, her missing Childself, whom she must reintegrate into herself in order to regenerate. Likewise, the questing Psyche is trying to achieve motherhood. These two archetypes are inescapably interwoven, as each craves the other to become whole.
The Questor: Warrior Woman
The warrior maiden differs from other heroines in that she travels on the masculine hero’s journey. She has a male mentor and male antagonist. She finds a magic sword. Most importantly, she is one of the boys, fighting beside them on and off the battlefield. Still, she is most often the “strong woman” readers visualize. She is the woman who dresses as a boy and rides to war, the one who says, “If a man can do this task, I can do it, too.” Yet, even while cutting herself off from many aspects of femininity and wielding a man’s weapons, she still follows the same journey as her quieter sisters. One possible mate for the warrior woman is a partner and equal, though this match often ends in tragedy: Eowyn and Aragorn, Artemis and Orion, Alanna and Prince Jonathan: all these matches fall apart. The pair of warriors are too similar. The better choice for mate is the sensitive man, the one who is the woman’s true animus. By accepting the gentle suitor, the warrior woman grows into a strong, balanced person who defends her young with a wildcat’s tenacity, accepting dual roles as champion and mother. The Lioness Quartet and other Tamora Pierce books are a superior example of this, but there are others as well: this warrior woman appears on TV shows like Xena, Buffy, Dark Angel, and Torchwood, and hundreds of fantasy novels such as By the Sword, One Good Knight, or Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, Men at Arms or Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, and, of course, Lord of the Rings.
On the heroine’s Journey, the young woman risks her life to become a preserver of her people. Frequently armed only with wit and creativity, she wins the day through a deeper, less physical form of strength.
The Tale of Scheherazade
At length the vizier, overcome by his daughter’s firmness, yielded to her entreaties; and although he was very sorry at not being able to conquer her resolution, he immediately went to Schah-riar, and announced to him that Scheherazade herself would be his bride on the following night.
The sultan was much astonished at the sacrifice of the grand vizier. “Is it possible,” said he, “that you can give up your own child?”
“Sire,” replied the vizier, “she has herself made the offer. The dreadful fate that hangs over her does not alarm her; and she resigns her life for the honor of being the consort of your majesty, though it be but for one night.”
“Vizier,” said the sultan, “do not deceive yourself with any hopes; for be assured that, in delivering Scheherazade into your charge to-morrow, it will be with an order for her death; and if you disobey, your own head will be the forfeit.”
“Although,” answered the vizier, “I am her father, I will answer for the fidelity of this arm in fulfilling your commands.”
When the grand vizier returned to Scheherazade, she thanked her father; and observing him to be much afflicted, consoled him by saying that she hoped he would be so far from repenting her marriage with the sultan that it would become a subject of joy to him for the remainder of his life.
Before Scheherazade went to the palace, she called her sister, Dinarzade, aside, and said, “As soon as I shall have presented myself before the sultan, I shall entreat him to suffer you to sleep in the bridal chamber, that I may enjoy for the last time your company. If I obtain this favor, as I expect, remember to awaken me to-morrow morning an hour before daybreak, and say, ‘If you are not asleep, my sister, I beg of you, till the morning appears, to recount to me one of those delightful stories you know.’ I will immediately begin to tell one; and I flatter myself that by these means I shall free the kingdom from the consternation in which it is.”
Dinarzade promised to do with pleasure what she required.
Within a short time Scheherazade was conducted by her father to the palace, and was admitted to the presence of the sultan. They were no sooner alone than the sultan ordered her to take off her veil. He was charmed with her beauty; but perceiving her tears, he demanded the cause of them.
“Sire,” answered Scheherazade, “I have a sister whom I tenderly love—I earnestly wish that she might be permitted to pass the night in this apartment, that we may again see each other, and once more take a tender farewell. Will you allow me the consolation of giving her this last proof of my affection?”
Schah-riar having agreed to it, they sent for Dinarzade, who came directly. The sultan passed the night with Scheherazade on an elevated couch, as was the custom among the eastern monarchs, and Dinarzade slept at the foot of it on a mattress prepared for the purpose.
Dinarzade, having awakened about an hour before day, did what her sister had ordered her. “My dear sister,” she said, “if you are not asleep, I entreat you, as it will soon be light, to relate to me one of those delightful tales you know. It will, alas, be the last time I shall receive that pleasure.”
Instead of returning any answer to her sister, Scheherazade addressed these words to the sultan: “Will your majesty permit me to indulge my sister in her request?”
“Freely,” replied he.
Scheherazade then desired her sister to attend, and, addressing herself to the sultan, began as follows:
From Arabian Nights.
And so, Scheherazade told her thousand tales, converting the cruel sultan into a kinder, gentler ruler, and preserving the lives of all the women of her country.
For the princess figure, the goal is happy, successful marriage. Thus she makes herself into the ultimate anima for all men. She is the perfect untouched virgin, lying in her coffin of glass. She displays few signs of self-awareness, concentrating only on how to best reflect her animus like a many-sided crystal, with no volition, no identity, only surrender: The young lady spends hours daydreaming about the perfect man, then meets him and falls instantly in love. She is Helen of Troy, carried of by one prince after another as the ultimate prize and status symbol, for she, like Snow White, is “fairest of them all.” She is Juliet, a pawn in her father’s marriage games. Or Hera, the spiteful, shrewish wife, wed to Zeus through force and trickery. Draupadi, the heroine of the Indian Mahabharata, is won in an archery contest and wed to five different men, as the hero must share his winnings with his brother. When she’s dragged into the gaming hall and humiliated before the court, Draupadi’s family declares war on a scale with the Iliad.
Likewise, the princess is devoted to keeping her marriage alive, even through obstacles. The king of “The Wild Swans” believes Eliza guilty of witchcraft and orders her burned at the stake. Eliza dotingly forgives him at the end, and they resume their happy ending. Psyche and Persephone are abducted, yet they both find love and embrace the concept of marriage. When kings exile their queens, those loyal wives quest unceasingly to be reinstated.
In the Swahili “A Woman for a Hundred Cattle,” a married woman is so poor that she must promise her favors to a would-be suitor for a side of beef, which she wishes to serve her visiting father. Her family’s poverty comes from the immense bride-price of one hundred cattle that the husband once paid the father, thus beggaring himself. During the meal, the seducer bursts in, impatient for his reward. The heroine sits them all down to prove their unreasonableness: the husband has paid far too much for a bride beyond his means, while her father demanded one hundred cows when he already possessed thousands, thus beggaring his daughter. Far more foolish, however, is the suitor for presuming he could have a woman once purchased for a hundred cattle with just a side of beef. Humbled, the seducer leaves and the father sends her three hundred cows.
Some of the most powerful and vibrant goddesses are the seductresses: Inanna who morphed into Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite, Venus and her many sisters throughout the world. In Egypt, she is Hathor, goddess of grain and fertility. The Celts celebrated Branwen. To the Aztecs, Xochiquetzal was the Goddess of All Women, patroness of marriage and sacred harlots, dance, spinning, weaving, changes and transformations, magic and art. She is also Artimpaasa, Scythian love goddess who ruled the moon, Anat, Ugarit virgin warrior and wanton temptress. Erzulie, the Haitian goddess of love, luxury, refinement. Rati, the Balinese goddess of erotic delight.
While this may seem like “weak feminine wiles,” temple prostitutes in ancient times were man’s connection to the divine. Knowledge of one’s body was a source of empowerment and intuition about the natural world. And, as below, it could be a powerful weapon.
The Book of Judith
13 So Bagoas left the presence of Holofernes, and approached her and said, ‘Let this pretty girl not hesitate to come to my lord to be honoured in his presence, and to enjoy drinking wine with us, and to become today like one of the Assyrian women who serve in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.’
14 Judith replied, ‘Who am I to refuse my lord? Whatever pleases him I will do at once, and it will be a joy to me until the day of my death.’
15 So she proceeded to dress herself in all her woman’s finery. Her maid went ahead and spread for her on the ground before Holofernes the lambskins she had received from Bagoas for her daily use in reclining.
16 Then Judith came in and lay down. Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her.
17 So Holofernes said to her, ‘Have a drink and be merry with us!’
18 Judith said, ‘I will gladly drink, my lord, because today is the greatest day in my whole life.’
19 Then she took what her maid had prepared and ate and drank before him.
20 Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born.
1 When evening came, his slaves quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from outside and shut out the attendants from his master’s presence. They went to bed, for they all were weary because the banquet had lasted so long.
2 But Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was dead drunk.
3 Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber and to wait for her to come out, as she did on the other days; for she said she would be going out for her prayers. She had said the same thing to Bagoas.
4 So everyone went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem.
5 Now indeed is the time to help your heritage and to carry out my design to destroy the enemies who have risen up against us.”
6 She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes’ head, and took down his sword that hung there.
7 She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, ‘Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!’
8 Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head.
Wife and Mother
The wife and mother is an awesome archetype, as she controls the produce of the land and ocean and will shrivel them up if she is kept from her loved ones. She is Isis and Demeter, land incarnate. And she is, as ancient man once saw her, the entire world. The Mother quests to find her child and protect him or her from the forces of darkness, as in this Algonquin tale:
Oshkikwe and her twin sister Matchikwewis lived together with Oshkikwe’s baby son, following their adventure in the sky. one morning, Matchikwewis told Oshkikwe she had dreamed a sorceress was coming to steal the baby. “Don’t leave him alone for a moment,” she warned. Oshkikwe was very careful. But when Matchikwewis went out to bathe, Oshkikwe needed a little firewood. So she slipped out for a minute, thinking their puppy would bark if anyone approached. but when she returned home, she found the puppy vanished and the cradle swinging empty. only a few tattered pieces of the cradleboard lay in the corner. Taking those pieces, Oshkikwe walked deep into the wilderness, into the other place, where the rules of earth have no effect. there she found a small house, with her puppy in front, now grown into a dog. And she knew that her son would have grown as well. Oshkikwe knocked on the door and greeted the angry sorceress who opened it. She asked for some bark–by the laws of hospitality, the sorceress had to give it and threw some nasty rotting pieces at Oshkikwe. though Oshkikwe’s son considered the sorceress his mother, he took pity on the ragged beggar woman (as he thought) and brought Oshkikwe some better bark. In secret, she told him the secret of his identity and showed him the cradleboard pieces and a strip of deerhide the puppy had torn from the sorceress. “See how your dog knows me,” Oshkikwe said, indicating the fawning dog at her feet. “I am your mother.”
The son knew he had to be certain. So that night, he lay in bed and started moaning and groaning. “Please, mother, fetch me my childhood cradleboard!” When the sorceress did, he saw that the missing pieces fit exactly and that there was a barely-healed scar on her hindquarters corresponding to the missing piece. the next day, the boy told the sorceress he was going hunting. He found Oshkikwe in the forest and greeted her as his mother. Oshkikwe showed her a tunnel she ahd dug back to Earth. “As we climb down, you’ll get smaller and I’ll have to carry you,” she warned. The sorceress gave chase, but Oshkikwe told her son to take his arrowhead and cleave the worlds apart so the sorceress was trapped in her own world.
So they all climbed down together, and by the time they reached earth again, Oshkikwe was carrying a baby and a puppy.
The Great Goddess was the powerful all-mother, champion of birth and growth as well as death. She was the transcendence of the feminine, the all-powerful source girls quested to become. Benevolent and cruel by turns, giving and withholding the crops that fed all people, she was perfectly poised between the world of life and death.
I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all the gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silence of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with diverse rites, and under many different names.
–Apuleius, The Golden Ass, trans. Robert Graves (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1951), 268.
She is Gaia, Demeter, Rhea. Devi in all her aspects. Inanna-Ishtar-Asherah. Isis. Cybele. Pachamama. Yum Chenmo, Xi Wang Mu, Kuan Yin. Amaterasu and Fuji. Uli and Haumea. Tlalteutli and Coatlicue. Ala, Bahuba, Mawu, Asase Yaa. Brigid, Freya, The Fairy Queen. And more.
The Terrible Mother
The Terrible Mother is the questing heroine’s traditional adversary: Lilith, devourer of newborns. The Llorona, eternal wailer. Kalwadi and Baba Yaga, the cannibals. She is the evil stepmother thwarting the heroine’s growth or the cannibal, absorbing the children’s power by destroying them. But her power sends questors to the underworld and her power strengthens them when they return. This savage mentor offers the ultimate wisdom—the insight that darkness, mysticism, and even death are a woman’s ultimate source of power, far different than a hero’s outward force of arms.
Kalwadi, busy babysitting, laid the sleeping children to rest in the shade. She pretended to look for lice in one child’s hair and swallowed her whole. Then she swallowed the other nine children. The horrified parents gave chase until they came to the river. When they saw her big eyes surface, they hurled spears and killed her. But when they cut her body open, they found their children there, alive and whole.
The Aztec goddess Coatlicue gave birth to the moon, stars, and heavens. This goddess of the double snake head had 400 sons whom she set in the sky as stars known as the Centzonhuitznahua, and one daughter, the goddess Coyolxanliqui (little bells). When her daughter plotted her death, leading the sons in the charge, Coatlicue suddenly gave birth to Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and war — who drew his sword and slew them all. Her very birth power became the force of death.
She is Pele, Hawaiian volcano goddess. Tlazolteotl, filth eater and queen of witches. The dragon-goddess Tiamat. The Norse Angerboda, or Hel, The Hag of the Iron Wood. The Morrigan. Caillech, the Veiled One, with a black face, red teeth and white hair. Nephthys, wife to Egyptian Set.
Though Trickster is often male, this rule-bending, convention-defying figure appears surprisingly often as a sister tot he heroine, raising spirits through her antics. Baubo, from the unrecorded feminine rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries, is a quintessential trickster. Sometimes also known as Iambe, goddess of indecent speech, Baubo is the goddess of belly laughs and suggestive jokes. When Demeter sits weeping by a fountain in Eleusis, Baubo boldly lifts up her skirts and prances around, fully exposing herself to the goddess. Demeter is forced to laugh at her antics and the earth begins to thaw, heralding Persephone‘s return. Homer‘s Hymn to Demeter relates:
A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drinks because she pined with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter, until careful Iambe — who pleased her moods in aftertime also — moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart.
Only the Orphic version carries a more uncensored view of events, saying “She dres aside her robes and showed a sight of shame.” Baubo was also associated with the Eleusian Mysteries and fertility rites, as women told ribald jokes to awaken the earth to fertility.
A similar incident appears in the Japanese tale “The Mother and the Demon.” A mother and a daughter jump in a boat to flee from a demon. When he drinks up the lake, destroying the font of feminine power that preserves them, they instantly retaliate. They flip up their skirts, in other versions breaking wind or pounding spoons on their hips: The outrageous physical act makes the demon laugh and spew up the lake.
These dirty goddesses offer a sacred sexuality and with it something even more precious: laughter. Thus Baubo teases Demeter out of her mourning and Ama No Uzume evokes curiosity in Amaterasu. At the same time, laughter fills the entire body, making it shake beyond control. It is healing, revitalizing, overpowering, like the upset and reversal that mark creation. Many creators are tricksters, and vice versa. Thus these goddesses, with their taboo -crossing and rule breaking, offer unmitigated pleasure mixed with joy and creative energy.
The crone is the source of the world’s wisdom, powerful beyond the other archetypes. Hers is the magic of understanding nature, of knowledge and creation. And her wrath can be as deadly as she is beneficent. She is the godmother but also the thirteenth fairy at the christening.
Long ago, the people suffered from a horrible sickness and so they sent for a great healer far to the southwest. her name was Qiyo Kepe, and she lived in a house of leaves. they sent her a messenger and she quickly agreed to come. at the edge of the first river they had to cross, Qiyo Kepe shook out the sand from her sandals and herds of buffalo and deer poured from them. At the next river, she shook birds from her sandals, and lizards and snakes at the next. At the fourth river, she shook loose a buzzing cloud of insects. at last t hey arrived at the village, where Qiyo Kepe bathed the people’s sores with pure springwater and they recovered. Meanwhile, the men of the village were angry and fearful. the messenger had told them of Qiyo Kepe’s exploits at the rivers, and they feared her power. Worse yet, her simple water cure had worked when all their magic had failed. so they resolved to murder her and her family. But Qiyo Kepe knew of their plan. she went home and swept the house, chanting “Because you would murder Qiyo Kepe, you will bear the scars of disease forever in all your generations.” So the men of the village arrived and killed Qiyo Kepe and her family. and all of the animals mourned her loss.
Even after the mother has died, she protects her child as drops of blood on a handkerchief, as a juniper tree or singing bird. But when the daughter is in trouble, the mother will offer the advice or solace so desperately needed. And in many tales, she returns once more when she’s needed on earth. Thus goddess symbols are the snake, symbolizing rebirth as it shreds its skin, and the frog, symbol of transformation. She is winged, or surrounded by wide-seeing owls and other birds, representing the spirit.
Death is not the final ending, but a step in the cycle. After death comes the other world, the spirit world, a resting place of learning before rebirth.
Those who are dead are never gone:
they are there in the thickening shadow .
The dead are not under the earth
they are there in the tree that rustles,
they are in the wood that groans,
they are in the water that runs…
–African Traditional. Biiraago Diop, Mali Poem
in World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, ed. Andrew Wilson (USA: International Religious Foundation, 1991), 234.
Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (USA: HarperOne, 1988), 25.
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (London: Merlin Press, 1962), 286.
Demetra George, “Mysteries of the Dark Moon,” Woman of Power 1 no. 8 (Winter 1988): 33.
Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book (USA: Pergamon Press, 1990), 177.
Susan Feldman, ed. “A Woman for a Hundred Cattle,” The Story-Telling Stone (New York: Dell, 1965), 304-311.
Grandmothers of the Light 149-152
Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (New York: Dutton, 1981), 42.
Homer, “Hymn to Demeter,” trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Perseus Digital Library Project, ed. Gregory R. Crane, 2008, Tufts University, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu>.
Clement of Alexandria, Athenians and the Rest of Greece, trans. G.W. Butterworth, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard U P, 1919), 41.
Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York, 1998), 336.
A.B. Chinen, Waking the World: Classic Tales of Women and the Heroic Feminine (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1996), 176.
Retold from Grandmothers of the Light 122-124