The Aspects of the God and Goddess
The Gaia Tradition views the Divine as both male and female, each of equal importance. Most Wiccan Traditions cherish the concept of the triple Goddess, but many of them see the God in only one or two aspects, usually the young horned god and sometimes the mature king. We, however, choose to relate to both the Goddess the and the God in three aspects, because we feel that there is wisdom to be gained from relating to both the divine feminine and the divine masculine in ways that affirm the entire lifetimes of all people.
Because there are many Traditions of Wicca, derived from many cultures, there are many names for the God and Goddess in each of their aspects. Some Traditions use names that all come from the mythology of a single human culture, for example the Greek or Celtic. Other Traditions use a variety of god and goddess names, and some Traditions will not reveal the names they use to non-initiates. The Gaia Tradition prefers to use titles, rather than names, for the God and Goddess in their aspects. However, we do have a name that we sometimes use for each aspect, in those situations where using a name feels more comfortable using than a title.
The three aspects of the Goddess are the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. None of these three terms means quite what our modern culture means by them. Each title is a term of reverence, however, and each mirrors a stage in the growth of human women.
The Maiden is the young Goddess; we use the name Brigid (pronounced "breed") from Celtic mythology for her in this aspect. Our use of the term "maiden," by the way, has nothing to do with sexual experience or the lack of it. Virginity is seen by the Gaia Tradition as a useless concept: because sex is such a deeply accepted and revered part of life, sexual inexperience is viewed as simply an aspect of early life, like inexperience with driving a car. By "maiden" we mean simply a young woman, still free and independent, who symbolizes the rebirth of life in all its forms.
The Maiden, in the words of Janet and Stewart Farrar, "... is Enchantment, the bright magic of the female principle, the fresh light of dawn that sweeps away weariness with the promise of new beginnings. She is the adventurous young flame that banishes indifference and leapfrogs obstacles, the lively curiosity that blows the dust off stale knowledge and gives it new perspectives. She is springtime, the first daffodil, the hatching egg. She is excitement; she is the carefree erotic aura that sets men and gods preening themselves. She is unselfconscious in a miniskirt – the cosmic pin-up, innocently skyclad, or unapologetically dressed up to the nines as her mysterious fancy takes her. She is the huntress, running free through the woods in pursuit of her quarry (which might be you) with her hounds beside her. She is danger if abused; she is joy itself if respected." (The Witches’ Goddess; Phoenix Publishing, 1987)
In the mythic cycle, the Maiden emerges from the underworld at Imbolc, returning to the earth from her time of retreat and transformation there. She brings the promise of Spring’s return, and with it another season of fertility, growth, and life. At Oestara, she meets and first couples with the young Horned God, and that coupling fills her body with the seed that will bear fruit at Yule when she, as the Mother Goddess, gives birth again to the young God. The two Divine ones are inseparable lovers from Oestara until Beltane, when she and the Horned God wed. As a result of that commitment, both of them move from youth to full adulthood, the Maiden transforming into the Mother.
The Maiden is symbolized by the wreath of candles worn by the Priestess whose body she shares at the Imbolc Sabbat, the celebration of her return to the earth. Her candle color is white, for innocence and newness.
The mother is the Goddess in her full maturity; we use the name Ariadne, from the Minoan culture of ancient Crete, for her. Of all the older cultures of which we still have record, the Minoan is the best model of the fruitful, gender-equal culture towards which the Gaia tradition strives. The Goddess in her Mother aspect is the bearer of children, and therefore is a fully sexual being, with all that implies: no pretty little Virgin Mary here! Human women in their mother phase may or not have children, and may or may not have sexual partners; but all of them are treated with the same respect that men in their mature phase receive.
In the words of the Farrars, "She is Ripeness; she molds life within the womb, gives birth to it, nourishes it, teaches it, and slaps its bottom when necessary. She is mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically full-blooded and powerful. She may give open advice or exert shrewd influence which is unnoticed at the time, but which achieves its ends. The male principle is both her husband and her child. As mate, she does not tantalize, which the Maid may sometimes do; she will restrain him if the time is not ripe -- or if it is, she will give all, transmuting him to gold in the furnace of her love, just as she transmutes his seed into new life. Against anything which threatens what she loves, she may seem merciless. But that is only in the eyes of those who do not understand her (which sometimes includes those whom she loves). She is fertility itself -- yet her fecundity, which appears unbounded, is not blind or aimless; it has an overall balance, a symphonic richness, which tunnel vision cannot perceive. It is that overall balance which determines her actions; ephemeral standards of morality or equity, believed eternal by those who hold them, mean nothing to her." (ibid)
The Mother assumes her role at Beltane, when she weds the Horned God with whom she has dallied as the Maiden since Oestara. As all-mother, she then reigns with her consort the God-King over the year’s planting, growing, and harvesting. Her impregnation by him at Oestara is brought to fruition at Yule when she delivers the young Horned God who will replace his sacrificed father. After giving birth to the Horned God, the Mother enters a time of retreat and transformation in the underworld as the Crone.
The Mother is symbolized by the Shiela-na-gig, the bas-relief sculpture found over the doors of many early holy buildings in Celtic Britain. This sculpture shows a woman squatting to display her vulva, as a symbol of fertility, of sexuality, and (most importantly) of power. Her candle color is red, for passion and for the sacred loop of a fertile woman’s menses.
The Crone is the old, wise Goddess; we use the name Cerridwen, from Welsh mythology, for her. A human woman in crone aspect, with long nose, warts, and wrinkles, is the image that most mundane people have of witches; she is more often an object of ridicule than of respect. However, in Wicca the Crone is the epitome of wisdom. Women who have reached their crone phase -- that is, have completed menopause -- are looked up to with respect and affection. These are the women whose wisdom enhances us all. We also understand that although their reproductive abilities are over, crone-phase women’s sexuality is by no means finished.
In the words of the Farrars, "She is Wisdom, the Jeweled Hag. She has seen it all; she has compassion for it all, but a compassion undistorted by illusion or sentimentality. Her wisdom is much wider than intellectual knowledge, though it includes intellect and does not despise it. Maid and Mother live within her as stored experience, and she within them as potential. (In this sense, the Three are Nine, for each contains all three, though with her own characteristic emphasis.) When called for, the Crone is baby-sitter for the Mother, and chaperone for the Maid, keeping a shrewd eye on both and maintaining the overall balance. To the male aspect she is a steadying influence, and an enriching one if he listens to her; she adds another dimension to his linear/logical thinking and prevents it getting the bit between its teeth. Like the other two, she is Love, but hers is a calm understanding love, complementing the heady love of the Maid and the incandescent love of the Mother. She too can seem terrible, because she is the gateway to Death. But she is also the Psychopompos who guides us through it, pointing the way to the new life where she will again be all Three." (ibid)
Having delivered her child, the young Horned God, at Yule, the Mother moves into her Crone phase. At the winter solstice, she retires from the earth to rest in quiet solitude, like the earth itself. Just as the apple, bearing her pentacle within its fruit, cannot grow in spring without the dormant time of winter, so the Goddess needs this time as the Crone to rebuild herself from her life during the past year and to prepare to re-emerge once again at Imbolc as the Maiden.
The Crone is symbolized by the cauldron of rebirth that she tends in the underworld, through which we all must pass and be cleansed before our rebirth into a new life. Her candle color is dark blue, for darkness, quiet, and repose. (Most other traditions use black for the Crone; but black symbolizes death, and Wicca sees the Goddess as cycling from Crone to Maiden after her period of rest, just as the earth cycles from winter to spring.)
The three aspects of the God are the young Horned God, the mature God-King, and the aging Sacrificed God. Seeing the God in three aspects is less common in Wicca than seeing the triple Goddess, but we feel that the lessons to be learned from him fall into three categories, just as much as the Goddess’s lessons fall into three parts. An important difference, though, is that where the Goddess repeatedly cycles among her three aspects, the God is born, matures, and dies each year, to be born anew the next year.
The Horned God
The Horned God is the God as he first manifests: untamed, lusty, and free. We call him Pan, from Greek mythology. He has also been called Cernunnos (Latin for "the horned one" -- a name used by Gardnerian Wicca) and Hearne (a Celtic form of Cernunnos). Young men in their horned/y phase are an ever-brewing pot of hormones, needs, ambitions, and unpredictability. The wisdom of this phase is that these young men are doing what their natures push them towards, and that they will move on to the phase of full maturity -- when the time is right to do so. In the meantime, though, their energy and drive provide much of the force that moves humanity into the future, and into renewing our population.
The Horned God is born at Yule, which is the time for the incarnation of Divinity in the sacred stories of many religions, including Christianity and Mithraism. He spends his infancy, from Yule until Imbolc, in the underworld, where the spirits care for and teach him. At Imbolc, he follows the Maiden up into the world, and takes up his untamed life in the wood. He meets and first couples with the Maiden at Oestara, and the two have a passionate love affair from then until Beltane, when they wed and he becomes the God-King.
The Christians have slammed the image of the Horned God especially hard. Because he is the image universally used in the "old religion," he is the image the Christians have chosen to transform into their god’s chief opponent, Satan. In the burning times, when Pagans admitted worshipping the Horned God, the inquisitors converted that phrase into "the devil" on the confession sheets, thus "proving" that witches were devil-worshippers. Recapturing the concept -- and the image -- of the Horned God from the hell to which he has been consigned is one of the hardest things that a new witch must do in his or her first months in Wicca. But once we understand the Horned God as he was originally imaged by his worshippers, the lessons that he has to teach about being human are always worthwhile.
The Horned God is symbolized by the erect phallus and the stag’s horns, both being symbols of physical virility and sexual potency. (With our Divinities, as with humans, men reach their sexual peaks in youth, but women in middle age.) His candle color is green, for the green forests in which he lives, and for the "green man" honored by the Celts as the young Horned God.
The God-King is the God in his full maturity and power; we use for him the name Lugh, from the Irish Celtic tradition. Lugh was the leader of the Tuatha Dé Dannan (children of Dana), and defeated Balor, the God-King of the Fomors, to become the chief god of the Irish pantheon. Some of his titles are "of the many arts" and "of the long hand." The God-King represents men at the height of their strength, power, and ability; he is a constant reminder, hough, that strength, power, and ability must be tempered ith love, compassion, and respect for all people -- men and women, weak and strong.
He has matured from his early life, when he was free of responsibilities and cares. His marriage at Beltane to the Mother has transformed him into the God-King, the lord of growth and harvest. At Litha (midsummer), he presides over the height of the growing season, and the height of both his and the Mother Goddess’s power. At Lughnasadh (the feast of Lugh), also called Lammas, he and the Mother celebrate the first harvests and the promise that the people will have enough to survive the winter. However, by Mabon (the fall equinox), the efforts he has expended during the growing season have weakened him enough that he transforms into the aging Sacrificed God.
The God-King is symbolized by the staff, which is both a weapon of defense and a symbol of royal power. His candle color is gold, for royalty.
The Sacrificed God
The Sacrificed God who gives himself for the fertility of the Earth and her people we name Baal, from Caananite mythology. Baal, Tammuz, Osiris, and of course Jesus, all self-sacrificing gods of middle eastern cultures, were carried into northern and western Europe, where the idea of the god who dies for the people took firm root. In many Pagan traditions, notably the Celtic, the earthly king, the consort to the queen, served in his office only as long as he was physically able to do the job. Some tribes had yearly contests at which the king had to defend his title against challengers; some rotated the king out after a period of time (usually seven or nine years); and some simply replaced him when he began showing signs of aging.
In all these cases the aging king, like the aging god, sacrificed himself at the end of his reign, either ritually or actually. ("As above, so below" is a common Wiccan saying, and applies especially here.) Ritual sacrifices were usually something like the Gaia tradition’s Mabon rite of preparing a man-shaped loaf of bread, putting it into a wicker basket -- also man-shaped -- then baking it on an open fire and sharing it among the members of the coven. Actual sacrifices sometimes used the real king and a real "wicker man" to contain him while he was burned to death; or sometimes a substitute was chosen to die for the king. These royal sacrifices continued well into historical times: for example, the death in 1100 William Rufus, the son and successor of William the Conqueror looks very much like a self-sacrifice. (Rufus was killed by an arrow, not by burning; but he knew about, and was prepared to meet, his death before he left for the hunt on that Lughnasadh morning.)
Once the Mabon transformation is complete, the God knows that he is too weak to continue to serve as God-King. He "retires," becoming the Sacrificed God, and begins preparing himself to give his life for the land and the people, so that both may have success the following year. At Samhain he completes his sacrifice, dying for his people and trusting the Mother to rule the world alone until her retreat begins at Yule.
The Sacrificed God is symbolized by the white-handled dagger that we use for cutting, in remembrance of his sometimes violent self-sacrifice. His candle color is black, for sacrifice and death.
Candles are used to represent the God and Goddess in their three aspects, primarily in the color of the candles on the altar to represent the aspect in which the Divine ones are presented at the current time of the year. Colors are also used to represent the directions and the elements associated with them. The table below shows our use of the colors:
As you can see, an effort has been made to make sure that no color is used to represent more than one thing in the table. Fire, for example, is orange here, so that red represents only the Mother Goddess. (Of course, if a candle isn’t available in a specific color at some time, we use whatever color can be found - such as red for fire.) Another difference is that we use black for the Sacrificed God, rather than the Crone Goddess, because the wheel of the year shows the God as dying each year, whereas the Goddess just retreats, to re-emerge transformed at Imbolc.
I decided to add this article even if it is a little outdated. I have worked with God and Goddess concept for so long that no matter where my journey takes me, it is my pagan roots that I come home to for understanding. I am an Eclectic Witch, not wiccan and a shaman of the Tethatu tradition. I am heading into my Crone stage of life. I have accepted my aches, pains and frustrating symptoms that occur at the worst possible times. I have no mother here to ask questions because mine is gone and all relatives other than my young children live very far away. I learn from asking others, reading and asking the spirits, primarily the female ones. Even with my own studying efforts and practice sometimes I need comforting words from women who have already been there. For me this phase of my life is like a rebirth and broadening of perceptions and more. I have been receiving signs and visions that tell many things including this upcoming change. I look forward to it as I have been in my maidenhood since a young young age of 7. I am looking foward to being finsihed this part and moving past the hot/cold flashes. I wore tshirts almost all winter this year.