THE THREE STAGES OF A WOMAN'S LIFE
Author of Reclaiming Godess Sexuality
Gateways to Changes in Consciousness
Advancements in health have extended the life span to twice what it was one hundred years ago. By the year 2008, postmenopausal women will comprise the largest demographic group in America. The ancient tripartite divisions of Maiden, Mother, and Crone can be even more be meaningful in women’s lives as the Crone stage becomes one third of our lifespan. Each stage of a woman’s life is organized around what Goddess Cultures called the blood mysteries : menarche, (the first monthly flow of blood); childbirth, which is accompanied by blood from birthing; and menopause, when a woman’s “wise blood” remained inside her to give her wisdom. These are still powerful landmarks, which profoundly influence women’s lives. They function as psychological gateways to the change in consciousness required by each new stage.
All women will experience the powerful changes caused by female hormonal shifts. The emotions women feel, the psychological meaning they attach to the events, and transformational experiences of each stage are outgrowths of the physical timing inherent in every woman’s body. Women’s psyches are also profoundly influenced by cultural conditioning
Menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy, childbirth, and perimenopause are such intense internal physical and psychological experiences that they compel women to focus on the internal awareness of the body. This direct experience with powerful internal states develops intuition that is grounded in body wisdom . The connection through the body to the rhythms of the cosmos is the foundation for powerful shifts in consciousness within women.
If these transformations are so natural however, why would I write about them. There are several reasons: Much has been left out in our education and there is sufficient mis-education that women focus on cultural expectations, rather than following their natural progression. The stresses of such expectations and the mixed messages in the media (to appear sexy but to abstain from sexual encounters) compound the negative spin on women’s sexuality that has gone on for over 5,000 years. On the other end of the spectrum, older woman have considerable pressure to maintain their youthful looks or to get out of the game.
The developmental task of the Maiden Stage is discovering individual creative potential. In spiritual terms it can be likened to the Novice preparing to become the Initiate. This can be a wonderful time to learn at all levels: building career skills, experiencing the complexities of relationships of all kinds, preparing for adult responsibilities, and developing a conscious relationship with intuitive body wisdom, that will continue for the remainder of life.
The Maiden Stage today carries the implication of innocence to the term that has been distorted out of proportion. It now implies an untouched sexuality: literally unknowing and unschooled in any way. This evaluation of Maiden innocence is insulting to the many strong, competent, vastly underestimated Maidens in their twenties. These young women are perhaps the first generation, since the Goddess Cultures were eliminated, to explore their potential including their sexuality, and to enjoy the freedom to learn and gain knowledge in a relatively unrestrained atmosphere.
Sexually, this should be a period of exploring pleasure, without the burden of motherhood. This does not mean that the Maiden period should be a time of unlimited sexual activity. There are many lessons to be learned about readiness, self-respect, and appropriate conditions for sexual encounters. However, without the patriarchal concept of the Maiden as personal property, she is free to discover for herself, with wise guidance, her path to sexual pleasure and her unique appropriate limits.
Today, although there is no formal celebration, there is a transformation of awareness for any Maiden, at the time of her first blood. Most women still report feeling some aspect of shame and embarrassment, even if only at the level of having to cover up the fact that they are bleeding from a very private part of their bodies. Ultimately there is the shadow of the feared and awesome power of conception.
The Maiden Stage does not end with first intercourse, but with pregnancy and the birth of the first child.
The developmental task of the Mother Stage is accepting responsibility . The immense psychological change that accompanies the Mother transition are driven by hormones not available to the biological father. The fierce emotions the Mother feels about ensuring the well being of her baby are intensely personal, as no one else is as important to the baby’s survival. Among the powerful hormones released into the body with birth is prolactin, the nursing hormone, which has impressive properties for fostering the patience and nurturing abilities needed with constant mothering. The shift in consciousness that takes place with first motherhood is the most sudden and powerful of all in life, save the experience of death.
Spiritually, the Mother Stage is a time of the Journey Woman. Giving birth teaches the deeper meaning of surrender, through the experience of overpowering body processes. The responsibility of motherhood is constantly being put to the test, as the Mother learns the lessons of compassion. Whether the consciousness of the Mother dawns suddenly or slowly, it is a most profound shift in consciousness from self, to selfless compassion for another human being. Women in the Goddess Cultures were honored in the Maiden transition and well prepared for this transformation into the Mother Stage. It is my profound hope that we can reclaim these rites of passage as they were meant to be and teach their inherent wisdom to women everywhere.
Mother Stage sexuality accesses new strengths, learned from the experience of childbirth and child nurturing. Surrender (to her body sensations) and compassion are deep spiritual lessons which carry over to her sexuality. The hormones accompanying gestation and lactation strongly influence her sexual self. Her sexuality continues to develop, but with radical changes engendered by the responsibilities of nurturing children. For women who do not give birth, there are many ways to learn and express the lessons of this stage: nurturing others, taking responsibility for those in need, and mothering stepchildren, relatives’ children and animals.
Loss of sexual desire can occur in any stage. In my book, Reclaiming Goddess Sexuality, I address the issues and challenges of the Maiden and Mother stages. However, I would like to pay special attention to the most sexually powerful stage of all, the Crone.
The developmental task of the Crone Stage is sharing wisdom. In Neolithic times, Crone women were the tribal matriarchs. Their heightened awareness of human nature yielded great insight and they were the source of wise counsel for important decisions. Spiritually, this is the Mastery phase. The Wise Woman teaches knowledge gained from her skills and life experience. It is a time of reaching into her spiritual depths, utilizing her powers of intuition, and finding meaning in her visions from the dream world. Some Crone women are masters of healing at the highest level.
The Crone Stage of life, more than any other, is a time of giving back to society the cumulative wisdom of the years. Many women have an urge to speak out, to organize others, to take action. They seem to have the energy to get more involved in the world-at-large. It is often Crone energy that leads to changes being made in society. As the Crone woman moves further into her life path she feels the urge to teach others and to cultivate her passions. It can be the most productive time in women’s lives.
The change from Mother Stage to Crone Stage is a more gradual psychological shift than the one from Maiden to Mother, so dramatically marked by the birth of the first child. The transition begins when a woman notes changes in her cycle. The duration of the perimenopausal period is as much as ten years. The symptoms vary so drastically from one woman to the next that no one, including doctors, can predict the last blood flow. Women cannot wait for total cessation of the menses to begin the shift into Crone consciousness. Women are coming to the end of intensive caretaking duties and the physical symptoms are a message that they must consider their own needs above those of others The symptoms of what is now called perimenopause are the initiation into Cronehood.
The narrow medical interpretation of menopause as an ovarian failure often leads to narrow assumptions about women’s sexuality beyond midlife. So far, women have heard mostly bad news; that their vaginas will become less elastic and dry, their energy will wane and their libidos will disappear. However, the medical paradigm both reflects and perpetuates misunderstanding about post-menopausal sexuality. The assumption is that sexual desire and pleasure inevitably decline as a result of a hormone deficiency. However, according to Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause , approximately 70 to 80 percent of older women do not experience menopause as a problem. She states that the medical profession has never studied a group of women who didn’t get all the diseases of menopause that are supposedly secondary to hormone deficiency. And so the depressing statistics about sexual loss at midlife are negatively skewed.
Sexually, the Crone Stage is potentially powerful one. It is the stage of sexual mastery. The Goddess cultures knew it well. The ancient Tantric tradition was actually founded by female masters who understood the sacred power of sexuality and its relationship to the Divine. Crone women’s continued sexuality in ancient times is one of the mysteries now coming to light. These older women chose to stay sexually active with their aging mates or, if widowed or unattached, they were known to take younger male lovers for pleasure because no one assumed that their sexuality was over.
Menopause is not a disease, but our collective culture has a problem with aging women. Susan Hodgkiss, a sexy woman in her seventies, stages a monologue drama, called “Elements of the Flesh,” relating stories about her and her friends’ sexual experiences. Many who go to listen to her are shocked. “But she’s too old,” they say. Such is the dilemma of older women. They are taught to believe that they have much to lose at menopause because Crone women have less value to men and to the culture. Today, post-menopausal women are rewriting the cultural view of what it means to age. Such women no longer fit the standard view as dried up, but the party line about aging women has not kept up with the reality of the lives of the bulk of women now reaching 50 and beyond.
The good news is that it is possible to find new strengths from the transformation experience of menopause. For many women a free and fiercely assertive sexuality can emerge from the confrontation with their health issues. Today, many Crone women are seeking sexual pleasure more assertively than ever before. Far from eschewing sexuality, vital Crone women embrace it for the first time in their lives as purely for themselves. Crone sexual response is no longer estrogen-dependent as in the Maiden and Mother Stages, nor limited by the cycles of progesterone as with Mother pregnancy and birth. It has all the potential power that comes from the will of the fully conscious, self-reliant, experienced, sexual self-knowing, wise woman. If she chooses, she can use her sexuality to serve a higher purpose by receiving Divine inspiration and connecting to the Source.
Psychological Domains of the Maiden, Mother and Crone
Contemporary women can reconnect with sexual desire by acknowledging themselves as an expression of the Goddess. Part of this re-imaging is internalizing the three aspects of feminine nature. Becoming fully conscious of the three sexual expressions of the Goddess within allows us to choose to express any one or all three simultaneously.
The Maiden within us is the playful child, delighting in the wonder of pleasure and sexual exploration. She is longing to be loved. She is the source of our natural curiosity and sensuality. The psychological readiness to awaken sexual energy and feeling permission “to do what feels good for me” in a safe setting are necessary for the Maiden to come out to play.
The Mother is the loving nurturer, bestowing unconditional acceptance on the beloved, and generating compassionate loving beyond self-gratification. She is the source within us of our capacity to build communion with another in the act of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. The Mother in us takes responsibility for seductive conditions and knows how to surrender to sexual desire.
The Crone is the wise woman within, who can consciously generate healing power. She is the part of us that feels empowered to act on intentional desire, in an honoring setting. She is the wise one who intuitively connects with the spiritual nature of sexual energy. The Crone is the teacher, encouraging us to listen to intuition and recognize divine guidance.
The I AM GODDESS self-awareness integrates the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The value of integrating the three expressions of the Goddess within is to create the ability and the wisdom to express your sexuality most fully.
Linda E. Savage, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and sex therapist who has been exploring the mysteries of sexual healing for over 25 years. Dr. Savage is the author of Reclaiming Goddess Sexuality: The Power of the Feminine Way (Hay House) which presents a view of women’s sexuality that blends the ancient wisdom of the Goddess cultures with current clinical knowledge.
Linda E. Savage, Ph.D.