The Lost Maidens


Hermes helps Persephone to leave the Underworld and return to her mother Demeter. 1891 painting by Frederic Leighton.

By now most people are familiar with the triple pattern of psychic energy in feminine consciousness- mother, maiden, crone- and sometimes between maiden and crone is the enchantress or Queen. But have you ever stopped to consider how these archetypes are expressed in your own life?

In a culture where rites of passage, ritual and initiation are all but fragments of the past and in the case of our own culture practically disappeared from any written records, how do we mark these transitions in our life and what do they even mean?

Recently I have been giving some thought to the maiden archetype- partly this has to do with me becoming a facilitator for rites of passage for girls between the ages of 10 and 12. Of course, engaging with this work inevitably means confronting that part of myself. What was it like for me at that age, how was my maiden met in the world, and depending on that, what have the effects of that transition, or lack of transition, been on my life as a girl, young woman and mature woman?

The task of the maiden is to come to know and express her own essence. It is a stage in life when we make decisions about who we are, what we like, what we want, how we want to participate in the adult world. This is a tricky business because at that age we are also often very concerned with what others think of us, we long to be accepted and to be loved. If we are not accepted and loved for who we are in our essence we may begin to betray our inner wisdom and truth as a trade-off for love and acceptance. This is a time then when the dangers of self- betrayal are all around us – enter the shadow maiden. The shadow maiden loses herself amid what others want and expect from her. On the outside she is complicit in this contract but inside she is seething with rage at this terrible imposition she has allowed to befall her. She has no suitable out-let for her feelings and instead turns them in on herself- she becomes self-destructive.

The maiden carries the seeds of all her potential within her- within her changing body and processes of transformation, but if those seeds are not planted on fertile ground the flowers cannot grow. If the maiden is not met in who she is, is not acknowledged, celebrated and honored by her family, friends and community, it is very difficult for her to provide the positive reflection for herself. It is not impossible but it takes a very strong maiden to accept and celebrate herself when all around she is being given the message that she is wrong.

The task of the maiden is to dream her future into being by seeding projects, setting goals, finding the means, conditions and support to follow through on her plans. She has a light inside of her that needs to shine and be acknowledged by her community as a gift. Sadly, this was not the case for many of us now adult women. What happens at the second stage of feminine initiation- mother- if the first stage was not fulfilled? The shadow maiden becomes the shadow mother. The task of the mother is to actualize the dreams of the maiden, to birth the potential and bring it fully into the world. If we are actual mothers, our job may be to put our own ego desires aside and nurture the ground for the maiden daughter. If we are not biological mothers it may be to sacrifice aspects of our ego life in order to birth who we are truly meant to be in the world. These sacrifices must never be given with bitterness, only love and if the mother has not actualized herself, she will find it very difficult to actualize her daughter, or her own unbirthed maiden.

In moving toward facilitating rites of passage for prepubescent girls into woman-hood I have come face-to-face with my own maiden. In some ways, she has birthed the seeds of her potential but so many seeds were not birthed. My maiden certainly became lost in the mire of relationships and giving away power- that I could have been using for my own becoming- over to others who, I mistakenly thought, were able to give me myself. The shadow maiden or the lost maiden seeks to be mothered and birthed through any number of surrogate mothers, the mother that she never had. She is given to self-destructive tendencies to cope with the gap of what she knows in her soul to be the truth of her being, and the consequences of self- rejection. The shadow maiden never learned to anchor inside of her own being, trusting her own grounding and create healthy boundaries between self and world- she is constantly swallowed and lost in the world of others, seeking their approval, always trying to belong. What the shadow maiden needs to realise is that she is the only one who can gift herself that approval and belonging.

Many of us missed the full actualization of the maiden stage and have limped on through life, half realized, half subsumed by psychic forces that while remaining unrealized are often destructive. It is not too late- there is hope! While the maiden/mother/ crone -the triple goddess journey does correlate to linear and biological times of life, on another level it exists outside of time and space- it is a journey of the soul. As women we may be competent, or semi competent, mothers either for our biological children or soul seeds waiting to be birthed, but if any part of our inner maiden remains unacknowledged or outcast we will can never become fully actualized.

As women we can still acknowledge and realize our maiden. We can do this in rites of passage, ceremony, ritual… we can celebrate her in witnessing and giving space for what is yet unrealized in her. What seeds lay in the dark fertile ground of her being just waiting for the tenderness of heart and the soft rays of sunshine, so that they can flower?

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