What exactly is the Third Act?
Is it the end? Or is it the culmination of the story of your life? Or even a reinterpretation of the story you’ve written so far?
It could be all those things and more.
In terms of theater and the moving forward of a story, you could think of your life as a play.
The First Act
In the theater and in modern screenplays the First Act introduces to us the characters in the play. You come to know the characters and what is important to them, what their values are and why they are the way they are. The main character, especially, is introduced and explained. You come to know and understand the character, and perhaps love her.
The Second Act
In the second act the main character has problems she must overcome. She has conflict with other characters and must fight battles in order to come out on top. These problems and conflicts are very important to her and to those she is in relationship with, but no solution seems in sight.
The Third Act
In the third act, the main character resolves the main problem, at least. She may resolve it in many ways, some successful and some not, but resolution must come, which brings the story to its conclusion.
This is one, very simple, way of looking at your life.
It’s a very simple story, really. Hardly adequate to describe the rich, full complex life you live. Yet, in the simplicity, there is some truth, and it works well, as far as it goes. It is very linear : Beginning, Middle, End. Most people look at time and life in a linear way: you’re born, you live, you eventually die. Your life is a story you create and take on. We tell ourselves many stories, and we come to believe stories that others tell us about ourselves.
But there’s another way to look at your life.
The Triple Goddess
In many early religions (pantheistic, pre-Christian) female deities were prominent figures. Sometimes goddesses were included as equals to male gods, as in Greek culture. Sometimes The Goddess was primary, as in early agricultural societies (Egypt, Mesopotamia), where she represented fertility and reproduction. Whether crops were bountiful and animals healthy and flourished depended on her favor. In Wiccan and Neopagan religions The Goddess was depicted in 3 forms, but it was understood that all three were representations of The Goddess.
The Maiden, the Mother and the Crone
Most of my understanding of the Goddess image and the different forms she assumed in ancient religions comes from the work of Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD. Shinoda Bolen is a Jungian psychoanalyst who has written several books on goddess archetypes as they represent and are expressed in women’s lives. I am indebted to her research into the nature and history of female deities in ancient cultures. She has a deep understanding of the complex nature of goddess archetypes, and how they can reflect and encapsulate a woman’s life. What I present here is a very simplified summary of Shinoda Bolen’s work.
The Goddess, as represented in some ancient cultures, had three parts that can be thought of as metaphors for the three phases in a woman’s life.
- In your early years you sample life – anything is possible, and the inner impulse is to try and to do everything. You have no commitments and few responsibilities. This is the Maiden phase.
- At some point you commit to something. It could be a marriage and children, or a career or vocation. The majority of your effort now is poured into that person or commitment, with all the joy and pain that accompanies it. If you have children, this is the Mother phase, but it can also be referred to as the Matron phase. Energy is poured outward as you actively engage with the world.
- In the third phase commitments are coming to an end – children are grown and often moving away from home entirely. You may begin thinking about retirement in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, menopause brings with it hormonal and physiological changes that are difficult to ignore. Even if you still have children in school and work commitments, the changes you experience necessitate a shift in focus. Your concerns and energy shift inward. You have entered the Crone phase of life.
Contemporary culture abhors the term crone. A crone is thought of as a twisted, witch-like character, old, wrinkled and ugly. There’s nothing sexy about that image!
In youth-obsessed contemporary culture young women in the Maiden phase are regarded as the ideal in beauty. Mothers and matrons can be considered beautiful if they exemplify the traits associated with maidens: if they’re slim, with few wrinkles and glowing skin.
It’s only recently that older women with real bodies and real faces have begun to be regarded as the beautiful women they are. But the term crone still hasn’t caught on.
The alternate term, wisewoman seems more dignified and complimentary, but I rather like crone. Shinoda Bolen likes the term “green and juicy crone.” What a contrast in terms! Rather than the image of a dried up old woman (what you often associate with the word crone) she presents the image of a mature tree that has borne ripe fruit. This crone can nurture new possibilities in herself and in others because she has grown and been tempered by life. She has depth and understanding and the awareness of herself and of others – IF she has spent time looking inward.
After all, wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age.
You have to work at it, do a lot of inner exploration and practice different ways of being in the world. You could spend the entire third act of your life becoming wise. And figuring out what wisdom really is for you.
Or you could spend it as you have the previous two phases.
- Maybe not ‘getting it.’
- Embracing a story for your life you may not have chosen for yourself.
- Catering to the needs of others without examining what you need in order to become who you want to be.
Are you becoming wise?
What do you think of the image of a crone? What does she look like to you?
Do you like being a crone? Do you prefer the alternate term ‘wisewoman?” Why?
Next time we’ll explore the Crone image.
Who is she?
What traits does she exemplify?
Do you want to embrace her or turn your head away?
Ready to dig deeper? Tell me what you think!
Until next time,