Triple deity

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A triple deity (sometimes referred to as threefold, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune or triadic, or as a trinity) is a deity associated with the number three. Such deities are common throughout world mythology; the number three has a long history of mythical associations. Carl Jung considered the arrangement of deities into triplets an archetype in the history of religion.[1]

Triple goddesses

The Greek goddess Hecate portrayed in triplicate.

In religious iconography or mythological art,[2] three separate beings may represent either a triad who always appear as a group (Greek Moirai, Charites, Erinnyes; Norse Norns; or the Irish Morrígna) or a single deity known from literary sources as having three aspects (Greek Hecate, Diana Nemorensis).[3] In the case of the Irish Brigid it can be ambiguous whether she is a single goddess or three sisters, all named Brigid.[4] The Morrígan also appears sometimes as one being, and at other times as three sisters,[5][6][7][8] as do the three Irish goddesses of sovereignty, Ériu, Fódla and Banba.[9]

Arabian and Nabataean
- al-Lat Al-Uzza Manat
Mother goddess Hebe (the Maiden) Hera (the Mother) Hecate (the Crone)
Kore (the Maiden) Demeter (the Mother)
Moon goddess Artemis (the Maiden) Selene (the Mother)
Hera Pais (child) Teleia (wife) Chera (widow)
Hecate Selene (the Moon in heaven) Artemis (the Huntress on earth) Persephone (the Destroyer in the underworld)
Aphrodite Aphrodite Urania (Aphrodite of the heaven) Aphrodite Pontia (Aphrodite of the sea)[10][11] Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite for all the people)
Moirai Clotho (spinner) Lachesis (allotter) Atropos (unturnable)
Charites Aglaea (Splendor) Euphrosyne (Mirth) Thalia (Good Cheer)
Pasithea (hallucination) Cale (beauty) Euphrosyne (Mirth)
Erinnyes Alecto (untameable) Megaera (grudging) Tisiphone (vengeful destruction)
Harpies Aello (storm swift) Ocypete (the swift wing) Celaeno (the dark)
Horae Thallo (flora) Auxo (growth) Carpo (fruit)
Eunomia (order) Dikē (justice) Eirene (peace)
Pherusa (substance) Euporia (abondance) Orthosia (prosperity)
Gorgons Stheno (forceful) Euryale (far-roaming) Medusa (guardian)
Graeae Deino (dread) Enyo (horror) Pemphredo (alarm)
Thriae Melaina (the black) Cleodora (famous gift) Daphnis (laurel)
Muses Aoidē (song) Meletē (practice) Mnēmē (memory)
Sirens Parthenope (Maiden Voice) Ligeia (Clear-Toned) Leucosia (White-Substance)
Heliades Aegiale (gleam) Aegle (shining) Aetheria (clear-sky)
Lampetia (shining) Phaethusa (radiance) Phoebe (bright)
Hesperides Aegle (dazzling-light) Erytheia (the red one) Hesperethusa (sunset-glow)
Nymphai Hyperboreioi Hecaerge (striking) Loxo (slanting) Oupis (sighting)
Oenotropae Spermo (grain) Oeno or Oino (wine) Elais (oil)
Moon goddess Luna in heaven Diana on earth Proserpina in hell
Phoebe (moonlight) Diana (chastity) Hecate or Proserpine (witchcraft)
Supreme goddess Juventas (the Maiden) Juno (the Mother) Minerva (the Wise)
Fates Nona (the Spinner) Decima (the Weaver) Morta (the Cutter)
Egyptian and Canaanite
Triple goddess stone Qetesh Astarte Anat
Lion-headed goddess Hathor or Mafdet Bast Sekhmet
- Hathor (Birth) Nephthys (Death) Isis (Rebirth)
Tridevi Parvati (Power) Lakshmi (Wealth) Saraswati (Knowledge)
Devi Shakti gentle aspect: Parvati (the Creator) ferocious aspect: Durga (the Preserver) angry aspect: Kali (the Destroyer)
Sovereignty Ériu Fódla Banba
The Morrígna Badb Macha Anand, aka Morrígu[12]
- Inanna Ishtar Astarte
Norns Urðr (past) Verðandi (present) Skuld (future)
Mother goddess Freyja Frigg Skaði
Terracotta relief of the Matres, from Bibracte, city of the Aedui in Gaul.

The Matres or Matronae are usually represented as a group of three but sometimes with as many as 27 (3 × 3 × 3) inscriptions. They were associated with motherhood and fertility. Inscriptions to these deities have been found in Gaul, Spain, Italy, the Rhineland and Britain, as their worship was carried by Roman soldiery dating from the mid 1st century to the 3rd century AD.[13] Miranda Green observes that "triplism" reflects a way of "expressing the divine rather than presentation of specific god-types. Triads or triple beings are ubiquitous in the Welsh and Irish mythic imagery" (she gives examples including the Irish battle-furies, Macha, and Brigit). "The religious iconographic repertoire of Gaul and Britain during the Roman period includes a wide range of triple forms: the most common triadic depiction is that of the triple mother goddess" (she lists numerous examples).[14]

Peter H. Goodrich interprets the literary figure of Morgan le Fay as a manifestation of a British triple goddess in the medieval romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.[15] A modern idea of a Triple Goddess is central to the new religious movement of Wicca.

Indo-European theory

Georges Dumézil proposed that ancient Indo-European society followed a tripartite model involving three classes - Priest, Warrior and Peasant. Triadic forms are characteristic of Indo-European conceptual structures.[16] The religious life of this society, according to Dumézil, included three main gods which represented each of these three classes.[17] Dumézil understood this mythology as reflecting and validating social structures in its content: such a tripartite class system is found in ancient Indian, Iranian, Greek and Celtic texts. In 1970 Dumézil proposed that some goddesses represented these three qualities as different aspects or epithets and identified examples in his interpretation of various deities including the Iranian Anāhitā, the Vedic Sarasvatī and the Roman Juno.[18]

Petreska Vesna posits that myths including trinities of female mythical beings from Central and Eastern European cultures may be evidence for an Indo-European belief in trimutive female "spinners" of destiny.[19] But according to the linguist M. L. West, various female deities and mythological figures in Europe show the influence of pre-Indo-European goddess-worship, and triple female fate divinities, typically "spinners" of destiny, are attested all over Europe and in Bronze Age Anatolia.[20]

Classical antiquity

At her sacred grove at Aricia, on the shores of Lake Nemi a triplefold Diana was venerated from the late sixth century BC as Diana Nemorensis. Andreas Alföldi interpreted a late Republican numismatic image as the Latin Diana "conceived as a threefold unity of the divine huntress, the Moon goddess and the goddess of the nether world, Hekate".[21] This coin shows that the triple goddess cult image still stood in the lucus of Nemi in 43 BC. The Lake of Nemi was Triviae lacus for Virgil (Aeneid 7.516), while Horace called Diana montium custos nemoremque virgo ("keeper of the mountains and virgin of Nemi") and diva triformis ("three-form goddess").[22] Diana is commonly addressed as Trivia by Virgil[23] and Catullus.[24]

Greek magical papyri

Spells and hymns in Greek magical papyri refer to the goddess (called Hecate, Persephone, and Selene, among other names) as "triple-sounding, triple-headed, triple-voiced..., triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked". In one hymn, for instance, the "Three-faced Selene" is simultaneously identified as the three Charites, the three Moirai, and the three Erinyes; she is further addressed by the titles of several goddesses.[25] Translation editor Hans Dieter Betz notes: "The goddess Hekate, identical with Persephone, Selene, Artemis, and the old Babylonian goddess Ereschigal, is one of the deities most often invoked in the papyri."[26]

19th century classical scholarship

E. Cobham Brewer's 1894 Dictionary of Phrase & Fable contained the entry, "Hecate: A triple deity, called Phoebe or the Moon in heaven, Diana on the earth, and Hecate or Proserpine in hell," and noted that "Chinese have the triple goddess Pussa".[27] The Roman poet Ovid, through the character of the Greek woman Medea, refers to Hecate as "the triple Goddess";[28] the earlier Greek poet Hesiod represents her as a threefold goddess, with a share in earth, sea, and starry heavens.[29] Hecate was depicted variously as a single womanly form; as three women back-to-back; as a three-headed woman, sometimes with the heads of animals; or as three upper bodies of women springing from a single lower body ("we see three heads and shoulders and six hands, but the lower part of her body is single, and closely resembles that of the Ephesian Artemis"[30]).

Classical triple goddesses in literature

The trinity of Asia, Panthea ("All-Goddess") and the Nereid Ione have been seen to be contrasted ironically with the triad of the Furies in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound making a careful separation between the Jungian figures of the Terrible and Good Mother.[31]

Finno-Ugric triads

In the mythology of the Sámi, a triad of goddesses are responsible for childbirth and protecting children. Sáhráhkka, who lives in the fireplace, is responsible for pregnancy and the particular protector of girls. Juksáhkká, who lives in the area of the back doors, is responsible for turning some children into boys while they are in the womb (there was a belief that all children are female at the outset). Uksáhkká guards the main doors, and is responsible for protecting all young children.[32][33]


A pagan god was worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia and Nabataea with a family of deities around him among which was a triad of goddesses called "the three daughters of God": al-Lat ("Mother Goddess of prosperity") Al-Uzza ("Mighty one") the youngest, and Manat ("Fate") "the third, the other".[34][35] They were known collectively as the three cranes.[35] The name al-Lat is known from the time of the histories of Herodotus in which she is named Alilat.[36][37]

Triple goddess stone

Qetesh on the Triple Goddess Stone

Qudshu-Astarte-Anat is a representation of a single goddess who is a combination of three goddesses: Qetesh (Athirat "Asherah"), Astarte, and Anat. It was a common practice for Canaanites and Egyptians to merge different deities through a process of synchronization, thereby, turning them into one single entity. This "Triple Goddess Stone", once owned by Winchester College, shows the goddess Qetesh with the inscription "Qudshu-Astarte-Anat", showing their association as being one goddess, and Qetesh (Qudshu) in place of Athirat.

Religious scholar Saul M. Olyan (author of Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel), calls the representation on the Qudshu-Astarte-Anat plaque "a triple-fusion hypostasis", and considers Qudshu to be an epithet of Athirat by a process of elimination, for Astarte and Anat appear after Qudshu in the inscription.[38][39]

Three-headed deities

  • In Hindu mythology, Trisiras and Dattatreya are explicitly tricephalous deities, but other instances of three-headedness are also found in Hindu iconography, for example in depictions of goddess Durga.
  • The smaller Gallehus horn has a three-headed figure, holding an axe in its right hand and a rope tethered to the leg of a horned animal in the left.
  • In Slavic mythology, the god Triglav, (literally meaning "three-heads") is a three-headed man, sometimes depicted with three goat heads. He is depicted as representation of three major Slavic gods that vary from one Slavic tribe to another that serve as the representatives of the Slavic realms. Triglav is usually described as a fusion of these gods.
  • The hound Cerberus in Greek mythology is often depicted with three heads.
  • Geryon has been depicted as three-headed on the Herculean Sarcophagus of Genzano currently held at the British Museum.[40]

List of triple deities

This part of a 12th-century Swedish tapestry has been interpreted to show, from left to right, the one-eyed Odin, the hammer-wielding Thor and Freyr holding up an ear of corn.[41]

Historical polytheism

Eastern religions

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva seated on lotuses with their consorts: Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Paravati respectively. ca 1770.


Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism believe in God as the Trinity, comprising the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, they do not regard it as tritheism, which they consider to be heresy.

The Gnostic text Trimorphic Protennoia presents a threefold discourse of the three forms of Divine Thought: The Father, The Son, and The Mother(Sophia).[53]

New religious movements

In fiction

The Golden Goddesses of the Legend of Zelda video game series are a triad of Din, Nayru, and Farore. They are credited with the creation of Hyrule and the Triforce within the game's mythology.

List of other triads

Triples in legendary beings:

See also


  1. "Triads of gods appear very early, at the primitive level. The archaic triads in the religions of antiquity and of the East are too numerous to be mentioned here. Arrangement in triads is an archetype in the history of religion, which in all probability formed the basis of the Christian Trinity." C. G. Jung. A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity.
  2. For a summary of the analogous problem of representing the trinity in Christian art, see Clara Erskine Clement's dated but useful Handbook of Legendary and Mythological Art (Boston, 1900), p. 12.
  3. Virgil addresses Hecate as tergemina Hecate, tria virginis, ora Dianae (Aeneid, 4.511).
  4. Miranda Green, The Celtic World (Routledge, 1996), p. 481; Hilary Robinson, "Becoming Women: Irigaray, Ireland and Visual Representation," in Art, Nation and Gender: Ethnic Landscapes, Myths and Mother-figures (Ashgate, 2003), p. 116.
  5. Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. O hOgain, Daithi (1991). Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition. Oxford: Prentice Hall Press. pp. 307–309. ISBN 0-13-275959-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Davidson, Hilda Ellis (1988). Myths and symbols in pagan Europe: early Scandinavian and Celtic religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. p. 97. ISBN 0-8156-2441-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 335–336. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Ériu [1], Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia,14 April 2011
  10. Otto Seemann (1884). The Mythology of Greece and Rome. p. 65.
  11. Sarah Amelia Scull (1880). Greek Mythology Systematized. p. 284.
  12. Lebor Gabála Érenn §62, 64: "Badb and Macha and Anand... were the three daughters of Ernmas the she-farmer." "Badb and Morrigu, whose name was Anand."
  13. Takacs, Sarolta A. (2008) Vestal Virgins, Sybils, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion. University of Texas Press. pp. 118–121.
  14. Green, Miranda. "Back to the Future: Resonances of the Past", pp.56-57, in Gazin-Schwartz, Amy, and Holtorf, Cornelius (1999). Archaeology and Folklore. Routledge.
  15. Peter H. Goodrich, "Ritual Sacrifice and the Pre-Christian Subtext of Gawain's Green Girdle," in Sir Gawain and the Classical Tradition (McFarland, 2006), pp. 74–75
  16. William Hansen, Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans (Oxford University Press US, 2005), p. 306_308 online.
  17. The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy p. 562
  18. (Nāsstrōm, Britt-Mari (1999) "Freyja — The Trivalent Goddess" in Sand, Erik Reenberg & Sørensen, Jørgen Podemann (eds.) Comparative Studies in History of Religions: Their Aim, Scope and Validity. Museum Tusculanum Press. pp. 62-4.)
  19. Petreska, Vesna (2005) "Demons of Fate in Macedonian Folk Beliefs" in Gábor Klaniczay & Éva Pócs (eds.) Christian Demonology and Popular Mythology. Central European Press. p. 225.
  20. West, M. L. (2007) Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford University Press. pp. 140-1, 379-385.
  21. Alföldi, "Diana Nemorensis", American Journal of Archaeology (1960:137-44) p 141.
  22. Horace, Carmina 3.22.1.
  23. Aeneid 6.35, 10.537.
  24. Carmina 34.14 tu potens Trivia...
  25. Betz, Hans Dieter (ed.) (1989). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation : Including the Demotic Spells : Texts. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-04447-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> PGM IV. 2785-2890 on pp.90-91.
    "Triple" assertions also occur in PGM IV. 1390-1495 on p.65, PGM IV. 2441-2621 on pp.84-86, and PGM IV. 2708-84 on p.89.
  26. Betz, Hans Dieter (ed.) (1989). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation : Including the Demotic Spells : Texts. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-04447-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. pp. 593 and 1246, respectively.
  28. Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 7, tr. John Dryden, et al (1717). Accessed 2009-09-23.

    Hecate will never join in that offence:
    Unjust is the request you make, and I
    In kindness your petition shall deny;
    Yet she that grants not what you do implore,
    Shall yet essay to give her Jason more;
    Find means t' encrease the stock of Aeson's years,
    Without retrenchment of your life's arrears;
    Provided that the triple Goddess join
    A strong confed'rate in my bold design.

  29. Eliade, Mircea (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion (1987 edition), "Hekate" entry, vol.6, p.251.
  30. Farnell, Lewis Richard (1896). Chapter 19, "Hekate: Representations in Art", in The Cults of the Greek States, volume 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.557.
  31. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, Shelley's Goddess: Maternity, Language, Subjectivity (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 174 online.
  32. Gods, spirits and other beings, Samisk tro og mytologi
  33. How children were created, Samisk tro og mytologi
  34. Khalīl, Shawqī Abū (2003) Atlas of the Qurʼān: Places, Nations, Landmarks. Darussalam Press. pp. 196-7.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Hawting, Gerald R. (1999) The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 130-2.
  36. Herodotus Histories 1.131; 3.8.
  37. Healey, John F. (2001) The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 112.
  38. The Ugaritic Baal cycle: Volume 2 by Mark S. Smith - Page 295
  39. The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts by Mark S. Smith - Page 237
  40. Signes gravés sur les églises de l'Eure et du Calvados by Asger Jorn, Volume II of the Bibliotehéque Alexandrie, published by the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism, 1964, p198
  41. Leiren, Terje I. (1999). From Pagan to Christian: The Story in the 12th-Century Tapestry of the Skog Church.
  42. Chambers's Encyclopedia Volume 1
  43. "The Biblical Astronomy of the Birth of Moses". Retrieved 2013-02-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. The twelve gods of Greece and Rome, Charlotte R. Long, p. 11
  45. Religion in Hellenistic Athens Por Jon D. Mikalson, p. 210
  46. The twelve gods of Greece and Rome Por Charlotte R. Long, p. 11
  47. The golden chain: an anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, Algis Uždavinys, 274
  48. The Mythological Trinity or Triad Osiris, Horus and Isis, Wikicommons
  49. Manfred Lurker, Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998, p. 214f.
  50. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 6. Fiction - Hyksos. Part 2. God - Heraclitus, James Hastings, John A. Selbie and others (Ed.s), p. 381
  51. Os Principais Deuses e Deusas da Lusitânia - Panteão Lusitano,
  53. [2]

Additional sources

  • Jung, C. G. A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, as quoted by Brabazon.
  • Brabazon, Michael. Carl Jung and the Trinitarian Self, Quodlibet Journal: Volume 4 Number 2-3, Summer 2002. File retrieved Sept. 19, 2008.