What is a Triune Deity?

The Triple Goddess or God

In some traditions, the triune goddess represents maiden, mother and crone. Image by Frank Herholdt/Image Bank/Getty Images

Sometimes, you’ll see deities referred to with the word triune here at About Paganism/Wicca. A triune god or goddess is simply a deity with three different but connected aspects. An example of this would be Brighid, the Celtic hearth goddess. In addition to being a goddess of the home and domesticity, she is also a goddess of the smith’s fire and artisanship, and of healing and diving inspiration.

In Brighid’s case, each of these three aspects are still called Brighid.

Some triune deities, however, have three uniquely named aspects that comprise the whole. In Greek legend, although they are individual entities, Artemis and Selene form a triad with Hecate, representative of the maiden, mother and crone. Even Catholicism honors the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost – three different beings altogether, but at the same time, all part of God.

Origin Theories

Not all religions have triple gods and goddesses – it appears to be a concept found in primarily Indo-European belief systems. Scholars believe that this triple-deity system may have evolved from societies which had three distinct classes of people – warriors, priests, and average peasants. This theory was originally proposed by Georges Dumézil, the French comparative philologist and religious studies scholar. Dumézil suggested that social classes in ancient societies were directly reflected in the way they worshiped, and in the types of deities that they honored.

These three classes are associated directly, according to Dumézil, with three aspects of human existence: the martial, the sacred, and the economic.

In modern Pagan religions, the triune deity often makes an appearance in the form of the Maiden, Mother and Crone archetype. This may be due to some influence from Robert Graves and his work The White Goddess, in which he states that ancient peoples all worshiped a triple goddess.

However, much of Graves’ work has been questioned over time, and his scholarship called into doubt. Professor Ronald Hutton has argued that the triple goddess in the Maiden/Mother/Crone format is largely Graves’ invention, rather than a carryover from some ancient and universal pre-Christian belief system.

Historian Will Durant posits the idea that the Egyptians were the ones that originated the triple deity cosmology, and that this was later adopted by other religions, including Christianity. Durant says in The Story of Civilization, "Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it ... from Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity."

Triple Deities in Pagan Religions

There are a number of different triune deities in Pagan religions of the past. Let's look at a few of the best known. Keep in mind that deities and the cultures who honored them were constantly changing over time, so there is no universal list of deities that are always considered triune. Also, there are certainly cultural complexities that have to be looked at when viewing a deity as a triple god or goddess.

The Greek goddess Hecate, who is associated with magic and sorcery, is sometimes split up into three - in some theories, she is considered a conglomeration of the three goddesses Selene, Artemis, and Persephone.

In ancient Egypt, Bast (Bastet) and Sekhmet were sometimes combined with Hathor as three different aspects of the same goddess, often represented with the head of a lion.

Within early Irish folklore, the Morrighan is sometimes seen as a representation of the three figures known as Badb, Macha and Anand or Morrigu.