Triad

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Schist triad sculptures of Menkaure 2.jpg

Origin

Latin triad-, trias, from Greek, from treis three

Definitions

For lessons on the related topic of Triads and Triunities, follow this link.

Description

A triple deity (sometimes referred to as threefold, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune or triadic) 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. C. G. Jung considered the arrangement of deities into triplets an archetype in the history of religion.

The deities and legendary creatures of this nature typically fit into one of the following general categories:

  • triadic ("forming a group of three"): a triad, three entities inter-related in some way (life, death, rebirth, for example, or triplet children of a deity) and always or usually associated with one another or appearing together;
  • triune ("three-in-one, one-in-three"): a being with three aspects or manifestations;
  • tripartite ("of triple parts"): a being with three body parts where there would normally be one (three heads, three pairs of arms;

Triple Goddesses

In the myth and religion of Indo-European cultures, the term "triple goddess" has been used to refer both to goddess triads and to a single feminine deity described as triple in form or aspect. In religious iconography or mythological art, three separate beings may represent either a triad who always appear as a group (Greek Moirae, Charites, Erinnyes and the Norse Norns) or a single deity known from literary sources as having three aspects (Greek Hecate, Diana Nemorensis.) In the case of the Irish Brighid it is ambiguous whether a single being or more are represented. The Morrígan is known by at least three different names.

The Matres or Matronae are usually represented as a group of three but sometimes with as many as 27 (3 x 3 x 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. 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".

Peter H. Goodrich interprets the figure of Morgan le Fay as a manifestation of a British triple goddess in the medieval romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A modern 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. The religious life of this society, according to Dumézil, included three main gods which represented each of these three classes. 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.

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. 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.[1]

See also