Religion Wiki

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.[1]

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, and so on); or
  • triplicate-associated ("relating to three corresponding instances"): a being in association with a trio of things of the same nature which are symbolic or through which power is wielded (three magic birds, etc.)[dubious ]

The list below does not include literary triple characters (such as Shakespeare's three witches in Macbeth).

Triple goddesses

The Greek goddess Hekate portrayed in triplicate.

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,[2] 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.[3]) In the case of the Irish Brighid it is ambiguous whether a single being or more are represented.[4] The Morrígan is known by at least three different names.[5] Ériu, Fotla and Banba, the goddesses of Irish sovereignty, are three sisters.[6]

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 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.[7] 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).[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] The religious life of this society, according to Dumézil, included three main gods which represented each of these three classes.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Classical Antiquity

At her sacred grove at Aricia, on the shores of Lake Nemi a triplefold Diana was venerated from the late sixth century BCE as Diana Nemorensis. "The Latin Diana was conceived as a threefold unity of the divine huntress, the Moon goddess, and the goddess of the nether world, Hekate," Albert Alföldi interpreted the late Republican numismatic image,[15] noting that Diana montium custos nemoremque virgo ("keeper of the mountains and virgin of Nemi") is addressed by Horace as diva triformis ("three-form goddess").[16] Diana is commonly addressed as Trivia by Virgil[17] and Catullus.[18]

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 Moirae, and the three Erinyes; she is further addressed by the titles of several goddesses.[19] 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."[20]

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".[21] The Roman poet Ovid, through the character of the Greek woman Medea, refers to Hecate as "the triple Goddess";[22] the earlier Greek poet Hesiod represents her as a threefold goddess, with a share in earth, sea, and starry heavens.[23] 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"[24]).

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. See: Sami mythology.[25][26]

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.[27]

Arabian folklore

Allah 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 Allah": al-Lat ("the Goddess") Al-Uzza ("Power") the youngest, and Manat ("Fate") "the third, the other".[28][29] They were known collectively as the three cranes.[29] The name al-Lat is known from the time of the histories of Herodotus in which she is named Alilat.[30][31] These goddesses are said to have figured in an early version of the Qur'an - the apocryphal Satanic Verses.[29]

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 Shiva.
  • 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.
  • 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.[32]

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.[33]

Historical polytheism

  • The Classical Greek Olympic triad of Zeus (king of the gods), Athena (goddess of war and intellect) and Apollo (god of the sun, culture and music)[34][35]
  • The Delian chief triad of Leto (mother), Artemis (daughter) and Apollo (son)[36][37] and second Delian triad of Athena, Zeus and Hera[38]
  • The Olympian demiurgic triad in platonic philosophy, made up of Zeus (considered the Zeus [king of the gods] of the Heavens), Poseidon (Zeus of the seas) and Pluto/Hades (Zeus of the underworld), all considered in the end to be a monad and the same Zeus, and the Titanic demiurgic triad of Helios (sun when in the sky), Apollo (sun seen in our world) and Dionysus (god of mysteries, "sun" of the underworld) (see Phaed in Dionysus and the Titans)[39]
  • In ancient Egypt there were many triads, the most famous among them that of Osiris (man), Isis (wife), and Horus (son),[40] local triads like the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu and the Memphite triad of Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem, the sungod Ra, whose form in the morning was Kheper, at noon Re-Horakhty and in the evening Atum, and many others.[41]
  • The Hellenistic Egypt triad of Isis, Alexandrian Serapis and Harpocrates (a Hellenized version of the already referred Isis-Osiris-Horus triad), though in early Ptolomean religion Serapis, Isis and Apollo (who was though sometimes identified with Horus) were preferred[42]
  • The Roman Capitoline Triad of Jupiter (father), Juno (wife), and Minerva (daughter)
  • The Roman pleibian triad of Ceres, Liber Pater and Libera (or its Greek counterpart with Demeter, Dionysos and Kore)
  • The Julian triads of the early Roman Principate:
  • The Matres (Deae Matres/Dea Matrona) in Roman mythology
  • The Fates, Moirae or Furies in Greek and Roman mythology: Clotho or Nona the Spinner, Lachesis or Decima the Weaver, and Atropos or Morta the Cutter of the Threads of Life. One's Lifeline was Spun by Clotho, Woven into the tapestry of Life by Lachesis, and the thread Cut by Atropos.
  • The Hooded Spirits or Genii Cucullati in Gallo-Roman times
  • The main supranational triad of the ancient Lusitanian mythology and religion and Portuguese neo-pagans made up of the couple Arentia and Arentius, Quangeius and Trebaruna, followed by a minor Gallaecian-Lusitanian triad of Bandua (under many natures), Nabia and Reve female nature: Reva[43]
  • The sisters Uksáhkká, Juksáhkká and Sáhráhkká in Sámi mythology.
  • The triad of Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat in the time of Mohammed (Holy Qu'ran (Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation), Surah 53:19-22)
  • Lugus (Esus, Toutatis and Taranis) in Celtic mythology
  • Odin, Vili and Ve in Germanic mythology
  • The Norns in Germanic mythology
  • The Triglav in Slavic mythology
  • Perkūnas (god of heaven), Patrimpas (god of earth) and Pikuolis (god of death) in Prussian mythology
  • The Zorya or Auroras in Slavic mythology
  • The Charites or Graces in Greek mythology
  • The One, the Thought (or Intellect) and the Soul in Neoplatonism

Eastern religions

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

New religious movements

  • The Triple Goddess in Wicca
  • Nuit, Hadit and Ra Hoor Khuit in the Thelemic spiritual system

List of other triads

Triples in legendary beings:

  • The Zoroastrian Magi (the "Three Wise Men" in Christianity)
  • Aži Dahāka (Azhi Dahaka, Dahāg)
  • Balam
  • Balaur
  • Bune (Bime)
  • Cerberus
  • Ettins
  • Geryon
  • The Gorgons and the Sisters Graeae in Greek Mythology
  • Zmey Gorynych

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. Peter Beresford Ellis, The Celts (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004 rev. ed.), pp. 162–164; Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (Routledge, 1995), p. 86.
  6. Ériu [1],Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia,14 April 2011
  7. Takacs, Sarolta A. (2008) Vestal Virgins, Sybils, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion. University of Texas Press. pp. 118–121.
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. William Hansen, Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans (Oxford University Press US, 2005), p. 306_308 online.
  11. The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy p. 562
  12. (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.)
  13. 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.
  14. West, M. L. (2007) Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford University Press. pp. 140-1, 379-385.
  15. Alföldi, "Diana Nemorensis", American Journal of Archaeology (1960:137-44) p 141; Alföldi's numismatic evidence shows that the triple goddess cult image still stood in the lucus of Nemi in 43 BCE; the Lake of Nemi was Triviae lacus for Virgil (Aeneid 7.516).
  16. Horace, Carmina 3.22.1.
  17. Aeneid 6.35, 10.537.
  18. Carmina 35.14 tu potens Trivia...
  19. Betz, Hans Dieter (ed.) (1989). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation : Including the Demotic Spells : Texts. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226044477.  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.
  20. Betz, Hans Dieter (ed.) (1989). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation : Including the Demotic Spells : Texts. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226044477. 
  21. pp. 593 and 1246, respectively.
  22. 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.

  23. Eliade, Mircea (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion (1987 edition), "Hekate" entry, vol.6, p.251.
  24. Farnell, Lewis Richard (1896). Chapter 19, "Hekate: Representations in Art", in The Cults of the Greek States, volume 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.557.
  25. Gods, spirits and other beings, Samisk tro og mytologi
  26. How children were created, Samisk tro og mytologi
  27. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, Shelley's Goddess: Maternity, Language, Subjectivity (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 174 online.
  28. Khalīl, Shawqī Abū (2003) Atlas of the Qurʼān: Places, Nations, Landmarks. Darussalam Press. pp. 196-7.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Hawting, Gerald R. (1999) The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 130-2.
  30. Herodotus Histories 1.131; 3.8.
  31. Healey, John F. (2001) The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 112.
  32. 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
  33. Leiren, Terje I. (1999). From Pagan to Christian: The Story in the 12th-Century Tapestry of the Skog Church.
  34. Chambers's Encyclopedia Volume 1
  35. The Biblical Astronomy of the Birth of Moses
  36. The twelve gods of Greece and Rome, Charlotte R. Long, p. 11
  37. Religion in Hellenistic Athens Por Jon D. Mikalson, p. 210
  38. The twelve gods of Greece and Rome Por Charlotte R. Long, p. 11
  39. The golden chain: an anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, Algis Uždavinys, 274
  40. The Mythological Trinity or Triad Osiris, Horus and Isis, Wikicommons
  41. Manfred Lurker, Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998, p. 214f.
  42. Encyclop dia of Religion and Ethics. Edited by James Hastings with the Assistance of John A. Selbie and Other Scholars. Volume 6. Fiction - Hyksos. Part 2. God - Heraclitus, p. 381
  43. Os Principais Deuses e Deusas da Lusitânia - Panteão Lusitano,
  • 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.