Last week, I had to create a press release for one of my favorite books for my Book Promotion class. I chose The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho which is not only my favorite book by him, but one of my favorite books period. While I was looking up some information to add, I came across a passage from the book that described the four archetypes of women:
“The Virgin (and I’m not speaking here of a sexual virgin) is the one whose search springs from her complete independence, and everything she learns is the fruit of her ability to face challenges alone.
The Martyr finds her way to self-knowledge through pain, surrender and suffering.
The Saint finds her true reason for living in unconditional love and in her ability to give without asking anything in return.
Finally, the Witch (My note: I don’t think Edda/Coelho necessarily mean Witch in the magical sense) justifies her existence by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure.”
While most (if not all) women cycle through these over the course of a lifetime, Coelho’s character Athena “was all four at once.” And while the speaker in this passage, a woman who goes by the name Edda, says “Normally, a woman has to choose from one of these traditional feminine archetypes,” I don’t think it’s a matter of choice (at least not consciously), but circumstance.
We all start out as Virgins, and I believe this is the stage we stay in the longest. We struggle to forge our own path, which can and probably will change several times before we know exactly what we want and how to get there.
Once we figure this out, we become Martyrs, making sacrifices or concessions for whatever reason – family, career, etc. We’re still learning, but it’s not entirely on our own terms. At some point we accept our lot and become Saints. We may look back on our virginity and martyrdom with nostalgia, but do not mourn their passing. I think this ends up being the final stage for many women.
But becoming the Witch is difficult. It is, for all intents and purposes, completely selfish. Not that others don’t matter, it’s just that the self matters more. For me at least, it comes full circle, back to being a Virgin, when independence and freedom are paramount. But how difficult is it to go back to that after a lifetime of being Martyrs and Saints?
I think, too, that these four archetypes can also be considered as the Maid, Mother, and Crone or Triple Goddess in Neopaganism. The Virgin/Maid stage can last well into the 30s, give or take a few years. The Martyr and Saint/Mother stages may last until the 50s or 60s, with the Witch/Crone following. It’s not a perfect overlap, but I think it’s a valid comparison to make, and I highly doubt I am the first to make it.
But if these archetypes and stages more or less coincide with life cycles, who wants to wait until their 60s to find their pleasure? If Edda is right, can we choose to become Witches and bypass being Martyrs and Saints? Or do we let our obligations stop us from being who and what we want to be?
There’s a song by Bonnie Lockhart called “Who Were the Witches” that says, “Witches were wise, wise women they say/And there’s a little witch in every woman today.” Maybe it it’s not a matter of becoming a Witch, but allowing the Witch within to come out. Why wait until it’s almost too late to enjoy that which was sought for so long? Why not speed up the process, if possible? If Edda/Coelho is right, then we can choose to be Witches instead of Martyrs or Saints.
So which one are you? A Virgin, Martyr, Saint, or Witch?