Back in the 1980s, I was part of a group of women seeking a new way forward for women’s spirituality. We had found genuine pathways for meditation and personal development, but nothing that really addressed the question of the divine feminine. And then came a moment of inspiration–a visit was made to the Nine Ladies stone circle in Derbyshire and there, in the middle, a bunch of nine golden daffodils had been placed by an unknown hand. The nine archetypes began to reveal themselves; we welcomed them into our lives and began to name and decipher their individual qualities. Over the years groups and creative practices with the Circle of Nine developed, and I wrote the first edition of my book, describing these archetypes.
The Circle of Nine comprises nine female archetypes that can illuminate a woman’s path, and offer guidance in our daily lives. They span the spectrum of the feminine soul, revealing the essence of a woman; both in her mythic and human form. The archetypes are interpreted for women living in today’s world, but they rest on foundations that are thousands of years old. They arise from an ancient source, a tradition of nine women who form a company of nine for sacred work.
Conducting new research I discovered a fuller account of the historical ‘Company of Nine’ dating back to pre-history. Briefly, the number nine has been embedded in women’s sacred work for thousands of years in many countries throughout the world. There are indeed many physical stone circles or megaliths named for Nine Maidens or Nine Ladies. The nine also appear widely in myth and history as dancers, witches, oracles, healers, or as handmaidens to a goddess or a saint. They are also found in legends such as those of the Nine Sisters of Avalon, who carried the dying King Arthur away across the waters, and the Nine Muses, who were said to inspire the arts in ancient Greece. Their role as seers is crucial too: nearly two thousand years ago, a Roman geographer described a group of nine priestesses who lived on a remote island off the coast of Brittany. Here they prophesied the future to travellers, charmed the winds and seas for sailors, and helped to cure the most serious of wounds and diseases.
The tradition clearly shows that nine has long been associated with women’s groups, and is a feminine template for sacred work. But the question arises: why nine? I believe that it comes from the deep-rooted concept of a ‘triple goddess,’ who is often linked to the three main phases of the moon: new, full and dark. This translates as the stages of the maiden, mother and crone in women’s lives. In the framework of the Circle of Nine used here, the triplicity is embedded as Three Queens, Three Mothers and Three Ladies. Each of the three branches opens into another three, so that we have, for instance, the Lady of Light, the Lady of the Hearth, and the Lady of the Dance. They all share ‘Lady’ qualities–a gracious, light and compassionate nature – but each has her own special individuality. Here’s a summary of how I describe the nine archetypes in their essential, mythic form. There are plenty of examples, too, as to how they may work in everyday life, and I’ll come to that a little later.
1. The Queen of the Earth
Innocence, passion, and wisdom co-exist as attributes of the Queen of the Earth. She must understand the barren phases as well as the fertile ones. She must pay due tribute to the underworld–to the silence and darkness that reign there–as well as to the flourishing of new life brought forth through her desires. With the art and skill that comes from her understanding, she can shape her magic garden after her own heart.
2. The Queen of the Night
The Queen of the Night is one of the most compelling of the nine feminine archetypes. She personifies forces that dwell outside the clear, rational light of day, and is unrestricted by convention. This queen rules over the life that stirs in the landscape of the night, and she harnesses the tides of darkness to awaken, attract, and love. She may take different forms: ugly, with leathern wings and a shriek that tears the air, or fleetingly beautiful, as a rare moth fluttering by on the night air.
3. The Queen of Beauty
The Queen of Beauty has many faces; beauty is not fixed. It is a gemstone that has been cut and faceted so that each turn of the stone reveals the different faces catching the light in a multitude of ways. Does beauty spring from the inner self, or from the outward physical form? The link between outer and inner beauty is not rigid. It is a changing balance, a flow operating between the two. The image we create of ourselves needs to allow us room to breathe and to reveal more than one facet of our nature.
4. The Weaving Mother
The Weaving Mother is the organizing feminine principle who ties the bonds of love, weaves the pattern of daily life, and foresees the time when the last threads must be snipped. Through her craft, she turns simplicity into complexity, and complexity back to a single unity. She is not just the web that is woven, but the one who selects and spins the strands, designing the form the web will take. She works with skill and care, glimpsing the future as it takes shape before her. Much domestic life is organised by the skill of the Weaving Mother.
5. The Just Mother
In the heart of the Just Mother, there is courage—courage to look at what comes before her, recognize its nature, and stand firm upon the judgments that she makes. To fulfil her role, the Just Mother must be objective and possess fighting skills. There is danger in her work–she is exposed to the force of her own strongest emotions, which arise from her essential values of what is right and wrong. Her awareness of both fairness and injustice can pull at her heartstrings.
6. The Great Mother
A mother gives birth to time itself, through the child that she bears. In this act, she partakes of the timeless quality of the Great Mother. The Great Mother is like a priestess sitting in a dark temple—an old, old woman who has seen many seekers come and go, all with their own vital problems and joys. She sees their similarities, even though each person feels herself to be unique. She will give advice compassionately, well aware that it will not always be heeded. Life passes through her domain, but she is not of it; she is beyond it.
7. The Lady of the Dance
The Lady of the Dance performs a dance that can be controlled or tamed, but never completely suppressed. She is the one who delights to know the world through movement, to infect others with the joy of dancing, and to capture the changing colors of life and light in mood and gesture. She is provocative, graceful, exuberant, and free; she poses a threat only to those who advocate a rigid, fixed order, and she may be cast into captivity by them.
8. The Lady of the Hearth
Tending the fire of the home can mean not just a practical task, but sustaining life and warmth in the home itself. This Lady represents the different qualities that are needed there—solemnity, joy, creativity, and thoughtfulness. She tempers them according to what will make the fire burn most brightly. The message brought by the Lady of the Hearth is that we can allow ourselves time and space to enjoy the fruits of our labor—for this, too, is part of the cycle. We must learn to rest our minds by sitting with just a candle flame or a fire for company.
9. The Lady of Light
The Lady of Light has the power to transform, and we can use this light to make changes in our own lives. Women who are sufficiently strong and developed can allow this light to permeate the whole of their presence, refining and changing their very substance—just as light can make an apparently opaque glass lampshade appear translucent. The light of this Lady, used with conscious intent, can be a catalyst for change. Most of us remember with affection a ‘Lady of Light’ who influenced our lives.
Connecting with the Nine Archetypes
Happenstance will bring examples of the Nine into daily life, once we begin to focus on them. Just recently, I encountered the Weaving Mother while visiting a stately home in Devon. As I walked through the gilded pillars into the grand salon, I saw a row of women sitting at a table which ran the length of the room. On the table stood a roller about 30 feet long, wound around with an antique carpet, which the women were repairing. There was a sense of peaceful concentration, as these professional conservators worked with their curved needles, hour after hour, stitching and weaving to restore the complex pattern of this priceless carpet. It will take another year before the carpet can be unrolled again in all its glory and laid reverently once more on the wooden floor of the salon. Only then will the Weaving Mother’s task here be complete.
Giving the nine archetypes a place in your life means that you will start to perceive their presence, even in the most practical of tasks. As women, we integrate practicality with spirituality because, for the most part, that’s the way our lives shape up. This can sometimes be a trial, but it is a real gift as well. It means we are able to see the sacred in the everyday, and a way of action in the divine. The Circle of Nine does not make us slaves to these archetypes, however, but can liberate creativity; individual Circle of Nine practitioners, for instance, have devised drama courses using the Nine and made perfumes based on their attributes.
Getting acquainted with the archetypes means we start to see how they’ve already played a part in our lives. I’ve known the Weaving Mother, for instance, from way back when as a schoolgirl I stayed late in art class so that I could learn how to weave. I became fascinated by the way that pattern and texture could be created on the loom and even today, when I handle the rather short scarf that I made then, I’m reminded of the pleasure of weaving. Later, I came to know the Weaving Mother as an influence in the way I had to weave together the strands of family, work and personal life. Indeed, it’s usually the women of the household who weave these threads skillfully, creating patterns for daily life and endeavouring to keep a sense of purpose and direction.
Working with the Nine
My work in writing The Circle of Nine has been to try and imbue it with the knowledge and experience gained over the years, not just by me, but by the many women who’ve worked with these archetypes in their current form. It’s important that I take my own place in the circle, and describe my journey, but the source of wisdom here is my fellow women in the circle, and the nine archetypes themselves.
These nine figures give us something larger than ourselves to refer to, but they are not goddesses as such. However, we can take certain female spirits or goddesses as illustrations of the archetype. The Lady of Light can, for instance, relate to Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, whose moon meditation I have used successfully in Circle of Nine groups. Each woman is also entitled to find their equivalent in her own faith form, and indeed, we are all enriched by discovering these archetypes across different faiths and cultures.
Each archetype also sets challenges for us personally. When I am tempted to get angry over people who litter the streets or get drunk under my window at midnight (I could go on with the list!), am I really honouring the Just Mother? She helps to remind me that it would be better to remain observant and keep my equilibrium, acting only if the situation really demands it. Likewise, for all of us, the Queen of Beauty helps us to have confidence in our appearance. She tells us that real beauty is the whole woman, and not merely on the surface; the beauty of a smile wins more hearts than a flawlessly made-up face. True beauty can be powerful at any age.
In my book, I also give suggestions as to how women may work both together and independently. That too seems very relevant to women’s lives–it’s important both to take individual responsibility for our quest, but also to share with other women, which can bring love and knowledge into our lives in a very special way. All this can take place at any stage of life. The work of the Circle of Nine lasts a lifetime and becomes ever more interesting as we change and age. It does not demand exclusivity either, and a woman can still follow a particular faith and practice spiritual work in mixed company. Perhaps the chief aim is to set aside time to create the Circle in which the Nine can manifest, and grace us with their presence.
This article is based on Cherry Gilchrist’s upcoming book, The Circle of Nine: An Archetypal Journey to Awaken the Divine Feminine Within, published by Weiser Books and available here.