Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Three Sisters in Harry Potter - Hermione, Ginny and Luna

Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos - the Moirai, or the three sisters of Fate
When I was working up the post on Luna -- The Eye of Harry a few months ago, it struck me that JK Rowling had used cat imagery with each of Harry's three main female friends.  Hermione is transformed into a cat in Chamber of Secrets through a Polyjuice Potion used improperly.  Luna wears the Gryffindor Lion hat in Order of the Phoenix as a vision of a modern Sekhmet.  And also in OotP, when Harry is with the Weasley kids awaiting news of their father after Nagini's attack, he sees Ginny "curled like a cat on her chair, but her eyes were open; Harry could see them reflecting the firelight (p. 423, Bloomsbury)."  Very cat-like imagery associated with this daughter of a mother who was once described as a "sabre-toothed tiger" (CoS, ch. 3).

A triple Hekate

Why would JKR use cat imagery to link all three of her young female leads?  I've been pondering this for a while, and I think the answer lies, like the hints do, in mythology.  As Luna's lion hat was a tip toward the ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhment, so too were many ancient goddess associated with the cat family.  And when we're talking about goddesses, the threefold imagery is common across many cultures.  Whether  we look to the maiden/mother/crone manifestation so popular with Neopagans, a single goddess viewed in triplicate as with Hecate, the three mothers of the Matres or Matrones, or three sisters such as the Fates (or Moirai), the Norns, the original three Muses (later extended to seven or nine), or the Graces, it seems that frequently the fullness of the feminine divine was expressed in triadic.  Perhaps this was as a matter of balance.  A duality implies polar opposites, tension, but three suggests fruition, a stabilized harmony.
The Muses: Clio, Euterpe and Thalia
by Eustache Le Sueur

Of the triple goddesses mentioned above, while I think JKR employs maiden/mother/crone imagery within HP by the use of any of the three girls as maiden, Molly Weasley as Mother, and Minerva McGonagall (or Augusta Longbottom) as Crone, I don't think that's the triune goddess she is going for by linking Hermione, Ginny and Luna.  Instead, I think she seeks to invoke the Three Sisters.

The Fates (or Morai) were known to spin the fates of all people.  Clotho spins the thread creating life; Lachesis uses a scale to allot or determine the portion of life each will receive and a cornucopia to dispense their fortune, and Atropos snips the thread bringing that life to an end.  Ginny, as a younger version of her mother of seven, (her middle name is Molly), signifies the creation of life.  Indeed, to Harry under the effects of the love potion, Amortentia, Ginny's smell is of spring flowers.  Hermione, with her keen mind and her sense of justice, represents the scales of Justice of Lachesis.  It is fitting that she goes into a legal career, fighting for the lives of all magical creatures, when she graduates Hogwarts.  Luna, with one eye always in tune with a world beyond our own, and an ear which hears the voices beyond the veil, is aligned with the bringer of death, Atropos.  Interestingly, there are a variety of needlework imagery associated with Hermione, from successfully changing a match to a needle in her first Transfiguration class, to the knitting of the hats for the house elves, to the scissors she uses to trim Harry's hair while on the run in Deathly Hallows.


But the three sisters are not only found in the Fates or Graces.  In looking back to the Egyptian mythology from which the cat-like imagery originated, we see many sister-goddesses as well.  Although relationships among the Egyptian deities is fairly fluid as the mythology evolved and developed over thousands of years, there are three goddesses who were considered daughters of Ra, and thus sisters -- Hathor, Bastet, and Sekhmet -- the last two with feline representation.  All three of these goddesses were at time considered to be the Eye of Ra

The Eye of Ra (Re) was a powerful, feminine element in Egyptian mythology, personified by a variety of goddesses, and depicted as an all-seeing eye and solar disk.  The Eye was Ra's creative partner and protector.

"The Eye goddess acts as mother, sibling, consort, and daughter of the sun god. She is his partner in the creative cycle in which he begets the renewed form of himself that is born at dawn. The Eye's violent aspect defends Ra against the agents of disorder that threaten his rule. This dangerous aspect of the Eye goddess is often represented by a lioness or by the uraeus, or cobra, a symbol of protection and royal authority." (

Hermione, Ginny and Luna are three very different girls from three different families who come together for a common goal, and though there is at times conflict between them, in the end, they find a harmonious balance as they seek to aid and protect Harry in his goal to vanquish Voldemort.  In many ways, Luna is the opposite of Hermione, with her belief in a logic outside the norm and Hermione's firmly rooted in reality.  Likewise, Ginny embodies the fiery elements of the Sun, whereas Luna the more mystical, shaded elements of the Moon.  Ginny is a natural risk-taker; Hermione has to force herself to challenge authority.  Hermione is Muggle-born, Ginny is pure blood, and Luna, though born of both witch and wizard, lives on the outskirts of magical society, both through the eccentricities of her father and his work at the Quibbler as well as her own non-conformist views.  In their role of assisting Harry (Ra/Horus) Hermione has keen insight into the problem at hand, Ginny provides fearless action often when others are hesitant as shown in the battle at the Department of Mysteries, and Luna sees what others cannot or will not.

In the defeat of Voldemort, Luna leads Harry to the diadem of Ravenclaw and the final Horcrux (aside from Harry himself) to be found, Ginny participated in the Battle and comforted the wounded during the lull between the fighting.  And Hermione, of course, was with Harry throughout the whole Horcrux hunt, having the honor of dispatching that part of Voldemort's soul lodged within Hufflepuff's cup.

The Graces at Pompeii

Perhaps the most telling moment of how these three girls become Sisters occurs during the Battle of Hogwarts when they join together to fight against the female who epitomizes the dark side of the Goddess: Bellatrix.

"Bellatrix was still fighting too, fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master she duelled three at once: Hermione, Ginny and Luna, all battling their hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them, and Harry’s attention was diverted as a Killing Curse shot so close to Ginny that she missed death by an inch--" (p. 589, Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury)

It is, of course, at this point that Mrs. Weasley steps in, and in her sabre-tooth tiger form of mother and protector, utters her most famous line -- "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" -- and puts an end to the demonic evil that is Bellatrix.

But again -- the girls -- united as one, brought together for a common goal, became sisters in their role as the Eye of Ra and protector of Harry.  For JK Rowling, I think it was important to balance out a story which focused on a male hero and villain with the overwhelming support of the Female in all her divine glory.  Through Hermione, Ginny and Luna, JK Rowling was able to sketch a portrayal of various aspects of womanhood, sisterhood, and the balance in a relationship of very different people.  It also emphasizes JK Rowling's theme that family is not merely a matter of blood kin.

If there is one thing I would change to have hit this theme home even more, I'd have made Mrs. Weasley's use of the word daughter plural rather than singular.

Question -- as Hathor is often associated with cows, I'd think it interesting if JKR had included any bovine references or images within Potterverse, but haven't yet found any.  If you know of one, or other needlework imagery associated with Ginny or Luna, please comment below!

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!)