Essay: The Mother Archetype, Part I
In Female Archetypes in Harry Potter, Parts I and II, the many Maiden, Mother, Crone trios in the Harry Potter books were explored, as well as many characters who specifically align with the Maiden archetype, which rules the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Now it’s the Mother’s turn.
Many Mother goddesses were worshiped in ancient Greece: the goddess Demeter, Persephone’s mother, mourns her daughter going to Hades and causes all vegetation to die. Zeus’s consort, Hera, watches over women in labor. And the mother goddesses Rhea and Gaia, which is a word often used now for “mother earth”, are quite ancient. Each of these goddesses are known as “The Great Mother.” The spirit of the Great Mother also rules over the third book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is permeated by this archetype from beginning to end.
Hermione Granger is almost always depicted in the Harry Potter books as a motherly person; the one near-exception is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, just after she and Ron return from the Chamber of Secrets with a supply of basilisk fangs for destroying Horcruxes. When she and Ron re-enact Harry and Ginny’s coming-of-age in the Chamber they are enjoying their own little side story, in which they are a Maiden and a Youth, rather than a Mother and a Wise Old Man (see The Wise Old Man Archetype). However, because Hermione kisses Ron in response to his concern over the safety of the house-elves, who are a bit like her children, her role as an archetypal mother is still emphasized here.
Hermione first appears in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while she’s helping Neville Longbottom search for his toad on the Hogwarts Express, almost as if she and Neville are pursuing a lost child. She immediately starts to order Ron and Harry around, like a little mother, telling them to change their clothes to get ready for their arrival in Hogsmeade.
Besides these somewhat domestic activities that we first see Hermione engaged in, archetypal Mothers are linked to project fruition and completion, guidance in life decisions, nurturing and birth, choosing a mate, and, very importantly for the third book, justice, which is something that fits perfectly with Hermione’s social activism—first in trying to get Buckbeak acquitted in the third book, and later in regard to her attempts to free the house-elves.
Hermione is the driving force in Harry getting his schoolwork done (which is project fruition and completion), preparing for the Triwizard Tournament, starting Dumbledore’s Army, and she’s present at the birth of Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, Hagrid’s beloved baby dragon. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix she guides Harry in life decisions (particularly in regard to Cho Chang), which fits with the archetypal Mother being linked to choosing a mate or companion. We also learn, in the sixth book, that advice that she gave to Ginny could be credited with Harry noticing Ginny and finally realizing his feelings for her.
Penelope Clearwater is another archetypal Mother and Hermione’s doppelganger. They share many similarities:
1. Penelope is in Ravenclaw and Hermione is a near-Ravenclaw, something we learn the fifth book.
2. They both have dark hair, Penelope’s being described as “curly” and Hermione’s as “bushy”.
3. In the second book, they’re Petrified by the basilisk at the same time.
4. They’re both prefects when they’re in their fifth years.
5. Hermione’s pragmatism means that despite being a stickler for rules most of the time, she’s willing to break rules if there is a compelling reason, while Penelope, a Prefect who is supposed to enforce school rules (like Percy), is also not averse to breaking rules.
Penelope definitely breaks rules in order to sneak around in the dungeons to meet with Percy in the second book—which we know because Harry and Ron catch her leaving the dungeons when they’re pretending to be Crabbe and Goyle and Ginny actually catches Percy and Penelope together, kissing.
Both Hermione and Penelope have Greek names, and Penelope specifically is the name of the wife of Odysseus. In Greek mythology, Penelope is a Mother figure engaging in the archetypal Motherly activity of weaving while she waits for her husband to return from the Trojan War. Since it takes her husband ten years to get back from the war, a number of potential suitors are understandably skeptical about this ever happening at all. These suitors become a bit like permanent unwelcome house guests in the house of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. His queen, Penelope, stays faithful to her husband, even though as far as she knows he is dead. She put off the suitors by saying that she would choose someone after she finally finished weaving a cloak that would serve as a burial garment for her father-in-law, Laertes. She worked weaving this cloak for three years—but she unraveled her work each night.
In Deathly Hallows, Hermione even claims to be Penelope Clearwater when Catchers apprehend her, Harry, and Ron after Harry triggers the “taboo” by saying Voldemort’s name. Harry gave the name of one of his doppelgangers to Stan Shunpike in the third book when he said that he was Neville Longbottom, and Rowling has Hermione choose to go by her doppelganger’s name in the seventh.
Narcissa Black Malfoy, who is the archetypal Mother in the trio of the Black sisters, will do anything to protect her son, Draco, and she generally only appears in the books when she is with her son or doing something to help him, which is the entire scope of her character. When Harry insults her, Draco is as incensed as Harry and the twins are when Draco insults their mothers. In Deathly Hallows, when she’s concerned for Draco, she asks Harry about him and she even goes so far as to lie to Voldemort about Harry’s being dead because her first concern is for her son. Being a mother trumps everything else for her.
Harry has many archetypal Mothers in his life, Hermione being the most prominent. Joseph Campbell identifies many Mother “types” and whether it’s intentional or unintentional, JK Rowling seems to have been determined to include them all in the seven book series. Campbell mentions more of what we would probably consider to be “bad” Mothers than “good” ones: there’s the absent, unattainable Mother, who we can see as Lily (though she has an excellent alibi for being absent); there’s the hampering, forbidding Mother, a very good description for Petunia, who tries to stop Harry from simply being himself; the repressive Mother is the best way to describe Dolores Umbridge; and the desired but forbidden Mother, represented famously in Greek mythology by the mother of Oedipus, Iocasta, is Cho Chang.
Harry’s “good” archetypal Mothers are Hermione, Molly Weasley and Hagrid (even though Hagrid isn’t female). They care for Harry, they feed him and they knit, like Lachesis, the archetypal Mother in the trio of the Fates.
Molly Weasley knits Weasley jumpers, Hermione knits hats for her virtual children, the house-elves, and Hagrid is seen knitting when he takes Harry to Diagon Alley in the first book, as well as many other times later in the series.
Hagrid mothers creatures other than Harry as well; he even calls himself Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback’s “mummy” with no trace of irony. Hagrid seems determined to pick up the slack for his own mother, to be the parent to both Norbert and to his brother Grawp that she wasn’t.
When it comes to archetypes, gender is ultimately as irrelevant as chronological age; Hagrid’s actions are what make him an archetypal Mother. Hagrid’s first moment as a mother-figure to Harry comes right at the beginning of the first book, when he “delivers” baby Harry to number four, Privet Drive. Throughout the series, Harry has repeated rebirths, moments when he either survives something that ought to have killed him (like Voldemort putting the Killing Curse on him as a baby) or moments of symbolic death and rebirth, when he crosses a threshold from one world into another, especially if this crossing involves traversing a body of water, which symbolizes the waters of the womb. Harry does this twice with Hagrid, an archetypal Mother, in the first book of the series.
To bring Harry to Surrey from Godric’s Hollow, which we learn in Deathly Hallows is in “the West country”, Hagrid flies with him over Bristol, which means they go over water: Bristol Channel. This is the womb-water threshold that Harry crosses when he goes from living in the wizarding world with his parents, and in a part of the country that is home to a great many wizarding families, including the Dumbledores, Weasleys and Hagrid himself, to living with his Muggle relatives in Surrey, outside London. Hagrid also does this using Sirius Black’s flying motorcycle, so the fact that Harry’s godfather contributed the means of transportation further marks this trip as a symbolic baptism, which is when godparents are appointed, and therefore a rebirth.
Later, when Harry comes to Hogwarts for the first time, he crosses a body of water with Hagrid again, but this time he isn’t the only one going through a symbolic death and rebirth by crossing the womb-waters of the lake: all Hogwarts students, when they are first years, must undergo this symbolic step to leave the world of their childhoods and enter the magical world of Hogwarts. It doesn’t matter if a first-year grew up in a wizarding household or not; everyone must cross the lake with Hagrid, the archetypal Mother, in this act of symbolic rebirth as they begin a new chapter in their lives.
To be continued...
Adapted from the script for Quantum Harry, the Podcast, Episode 4: Mother, May I? Copyright 2017-2018 by Quantum Harry Productions and B.L. Purdom. See other posts on this blog for direct links to all episodes of Quantum Harry.