Essay: There was an Old Woman
The archetypal Crone is usually embodied, in myth and folklore, by female characters, like the archetypal Mother, but neither the attributes of the Mother nor the Crone are truly tied to gender or age. In the Harry Potter books, Hagrid’s behavior and activities, such as being a caretaker to both Harry and his “interesting” creatures, make him an archetypal Mother (Quantum Harry, the Podcast, Episode 4: Mother,May I? and The Mother Archetype, PartI). Hermione Granger’s actions also make her an archetypal Mother, not her age or being a literal mother, though she does become that in the third book in the series when she adopts Crookshanks. However, she was already an archetypal Mother in the first two books. Becoming a cat-mom just reinforces this.
A Crone isn’t just any old woman. The Crone sees across barriers, sees what others cannot. The Crone is a conduit between worlds who can disregard barriers of gender and age, so it’s entirely appropriate that the Crone is the ruling archetype of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the book in which Harry first confronts death.
Many myths, religions and folk customs say that the one who gives life also takes it. The Crone is a guide to accepting the end of life and a repository of wisdom about death. She can be benevolent, but on occasion, she kills.
When Luna Lovegood first appears in the Harry Potter books, though she’s in the same year in school as Ginny Weasley she’s described very much like a classic Crone: she has light hair that sounds close to white and seems a little addled, saying odd things at odd times. But in spite of other characters thinking she isn’t “all there,” she’s shrewd and observant. She seems to remember Ron’s Yule Ball experience better than he does.
Like Harry and Neville, Luna can see Thestrals, which fits with the Crone’s connection to death. Luna’s conversation with Harry at the end of the fifth book is key because she alone, as a guide to death, offers him the solace and guidance to consider what death really means.
JK Rowling has called Luna the “anti-Hermione”. Both girls have attributes that are inverted in the other. Luna is a Ravenclaw, in spite of her slight spaciness, and Rowling says she is “prepared to believe a thousand impossible things before breakfast”, which is a paraphrase of Lewis Carroll, whose use of games, toys and looking glasses is similar to Rowling’s. Luna becomes a sort of honorary Gryffindor when she wears a lion’s head hat to support Gryffindor during a Quidditch match, and during the mission to rescue Sirius, at the Ministry, she displays Gryffindor-like bravery. Hermione seems like an anomaly in Gryffindor. She was considered Ravenclaw material by the Sorting Hat but she chose Gryffindor. Each girl has elements of the other’s house in her personality and seems like a fish out of water in her own house.
Luna has an almost unlimited capacity to believe, while Hermione likes hard facts. In Order of the Phoenix, Hermione starts to take things on faith, including prophecies, while Luna ponders how to get to the Ministry and produces a profoundly logical solution: Thestrals, which are a solid, visible fact to Luna. In contrast, Hermione has to make a leap of faith to ride a Thestral.
Rowling’s depiction of Luna can seem odd until she’s placed in the context of the Crone, a link between this world and the next, just as some of Hermione’s choices are more clearly illuminated when we see her as an archetypal Mother. Dumbledore calls death “the next great adventure”, a paraphrase from Peter Pan, who said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” The fifth book is the first one in which Harry confronts death head-on, so it’s appropriate that she has her debut in Order of the Phoenix.
In the Maiden/Mother/Crone trio of the Black sisters (see Female Archetypes in HarryPotter, Part I or listen to QuantumHarry, the Podcast, Episode 3: Iron Maiden) Andromeda is the Maiden and Narcissa is the Mother. A gleefully cold-blooded murderer, Bellatrix Lestrange is the Crone in the trio.
Bellatrix embodies the darkest aspect of the Crone: the hand that cuts the thread of life. In contrast, Luna has seen death but she certainly hasn’t dealt it. Luna is regularly victimized by fellow students, who steal her stuff to prank her. There’s also no inkling that she wants to exact vengeance on the people who did this. She accepts the situation as she accepts the end of life, recognizing death as part of a natural cycle.
Another attribute associated with Crones is an abrupt pattern of speech littered with non-sequiturs. Listeners can often think that they’re being insulted or demeaned, or like they’re having one conversation and the Crone is having another. Bellatrix’s speech verges on hysteria when she and her sister Narcissa visit Snape in Half-Blood Prince, and when she speaks in a babyish, mocking voice to Harry at the Ministry.
On the other hand, Luna often disarms people because she speaks “uncomfortable truths” without batting an eye, or she just talks about whatever interests her at the moment. When most people want to know what’s happening during a Quidditch match that she’s commentating, she reports on cloud formations rather than which side has scored.
Bellatrix seems more than a little “off”. Maybe it’s from the dementors in Azkaban, or perhaps they simply didn’t help, since Harry sees her in Dumbledore’s Pensieve before she’s imprisoned and she’s not exactly a shining example of level-headedness at that time. Luna is also considered not-quite with-it because of some of the things she believes. Even those who like her best are at a loss when she talks about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks or Blibbering Humdingers. But this is just another aspect of the archetypal Crone. The Crone is on the threshold to another world and can “see” things others cannot. But—as Ron tells Harry in the second book, hearing voices others don’t isn’t considered a good thing even amongst wizards. Seeing things others don’t see or believing in creatures no one else has heard of can’t be seen in a much better light.
Another Crone character who speaks with mystical awe of seeing what others don’t and takes pride in it is Sybill Trelawney. Unlike Bellatrix, she hasn’t made a habit of killing people—just predicting Harry’s untimely death a number of times each term. She also doesn’t share Luna’s equanimity about death but is very alarmed when Harry and Ron stand first from a table of thirteen people during Prisoner of Azkaban. She’s certain that their deaths will come before everyone else’s at the table because of this. Her connection to death is that she sees death, or thinks she does, before it occurs. Harry drops Divination after his fifth year because her favorite activity, during his lessons, is predicting his demise. She’s just plain wrong time and again, but she did correctly predict Wormtail’s return to Voldemort’s service during Harry’s Divination final in his third year, and the prophecy she gave during her job interview interested Voldemort so much that he attempted to kill Harry because of it. This same prophecy is the reason that Voldemort wants to get Harry to the Ministry throughout his fifth year.
Trelawney’s pronouncements, like Luna’s, make others uncomfortable, which is one reason that she usually remains in her tower. In many myths and fairy tales a tower is an axis mundi, a conduit between worlds, and Trelawney’s tower is a physical symbol of her being able to link worlds. She’s also considered a few cards short of a Tarot deck, like Bellatrix and Luna, and her classroom sounds like a stereotypical old woman’s sitting room, fussy and over-furnished. She’s depicted with terrible eyesight and wears thick glasses that magnify her eyes. Trelawney could be elderly, young-ish or middle-aged, but her age is irrelevant. She’s an archetypal Crone. She believes what others are unwilling or unable to believe, says uncomfortable things, and bridges worlds. She’s not actually called a medium, which is someone who can channel spirits, but does many things that mediums do, which is another connection to death.
The first Crone in Harry’s life was another dotty old woman, from his perspective: Mrs. Figg. As a Squib, Mrs. Figg has no magic herself but can access the wizarding world, which most non-magical people cannot. Her fussy, smelly home is not unlike Trelawney’s classroom. She speaks her mind and she’s a link between worlds: the wizarding and the Muggle worlds, rather than the living and the dead. However, for Harry, this is a metaphorical link between life and death because she’s a connection, though he doesn’t know this until Order of the Phoenix, between the Muggle and wizarding worlds, between his Muggle life and his dead parents.
In myths and folktales, a Crone watches over the hero during childhood. This may be why Mrs. Figg breaks a leg in the first book; Harry is about to find out that he’s a wizard and enter Hogwarts, so the Crone watching over him is no longer needed. She surfaces again when he’s vulnerable to being metaphorically “aborted” by Umbridge, which is analogous to Voldemort trying to kill him as a baby, so Mrs. Figg’s reappearance in the fifth book should be no surprise.
Like Hagrid, the male archetypal Mother, a prominent character embodies many attributes of the Crone except for being neither elderly nor female: Severus Snape. The name of his home, Spinner’s End, strongly evokes the “harsh spinners”, which is another name for the Three Fates. His name, Severus, could refer to his “severing” the thread of Dumbledore’s life. Some fans thought that the frequent bat imagery used in conjunction with his character pointed to his either being a vampire or a bat Animagus. However, like Ginny’s Bat Bogey Hex, this could instead be evoking the batwings of the Furies, who are also related to the Fates, and who were chiefly invoked to avenge parricide, but especially matricide: the killing of a mother. And what is Snape’s motive for everything he does after Halloween in 1981? The murder of Harry’s mother, Lily.
Death imagery abounds whenever Snape is near. He teaches in a dungeon underground, and during Harry’s first Potions lesson he says he can bottle death—that he has control over life and death. This is particularly true in reference to Dumbledore’s life, which is prolonged by Snape when the cursed ring threatens it. He also provides Dumbledore’s death when the headmaster asks him to.
Snape’s home is in a mill town that seems remarkably like a circle of hell; all that’s missing is sulfur and brimstone. He goes back and forth between the world of the living and a metaphorical world of the dead as a spy for Dumbledore and a supposed Death Eater. When he’s abusive to Harry, Neville or other students he appears less than stable and far more interested in vengeance than listening to reason. And no matter how Luna or Trelawney try, no one can say uncomfortable things as well as Snape, who finds exactly the comment about James Potter that is guaranteed to make Harry’s blood boil.
Like Luna and Trelawney, Snape sees what others cannot, in his case, through Legilimancy. Harry is even less thrilled by Snape seeing his memories of the past than Trelawney seeing doom and gloom in his future. And, after overhearing part of Trelawney’s prophecy during her job interview, which Snape reports to Voldemort, the Potters are targeted. Ever since, Snape has dwelt upon the past, seemingly determined to arrest his own development, voluntarily interring himself in an underground burial chamber of sorts, meditating upon the past, and surrounded by reminders of death.
Harry must come to terms with archetypal Crones who remind him of what Voldemort most fears: death. A Crone (Bellatrix) kills Sirius, the Wise Old Man who means the most to Harry in the fifth book, and another Crone (Snape) kills Dumbledore, another Wise Old Man close to Harry in the sixth. Harry attempts to torture each of the culprits with the Cruciatus Curse, but both times, he fails.
A recent fan-theory that has proven quite popular is that Snape is trans. I first assumed that this meant that Snape was assumed to be a trans man, which doesn’t really change the plot. To clarify, a trans man is assigned or is assumed to be female at birth but feels that he is really male. Then I learned that the theory is that Snape is a trans woman, based in part on the writing in the Half-Blood Prince’s book appearing feminine, Snape wearing what looks like a woman’s blouse in a childhood memory, and Neville’s boggart becoming a facsimile of Snape dressed as his grandmother.
However—one “pointer” to Snape being trans might instead be indicative of his archetype: Neville’s boggart. The Weasley twins appear as literal Wise Old Men in Goblet of Fire when they grow long white beards, and Hermione becomes a literal mother by adopting Crookshanks. JK Rowling may be signaling Snape’s archetype by presenting him as a literal Crone, dressing him like Neville’s grandmother, a literal and figurative Crone. Is it likely that this or other evidence for Snape being a trans woman is actually that? Unlikely, but again, it’s the reader’s choice. When it comes to the boggart, I believe that it is most likely linked to Snape’s archetype, not gender identity. Rowling is again subverting archetypes by giving us a (nominally) male character, who is also young (late thirties) but who has the attributes of the Crone.
Harry must reconcile all three female archetypes to be a whole and true Hero. He accomplishes this with Maidens and Mothers by the end of the sixth book, in which he has a relationship with a Maiden, Ginny, and finally learns about his Mother’s legacy. What remains is reconciliation with the Crone, specifically Snape. Viewing the memories Snape gives him as he dies finally prepares Harry to go into the forest, walking to his death. Maiden, Mother and Crone are a whole just as the Deathly Hallows are a whole. Harry finally understanding the Crone is what makes him a whole person and, ultimately, Master of Death.
Harry channels or steps into the shoes of the person who best embodies the ruling archetype in each previous book. First, he’s a surrogate for the Wise Old Man, Dumbledore, in Philosopher’s Stone. He repeats the actions of Ginny, the Maiden, in Chamber of Secrets. He travels through time like the archetypal Mother, Hermione, in Prisoner of Azkaban. He goes from being a shadow Champion to Cedric, an archetypal Father, to being the sole Hogwarts Champion at the end of Goblet of Fire. And Harry does this again in Order of the Phoenix, in which three characters compete for “Best Crone.”
Luna’s father’s tabloid, the Quibbler, is a perfectly good publication to her, and by the book’s end, Harry agrees. Harry and Luna also see what many others cannot: Thestrals. And finally, Luna helps Harry cope with Sirius’s death by talking to him about her mother’s death.
In Chapter 38 of Order of the Phoenix Harry speaks to her about this:
“...has anyone you’ve known ever died?”
“Yes,” said Luna simply, “my mother. She was a quite extraordinary witch, you know, but she did like to experiment and one of her spells went rather badly wrong one day. I was nine.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled.
“Yes, it was rather horrible,” said Luna conversationally. “I still feel very sad about it sometimes. But I’ve still got Dad. And anyway, it’s not as though I’ll never see Mum again, is it?”
Snape sees what others cannot through Legilimancy and tries to teach Harry Occlumancy, its flip side, so Voldemort cannot infiltrate Harry’s mind. However, Harry sees into Voldemort’s mind without Legilimancy, since he’s the unintentional Horcrux. Snape and Harry each have a kind of “second sight”, though Snape does Legilimancy intentionally and Harry does something similar unintentionally.
Harry also shares attributes with Bellatrix Lestrange. After she kills Sirius, Harry tries to put Cruciatus on her. Other than the Killing Curse, this could be seen as her signature move. It’s why Neville’s parents are in St. Mungo’s, and she uses this spell on Neville himself in the Department of Mysteries. Oddly enough, Harry does not attempt to kill her just after he sees her murder Sirius. Instead he attempts to channel her with Cruciatus.
Order of the Phoenix is rife with archetypal Crones: Mrs. Figg, Sybill Trelawney, Luna Lovegood, Bellatrix Lestrange, Severus Snape. In the end, Harry tries but doesn’t succeed in being like two of these Crones, Snape and Bellatrix—he cannot master Occlumency and he cannot torture—yet. But three times in Order of the Phoenix, Harry channels Luna’s way of thinking and significant developments occur each time. This includes doing the interview for her father’s tabloid, which was considered “fake new” by wizards, but now has news (Harry’s interview) that’s more real than what’s in The Daily Prophet, which in turn is now a state propaganda tool.
Harry is also convinced by Luna that Thestrals are the best way to reach the Ministry, which is how the climax of the book is even possible. And finally, Harry believes, after talking to Luna, that death may not be the absolute end of everything, which both helps him to process Sirius’s death and later helps him to find the strength to go into the forest to die in the seventh book. This is all thanks to Luna Lovegood, the character who best embodies the Crone in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the book ruled by this archetype.
Adapted from the script for Quantum Harry, thePodcast, Episode 6: A Murder of Crones, 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.