mater suspiriorum


“Three Witches” triptych by Dario Argento

The Three Mothers:

  • Mater Suspiriorum / Mother of Sighs 
  • Mater Tenebrarum / Mother of Darkness
  • Mater Lachrymarum / Mother of Tears

The idea of “Three Mothers” comes from “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow”, a section of Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis. The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and Graces, there are also three Sorrows. They include Mater Lachrymarum (Our Lady of Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (Our Lady of Sighs), and Mater Tenebrarum (Our Lady of Darkness). The attribute of each woman (tears, sighs, shadows/darkness) is a direct translation of her name from Latin.

Mark Gatiss in Horror Europa (2010) about Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento.

Gatiss Narrating: It’s not a giallo, but a hyper-violent fairytale, and watching Suspiria is like watching a cinematic fever dream.

Gatiss: “Did you feel that making…uh…a fantasy film, was a liberating experience as a director?”

Argento: “Yes. The main sources of inspiration for my films are dreams and nightmares. The logic of my films, is the logic of dreams.”

Gatiss Narrating: It’s best not to worry whether the plot’s coherent, just let yourself be overwhelmed by the dazzling colors, startling images, and pounding soundtrack.

Suspiria was actually the first film in the Three Mothers trilogy, along with Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007). Images from the other two films are below.

The trilogy was based on an uncredited work called Suspiria de Profundis, by Thomas de Quincy. Included in the list of essays he wanted in the finished work (not all made into the published version), we find:

* Dreaming — the introduction to the whole.
* The Palimpsest of the Human Brain — a meditation upon the deeper layers of human consciousness and memory.
* Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow — beginning with a discussion of Levana, the ancient Roman goddess of childbirth, De Quincey imagines three companions for her: Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears; Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs; and Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness.
* The Apparition of the Brocken — on an optical illusion associated with a German mountaintop.
* Savannah-la-Mar — a threnody on a sunken city, inspired by the 1692 earthquake that sank Port Royal in Jamaica; beginning, “God smote Savannah-la-Mar….”
* Vision of Life — “The horror of life mixed…with the heavenly sweetness of life….”
* Memorial Suspiria — looking forwards and backwards on life’s miseries; foreshadowing and anticipation.
When the collection was reprinted in the collected works in the 1850s, another short essay was added: The Daughter of Lebanon, a parable of grief and transcendence.
The four pieces that first appeared posthumously in 1891 are:
* Solitude of Childhood — “Fever and delirium,” “sick desire,” and the Erl-King’s daughter.
* The Dark Interpreter — he was a looming shadow in the author’s opium reveries.
* The Princess that lost a Single Seed of a Pomegranate — echoes upon echoes from an Arabian Nights tale.
* Who is this Woman that beckoneth and warneth me from the Place where she is, and in whose Eyes is Woeful remembrance? I guess who she is — “memorials of a love that has departed, has been — the record of a sorrow that is….”
* The Dreadful Infant (There was the glory of innocence made perfect; there was the dreadful beauty of infancy that had seen God)
* Foundering Ships
* The Archbishop and the Controller of Fire
* God that didst Promise
* Count the Leaves in Vallombrosa
* But if I submitted with Resignation, not the less I searched for the Unsearchable — sometimes in Arab Deserts, sometimes in the Sea
* That ran before us in malice
* Morning of Execution
* Kyrie Eleison
* The Nursery in Arabian Deserts
* The Halcyon Calm and the Coffin
* Faces! Angels’ Faces!
* At that Word
* Oh, Apothanate! that hatest death, and cleansest from the Pollution of Sorrow
* Who is this Woman that for some Months has followed me up and down? Her face I cannot see, for she keeps for ever behind me
* Cagot and Cressida
* Lethe and Anapaula
* Oh, sweep away, Angel, with Angelic Scorn, the Dogs that come with Curious Eyes to gaze.

No surprise then, that some of the titles closely resemble those from John’s blog about their cases, and certain characters or themes are recurring in the BBC series, especially S3/TAB/S4. 

For those wondering why the skull in 221B began glowing before TFP…

It’s because they started using this concept before the last episode aired, adding saturation here and there, but mainly in areas outside the safety zone of 221B.

Instances actually date back to the first episode, but the tendency escalated through the seasons, and TFP was the height of it in S4. Interestingly, prior to TFP, it was the stag night that had the most frequent displays.

Yes, those are elephants in the room up on the chest…because…reasons.

For more on Sherlock and Argento films, see metas on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Demons both by @isitandwonder

Brief video teaser of my installation, MATER LACHRYMARUM, MATER SUSPIRIORUM,MATER TENEBRARUM , currently on display at Providence’s incredible feminist art castle, The Dirt Palace. This has been a dream of mine since I was 17, so I am very grateful to the artists of the Dirt Palace for having me.

I’m still figuring out lighting, but come on down to Olneyville if you want to stand under the three Mothers of Sorrow and contemplate cosmic disappointment in humanity!