"Do you know anything about, witches?" With those words, whispered urgently to Jessica Harper's Suzy Bannion in the 1977 film Suspiria, Dario Argento kicked off one of the strangest and most celebrated pieces of witch-lore in cinema.
Considered by many to be Argento's masterpiece (and one of the scariest films about witches ever made), Suspiria is the first installment in Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy. But who are the Three Mothers, and what was the origin of the witch in Suspiria? For that matter, what does the inspiration for Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy have to do with Luca Guadagnino's 2018 remake of Suspiria?
Dario Argento Drew Inspiration From Thomas De Quincey's 'Suspiria De Profundis'
Originally published in 1845, Suspiria De Profundis - a literary collection by Thomas De Quincey, who described it as "impassioned prose" - introduced the idea of Levana's (the Roman goddess of birth) three companions. De Quincey named these followers "Our Ladies of Sorrow," Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Suspiriorum, and Mater Tenebrarum.
Suspiria director Dario Argento later borrowed these names for his Three Mothers.
Thomas De Quincey Patterned His "Ladies Of Sorrow" On Triune Goddesses And Witches Of MythPhoto: William Blake / Wikimedia Commons
When naming the "Ladies of Sorrow" in Suspiria de Profundis, Thomas de Quincey compares them to the Parcae (or the Fates of Roman mythology) and the Erinyes (the Furies), who "visit with retributions called from the other side of the grave."
This is just one of the many times triune goddesses or witch figures have appeared throughout history and mythology. Other notable mentions include Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, and the Irish Morrigan.
Each Mother Has A Home That Serves As A Bastion For Her Power
In the 19th century, the Three Mothers were seemingly tired of traveling the world, so they decided to put down roots. They commissioned an architect and alchemist known as E. Varelli to build each of them a stately mansion that serve as bastions for their power.
The home of Mater Suspiriorum is in Freiburg, Germany, Mater Tenebrarum dwells in New York, and Mater Lachrymarum rules in Rome. The houses are synonymous with their residents, and if a house is destroyed, the Mother perishes too, and vice versa.
According to franchise lore, the architect left behind a memoir called The Three Mothers, the same book the protagonists of both Inferno and The Mother of Tears learn of the Mothers and their nefarious plots from.
'Suspiria' Introduces Viewers To The Mother Of Sighs, The First Of Dario Argento's Three MothersPhoto: Suspiria/Seda Spettacoli
Dario Argento's Suspiria tells the story of Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American who goes to Germany to study ballet. As it turns out, the dance academy she arrives at is run by a mysterious and unseen headmistress (Joan Bennett) who turns out to be Helena Markos, an ancient witch and the first of Argento's Three Mothers, Mater Suspiriorum or the Mother of Sighs.
While Suspiria introduces Markos and sets the stage for some of the mythology behind the Three Mothers, it isn't until the later films in the trilogy that viewers learn more about their nature and origin.
As the Mother of Sighs, Markos thrives on inciting unease and sorrow among those in her dominion, which may explain the many strange and unsettling occurrences that happen within (and around) the walls of the academy in Suspiria.