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The Sandman | Symbols

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Three-in-One

The triple goddess aspect repeats again and again throughout The Sandman. They are introduced in Preludes and Nocturnes as the Hecateae, but this is only one face these women wear. With his copious references to Shakespeare, readers are also reminded of Macbeth's three witches, come to bring news of great importance. The Hecateae set Morpheus along his path to retrieve his three tools: sand, helm, and ruby. Three has always held mystical and religious connotations (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are a masculine version of the three-in-one). It is fitting Morpheus's first quest would be to retrieve three powerful objects.

Rose Walker meets the Hecateae right before she discovers Unity Kincaid is her grandmother. This links her with Morpheus and the Endless (another bit of foreshadowing to Miranda's true parentage). Rose meets them again. This time as three patients, when she returns to the rest home to follow her grandmother's message in the same closet she found them before. Shortly after this she meets her grandparent, Desire.

The three-in-one appear again—as the Gray Ladies—this time in Destiny's garden at the beginning of Season of Mists. Destiny sees them and they offer him a prophecy or warning the oldest battle starts again. Destiny then calls a meeting of the Endless, setting in motion the events in that volume. Again, the appearance of three-in-one signals change is coming. When the Fates or Hecateae appear, pay attention because something is going to happen.

They appear as the Furies of Greek myth in Fables and Reflections. Orpheus has made them weep as he played his song. Persephone admits they will never forgive him for that. They, like Desire and Morpheus, seem fond of their grudges. These ladies, in a different guise, appear at Calliope's call, but they can no longer help her.

Goddesses aren't the only entities representing the three-in-one. In A Game of You Hazel, Foxglove, and Thessaly set out to enter the Dreaming, but they need to travel the Moon's road. Morpheus comments on the fact they're three women. They represent the maiden (Foxglove), the mother (Hazel, since she's pregnant), and the crone (Thessaly, especially in light of her age). These present the phases in a woman's life. They are associated with the moon's cycles: waxing for maiden, full for mother, and waning for crone. Women's magic is just as powerful as the Dream Lord's, allowing them access to places they might otherwise not go. Eve's story in Fables and Reflections details Adam's three wives and the alternating paths they took, a far different tale than the one told in the Bible.

Finally, there is Lyta Hall's journey in The Kindly Ones. After the death of Daniel, she goes on a quest in three distinct parts that overlap. These involve her wanderings in the real world, the deep dive into her subconscious, and her walk to find the Furies. The panels depicting her in the comic split, just as her psyche splits to go on these three separate journeys. On her mythic journey, she encounters two of the Gorgons, mourning the loss of their trinity with Medusa's death. They ask Lyta to join them, to become their third sister. She encounters Geryon, the three-headed serpent in a tree outside of the Gorgon's house. While Geryon comes from Greek myths, the snake, tree, and fruit symbolism are biblical in nature. Lyta even asks the snake if this tree is that one.

Lyta completes her quest, becoming the physical embodiment of the three Furies in the Dreaming. When the Furies go to speak with Morpheus, it may be Lyta (in her mythic Fury form) confronting him. But her shadow is of three women. She has literally become the one who is three, combining birth, life, and death into one being. All three are fixated on Morpheus.

The triple goddess archetype morphs into a master goddess—a trinity that encompassed all of the trinities of female power. Throughout the pages of The Sandman, these women constantly refer to themselves as other aspects they could appear as (the Morrigan, the Fates, the Furies, the Kindly Ones, and the Norns). As their names change, so does their appearance and personality. But in reality the three all spring from one meta-myth, a powerful symbol of femininity in all of its forms.

Hearts

Hearts play a prominent role in The Sandman. Often they are a sign of Desire of the Endless at work. In their castle of the Threshold, modeled to look like the human body, Desire's throne sits inside their creation's heart. In fiction the heart typically symbolizes love, but in The Sandman it is linked with a being far less benign.

Glass hearts appear in "Tales in the Sand," a story about Morpheus and Nada's ill-fated romance. Nada's fear of what happens when a mortal loves one of the Endless comes to pass when her city is destroyed. Only the blasted glass heart shrapnel is left behind. Even though Nada and Morpheus love each other, they cannot be together. To avoid worse things happening, Nada kills herself. Morpheus cannot bear this blow to his pride and punishes her for spurning him. "Love belongs to desire, and desire is always cruel," he says. Here, the heart is not only a symbol of Nada and Morpheus's love, but the dire consequences of it, and of Desire's hand in it.

Later in The Doll's House, Unity Kincaid appears in the Dreaming as Morpheus readies himself to kill Rose Walker for being the dream vortex. Unity asks Rose for her heart, the thing that makes her the vortex. Rose reaches inside her chest and removes a glass heart, suspiciously similar to the ones that appear in "Tales in the Sand." When it is later revealed Desire raped Unity to father a child Morpheus might have to eventually kill, the connection becomes clear.

In The Kindly Ones Rose admits to being closed off in her relationships, almost as if she's missing something. A message from her dead grandmother, Unity, sends her back to England to retrieve the heart she lost when Rose gave it to her. Once Rose returns to the hotel after visiting her grandmother's rest home, her feelings begin to awaken again, only to betray her. She falls in love with her one-night stand, not knowing he's married, and becomes pregnant after the brief affair. Soon after she meets Desire and goes off on a screed about love. She says, "It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness. A simple phrase like 'maybe we should just be friends' or 'how very perceptive' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart." It is not coincidence "glass" and "heart" appear in Rose's words when talking to Desire.

Desire introduces themselves, not particularly impressed with Rose's epiphany. Desire knows all about love already because Desire is love. Desire has seen and done it all before. Rose is nothing new. Still, Desire does leave behind their lighter, an art deco confection of a creation in the shape of a heart. Rose can once again feel deeply, though it may not be the kind of feeling she wishes to experience. Love is always a risk, especially when you are the granddaughter of Desire.

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