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Archive for the ‘Christian Harry Potter Fans’ Category

Here’s an update on the episodes of The Secrets of Harry Potter podcast that you may have missed.

SHP079 Astronomy in Harry Potter http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2012/05/04/shp079-astronomy-in-harry-potter/

In this episode, recorded live during the 2012 SQPN podcast marathon, the team of The Secrets of Harry Potter discussed the connection between the Black Family tree and astronomy. We also discussed the star-gazing centaur prophets both in Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Some links discussed during the show:

  • The Harry Potter Lexicon by Steve Vander Ark
  • J.K. Rowling announced her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, will be released worldwide on 27 September 2012. Click here to read more about it.
  • Pottermore is now open. All of us are on Pottermore, and if you want to add us, please click here to know our Pottermore usernames. Also, please let us know what you think of your Pottermore experience!
  • For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, check out the upcoming movie, The Lion Awakes. You can also follow them on Twitter: @thelionawakes
  • We’re being promoted on a Tumblr blog, Harry Potter Celebration. We were featured the first week in April. Find them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

SHP078 An Interview with John Granger http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2012/02/08/shp078-an-interview-with-john-granger/

Ari, Jim, Lyn, and I interviewed the “Hogwarts Professor” John Granger in this episode. We discussed Christian symbolism in Harry Potter, how John became a Harry Potter fan, the Christian culture war over Harry Potter, alchemical symbolism in the Harry Potter series, the ring structure of the Harry Potter series, alchemical symbolism in the works of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare, the structure and symbolism of Harry Potter as compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the “eye” symbols in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the cyclical nature of the Harry Potter series compared to the cyclical nature of the Church Year, the four layers of literary meaning, and much more. (We also discuss Twilight and The Hunger Games.) This is one of my favorite episodes of The Secrets of Harry Potter. Don’t miss it!

SHP077 Numbers in the Harry Potter World http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2011/12/21/shp077-numbers-in-the-harry-potter-world/

In this episode, Jim, Bob, Lyn, Ari, and I discussed number symbolism in the Harry Potter universe. We compared the symbolism of the numbers 3, 7, and 12 in the Bible, Catholic Tradition, and in the Harry Potter series.

SHP076 Is Harry Potter a Christ/Messianic Figure? http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2011/11/12/shp076-is-harry-potter-a-christmessianic-figure/

This is a controversial topic In Harry Potter scholarship. Listen to our debate/discussion and let us know what you think. Is Harry Potter a Christ Figure?

Many of the arguments that I presented in this episode can be found in my book The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter which can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lord-Hallows-Christian-Symbolism/dp/1432741128.

Please leave feedback on each episode that you listen to in the comments section of the SHP blog. (The links for each episode are in this blog post.) We may read your feedback on an upcoming episode of our show.

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This post is the third part of a series which began here in part one, a discussion of the lion, eagle, griffin, serpent, basilisk, and badger: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-one/ and continued here, with a discussion of the unicorn: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-two/. Now on to the third installment…

The Hunting of the White Stag

          A Christ symbol that is closely related to the unicorn is the stag, whose earliest representation in Christian art can be found in the Roman catacombs and in baptismal font designs and basilica altar mosaics of subsequent periods.  It appeared as a Christ symbol in bestiaries, stories of the lives of the saints, and in medieval romances, such as the Queste del Saint Graal, where the stag served as a guide toward the object of the quest, the Holy Grail.

P. M. Matarasso's translation of The Quest for the Holy Grail (Queste del Saint Graal)

           The stag appeared as a symbol of Christ in the story of St. Eustace. This saint, like C. S. Lewis’s fictional character Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, experienced a miraculous conversion.

Narnia' s Eustace Scrubb, like St. Eustace, experienced a life-changing conversion.

 The pagan Eustace was a Roman general who enjoyed hunting. On one hunting expedition, Eustace tracked a stag through the woods and prepared to kill the magnificent creature. Just as Eustace was ready to slay the majestic stag, a miraculous vision appeared to the hunter: a vision of Christ crucified appeared between the stag’s antlers. The hunter was converted to Christianity on the spot.  A similar tale of a hunter who converted due to a miraculous vision is in the story of St. Hubert. While out hunting on Good Friday the future saint encountered a stag with a crucifix between its antlers. A voice spoke to him from where the stag was. It asked why Hubert was pursuing him, and Hubert realized he had been searching for Christ for many years, and had finally found him. Hubert was converted at that moment. St. Hubert’s desire to find Christ was a thirst for God that manifests symbolically as a stag. This symbol of the soul’s thirst for God is derived from Psalm 42:1 (NRSV), “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

          Because of the stag’s longing for streams of water described in the Book of Psalms, it became associated with the soul’s desire for purification through Baptism.

                   Just as the deer devours the snake,

                   Then rushes off his thirst to slake,

                   Lets spring the venom wash away,

                   So all is well, can Christian say,

                   For he is saved, sin’s trace is lost,

                   When in baptismal font he’s washed. (Biedermann 93)

This explains why the relief-work on many old baptismal fonts often includes representations of deer. Mosaics in some European churches, such as the mosaic above the altar in Rome’s Basilica of Saint Clement, sometimes depict a doe or stag drinking the water of life from the running stream described in Psalm 42. 

Stags drinking from the waters of life-detail from the mosaic above the altar of the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. I visited this beautiful church when I toured Italy in 2008.

Early Christian texts such as Physiologus describe the deer as spitting water into every crevice in which poisonous snakes hide, then trampling on them, just as Christ strikes at the Devil with the heavenly water of Baptism. (Biedermann 92) The stag was thus seen as the symbol of the triumphant Christ. When a stag’s antlers break, they regenerate, and for this reason the stag became a symbol of the Resurrection as well.

Other ancient lore associated the stag with the discovery of dittany, a miraculous herb that cures all wounds. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione carries a bottle of the essence of dittany to cure the wounds of her injured companions during their quest to destroy the Horcruxes. This miraculous liquid is mentioned first in Chapter 14 when Hermione heals the bleeding Ron Weasley, who has splinched himself while apparating. Hermione also uses dittany to heal Harry when he has been bitten by the snake Nagini in Chapter 17. In Cavallo’s The Unicorn Tapestries, the author quotes from Margaret L. Freeman’s book of the same title in the appendix, where it says, “Stags can shake off any arrows which they have received if they partake of the herb called dittany.” (Cavallo 119) J. K. Rowling must have had some knowledge of this ancient lore of dittany because she made great use of it in Deathly Hallows.

Hermione used dittany on Ron's splinch wound to save his life in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

In the Medieval religious story, The Quest for the Holy Grail, the Knights Galahad, Percival, and Bors were riding through the forest when they encountered a white hart escorted by four lions. The three knights followed the white hart, and it lead them to a chapel where the Mass was being sung. Inside the little church the four lions transformed into the four living creatures that symbolize the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and the stag transformed into a man enthroned, Jesus Christ. The priest explained the symbolism of the miracle that the knights had witnessed. It is only after they have had the vision of the transformation of the white stag that they are able to find the Holy Grail. (Matarasso 243-245)

The knights Perceval, Bors, and Galahad were led to the Grail Hallows by a white stag. Galahad, a character who is himself a Christ-figure, is clad in the Eucharistic colors of red and white, and is shown kneeling among the white lillies, which are symbolic of his purity. An angel holds the legendary Grail Hallow known as the Spear of Destiny.

 In The Grail: Quest for the Eternal, John Matthews explains the symbolism of the white stag with relationship to the Holy Grail quest:

To reach the temple of the Grail, the knights who set out from Camelot must undergo many tests and experience terrible ordeals. But often, when the way seems darkest, the enigmatic white stag or hermit figure appears, to lead them forward through the mazes of forest and hill. In medieval iconography the stag was identified with Christ and the soul’s thirst for God, which accounts for its appearance in this context. (Matthews 88)

          In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the author made use of the same symbolism that is found in the Grail legends. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie followed the white stag they were able to re-enter the wardrobe to return home to England. Recall the symbolism of the stag and the running stream in the book of Psalms which signifies the soul’s thirst for union with God. The Pevensies’ s quest for the White Stag is symbolic of the soul’s search for Christ, a search that will eventually lead the seeker further up and further in to his or her true home. This parallels the story of the knights who follow the white stag to find Christ and the Grail.

The stag appears in Harry Potter’s world as a symbol of his father. “Prongs” was the nickname given to Harry’s father James, an animagus who could transform himself into a stag. In the third novel Rowling spoke to her readership through Dumbledore, who told Harry (and us) that the ones who love us never truly leave us, not even in death. When Harry suffered from attacks from soul-sucking Dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban, he had to learn how to conjure a patronus to protect himself. The words “Expecto Patronum!” translate as “I expect a protector!” and protection arrived in the form of a luminous, graceful four-hoofed animal, which Harry initially mistakes for a unicorn. (PA 385) It is a luminous stag, the form his father once took when he was alive, and the brilliant patronus, like a guardian angel providing protection, drove away the darkness and despair of the Dementors. Harry’s protector is a stag, which like the unicorn, is a symbol of Christ.

Harry's stag patronus. His protector is a Christ symbol.

The stag’s female counterpart is the doe. Just as the Knights of the Grail and heroes of Narnia followed the white stag, our hero must follow the silver doe in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “The Silver Doe” is one of the most beautiful chapters in the novel:

A bright silver light appeared right ahead of him, moving through the trees. Whatever the source, it was moving soundlessly. The light seemed simply to drift toward him.

He jumped to his feet, his voice frozen in his throat, and raised Hermione’s wand. He screwed up his eyes as the light became blinding, the trees in front of it pitch-black in silhouette, and still the thing came closer…

And then the source of the light stepped out from behind an oak. It was a silver doe, moon-bright and dazzling, picking her way over the ground, still silent, and leaving no hoofprints in the fine powdering of snow. She stepped toward him, her beautiful head with its wide, long-lashed eyes held high. (DH 365-366)

"The Silver Doe" fan art by Harry_Potter_Spain.

Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the White Stag to find the Holy Grail, Harry followed the Silver Doe into the dark forest. The luminous creature led Harry to a frozen pool where, beneath the ice, lies a shape like “A great silver cross.” (DH 367, emphasis mine) The Silver Doe had lead Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which lay trapped beneath the frozen water.

The Sword of Gryffindor lay like "a great silver cross" beneath the surface of the frozen forest pool.

Harry, wearing the locket of Slytherin Horcrux, dove into the frozen pool and was nearly drowned by the evil power of the Horcrux. Ron’s dramatic return to rescue Harry and destroy the locket occurred in a chapter filled with the imagery of baptism and words of reconciliation between the two best friends.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “Phoenix Rising.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

If you are wondering what other connections can be made between the quest for the Grail Hallows and the quest for the Deathly Hallows, you should read this blog post: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-quest-for-the-deathly-hallows/ You might also like https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/melissa-anelli-and-j-k-rowling-interview/. Comments are welcome! 🙂

 

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You can read part one of this series here: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-one/  Now on to Part Two, in which the Christian symbolism of the unicorn is explained…

The Slaying of the Unicorn

            In addition to the lion and the griffin, another symbol of Christ is the unicorn. Ancient and Medieval lore indicates that a unicorn’s horn possessed miraculous powers of healing. Anyone who drank from the horn would be protected from disease or poison. The Dictionary of Symbolism by Hans Biedermann gives an account of the unicorn’s power to cleanse water that has been fouled by a serpent. The early Christian Physiologus describes as follows the power of the horn to counter the effects of poison: before the other animals come to drink, “the snake comes forward and spits its venom into the water. The animals, however, knowing that the water is poisoned, do not dare to drink. They await the unicorn. The unicorn comes, goes right to the lake and makes a cross with its horn. This removes the effect of the poison. Only after the unicorn has drunk do the other animals approach and do likewise.” (Biedermann 361)

Unicorns, which were once thought to be real animals, appeared in older translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version:

“…his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth…” (Deuteronomy 33:17, KJV)

“Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee?” (Job 39:9-10, KJV)

These references to unicorns in the King James Bible occurred due to an error in translation. About three centuries before Christ, a group of scholars known as The Seventy translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. This translation is known as the Septuagint. The word for a type of wild ox, re’em, was translated monokeros, which means “single horned creature.” The translators were unfamiliar with the word re’em because by that time the animal had become extinct. St. Jerome, in the late 4th century, used the Septuagint as the basis for his Latin translation of the Bible that was in use for many centuries. He translated the Greek monokeros as the Latin word unicornis. Many people understood this word to refer to the mythological unicorn, and therefore believed the animal must be real because it appeared in the Bible. Indeed, Rowling may know this story of why unicorns appeared in the King James Bible because it is apparent that she is familiar with the term re’em. She made use of this Hebrew word to refer to a rare golden ox whose blood gives the drinker immense strength. This reference can be found on page 36 of Rowling’s own Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Perhaps she discovered the term when researching the lore of unicorns.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: J. K. Rowling's own bestiary of the creatures in Harry's world.

In addition to the creature’s appearance in the Bible, the early Church fathers wrote about the unicorn as a symbol of Christ. According to St. Basil the Great (329-375 A.D.), “Christ is the power of God, therefore he is called the unicorn because the one horn symbolizes one common power with the Father.” St. Ambrose (339-397A.D.) also saw the unicorn as a symbol of Christ: “Who is the unicorn but the only begotten Son of God?”

            Because of these associations with Christ, both the lion and the unicorn appeared as Christ symbols in Medieval and Renaissance artwork. Reproductions of The Lady and the Unicorn, a set of famous tapestries from the Museum of Cluny in Paris, appear as wall hangings in the Gryffindor Common Room in all of the Warner Brothers Harry Potter films.

 A lion and a unicorn are depicted in each tapestry along with a female figure.  

Another set of famous unicorn tapestries, currently housed in the Cloisters, the Medieval exhibit of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a set entitled The Hunt of the Unicorn as an Allegory of the Passion. These tapestries, woven in 1495-1505 in the Netherlands, depict the betrayal and passion of Jesus Christ as a unicorn hunt.

The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle. When the unicorn is slain, notice the holly tree depicted behind the unicorn. Harry's wand is made of holly with a phoenix feather core. In the Deathly Hallows, Harry (like the unicorn) is "killed" and brought to the castle.

 

 Although the unicorn is killed in the sixth of the seven tapestries, he appears alive and well in the seventh tapestry. Here, the unicorn is a collared beast in a small enclosure, surrounded by a field of colorful flowers. “The Unicorn in Captivity” is symbolic of the resurrected Christ.

 

A unicorn tapestry copied from this famous work of art appears in the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and can be seen clearly behind Ginny Weasley when she takes Harry by the hand in front of the Room of Requirement. 

 

Here's a copy of The Unicorn in Captivity again. This is photo I took inside the Hogwarts Castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in the summer of 2010.

 In the second tapestry of this series, entitled “The Unicorn is Found,” the unicorn dips his horn into a stream, and is surrounded by other animals who are also Christian symbols, among them are the lion, the weasel, and the stag. All of these animal symbols are pertinent to this discussion of Harry Potter.

            In the book, The Unicorn Tapestries, by Adolfo Salvatore Cavallo, the author explains the symbolism of the unicorn: “Early bestiaries indicate that the unicorn dips its horn into water that wild creatures need for drinking in order to purify it of the poisons that serpents have spewed into it. The allegory is clear: Christ takes on the sins of Man and so purifies him in order to bring about his redemption. The serpent is the devil; the poison he introduces into the world (the water) is sin. ” (Cavallo 57)

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry hears running water as he walks through the Forbidden Forest. He concludes that there must be a stream somewhere close by, and notices spots of unicorn blood along the path. (SS 251) He is aware that there is a creature in the forest that has been killing the unicorns. The stream and the slain unicorn both suggest the imagery of the medieval bestiaries as well as the iconography of The Hunt of the Unicorn as an Allegory of the Passion. Rowling’s description of what Harry sees that night in the forest could be a scene from the crucifixion story that the tapestries portray:

Something bright white was gleaming on the ground. They inched closer.

It was the unicorn all right, and it was dead. Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad. Its long slender legs were stuck out at odd angles where it had fallen and its mane was spread pearly-white on the dark leaves.

Harry had taken one step toward it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. (SS 255-256)

This is the hour of the Crucifixion, the hour of the Serpent’s triumph. It was Voldemort who made the slithering sound over the dead leaves; he was the Great Serpent who murdered the unicorn. Harry’s pain at encountering Voldemort in the forest is so great that he falls to his knees. (SS 256) The Dark Lord has done the unthinkable: he has been drinking the blood of the slain unicorn to sustain himself. His fear of death is such that he would slay the most worthy of creatures to sustain his unnatural life.

“…it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn,” said Firenze. “Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” (SS 258)

This passage echoes St. Paul’s teaching on receiving Holy Communion, and those who receive it unworthily:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.   (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, KJV)

According to St. Paul, to drink the blood of Christ unworthily at Communion is to drink damnation upon oneself. This parallels Fierenze’s claim that Voldemort has done the very same thing by drinking the blood of a unicorn, thus drinking a terrible curse upon himself.

            Harry had a very strange dream in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which may provide a link between the unicorn and the next Christ symbol that we will examine.

He was walking through a forest, his Firebolt over his shoulder, following something silvery-white. It was winding its way through the trees ahead, and he could only catch glimpses of it between the leaves. Anxious to catch up with it, he sped up, but as he moved faster, so did his quarry. Harry broke into a run, and ahead he heard hooves gathering speed. Now he was running flat out, and ahead he could hear galloping. (PA 265)

Was it a unicorn that Harry followed in his mysterious dream? Or was it something else? When Harry saw his corporeal patronus for the first time, he thought that, “It was as bright as a unicorn.” (PA 385) But later, Harry will discover that the silvery-white creature that saved him from the dementors wasn’t a unicorn at all…               

Illustration of the Stag and the Unicorn. Both are Christ symbols in Christian alchemical texts.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “The Hunting of the White Stag.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

You can read more about the symbolism in “The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle” here: http://tinyurl.com/3e9agbv.

 “Two episodes of the hunt narrative are brought together in this hanging. At left, two hunters drive their lances into the neck and chest of the unicorn, as a third delivers the coup de grâce from the back. It has been suggested that the doomed unicorn is an allegory for Christ dying on the Cross; the large holly tree (often a symbol of the Passion) rising from behind his head seems to reinforce this association. In the other episode, at right, a lord and a lady receive the body of the unicorn in front of their castle. They are surrounded by their attendants, with more curious onlookers peering through windows of the turret behind them. The dead animal is slung on the back of a horse, his horn already cut off but still entangled in thorny oak branches—probably symbolizing the Crown of Thorns. The rosary in the hand of the lady and the three other women standing behind the lord encourage a deeper reading of the scene, perhaps as a symbolic Deposition by the grieving Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the Holy Women.”

 When I think of the name given to that tapestry, I am reminded of how Harry was “killed” and brought to the castle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I recently found this quotation regarding the Eucharistic symbolism of both the unicorn and the stag, as well as their alchemical significance:

“The tinctures in alchemy relate also to the substances of the Mass, the red wine, the blood, and the white wafer, the body of Christ. Administration of the Sacraments was seen as spiritualising the souls of the partakers. In alchemical terms these white and red stones or tinctures served much the same purpose, though the alchemists achieved this, not through the intermediacy of a priest but by their own inner work of transmutation. Here alchemy links directly with the Grail stories which use similar parallels between the Grail and the Sacraments. The red tincture was occasionally symbolised by a stag bearing antlers. The stag being seen as a noble masculine animal. This links in with the Unicorn as a symbol of the white or feminine tincture. In some alchemical illustrations, such as that of the late 16th century Book of Lambspring, the Stag and Unicorn meet in the forest of the soul as part of the process of inner transformation.” –from “Animal Symbolism in the Alchemical Tradition” by Adam McLean at http://www.levity.com/alchemy/animal.html.

The link between the Grail Stone of Parzival, the Philospher’s Stone of alchemy, and the Resurrection Stone in Harry Potter was explored in The Lord of the Hallows if that topic is of interest to you. But that’s a blog post for another day. 🙂

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On an upcoming  episode of SQPN’s “Secrets of Harry Potter” podcast, we will be discussing chapter four of The Lord of the Hallows, entitled “Harry Potter and The Bestiary of Christ.” This week, I am posting excerpts from that chapter. Here’s the first installment.

“There might be eagles. There might be stags…”

Badgers!” said Lucy.

—conversation between Peter and Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW 112, emphasis mine.)

            In addition to the themes of free will, life after death, the immortality of the soul, and the power of love and self-sacrifice, the Harry Potter novels are rich in symbolism derived from ancient and Medieval folklore and legends. A wealth of information on Christian symbolism relevant to Harry Potter can be found in The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay.

This book was published in French in 1940 and in English in the early 1990’s. Much of the information in this book is a compilation of various Medieval bestiaries, which were treatises on animals and what they symbolized. Bestiaries were highly imaginative popular literature in Medieval times and were used to teach moral lessons and Christian theology. Some of the animal symbols in this book which are used in the Harry Potter novels include the lion, the serpent, the unicorn, the stag, the phoenix, the basilisk, and the weasel, among others. Our examination of animals used as symbols in the novels will begin with a closer look at the mascots of the four Hogwarts houses: the Slytherin serpent, the Gryffindor lion, the Ravenclaw eagle, and the Hufflepuff badger.

The Symbolism of the Four Houses

            During Harry’s first year at Hogwarts he is introduced to the Sorting Hat ceremony, a yearly ritual at the school in which the new students are sorted into one of four different houses, each house named after the four founders of Hogwarts: Salazaar Slytherin, Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. The hat sings a song to explain the qualities that the four founders of Hogwarts were seeking when selecting students for his or her house:

 

            You might belong in Gryffindor

            Where dwell the brave at heart,

            Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

            Set Gryffindors apart;

            You might belong in Hufflepuff;

            Where they are just and loyal,

            Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

            And unafraid of toil;

            Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

            If you’ve a ready mind,

            Where those of wit and learning,

            Will always find their kind;

            Or perhaps in Slytherin

            You’ll make your real friends,

            Those cunning folk use any means

            To achieve their ends. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 118)

            The conflict of good versus evil at Hogwarts focuses on the enmity between two houses that are always in direct opposition to each other: Gryffindor and Slytherin. Harry Potter, our heroic Gryffindor, is a model of what this house stands for: chivalry and courage. Draco Malfoy, Harry’s Slytherin arch-rival, is also a model of his house’s ideals: ambition and pure-blood supremacy. Even the two characters names reveal their allegiances.  Likewise, Professor Albus Dumbledore, a Gryffindor, and Lord Voldemort, the Heir of Slytherin, have names that were carefully chosen for their symbolic meaning.

Harry’s name could be thought of as the verb “to harry.” The term “to be harried” means to be harassed or distressed by repeated attacks,” as when Harry is harried by the many attempts Voldemort has made to kill him. The name Potter has symbolic meaning derived from the Bible, where God is referred to as a “potter,” as in Isaiah 64:8: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand.” (KJV) Other references to God as the “potter” can be found in Jeremiah 18:5-6 and Romans 9:20-21.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron are in Gryffindor House, the House of the Lion. Their friend Luna is in Ravenclaw House, but here Luna is showing her support for her friends on the Gryffindor Quidditch team by wearing her unique lion hat.

The name Albus Dumbledore means “white bumblebee.” An alb is the white garment worn by a Catholic priest, and dumbledor is an archaic word that means bumblebee. Tolkien made use of this word in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in “Errantry,” a poem which tells of a diminutive hero who vanquished the giant insects in battle. (Tolkien Reader 214) According to the Bestiary of Christ, the bumblebee was a symbol of the soul’s survival after death. The bee disappears in winter and reappears in the spring, thus becoming a signifier of the Resurrection.

"Dumbledore means 'bumblebee' in old English and JKR said that she liked to think of him walking down the corridors, humming to himself, so I thought I'd draw him humming away to the first spring bumblebee."--fan artist penguin2006

Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, has a name that has very negative connotations. Draco is the Latin word for “dragon” or “serpent,” both traditional Biblical symbols of Satan, most notably the serpent who tempted Eve in the book of Genesis and the serpent described in Revelation 20:2, “…the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan…” (KJV) The surname Malfoy can be thought of as the French mal foi, which translates as “bad faith,” so Draco Malfoy’s name literally means “Dragon of Bad Faith” or “Serpent of Bad Faith.”

Draco Malfoy's Dark Mark.

            The most extensive serpent imagery associated with any one character in the novels is that imagery which surrounds the supreme villain, Lord Voldemort. He is a descendant of Salazaar Slytherin, the founder of Slytherin House. He, like his ancestor, is a parselmouth who can speak to snakes. Voldemort has a hairless, snake-like appearance, having two slit-like nostrils instead of a human nose.

Voldemort

His loyal minions, the Death Eaters, are each identified by the Dark Mark, a distinctive snake and skull tattoo. This is a symbol from Christian art: the skull and serpent are often depicted at the foot of the Cross of Calvary. The skull represents death, the punishment for the sin of Adam, and it is symbolic of the fallen nature of mankind. According to Jewish legend, Adam’s burial place was at Golgotha, the “place of the skull.” The skull at the foot of the cross was there to represent Adam’s skull, and the serpent was present as an allusion to Satan, the great tempter in the Garden of Eden who brought about the fall of mankind.

In this depiction of the Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, the skull of Adam is present at the foot of the cross.

As the teenager Tom Riddle, Voldemort opened the Chamber of Secrets and unleashed the great serpent, the basilisk, upon the Hogwarts School. The basilisk, or cockatrice, is another symbol of Satan which is mentioned in Isaiah 14:29 (KJV): “Out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.”  In The Bestiary of Christ, the basilisk is described as a symbol of Satanic evil. This is mentioned in a description of a little country church that was decorated with “the image of a knight on foot striking a helmeted basilisk with his sword. It is the struggle between Good and Evil, so often and variously depicted, and could be seen as Christ fighting with Satan.” (Bestiary 423) This imagery is found in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the chapter that describes how Harry used the Sword of Godric Gryffindor to slay the basilisk.

The name Godric means “power of God,” reminding us that the Christian, like Harry, will not be abandoned in his or her fight with the Great Serpent. We have the “power of God” on our side in our conflict with the Dragon. Also note that the surname Gryffindor can be thought of as the French griffin d’or which means “griffin of gold.”  The griffin, according to the bestiaries, is a symbol of Christ because of its dual nature: it is both lion and eagle, just as Christ is both God and Man. The eagle is a creature of the heavens, symbolizing the divine nature of Christ, and the lion is a creature of the earth, representing Christ the Man. The griffin’s mastery of the earth and sky came to be associated with Christ’s Ascension. The griffin was, through its association with Jesus Christ, thought to be the enemy of serpents and basilisks who, as previously mentioned, are symbolic of the Devil.

Griffins from the recent film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The eagle, mascot of Ravenclaw House, was a symbol of Baptism because the ancients believed the eagle’s life was renewed by plunging itself three times into a body of water, hence its depiction on Christian baptismal fonts. The eagle was often depicted as a slayer of serpents in many cultures, and thus viewed as an enemy of Satan. Its ability to soar to great heights was associated with Christ’s Ascension, as well as with St. John, the evangelist who was considered to be the most “intellectual” of the four gospel authors. This association of the high-flying eagle with great intellectual acumen may be the reason J.K. Rowling made it the mascot for Ravenclaw, whose motto is “Wit beond measure is man’s greatest treasure.” The eagles in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have a brief but important role, used symbolically to represent Divine Providence or Divine Intervention.

"The Eagles are Coming" by fantasy artist Michael Whelan depicts the rescue of Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

That the Gryffindor mascot is a lion is not surprising; the lion is a Biblical symbol of Christ and a symbol of the Resurrection.  In Revelation 5:5 Jesus is referred to as “the lion of the Tribe of Judah.” The lion was also a symbol of the Resurrection to the early and medieval Christians because it was believed that lion’s cubs were born dead. When the cubs were three days old, the father lion breathed on them and brought them to life, just as Christ lay in the tomb for three days before the Resurrection. This same symbolism of Christ the Lion is used by C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia. The character of Aslan is a magnificent lion and a literary “Christ figure” who sacrifices himself to save the life of a human traitor. He is gloriously resurrected due to the workings of “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.” We know that Jo Rowling read and loved this story as a child, and I believe that Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles had an influence on the plot and symbolism of the entire Harry Potter series.

Aslan's dramatic resurrection in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Perhaps that is why Aslan’s colors are associated with Gryffindor House: Peter Pevensie’s shield was decorated with a red lion rampant, and his sword had a golden hilt. (LWW 160) Aslan’s army had tents of crimson and yellow, with banners depicting the red lion. (LWW 168) The colors of Gryffindor House are, of course, red and gold.

High King Peter, a knight of Narnia clad in Aslan's colors.

J.K. Rowling’s description of the Hufflepuff dormitories will seem familiar to fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: There are “little underground tunnels leading to the dormitories, all of which have perfectly round doors, like barrel tops,” she said in the Bloomsbury live online chat on July 30, 2007. This description sounds remarkably like the description Tolkien gave of Bilbo Baggins’ home, a comfortable hobbit hole called Bag End. Bilbo’s home is a cozy, luxurious tunnel-like construction with perfectly round doors.

Gandalf visits Bag End in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Hufflepuff House is known for the virtues of loyalty and hard work, and is represented by a badger mascot. Perhaps a Narnian influence can be detected here as well: in Lewis’ Prince Caspian the badger Trufflehunter is one of the Old Narnians that aids Caspian in the war with the wicked usurper, King Miraz. Trufflehunter the Badger is loyal to Aslan even in the darkest of times. Trufflehunter’s faith in the Great Lion remains strong, even when many other Narnians have ceased to believe. Likewise, there are many Hufflepuff students who are loyal to Harry: some are members of Dumbledore’s Army, and many more are among the large number of Hufflepuff students who stand alongside the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws who fight to defend the castle in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Loyal as a badger: Trufflehunter was known for his loyalty to Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia. Loyalty is also a virtue that the members of Hufflepuff House are known to display.
 Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “The Slaying of the Unicorn.” If you would like to order a copy of The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter by Denise Roper, the book can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

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http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Harry_Potter_unofficial_guidebooks

How many of these books have you read? I have read most (but not all) of them and have met several of the authors, including John Granger, Travis Prinzi, Connie Neal, Logospilgrim, Eryn Pyne, Ed Kern, James W. Thomas, George Beahm, Steve Vander Ark, and Melissa Anelli. Oh, yeah. I wrote one of the books on the list also. 😉

Essays and Literary CritiquesEdit Essays and Literary Critiques section

These include book analysis, studies, theories, philosophy, essay compilations, and literary criticisms.

Guides, Folklore, MythologyEdit Guides, Folklore, Mythology section

Guides and facts based in the book series. Includes encyclopedic books.

Franchise and FandomEdit Franchise and Fandom section

Books based on the sucess of the actual series, franchise, and fandom.

OthersEdit Others section

Miscellaneous books that don’t fall into other categories.

Trivia and FunEdit Trivia and Fun section

J.K. RowlingEdit J.K. Rowling section

 

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Here it is! The Secrets of Harry Potter Episode #63–“Christmas at Hogwarts” is now available for download. (You can listen to this podcast on your computer’s speakers if you don’t have an ipod.)

http://secrets.sqpn.com/2010/12/23/shp-63-christmas-at-hogwarts/

The blog post that we were discussing is this one: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/christmas-in-harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows/ You can refer to it so see the photos of the Deathly Hallows film set that we were discussing.

Jim, Ari, Maria, Lyn, and I recorded this episode on Wednesday morning. Let me know what you think of it! 🙂

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Christian Symbolism in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: Missed Opportunities

I have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One twice now–first on opening day and again yesterday–and there is something that has been bothering me about the film for a week now. I am profoundly disappointed by the absence of the two Biblical quotations Rowling included in the novel and which were left out of the theatrical version of the film. The first was from Matthew 6:21.

Harry stooped down and saw, upon the frozen, lichen-spotted granite,  the words KENDRA DUMBLEDORE and, a short way below her dates of birth and death, AND HER DAUGHTER ARIANA. There was also a quotation: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows page 325)

This inscription is from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, which should be examined in the context in which it appears in the Bible: This quotation is from Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)

We know that the tomb of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore was designed for the film; a photo of it was published in the book Harry Potter Film Wizardry.

The quotation from Matthew 6:21 is visible at the bottom of the tombstone.

In an earlier blog post I explained the significance of the quatrefoil and the IHS which appear at the top of this grave marker. Here’s a quote from this earlier post: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/christian-imagery-in-deathly-hallows-film-photos-of-godrics-hollow-churchyard/

 

Quatrefoil: ubiquitous in Gothic architecture, the quatrefoil symbolizes the four evangelists, as do the Winged Man (Matthew), Lion (Mark), Ox (Luke), and Eagle (John) — the four beasts of Ezeckiel and the Apocalypse.

IHS: dating from the 8th c., this is an abbreviation for “IHESUS,” the way Christ’s Name was spelled in the Middle Ages (despite popular belief, the monogram stands neither for “Iesus Hominum Salvator” –”Jesus Saviour of Men” — nor for “In His Service.”) Popularized by St. Bernardine of Siena, the monogram was later used by St. Ignatius of Loyola as a symbol for the Jesuit Order.

I really missed seeing this Christian imagery in the theatrical version of the film. I also wanted the film makers to include more information about Dumbledore’s background and personal tragedies. Perhaps this need for more exposition in the film is the reason that the tomb of Kendra and Ariana was not shown in the theaters. Dumbledore felt a great deal of guilt about their deaths, a burden that he had to bear for the rest of his life. I think that Dumbledore learned a lesson that Voldemort had not been able to comprehend: his “treasures” were not possessions or objects of power, but the people that he loved. If they had included this Biblical quotation in the film, it could have been made to tie in nicely with Ron’s return. The light from Dumbledore’s deluminator went into Ron’s heart and then guided him back to the one he loves most: Hermione. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.

The “heart” can also serve as a metaphor for the human soul. Where Voldemort’s “treasures” (the Horcruxes) are hidden is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione will find the Dark Lord’s “heart”– that is, the fragments of his torn and mutilated soul. They will be the thieves that break into Gringotts to steal the cup Horcrux in order to destroy it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two.

The tombstone with the quotation from Matthew 6:21 is discussed briefly in the video game based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One. (Harry remarks that he did not know that Dumbledore had a sister.) You can see a video of this part of the game in the blog post that I made yesterday: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/deathly-hallows-part-one-video-game-walk-through/ The Biblical quotation from Matthew 6:21 is not visible in the game walk-through however.

In the video game, Harry reads aloud the words inscribed on his parents’ grave marker–the second Biblical quotation Rowling included in the novel.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

This is a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15:26. The quote can be seen on the Potters’ tomb in the theatrical version of the film but it is not discussed by Harry and Hermione as it was in the novel.

These photos of the Godric’s Hollow churchyard are from the Panini sticker book.

 

This is Rowling’s description of that scene which was omitted from the film:

Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud. “ ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’…” A horrible thought came to him, and with it, a kind of panic. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”

“It doesn’t meaning defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows page 328)

The theme of death and of life after death was one of the most important themes in the Harry Potter series. The omission of these lines from the film was a huge thematic flaw in my opinion.

Christian Symbolism in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: What They Got Right

The theatrical cut of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One did have a certain amount of obvious Christian imagery, which was very well done. Early in the film, when Hermione has erased her parents’ memories of her and leaves home, she walks down the street in the direction of a building which may be a  church. (This is a scene that was not in the novel.)

When Harry and Hermione arrive in Godric’s Hollow, the sound of a church bell tolling can be heard as they walk down the street. When they arrive outside the graveyard we do hear the sound of singing inside of the little village church. The congregation is celebrating Christmas Eve. When Harry looks through the iron fence at the church graveyard and asks Hermione if she thinks his parents are in there, she assures him with confidence that they are. Once inside the churchyard there many are cross-shaped gravemarkers that are visible. There is no mistaking it: James and Lily Potter are buried in hallowed ground.

Then there’s the Sword of Godric Gryffindor:

The scene is as I described it in The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

It is on the day after Christmas that Harry and his friends begin to make real progress in accomplishing their mission to defeat Voldemort. Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the white stag through the forest to find the Grail Chapel, Harry followed the silver doe to a frozen forest pool where he saw a shape  like “a great silver cross” (DH 367).  It was the Sword of Gryffindor hidden beneath the ice. The sword is one of the most fundamental Christian symbols:

The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood, but to give us His. (Kreeft 224)              

Harry, while wearing the locket, tried to retrieve the sword, but the Horcrux around his neck began to choke him. It was when Harry began to drown that Ron returned to save his life. Proving himself to be a true Gryffindor, Ron pulled the sword from the water and severed the locket’s hold on Harry. Voldemort, like Satan the Father of Lies, made a desperate effort to claim Ron as his own, and Ron, like the weasel who strikes against the venomous serpent, was able to strike the first fatal blow against Voldemort by destroying the locket Horcrux with Gryffindor’s sword.

This quote was from page 81 of The Lord of the Hallows. The quote within the passage above which describes the Cross as God’s Sword is from Peter Kreeft’s wonderful book Catholic Christianity. J. K. Rowling herself described the Sword of Godric Gryffindor as being shaped like “a great silver cross” in the novel on page 367, (emphasis mine).

I gave chapter 8 of The Lord of the Hallows the title “Belief in God in the World of Harry Potter.” Here’s an excerpt:

“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. In book one there is a reference to the concept of sin in the warning given to those who would steal from the Gringotts goblins: “Enter stranger, but take heed of what awaits the sin of greed.” (SS 72) Harry, Ron, and Hermione even manage to escape from a deadly plant called the Devil’s Snare. (SS 277-278) In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53), Draco Malfoy says “God” (PA 113), Hagrid utters “Gawd knows.” (PA 274), and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) Lupin also helps Harry learn the difference between losing one’s life and losing one’s soul. (PA 247) In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70)

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling’s use of Christian references and images becomes more obvious than in the previous novels. Good wizard characters say “thank God” (Harry on page 74, Molly on page 78, Ron on page 142), and there are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint, who, according to pious legends, was a dragon slayer, taking up arms against Satan, who appeared to him in the form of a mighty serpent. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 72-73)

George’s “holy” joke is in the film, in a particularly well-acted scene between the Weasley Twins. I also noticed two exclamations of “Oh my God!” in the movie. The first was uttered by Ron Weasley when he is in disguise as Reg Cattermole at the Ministry of Magic. The second exclamation was made by Hermione Granger in the tent when she makes the realization that the Sword of Godric Gryffindor can destroy Horcruxes.  The Deathly Hallow known as the Resurrection Stone is also mentioned by Xenophilius Lovegood after Hermione reads aloud “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” I loved the animation which accompanied her narration, particularly the appearance of the Angel of Death who ascends to Heaven with the third brother at the tale’s conclusion. We have seen the Angel of Death in a Harry Potter film prior to this one, in the graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Yes, there are action figures. Is this the “Harry Potter and the Angel of Death” playset?

I am eagerly looking forward to the Christian themes and imagery that inevitably will be present in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. If you are interested in the topic of Christian symbolism, imagery, and themes in the Harry Potter series, please consider reading my book, The Lord of the Hallows, which is available from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

Comments are welcome!

 

 

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