Flamel was born in 1330 and died in 1418, along the way becoming one of the greatest alchemists in the world. The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris contains works copied in his own hand and original works written by him. His wife, Perenelle, was a rare person indeed. She became his lifelong companion and confidante, keeping his secrets and assisting him in his studies to her dying day. She never revealed her husband's secrets to anyone. Her secrecy caused no end of headaches for later researchers, because just what Flamel had discovered remains a mystery to this day.
What seems to be clear, however, is that Flamel owed his knowledge of alchemy and other esoterica to a single source: The Book of Abraham the Jew, which he received from a stranger who entered his bookstore one day. The book was full of Kabbalistic words in Greek and Hebrew, and Flamel had a devil of a time getting them translated.
According to Merton:
One day, when Nicolas Flamel was alone in his shop, an unknown man in need of money appeared with a manuscript to sell. Flamel was no doubt tempted to receive him with disdainful arrogance, as do the booksellers of our day when some poor student offers to sell them part of his library. But the moment he saw the book he recognized it as the book that the angel had held out to him, and he paid two florins for it without bargaining. The book appeared to him indeed resplendent and instinct with divine virtue. It had a very old binding of worked copper, on which were engraved curious diagrams and certain characters, some of which were Greek and others in a language he could not decipher. The leaves of the book were not made of parchment, like those he was accustomed to copy and bind. They were made of the bark of young trees and were covered with very clear writing done with an iron point. These leaves were divided into groups of seven and consisted of three parts separated by a page without writing, but containing a diagram that was quite unintelligible to Flamel. On the first page were written words to the effect that the author of the manuscript was Abraham the Jew - prince, priest, Levite, astrologer, and philosopher. [my note: Abraham of the Bible] Then followed great curses and threats against anyone who set eyes on it unless he was either a priest or a scribe. The mysterious word maranatha, which was many times repeated on every page, intensified the awe-inspiring character of the text and diagrams. But most impressive of all was the patined gold of the edges of the book, and the atmosphere of hallowed antiquity that there was about it.17
Flamel made it his life's work to understand the text of these lost secrets. He had acquired extensive knowledge of the alchemic arts prior to obtaining the book; by the 14th century, the wisdom of the Arabs and Jews had found their way to Christian Europe, and as a bookseller and copyist Flamel certainly had access to them. So he sought out the Arabs and Jews in order to decipher the book. He traveled to universities in Andalusia to consult with Jewish and Muslim authorities. In Spain, he met a mysterious master who taught him the art of understanding his manuscript, but it still took him 21 years to unravel the mystery of the book. Whether or not he succeeded in actually finding the Philosopher's Stone is a matter still hotly debated.
In any case, after his return to France, Flamel suddenly became fabulously wealthy. He established low-income housing for the poor, founded hospitals and endowed churches, never living extravagantly himself. According to the historian Louis Figuier: "Husband and wife lavished succor on the poor, founded hospitals, built or repaired cemeteries, restored the front of Saint Genevieve des Ardents and endowed the institution of the Quinze-Vingts, the blind inmates of which, in memory of this fact, came every year to the church of Saint Jacques la Boucherie to pray for their benefactor, a practice which continued until 1789." 18
On his death in 1418, Flamel was supposedly buried in a church and his tombstone decorated with the most amazing alchemical symbols imaginable. Some years later his grave was opened, and surprisingly enough the grave was empty. It was the same with Perenelle's. A lot of sources allow for the possibility that maybe he really did find the Elixir of Life. Modern scientists have recreated his experiments in a modern laboratory and though it took 700 distillations they actually were able to reproduce part of his experiment. 19
What happened to The Book of Abraham the Jew after Flamel's death? No one knows for sure, but somehow, Cardinal Richelieu (of The Three Musketeers fame) managed to acquire The Book of Abraham the Jew for his own collection. Richelieu's personal library was, in fact, full of books on esoterica, the Occult and various Gnostic texts. How he managed to come by one of the most famous of all occult books is a mystery, but the book disappeared after his death, never to be seen again.
So did Flamel really die? Some think not, because of a curious figure that kept popping up throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the person of the Comte de St. Germain. St. Germain was reported to be a French aristocrat who held the secrets of the Elixir of Life and who shared it with various French nobles and royals, including Madam Pompadour.
History knows quite a bit about St. Germain - except when he was born. The first we hear of him is in London and in 1745 in Edinburgh, where he was arrested for spying, presumably for the Jacobites that were waging war on the throne of England at the time. He disappeared in 1746 and was not seen again until 1758 in Versailles. During this time in Paris he gave diamonds as gifts and reputedly hinted that he was centuries old. In 1760 he left for England through Holland when the minister of State, the Duke of Choiseul, tried to have him arrested. After that the Count passed through the Netherlands into Russia and apparently was in St Petersburg when the Russian army put Catherine the Great on the throne. Later conspiracy theories credit him for causing it. Later he was in Belgium, offering his treatments of wood, oil and metals. While there, he hinted of a royal birth to the Belgian minister and actually turned iron into something resembling gold.
In 1763 he disappeared for 11 more years, and the next we hear of him is in Bavaria in 1774, then in Germany in 1776, where he once again offered his seemingly alchemic recipes. He alienated King Frederick's emissaries by his claims of transmutation of gold and in some accounts compared himself to God and claimed to be a Freemason. He settled in a house of Prince Karl of Hesse-Kassel, governor of Schleswig-Holstein and studied herbal remedies and chemistry to give to the poor, claiming he was a Francis Rakoczy II, Prince of Transylvania.
According to Wikipedia, St. Germain died in 1784 of pneumonia. However, there were reported sightings of him alive in Paris in 1835 (by which time he would be at least 100 years old), Milan in 1867 and in Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars. Reports of him continue until 1926, which is, interestingly enough, the same year Tom Marvolo Riddle was born on December 31.
The idea of St. Germain and Flamel as one and the same person seems farfetched; however, one can't help but wonder: where did St. Germain acquire the Elixir? Did he by chance stumble on the Book of Abraham the Jew, which disappeared after Cardinal Richelieu's death? Or was it all a hoax? No matter the explanation, both Nicolas Flamel and the Comte de St. Germain remain two of the most intriguing characters in all of alchemy.
Regardless of Flamel's status, his invention plays the pivotal role in the book. Harry's search for the truth behind the mysterious Gringotts break-in and the realization that the target is the Philosopher's Stone puts him and his friends constantly in the path of Severus Snape. From the beginning, Snape and Harry detest each other; Snape's overbearing condescension and acidic nature are a constant thorn in Harry's side. Harry is convinced that Snape is trying to steal the Stone, only to be proven wrong, as he would be time and time again.
As mentioned earlier, Snape represents vitriol, the catalyst of the transformation process. It is present in all seven stages (as Snape has been present in all six books, and his return in Book 7 is guaranteed). The catalyst is not destroyed in the reaction; in fact, it is not changed at all by the transformation. This will become crucial when we discuss Book 7.
Harry's archnemesis, Draco Malfoy, represents the entire first stage of the Great Work. His name, Draco, means "dragon", and the dragon stands for the prima materia before it begins its transformation. It is significant, then, that we meet Draco in Diagon Alley, before the train ride to Hogwarts. Neville represents the toad, or earthly matter”the First Matter, which is the very first stage before even the prima materia is obtained. In many fairytales, the toad is a symbol of failure, and Neville can be seen as just that until the fifth book. In alchemy, the toad is a lowly creature until it meets the eagle or white swan in the fifth stage, and this is just what happens to Neville as he begins to come into his own in Order of the Phoenix.
The introduction of Quidditch in the world of Harry Potter is steeped in alchemic and archetypical symbolism. As the Seeker for the Gryffindor team, Harry's job is to find and catch the Golden Snitch. However, the word Seeker describes Harry wonderfully - he truly is a seeker, a seeker of truth and enlightenment. The Bludgers represent the obstacles along the way, as he tries to duck and dodge the events that conspire to keep him from his goal. The Golden Snitch, however, is the most important object in the game. A tiny gold ball with wings, the Snitch represents the higher planes of consciousness”the Philosopher's Stone. The Harry Potter Lexicon describes Bowman Wright, the man who invented the Golden Snitch, as a "metal charmer' which is another name for a metallurgist, or alchemist. Interestingly, a golden ball with wings sat on the top of Hermes' caduceus; according to the Alchemic Electronic Dictionary, the caduceus symbolizes the "conjunction of alchemical principles and their offspring, if it lives, is the Stone. This Stone is represented as a golden ball with wings at the top of the caduceus."
Eventually, Harry, Ron and Hermione find their way past the trapdoor and Fluffy, the three-headed dog modeled on Cerebus of Greek mythology. The trials they endure before Harry can finally enter the room where the Mirror of Erised is kept are a rite of passage in themselves; they must prove themselves worthy before they can go on.
The final battle with Professor Quirrell before the Mirror has very strong alchemical links as well. Although the Mirror itself is an invention of Rowling's, the manner in which it functions is true to the alchemic tradition. Dumbledore, himself an alchemist, is well aware of the principle of love and enlightenment, and hides the Stone in a place where only the pure at heart would be able to obtain it. Professor Quirrell can see himself with the Philosopher's Stone but does not get it. Why? Because he wanted it for material gain and power”to return his master to strength. Harry, on the other hand, wanted to get the Stone to keep it safe; in no way did he ever intend to use it for himself. This is why he was able to get the Stone from the Mirror and Quirrell was not.
This is the path on which Harry finds himself”the path to enlightenment. Only by seeking that part of himself”his goodness and love”will he find the means to destroy Voldemort once and for all. He must become the physical embodiment of the Philosopher's Stone, achieving spiritual perfection and immortality, before he will finally be free of the bond between himself and Tom Riddle.
Year 2: The Chamber of Secrets
The second stage of the operation, or dissolution, represents the further breakdown of the ego. Unconsciously, the mind begins to allow buried memories and repressed thoughts come to the surface. According to Adam McLean, dissolution can be described as a "flow' the bliss of being well-used and actively engaged in creative acts without traditional prejudices, personal hang-ups, or established hierarchy getting in the way.20
Chamber of Secrets introduces us to the wizarding concepts of blood and heritage, and leads to the inherent prejudices of some "purebloods" towards Muggle-borns ("mudbloods") and half bloods. Harry must learn to navigate within this framework while trying to unravel the riddle of the legendary Chamber of Secrets.
In this book we are introduced to some very interesting characters: Dobby the House-Elf, Fawkes, the basilisk, Aragog the Acromantula, and Tom Riddle, prefect, model student and all-around Hogwarts Golden Boy. From the moment Harry finds Tom's diary, Tom Riddle captures our interest as well as Harry's. Harry feels an instant curiosity, and despite Ron and Hermione's warnings, investigates the secrets of the diary further.
In a passage that has elicited fantastic discussion and debate, Harry cannot throw the diary away:
Harry couldn't explain, even to himself, why he didn't just throw Riddle's diary away. The fact was that even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish. And while Harry was sure he'd never heard the name T.M. Riddle before, it still seemed to mean something to him, almost as though Riddle was a friend he'd had when he was very small, and had half-forgotten. (CoS, p 235)
Is Harry remembering a long-buried memory from the past? Harry's connection to Lord Voldemort has never been adequately explained, a fact that is no doubt intentional on Rowling's part. While we probably will not know the answer to the meaning of this passage until Book 7, if even then, it seems that Harry has a connection to Tom Riddle as well as to Lord Voldemort, one that can be explained alchemically. Harry trusts Tom, and even he does not know why. He does not question it, he does not doubt it. It is just a feeling he has that he can depend on Tom, even though he is only a memory and not in any way real.
Harry discovers via the diary (or thinks he does) that Hagrid opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years previous, a turn of events that he is too afraid to ask Hagrid about. When the Chamber is opened again and several students are attacked, Hagrid is sent to Azkaban. Before being taken away, however, Hagrid imparts a last directive to Harry and Ron, telling them to "follow the spiders." This leads us to Aragog, the acromantula that Hagrid raised from an egg.
Spiders crop up not only in alchemy but in Tarot as well. The spider is considered the Master Weaver of the Wheel of Fortune and the forecaster of fate. In addition, spiders symbolize the connections between the past, present and future. Aragog, then, represents the balance of fate and fortune, and really does represent the past as the only remaining witness, besides Hagrid, to the first opening of the Chamber. He symbolizes the strands of the delicate web that weaves the past, present and future together. This is just what Harry learns in this book’that he and Tom Riddle are inextricably linked together by the Wheel of Time.
When Harry comes face to face with Tom in the Chamber of Secrets, he still trusts him, but things quickly turn ugly as Tom's motivations become clear. Memory Tom represents for Harry what he could become, depending on the choices he makes, just as Dumbledore represents to Tom what he could have become; Harry and Tom are two sides of the same coin, shadowy reflections of each other. In fact, it could be said that Tom is Harry's alter ego. To Harry's credit, he never once wavers from the True Path, and in doing so is rewarded for his loyalty with the timely arrival of Fawkes, without whom Harry would certainly have died.
Rowling emphasizes strongly throughout the series the importance of choices in our lives. As Dumbledore says, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (PoA, p. 333) This theme will reverberate through the rest of the books and outlines the primary difference between Harry and Tom Riddle.
Many of us wonder if Tom also was an alchemist; if he was one, he was a Black Alchemist as opposed to Dumbledore's White Alchemist. As mentioned earlier, the alchemist must enter his studies with a pure heart, which Tom did not do. Full of anger and rage, he chose power and material gain over love and purity, and in doing so sealed his own fate. He will never achieve immortality, despite his best attempts.
The Chamber itself represents the Below, the realm of matter and the mundane. This motif is present in The Philosopher's Stone, in the Mirror Room; in Prisoner of Azkaban, in the Shrieking Shack; in Goblet of Fire, where the confrontation takes place in a graveyard; and in Order of the Phoenix, where the battle takes place deep underground in the Ministry of Magic. These are all symbols of the Black stage, which ends with Order of the Phoenix.
Deep within the Chamber, the basilisk and the phoenix play major roles in the outcome. Both are alchemical symbols; the basilisk is a symbolic alchemical creature said to have the head of a bird and the body of a dragon. This wingless serpentine animal hatched from a hermaphroditic cock's egg after 900 years and was nursed by a serpent. Clearly, however, the basilisk in this case is a serpent or snake. It is the mortal enemy of the phoenix, which represents death and resurrection. This is symbolized by Fawkes' tears, which have healing powers and cure Harry of the basilisk's poison.
Curiously enough, according to The Medieval Bestiary, the Latin name of the basilisk is regulus; it was called the King of the Serpents because its Greek name basilicus means "little king." Regulus is Latin for king. According to Pliny the Elder [1st century CE]:
Anyone who sees the eyes of a basilisk serpent (basilisci serpentis) dies immediately. It is no more than twelve inches long, and has white markings on its head that look like a diadem. Unlike other snakes, which flee its hiss, it moves forward with its middle raised high. Its touch and even its breath scorch grass, kill bushes and burst rocks. Its poison is so deadly that once when a man on a horse speared a basilisk, the venom travelled up the spear and killed not only the man, but also the horse. A weasel can kill a basilisk; the serpent is thrown into a hole where a weasel lives, and the stench of the weasel kills the basilisk at the same time as the basilisk kills the weasel.21
Harry's journey continues. His second year at Hogwarts has given him much to think about; some things in the wizarding world are not what they seem. He questions his place in it, and the role he must fill to defeat Voldemort. Above all, he learns that his choices define him and unconsciously decides to stay on the right path, to choose what is right over what is easy, a decision that will serve him well in Prisoner of Azkaban.
Year 3: Prisoner of Azkaban
Prisoner of Azkaban introduces us to even more fascinating characters: the shabby but kind Professor Lupin, the Marauders' Map, Peter Pettigrew, Buckbeak the Hippogriff, Crookshanks the Kneazle and the roguish Sirius Black. We also meet the dementors for the first time, as well as the concepts of time turning and the patronus, both of which ultimately save both Harry's life and Sirius'.
In this book we encounter the third stage of transformation, called separation, which represents the reclaiming the part of ourselves where our hopes and dreams lie. Separation is a conscious process of mental housekeeping, where we decide what to keep and what to throw away, keeping only the parts that fit with our new outlook on life. It means letting go of old restraints imposed by teachers, parents and others, so we can finally begin to be ourselves and reach our full potential.22
Sirius Black steals the show in Prisoner of Azkaban. An innocent man wrongly condemned to a life sentence in Azkaban, Sirius represents the salt in the alchemical process. As mentioned earlier, salt was one of the three most important substances in alchemy, with mercury and sulfur. The Emerald Tablet calls it "the Glory of the Whole Universe' and "the beginning and the end of the great work." His importance in the alchemical work will be discussed in greater detail in Year 5: Order of the Phoenix. Here it will suffice to say that Sirius' role in the story is crucial, and that we have a good introduction to his character in Prisoner of Azkaban.
Before Harry leaves for Hogwarts, he comes in contact with a large black dog while waiting for the Knight Bus after blowing up his Aunt Marge. Little does he know that the dog is actually mass murderer Sirius Black; however, the dog itself has alchemic connotations. In alchemy, dogs signify primitive matter or natural sulfur. A dog being devoured by a wolf symbolizes the process of purifying gold using antimony, and we see this process near the end of the book during the fight between Sirius and Lupin. Not surprisingly, then, Professor Lupin represents antimony or stribite, also known as the Grey Wolf. The alchemist Basil Valentine named the metal after feeding it to some monks in a Benedictine monastery. The monks got violently ill and some even died, hence the Latin name that means "anti-monk." Spiritually too, many people feel most threatened by their own animal nature. As a werewolf, Lupin symbolizes the animal urges that we all have in monstrous form, which are elements that we need to learn to control if we are to move ahead spiritually.
It is no accident that Lupin takes the place of a father figure in Harry's life. Through Lupin, he learns to drive off the dementors (Rowling's expression of depression) by realizing that he cannot live in the past. This fits with the model of the third stage of alchemy, separation. Harry begins to separate himself from his parents and form his own identity. Once he learns to "tune out" his mother's screams when the dementors are near, Harry can then produce a patronus, or guardian. He reclaims a part of himself that knows his parents loved him and sacrificed themselves for him, but that he cannot dwell in the past to the point where he forgets to live. Lupin is crucial to this process.
Harry's patronus takes the form of a white stag, which not only has religious overtones but alchemical symbolism as well. The alchemists called this the Fugitive Stag and it represents the feminine (water) energy of the Great Work, or the protective and nurturing element of the transformation. The stag's rack of antlers represents the constellations and the zodiac”the Above and the higher realms of consciousness. This is the Aceton of Greek mythology, the hunter who was turned into a stag for admiring the nude Artemis while she was bathing in a pond.
We first meet Buckbeak the Hippogriff in Hagrid's first action-packed class as a Hogwarts teacher. In alchemy, Vessel of Hermes (another name for the Cup of Solomon or the Holy Grail) was called the Griffin's Egg. According to Thomas Bulfinch's Legends of Charlemagne:
Like a griffin, it has the head of an eagle, claws armed with talons, and wings covered with feathers, the rest of its body being that of a horse. This strange animal is called a Hippogriff.
The reason for its great rarity is that griffins despise horses, which they regard with the same feelings a dog has about a cat. In medieval times there was an expression, "To mate griffins with horses", which meant about the same as the modern expression, "When pigs fly". The hippogriff was therefore a symbol of impossibility and love. This was supposedly inspired by Virgil's Ecologues: ... mate Gryphons with mares, and in the coming age shy deer and hounds together come to drink.., which would also be the source for the reputed medieval expression, if indeed it was one.
Among the animal combat themes in Scythian gold adornments may be found griffins attacking horses.
The hippogriff seemed easier to tame than a griffin. In the few medieval legends when this fantastic creature makes an appearance, it is usually the pet of either a knight or a sorcerer. It makes an excellent steed, being able to fly as fast as lightning. The hippogriff is said to be an omnivore, eating either plants or meat.23
At Buckbeak's "execution" near the end of the story, we come across one of the symbols of separation: the hatchet; although in the book it is an axe, the symbolism is the same. MacNair sharpens his blade on a stone in preparation for the event, and uses it to execute Buckbeak. Other symbols for this stage include swords, arrows, scythes and knives.
Other animal symbolism crops up in Prisoner of Azkaban as well. Peter Pettigew's nickname is "Wormtail", and with good reason. In alchemy, the worm is another depiction of the Ouroboros, or the snake holding its own tail. The Ouroboros symbolizes a great circle and the idea that "all is one" and that time is a cycle of destruction and regeneration. Peter tipped the scales in Prisoner of Azkaban by escaping and going back to Voldemort. However, he will regret what he has done, and in the final book atone for his mistakes by contributing to Voldemort's downfall, thereby redeeming himself. When that happens, events will have come full circle, just as the snake holding its tail is complete.
Once again, the events in the Shrieking Shack (the Below in this case) prove just what strong stuff Harry is made of. Instead of allowing Sirius and Lupin to kill Peter, Harry spares him, preferring to send him to the dementors instead, something that neither Sirius nor Lupin fully understands. Harry's moral superiority and quintessential heart really show themselves here. He does not want his father's two best friends to become killers, and he unwittingly binds Wormtail to him in the form of a life-debt. In this, Harry is coming into his own; he is coming out from under the shadow of his father and becoming his own person. This process is far from over, however; it is only beginning.
Year 4: Goblet of Fire
The fourth stage of alchemical transformation is called conjunction. Conjunction represents the union of the masculine and feminine (yin and yang) into a new belief system or an intuitive state of consciousness. It was called "The Lesser Stone' because when it was achieved the Seeker knew exactly what needed to be done.24
Goblet of Fire is full of alchemical images; however, I will concentrate on the three Triwizard tasks in this analysis. These four tasks together are preparatory for the trials Harry will face in Order of the Phoenix. But first, he must get through the Triwizard Tournament.
The Goblet of Fire itself is yet another representation of the Holy Grail and the Philosopher's Stone. A very powerful magical object, the Goblet seals the fate of the contestants into a binding contract from which there is no escape. They must either compete or face the consequences. Like the Grail, the Goblet knows which entrants are worthy and true enough to face the difficult challenges ahead.
The first task is the dragon and represents fire. As noted earlier, dragons symbolize matter at the beginning of the work or calcination, the symbol of which is fire; in this sense, Harry is going back to the first stage of the Great Work. This time, however, he knows just what to do, and manages to get his egg remarkably fast. In some interpretations, the dragon is the guardian of the underworld, just as Fluffy was in The Philosopher's Stone. The most important treasure a dragon possesses is its magic pearl, which the dragon always kept near, either in its mouth or under its chin. The pearl gives off a radiant light that never fades, and is the symbol of wisdom, enlightenment, self-realization and spiritual richness. Dragons become powerless if their pearls are stolen. In this case, the dragons' eggs take the place of the pearls. Interestingly enough, alchemists were interested in dragons for a curious stone called dracontia that was said to detect and cure poisons. However, the only way to obtain this gem was to remove it before the dragon died, or else the creature, upon its death, would purposely ruin the stone.
Dragons also represent the unconscious and function as a doorway to other dimensions. In Indian alchemy, called Nagayuna, the goal was to unify the body's energies by preserving the Elixir of Life. The symbol of two entwined serpents, called Naga, represent the link between heaven and earth, as well as the transition between the Below and the Above, which is what Goblet of Fire does. As the middle book in the series, it is the last volume to take place in the Below; those that follow take place in the Above, or in the higher realms of consciousness. This symbolism shows up again in the graveyard scene in the form of Nagini, Voldemort's huge pet snake. In many cultures, the terms "serpent" and "dragon" were interchangeable; in fact, dragons were often called "winged serpents."
After Harry acquires his egg, winning the task in the process, and is advised by Cedric to open it under water for the next clue. He goes to the prefects' bathroom and spends an enjoyable hour in the company of Myrtle and the mermaids figuring out his clue. As I'm sure you've guessed by now, even something as harmless as a bath has alchemical connotations as well! Baths in alchemy symbolize the dissolution process (second stage) in which the metals are cleansed and purified.
The second task represents, obviously, water. Harry's swim in the lake is fraught with danger. He has to rescue Ron from the clutches of the mermaids within the time limit. However, Harry does not realize that Dumbledore wouldn't really let Ron, Hermione and Gabrielle drown; as a result, he ends up saving all the hostages. By doing so, he confirms that he is noble of spirit and pure at heart; he cared more for the lives of others than for himself. This is also part of the conjunction stage; it confirms that Harry is on the right track in his path to enlightenment.
There is some confusion about the nature of the third task and the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. Contrary to popular belief, labyrinths and mazes are not the same thing. Labyrinths have one well-defined path that leads us into the center and back out again. There are no tricks to a labyrinth; it offers one choice: to enter or not. Once inside, you will find your way out again. A maze, on the other hand, offers several choices, some with many entrances and exits. Dead ends and sharp turns represent life's riddles and difficulties, which we see in the Sphinx and her spider riddle. Mazes challenge us to make correct decisions based on both logic and intuition. In a maze, the object is to find your way through the elaborately twisted paths to reach a specific goal; in this case, the Triwizard Cup. The goal of a labyrinth is to find your way to the center of yourself. Intentionally or not, Rowling has incorporated the symbolism of both puzzles into the task, so that we can better see the paths and choices that Harry must make on his journey to enlightenment.
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol of the life journey by which we find the true purpose of our life. By walking the path, we create a sacred place within ourselves and let go of our ego. The Celts called this the "Heart of the Heart' and this is what Harry does during his journey through the maze. The obstacles he encounters along the way guide him through the path to the center. The maze aspect represents the riddles and different paths one can choose through life to accomplish our goals. In the maze, "illusion and confusion reign and the alchemist is in danger of losing all connection and clarity." 25 Harry's Four Point Spell allows him to stay on the right path and reach the center of the maze relatively unharmed.
The graveyard, in alchemy, is a symbol for the "alchemist's vessel", in which the chemicals that have been brewing for three stages reach the boiling point, producing explosions so violent that often the alchemist was severely injured or killed in the process. The whole point of this was to produce a "fluid" or essence inside the vessel, something the alchemists called the "wing of the crow" because of its blue-black color.26 Harry is very nearly killed in this scene and is, in fact, injured. Events overtake him until he and Voldemort duel to the death in an explosion of pent-up frustration and hostility. Harry barely manages to hold off Voldemort; however, because of the essences of his parents and Cedric produced from his wand, he is saved once again by sheer dint of will rather than courage.
Crows represent the black stage or nigredo; in this case, the coming of Order of the Phoenix. The Black Crow or Black Raven is often portrayed as a death process rather than an actual bird, as in the caput mortuum, the deaths head, or as some alchemical illustrations show, the alchemist dying within a flask. (We will see the caput mortuum again in Order of the Phoenix.) Thus in the symbol of the Black Crow we have the stepping out in consciousness from the world of the physical senses the restrictions that bind us to the physical body.27 This is why Cedric had to die, in my opinion. He represents the death's head and the beginning of the ascent from the Below into the Above.
Shortly after his rebirth, Voldemort blithely mentions the potion that he instructed Peter to concoct so that he could inhabit a rudimentary body until his Rebirthing Party and even lists the ingredients:
"Wormtail's body, of course, was ill adapted for possession, as all assumed him dead, and would attract far too much attention if noticed. However, he was the able bodied servant I needed, and, poor wizard though he is, Wormtail was able to follow the instructions I gave him, which would return me to a rudimentary, weak body of my own, a body I would be able to inhabit while awaiting the essential ingredients for true rebirth¦a spell or two of my own invention¦a little help from my dear Nagini' Voldemort's red eyes fell upon the continuously circling snake, "a potion concocted from unicorn blood, and the snake venom Nagini provided¦I was soon returned to an almost human form, and strong enough to travel." (GoF p. 656)
Unicorn blood is another name for quicksilver or mercury, and snake venom is mentioned by Valentine in his Twelve Keys as one of the components of the Elixir of Life. Was Voldemort trying to make his own Philosopher's Stone? It seems possible. He failed to steal the Stone in the first book, but he certainly knew enough about alchemy to manage to invent such a potion (or to give Peter explicit instructions on its preparation), and just as he knew the unicorn blood in The Philosopher's Stone would keep him alive, he knew this particular potion would help strengthen him long enough to acquire a body. It seems strange that Rowling would choose those particular ingredients unless she knew the connection between them and the Elixir. In addition, when we remember Geber's goal of takwin or artificial life, we see how he could have instructed Peter to perform the magic necessary for him to acquire a rudimentary body until his plans reached maturity.
It is interesting to note that many people have wondered just what Voldemort's infantile body was and what it was made of. Early on, I mentioned Geber's pursuit of the creation of life and that Paracelsus claimed to have created a homunculus - and Voldemort's rudimentary body may have been just that.
Homunculus (alt: homonculus) means "little man" and in alchemy referred to false human beings created from a variety of ingredients. According to Wikipedia, one method involved mandrake roots, which we see in Chamber of Secrets as the antidote for petrifaction. Legend has it that mandrake, whose roots vaguely resembled a human being, grew where semen ejaculated by hanged men during the last convulsive spasms before death fell to the ground. The root was to be picked before dawn on a Friday morning by a black dog, then washed and "fed" with milk and honey and, in some recipes, blood, whereupon it would fully develop into a miniature human which would guard and protect its owner. Another method was to take an egg laid by a black hen, poke a tiny hole through the shell, replace a bean-sized portion of the white with human sperm, seal the opening with virgin parchment, and bury the egg in dung on the first day of the March lunar cycle. A miniature humanoid would emerge from the egg after thirty days, which would help and protect its creator in return for a steady diet of lavender seeds and earthworms. Yet another recipe, the one used supposedly used by Paraselsus, prescribed the use of a bag of bones, skin fragments and hair from any animal. Strangely enough, the homunculus would be a hybrid of the animal chosen - so if a snake was chosen, the creation would look like a snake.
The homunculus is mentioned in Act II of Goethe's Faust as an alchemical creation of Faust's student, Wagner. It is in fact an artificial intelligence and perhaps the world's first test tube baby. The homunculus in that work resembled a being of fire, a being of pure soul and spirit who lives completely within his flask and is without a real body. (Sound familiar?) His greatest wish is to become a full human, and he leads Faust and Mephisto to the realm of ancient Greece to attempt it. Homunculus learns that he must unify with the water element to see his dreams realized. With the encouragement of Proteus, Homunculus enters the waves in his flask to meet Galatea, the goddess of the ocean. Out of this comes a celebration of the four elements. Later, however, Faust tries nearly the same thing, and his attempt can be characterized as the rape of the natural order, a perversion of nature that seals his fate as the instrument of his own downfall.
We have already commented on Nagini's presence in the book, but what about Voldemort's ghastly appearance after his rebirth? The description Rowling gives us is decidedly that of a snake: red slits for eyes, flat nostrils and scaly skin. Why a snake? In my opinion, Rowling uses this analogy to describe Voldemort's inner soul - tattered and serpentine. The snake represents the first stage of transformation; by making him snake-like, Rowling tells us that Tom Riddle never got out of the first stage of transformation simply because his heart was not pure. He is a gruesome reminder of the dangers of greed, brutality and pride. Another possibility is that Tom started out "enlightened" and slid backwards through the stages of transformation, beginning with a handsome boy and young man and ending with a serpent. This would also explain how Tom managed to acquire a wand with a phoenix tail feather core, when from all appearances he certainly does not deserve it. At age 11, he may have been worthy of Fawkes' feather in a way he can never be now.
Harry emerges from his confrontation with Voldemort battered and hurt, but alive. The events of the evening have shaken his beliefs about the wizarding world; he has achieved the Lesser Stone by virtue of his survival and his knowledge that Voldemort is back, with his old followers beside him, and ready to do battle for the fate of the wizarding world. He begins to realize that this is his fight and his alone”that eventually, he and Voldemort will confront one another again, and only one of them will survive.
Year 5: Order of the Phoenix
Fermentation, also known as the Black Stage, is also the first one to take place in the "Above", or in the higher planes of consciousness. Fermentation was a two-step process, the first of which involved the "death" of the inert precipitate born in the conjunction stage. This was called "putrefaction" and symbolized death and resurrection to a higher level of being. Once completed, the process of fermentation began with the new life being "born" from this resurrection, aimed at strengthening it and ensuring its survival. The soul sloughs off the things that are wearing it down; this occurs in a flash of iridescent color called The Peacock's Tail.28
Order of the Phoenix sets the stage for the final two books of the series. Although the first four books are also part of the black stage, it is this one that sets up the later events.
Order of the Phoenix begins with a dementor attack on Harry and Dudley. At his trial, Harry gets his first taste of what the coming year has in store for him in the person of Dolores Umbridge. She's a nasty piece of work, and it is only fitting that her very name stands for the Black stage; umbra means shadow or darkness. Also representative of this is Sirius' surname, Black, as is the presence of Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Black King. The dementors themselves represent depression and the darkness of the mind, but this time Harry is capable of dealing with them.
We meet Sirius at his home at 12 Grimmauld Place. He's moody and depressed, confined to a home he hates for his own good. One of the strangest images we see in the house is the heads of the dead house-elves lining the walls. This is another example of the caput mortuum mentioned in Goblet of Fire, representing the beginning of the black stage.
Order of the Phoenix introduces more new characters: Tonks the Metamorphagus, Luna Lovegood, Kreacher and Sirius' younger brother Regulus. As mentioned earlier, regulus is also the name of the basilisk, which we saw in Chamber of Secrets, and we do see a connection between the Blacks and the basilisk in chapter 4: "Both the chandelier and the candelabra on a rickety table nearby were shaped like serpents." However, that is not the only connection that the name has to alchemy. Regulus is also alchemical term usually associated with Isaac Newton and Nicolas Flamel. In Newton's alchemy, a metal was formerly called the regulus of the ore from which it was reduced; regulus (without further specification) meant regulus of antimony (i.e., antimony in modern nomenclature). A regulus was the heavy substance that sank to the bottom of the crucible during the reaction. In other words, the regulus is the pure metal derived from the ore.
I mentioned earlier that Sirius represented the salt or body (corpus) of the alchemic work, just as Hagrid represents the soul and Dumbledore the mind or intellect. Sirius is absolutely crucial in this stage and in the red stage, which will follow in Book 7. According to Hauck, in The Sorcerer's Stone: A Beginner's Guide to Alchemy, salt is the key to alchemy, the beginning and the end of the Great Work. According to this, and to make a long story short, the black stage is terminated by the soul leaving the body. Sirius' death, in other words.
Salt is one of the three most important substances in alchemy (the others being mercury and sulfur) and represents the final manifestation of the Stone. Any substance that was resistant to fire was called a salt. The Emerald Tablet calls it "the Glory of the Whole Universe." 29 However, Harry is not ready for the perfection of the Stone just yet. He has just acquired the Lesser Stone, and there are many more lessons to be learned before he achieves enlightenment. The final manifestation will come in Book 7, where we will see Sirius again.
In general, Salt represents the action of thought on matter, and this is what Sirius represents. Sirius is an active, spirited man who is caged in his home; as a man of action, this is decidedly distasteful to him and causes Harry no end of worry. In the end, Sirius does exactly what Harry fears he will do: leaves Grimmauld Place, refusing to be left behind once again. It is this recklessness that leads to his death; had he stayed put, he would have lived. But Rowling states that Sirius had to die, and this is why. Harry cannot go on to the purification stage while the black stages still lives.
Sirius' relationship with Snape is also curious. Alone and confined to a home he hates, Sirius endures taunts against his bravery and usefulness throughout the book. Harry takes Sirius' side against Snape, whom he has always hated. When we remember that Snape is the vitriol or the catalyst of the series, this behavior makes perfect sense. It is Snape's job to rile and aggravate, to upset and vilify; in other words, to make Harry's life as miserable as possible. When combined with Umbridge's sinister personality, Harry's year at Hogwarts is anything but peaceful.
Of all the characters in the books, Luna is one of the most interesting. Named after the Roman goddess of the moon, Luna symbolizes femininity and intuition, which was often depicted as a seven-rayed sun in alchemical drawings. One of the symbols of the sixth stage, which we will discuss in Year 6: The Half Blood Prince, Luna helps Harry see another side of things”the things that are based not on fact or reason but on intuition and faith. These traits are traditionally considered feminine and nature. Luna's singular worldview helps Harry cope with Sirius' death; no one else is able to comfort him, but Luna makes him feel better and he begins to heal.
In this book we meet Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, who has a penchant for goats and dirty glasses as he tends his bar at the Hog's Head Inn. Goats, which are mentioned repeatedly in connection with Aberforth, symbolized the chimera of Greek mythology. Alchemy itself is a chimera, comprising many different disciplines stemming from may different sources. According to the Musaeum Hermeticum Reformatum et Amplificatum:
The alchemists were wont to symbolize their metals by means of a tree, to indicate that all seven were branches dependent upon the single trunk of solar life. As the Seven Spirits depend upon God and are branches of a tree of which He is the root, trunk, and the spiritual earth from which the root derives its nourishment, so the single trunk of divine life and power nourishes all the multitudinous forms of which the universe is composed.
Aberforth and his goats are best thought of as the Goat of Mendes, or Baphomet of Templar traditions. According to Levi's Transcendental Magic, "The practice of magic”either white or black”depends upon the ability of the adept to control the universal life force”that which Eliphas Levi calls the great magical agent or the astral light. By the manipulation of this fluidic essence the phenomena of transcendentalism are produced. The famous hermaphroditic Goat of Mendes was a composite creature formulated to symbolize this astral light. It is identical with Baphomet, the mystic pantheos of those disciples of ceremonial magic, the Templars, who probably obtained it from the Arabians." 30
I would like to mention here the prominence that birds hold in alchemy. As we saw in Goblet of Fire, the appearance of the Black Crow heralds the beginning of the black stage. From here on out, birds symbolize each stage of the transformation. After the Black Crow comes the White Swan or the Eagle, then the Peacock, the Pelican and finally the Phoenix, which represents the final transformation and the final manifestation of the Stone. In Order of the Phoenix we actually see two of these birds as Harry rapidly passes through the black stage. We see the White Swan in the figure of Cho Chang's patronus, which represents Harry's first excursions into his inner self and his growing connection with his soul:
"Oh, don't be such a killjoy' said Cho brightly, watching her silvery swan-shaped Patronus soar around the room during their last lesson before Easter. (OotP p. 606)
The Peacock's Tail is one of the most curious images in all of alchemy. As noted earlier, the Peacock's Tail occurs suddenly in a brilliant flash of iridescent color. This occurs near the end of the book, with Harry traveling by portkey from the Ministry back to Dumbledore's office:
Harry felt the familiar sensation of a hook being jerked behind his navel. The polished wood floor was gone from beneath his feet; the Atrium, Fudge and Dumbledore had all disappeared, and he was flying forward in a whirlwind of color and sound... (OotP p 819)
However, the Peacock's Tail stage is also marked by strange visions and meaningful dreams.31 We see this consistently throughout the book. It is no accident that Harry's connection with Voldemort is at its strongest in this book. Unconsciously, Harry's power in this area is growing apace with the strength of his connection to Voldemort, and this is shown in several very powerful dreams, including the one in which Harry, as Nagini, attacks Arthur Weasley:
The dream changed...
His body felt smooth, powerful and flexible. He was gliding between shining metal bars, across dark cold stone...He was flat against the floor, sliding along on his belly...It was dark, yet he could see objects around him shimmering in strange, vibrant colors...He was turning his head...At first glance, the corridor was empty...but no...a man was sitting on the floor ahead, his chin drooping onto his chest, his outline gleaming in the dark...
Harry put out his tongue...He tasted the man's scent on the air¦He was alive but drowsing¦sitting in front of a door at the end of the corridor...
Harry longed to bite the man...but he must master the impulse...He had more important work to do...
But the man was stirring...a silvery cloak fell from his legs as he jumped to his feet; and Harry saw his vibrant, blurred outline towering above him, saw a wand withdrawn from a belt...He had no choice...He reared high from the floor and struck once, twice, three times, plunging his fangs deeply into the man's flesh, feeling his ribs splinter beneath his jaws, feeling the warm gush of blood...
The man was yelling in pain...then he fell silent...He slumped backwards against the wall...Blood was splattering onto the floor...
His forehead hurt terribly...It was aching fit to burst... (OotP pgs. 462-63)
Not only does Harry become Nagini, he also becomes Voldemort himself:
The dormitory was empty when he reached it...He rolled over onto his side, closed his eyes, and fell asleep almost at once...He was standing in a dark, curtained room lit by a single branch of candles. His hands were clenched on the back of a chair in front of him. They were long-fingered and white as though they had not seen sunlight for years and looked like large, pale spiders against the dark velvet of the chair. Beyond the chair, in a pool of light cast upon the floor by the candles, knelt a man in black robes.
"I have been badly advised, it seems' said Harry in a high, cold voice that pulsed with anger.
"Master, I crave your pardon..." croaked the man kneeling on the floor. The back of his head glimmered
in the candlelight. He seemed to be trembling.
I do not blame you, Rookwood' said Harry in that high, cold, cruel voice. He relinquished his grip upon the chair and walked around it, closer to the man cowering upon the floor, until he stood directly over him in the darkness, looking down from a far greater height than usual...
Left alone in the dark room, Harry turned toward the wall. A cracked, age-spotted mirror hung on the wall in the shadows. Harry moved toward it. His reflection grew larger and clearer in the darkness¦A face whiter than a skull¦red eyes with slits for pupils... (OotP pgs. 585-86)
Year 6: The Half Blood Prince
According to The Seven Stages of Alchemical Transformation, the sixth stage is called distillation or leukosis. Also called the White Stage, distillation is:
...the agitation and sublimation of psychic forces is necessary to ensure that no impurities from the inflated ego or deeply submerged id are incorporated into the next and final stage. Personal Distillation consists of a variety of introspective techniques that raise the content of the psyche to the highest level possible, free from sentimentality and emotions, cut off even from one's personal identity. Distillation is the purification of the unborn Self - all that we truly are and can be.
Physiologically, Distillation is raising the life force repeatedly from the lower regions in the cauldron of the body to the brain (what Oriental alchemists called the Circulation of the Light), where it eventually becomes a wondrous solidifying light full of power. Distillation is said to culminate in the Third Eye area of the forehead, at the level of the pituitary and pineal glands, in the Brow or Silver Chakra.32
Interestingly, Harry's scar appears in the region of the Third Eye or Brow Chakra: in the middle of his forehead. Also, the Third Eye is controlled by the pineal gland, which the ancient Egyptians considered a bezoar.
Black Pulvis Solaris is a mixture of metallic antimony and purified sulfur. These two combine to form a rock-hard substance called a bezoar (sound familiar?), which are actually hard balls of undigested food found in the intestines; they were discovered by the ancient Egyptians as they worked on their mummies and were believed to be a magic pill formed by the "serpent" in man; i.e., the intestines. Mixing red mercury oxide with sulfur formed a red bezoar. As we know from Snape's very first potions lesson bezoars were widely believed to be an antidote to most poisons and were actually prescribed by physicians as a cure for many ailments. The Egyptians also looked for a similar "pill" in the "small serpent" in man”the brain”and may have found it in the pineal gland. In the same way that the Egyptians believed bezoars were formed in the intestines, they believed that gold was formed within the bowels of the earth. This gave rise to the belief that gold was a mineral bezoar.
Throughout the book we see references to bezoars. Ron, for example, has an encounter with one on his birthday:
Harry leapt over a low table and sprinted toward Slughorn's open Potions kit, pulling out jars and pouches, while the terrible sound of Ron's gargling breath filled the room. Then he found it - the shriveled kidneylike stone Slughorn had taken from him in Potions.
He hurtled back to Ron's side, wrenched open his jaw, and thrust the bezoar into his mouth. Ron gave a great shudder, a rattling gasp, and his body became limp and still. (HBP p. 397-98)
Psychologically, distillation is the purification of forces needed to ensure that no imperfections from the id and the ego survive into the final stage.33 Through Dumbledore, Harry renders himself impervious to emotion, sentimentality and even personal identity, raising himself to the highest possible spiritual level so he can complete his transformation. This is the purpose of Harry's lessons with Dumbledore. On a personal level, Harry can rid himself of any emotion or pity toward Voldemort by seeing the lengths he went to in order to achieve his ultimate goal. By taking on the mantle of the Chosen One, Harry has shed his personal identity (much as Voldemort did, but for a different reason!) and dedicated himself to defeating Voldemort for the good of all.
The symbols of the White stage are the lily, the moon and the Pelican. Slughorn talks about Lily Potter almost incessantly, praising her skills as a potion maker and her beauty as a person”and possibly setting her up for an even greater role in Book 7. The moon also makes an appearance in the person of Luna Lovegood, whom Harry invites to Slughorn's Christmas party. Yet another possible connection to the white stage is Ginny. In Celtic, her full name, Ginevra, means "white foam' and she plays a huge role in the events of the book, especially near the end. I mentioned near the beginning of this paper that the only thing that can put out a sulfuric acid fire is foam or a dry earth agent; Snape represents the acid or vitriol, and his role in Dumbledore's murder shocks and grieves everyone. Yet it is Ginny who makes Harry feel better and begin to accept his loss. She comforts him, and asks nothing of him in return. She is his equal in every way, and the only one who can take the sting out of his rage at Snape.
But the person who really represents this stage is Dumbledore himself. His name, Albus, means "white", and we find the word "albus" scattered through the works of such alchemic heavyweights as Agrippa and Paracelsus. Through him, Harry will learn Voldemort's secrets as Dumbledore imparts his vast store of knowledge as though passing on the torch. This is the Pelican, who nourishes their young from their own breast to ensure their survival:
The Pelican is shown stabbing its breast with its beak and nourishing its young with its own blood. The alchemist must enter into a kind of sacrificial relationship with his inner being. He must nourish with his own soul forces, the developing spiritual embryo within. Anyone who has made true spiritual development will know well this experience. One's image of one's self must be changed, transformed, sacrificed to the developing spiritual self. This is almost invariably a deeply painful experience, which tests one's inner resources. Out of this will eventually emerge the spiritual self, transformed through the Pelican experience.34
We see that this is just what Harry does. He leaves Ginny for the sake of the cause, sacrificing himself to what he feels is an inevitable ending. And it hurts. Snape's betrayal, Dumbledore's death and the knowledge that he is the Chosen One force him to set aside his personal desires for the good of the wizarding world. He is by no means sure he is going to come out of the experience alive, but at least he will die fighting.
Dumbledore's murder is the most shocking moment in the book and perhaps even in the entire series. Snape's role as vitriol is coming to a head; he is now responsible for more than he could ever take credit. He has tipped the scales of fate by his actions, but when we remember that vitriol is a catalyst it gives hope that he may not be evil after all. Without Snape, there is no reason for Harry to go on to the next stage, no motivating factor for him to continue the battle. The possibility exists that he truly was on Dumbledore's side and that he was forced to kill Dumbledore by the Unbreakable Vow. Either way, his role in the final book will be crucial”the ending of the series will hinge on Snape's actions and loyalty.
Near the end of the book we get the sense that the white stage is ending and the red stage is dawning. Several things point to this, not the least of which is Dumbledore's death. In Order of the Phoenix, the black stage ended with Sirius' death and the white stage began with Dumbledore's bombshell about the prophecy. In The Half Blood Prince, the white stage ends with Dumbledore's death and the red stage begins with the person who will be the most important in the final transformation: Hagrid.
After Dumbledore's death, Harry slips in blood as he runs after Snape and Malfoy. (HBP p. 600). When he gets to the entrance hall, he sees the rubies from the Gryffindor hourglass scattered all over the floor. (HBP p. 601) Harry aims a jet of red light at Snape to keep him from escaping. (HBP p. 602) He chases Snape and Malfoy all the way to Hagrid's hut, where he eventually helps Hagrid put out the fire set by the Death Eaters. (HBP p. 606) Hagrid's appearance in itself heralds the ending of the white stage and the beginning of the red; Hagrid's name, Rubeus, means "red." Harry remains with Hagrid all the way to the castle, and it is Ginny (a redhead) who leads him away from Dumbledore's body.
After Hagrid's constant presence throughout the series, in The Half Blood Prince he is conspicuous only by his absence. And yet, from here on out he is in nearly every scene for the remainder of the book. Rowling goes out of her way to show us his importance; during the meeting with Slughorn, Sprout and the other remaining teachers, McGonagall specifically asks for Hagrid's opinion. What he thinks and feels carries great weight, and it will continue to be so during the final book.
There were a couple of signs that Dumbledore would die in this book. In the memory of Bob Ogden, Ogden approaches the Gaunt cottage and sees a snake nailed to the door. In alchemy, the death of a king was heralded by just such an image: a snake nailed to a door or to a cross. Although we know from Lupin that there is no such thing as royalty in the wizarding world, Dumbledore is arguably the closest thing there is to royalty in the series. His grace and nobility of spirit set him apart from other wizards and indeed other human beings, wizard or Muggle. And Dumbledore frequently wears purple; this occurs not only in The Half Blood Prince but in the other books as well. Purple is the color of royalty.
The Killing of the King symbolizes the sublimation of matter. Depending on your point of view, the Killing of the King can be taken as Christ's crucifixion, when Christ had to sacrifice himself before he could become one with God. However, traditionally the King is a metaphor for the ego; by killing the king, the ego dies as well, and any sentimentality regarding the task at hand is gone. Harry will do what he must; he has to, or all that he knows and loves will be gone.
In an obscure alchemical text called Lexicon alchemiæ sive dictionarium alchemisticum, cum obscuriorum verborum, et rerum Hermeticarum, tum Theophrast-Paracelsicarum phrasium, planam explicationem continens (Alchemical Lexicon), Ruland says of the prima materia: “The philosophers have so greatly admired the Creature of God which is called the Primal Matter, especially concerning its efficacy and mystery, that they have given it many names, and almost every possible description, for they have not known how to sufficiently praise it.” 35 He goes on to mention that one of the names given to the prime material is “venom, poison, chambar, because it kills and destroys the King, and there is no stronger poison in the world.” This possibly alludes to the potion Dumbledore drank in the cave. If we accept that Dumbledore is a king, then we can see that the stone is just as capable of killing as it is of healing, a property usually ascribed to the Holy Grail. Ruland goes on to say that it is also called the “Water of Life, for it causes the King, who is dead, to awake into a better mode of being and life. It is the best and most excellent medicine for the life of mankind.” He also calls it spirit, “because it flies heavenward, illuminates the bodiesof the King, and of the metals, and gives them life.” After Dumbledore’s death, his soul rises from his body in the shape of a phoenix; he has found his gold and has crossed over to the other side—a better mode of life, according to religious texts. He also appears as a portrait, so he is not completely gone, although he can no longer help Harry in the manner he did before.
Stage 7: Coagulation (Harry Potter and the …)
Since we obviously don’t know what Book 7 holds just yet, it’s time to do a little theorizing and try to predict what may happen. But first, let’s define the seventh stage and the transformations that need to take place before Harry can achieve enlightenment.
The Red Stage, the ultimate and final stage of alchemical transformation, is called coagulation, when the elements of the first six stages coalesce into the highest stage of perfection. It releases the Ultima materia of the soul—the Astral Body, which is the Philosopher’s Stone. With the Stone, the alchemists believed they could exist on all planes of reality.
Most people usually first experience this stage as a newfound confidence in oneself, the feeling that you can do anything, although many experience it - as a Second Body of golden coalesced light, a permanent vehicle of consciousness that embodies the highest aspirations and evolution of mind.” 36
Coagulation is represented by Red Pulvis Solaris, which was in effect a red bezoar or a mixture of pure sulfur and mercury oxide. Pulvis solaris means “Powder of the Sun”, and the alchemists believed it would instantly perfect any compound. The phoenix, which symbolizes life, resurrection and reincarnation, also represents this stage. Early Christians deemed the phoenix a real creature and equated its song with the Holy Spirit.
So, what things MUST occur alchemically in the last book?
1. The phoenix in some form must appear in the final book.
Conveniently, we already have a phoenix in the form of Fawkes, although I am unsure of what role if any he will play in the final book. At the end of The Half Blood Prince, Harry hears the Phoenix Lament, and feels renewed as his grief begins to lift:
Somewhere in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And he felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without. It was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows. (HBP pgs. 614-15)
However, Harry senses that Fawkes has left Hogwarts forever.
As he lay there, he became aware that the grounds were silent. Fawkes had stopped singing.
And he knew, without knowing how he knew it, that the phoenix had gone, had left Hogwarts for good, just as Dumbledore had left the school…had left Harry. (HBP pgs. 631-32)
Recently, an interesting theory took hold around the Leaky. This theory says that Harry’s patronus will change from a stag to a phoenix in the course of the final book. This makes a great deal of sense. We have seen that patroni can change when the wizard is under great strain or receives a heavy emotional shock. Why can it not change when a person hardens his resolve to fight to the death? Is he not changed inside, just as a depressed or shocked wizard is? I do not think this idea is very farfetched at all and it could very well happen. Another idea about Fawkes is the fact that in Chamber of Secrets and Order of the Phoenix Fawkes arrived in the nick of time to save the day from Voldemort. Perhaps he will do it yet again. Fawkes is drawn to loyalty to Dumbledore, and Harry has stated on several occasions that he is loyal to Dumbledore, even going so far as to tell Rufus Scrimgeour that he is “Dumbledore’s man through and through.” That loyalty goes both ways, however. Dumbledore was just as fiercely loyal to Harry as Harry is to him. In The Half Blood Prince, when Dumbledore asks Harry to get the Horcrux memory from Slughorn, Phinneus Nigellus asks him why he thinks Harry would be able to do better. Dumbledore replies, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Phinneus.” (OotP p. 372) Later, after the cave scene, Harry tells Dumbledore not to worry and that everything will be all right. Dumbledore turns to Harry and says, “I’m not worried, Harry, because I am with you.” (HBP p. 578) Fawkes may pick up on this bond between headmaster and student and decide to go to Harry.
2. The Great Marriage - the union of the Red King and the White Queen.
It is the marriage of mercury and sulfur, sun and moon, male and female, gold and silver. And we do have such a wedding coming up: Bill, the Red King, and Fleur, the White Queen. In Greek mythology, the sun god Apollo was called a “curse breaker” or an “oath breaker.” How fitting that Bill should be a curse breaker for Gringotts and have hair the color of fire. Silver is the color of the moon, and Fleur is described as having silver-blond hair. From the union of the king and queen comes the Symbolic Child, the Hermaphroditic Child of the Sun and Moon. A child crowned or clothed in purple robes signifies Salt or the Philosopher's Stone. The birth of such a child would represent a new world order, one of peace and harmony. Look for this possibility in the last book!
But there are other Red Kings and White Queens: Ron and Hermione and James and Lily. Ron and Hermione represent the Quarreling Couple, from mercury and sulfur’s notorious unwillingness to combine chemically. Look for Ron and Hermione to put their differences aside and to finally become a couple after six books of almost constant warfare and jealousy. However, I do not think that Ron and Hermione will have a child, at least not yet. The offspring of their union will be Harry as the quintessence, just as he is literally the symbolic child of James and Lily. Harry, to the wizarding world, represents the one who will put the world to rights and usher in the peace and prosperity it has sought for so long.
3. The unity of all four houses.
If Harry is the quintessence, then he has the power to join all the elements together into one. Once unified, they will have a much better chance of defeating Voldemort. However, the Slytherins are a problem. The only way they will unite under one banner is if Draco somehow manages to convince them; he is their de facto leader and they will follow him. The other candidate is Slughorn. He may be a Slytherin, but he is a decent man who really regrets his part in creating Lord Voldemort. In any case, Slytherin must join the other houses. Only then will Harry’s power be enough to defeat Voldemort.
4. Harry's enlightenment.
This is the whole purpose of the series; it has to happen. I believe that it will not happen until near the end of the book, and it will occur all at once. The alchemists always claimed that enlightenment, if and when it came, happened suddenly and swiftly. They were surprised then at how simple the answer to all their questions. The same will be true with Harry. When it finally comes, he will be stunned to learn that this is the power he had inside him the entire time, and he will use it to defeat Voldemort once and for all. As quoted earlier, enlightenment was sometimes experienced as “as a Second Body of golden coalesced light, a permanent vehicle of consciousness that embodies the highest aspirations and evolution of mind.”
So, what happens after the final transformation? The answer can be summed up in a short paragraph from The Chemical Arcana:
“After the final reaction is over, the only thing that remains is a weak solution of sulfuric acid and a variety of sodium compounds. The alchemists believed that the Quintessence was one of these sodium compounds, a "second body" of Natron formed during the experiment. This fifth essence was beyond the Four Elements and exhibited a durability and permanence the other elements lacked. To the alchemists, these inert salts represented a resurrected and incorruptible body.”
Unfortunately, this seems to imply that Hagrid will not live. I have been searching high and low for evidence that says without a doubt that he will make it, but so far I have not found any. I truly hope I am wrong, but I believe Hagrid will die. Snape, on the other hand, will make it, and for a couple of reasons:
1. “The only thing that remains is a weak solution of sulfuric acid…” Snape, as mentioned several times, represents sulfuric acid and vitriol.
2. Snape is the catalyst. In a chemical reaction, a catalyst is defined as:
* A substance, usually present in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and especially increases the rate of a chemicalreaction without being consumed in the process;
* One that precipitates a process or event, especially without being involved or changed by the consequences. 37
The catalyst is neither changed nor destroyed by the reaction, although the reagents around it are. I believe that Snape will survive, but his personality will not undergo any drastic alteration. He will still be mean, acerbic, vitriolic and petty towards Harry, but they may come to an understanding and at least not hate each other. Under the circumstances, I believe that is the best that can be hoped for.
What of the others? At this time it is difficult to say without further research. There is some evidence that Ron/Hermione or Bill/Fleur will not live, although I believe one of the Weasleys will die. Harry is another matter. I believe he may have to sacrifice himself to achieve gold; however, that sacrifice may be symbolic and not literal. If, as I suspect, the veil is involved, then this is entirely possible. Remember, too, that we should see Sirius again, because the salt is the beginning and the end of the Great Work. I believe that Harry will see Sirius on the other side of the veil, and Sirius will help him decide whether to go on or to go back. If we keep in mind, however, that the inert salts remain in the solution of sulfuric acid as the quintessence, then Harry will be “resurrected”; he may die symbolically and be reborn into an enlightened state of awareness.
What will Voldemort be up to in this book? We can only guess, but I suspect that in between trying to kill Harry he may be busy trying to make his own Philosopher’s Stone. The series began with the Stone and it will end with it, in my opinion, and this may be where Lily comes in at last. I believe there is far more to her than we’ve been told, and her aptitude at Potions hints at her possible knowledge of alchemy. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Voldemort, too, is acquainted with alchemic traditions and principles, so theoretically there is nothing to stop him from making a Philosopher’s Stone of his own. If he suspects that his Horcruxes are being destroyed, he may decide on the Stone as a back up plan.
In Goblet of Fire Voldemort tells us the potion that kept him alive consisted of unicorn blood and snake venom. These two ingredients are, according to Valentine, components of the Philosopher’s Stone. But there are key ingredients missing: dragon’s blood and something of the phoenix. The reader will recall from Part II that dragon’s blood is another name for cinnabar or mercury sulfide; it is the prima material for creating the Stone. But where is it? In six books, we have yet to see it, apart from a mention in the first book on Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog card. It seems that in order for Harry to complete his transformation, dragon’s blood should be involved in the last book. This could come about in a variety of ways: from Slughorn, who has a dusty vial of it; or from Charlie Weasley, who works with dragons in Romania. It would be fantastic, in my opinion, if Harry acquired the dragon’s blood from none other than Norbert, Hagrid’s pet.
In Valentine’s 12th Key, he mentions the phoenix as being crucial to the completion of the Elixir of Life, but he does not specify just which part of the phoenix is so important. Moreover, he is quite explicit about the dangers of the 12th Key if it is done incorrectly. In a nutshell, the alchemist has sealed his own doom. But how would the phoenix affect the outcome of the story? There is the matter of both Harry and Voldemort’s wands: both have tail feathers from Fawkes himself. So both Harry’s and Voldemort’s fates may be somehow tied to the relationship between their wands and Fawkes. On the other hand, we saw in Chamber of Secrets that phoenix tears have healing powers; without them, Harry would have died then.
So Voldemort will be very busy in this book! However, all of his scheming and planning will come to naught; Voldemort will die. It is the only logical conclusion to the series, and he will die in such a way that will make it impossible for him to return. I will leave it to Rowling’s imagination for how that will happen, but I would not be surprised if a combination of Harry’s power as the quintessence and Fawkes’ song has something to do with it. As the quintessence, Harry is incorruptible and pure of spirit; he could invade Voldemort’s mind and soul and suffer no damage to himself. Phoenix song, as mentioned earlier, was considered like the Holy Spirit by the early Christians, and strikes fear and terror into the hearts of the unworthy. A combination of these two things could bring about Voldemort’s downfall, and only at the very end will he realize his loss of humanity and soul. I sincerely hope that Tom Riddle, if not Lord Voldemort, has the chance for redemption, even if he chooses to not take it. I believe that would be a fitting end to a series that values love, friendship, loyalty and forgiveness.
JK Rowling has set Harry a seemingly impossible task. To finally defeat Voldemort, Harry must embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-actualization to achieve a perfection that few ever attain. His success depends on his continued growth spiritually, emotionally and psychologically; he must remember that he needs his friends and, as the quintessence, he is the only one who can finally unite the four houses of Hogwarts into a single front in the fight. By using his considerable skills as a wizard and nurturing his inner power of love and forgiveness, Harry will continue to grow and will finally achieve gold. In the end, he will be the living embodiment of the Philosopher’s Stone, just as Dumbledore intended. By weaving the strands of alchemy through the novels, Rowling creates a rich world full of allegory and symbolism while planting hints at future events so skillfully that it’s no wonder we can’t wait to get our hands on the next one.
Black crow, Griffin's Egg
Peacock, King, skeletons
Lily, Moon/Luna, Queen, Pelican, bezoar, fountains
Phoenix, Red Pulvis Solaris, crowns
Figure 2: The stages of alchemy and their symbols, ruling planets and metals .
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