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Why We Need Harry: Harry Potter and the Process of Individuation

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When J.K. Rowling gave Harry Potter to the world, she had little to no idea how far the fan phenomenon would go. With the release of each book, the fandom grew experientially, and still continues to grow. For example, a couple years ago, Wizard Rock, a genre of grassroots music written, performed, and inspired by the books, was defined only by Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, and the Remus Lupins. Now there are more bands than I can begin to name, including Melissa and the Anellis, named after the host of the popular fan podcast, PotterCast. That people are interacting so strongly with Harry Potter demonstrates its mythic powers, but are not always using these powers to inspire new, non-Harry Potter-themed creations. Of course, there are exceptions.

Within the Harry Potter dialogue, there is much discussion toward understanding the why’s and what’s of both the books and the fan phenomenon, but little discussion on the how’s. For this reason, I recommend plugging Harry Potter through the translator of mythology and depth psychology. These disciplines provide a language and some tools for understanding Harry Potter in an endearing fashion, not simply as a passing phenomenon. The languages of myth and psychology help a reader (or viewer) internalize the myth, to experience it on a deeply personal level, rather than letting the words or images stay on the page or screen and beyond consciousness. One example of this is the application of Jung’s theory of the process of individuation. Through an understanding of this process, one can experience Harry Potter not just as a literary hero, but also as a metaphorical self through whom we can all undergo a part of our own individuation process.

The process of individuation is the process by which one becomes an "’in-dividual,’ that is, a separate indivisible unity or ‘whole’” (Storr 212). There are two levels of understanding this. Linguistically, we acknowledge the individual to be one with traits unique from the rest of the group. The traits are often unconscious personality traits, but they manifest within the person’s life from personal expression of opinion to the manner in which one dresses. The other level is one in which a person achieves a degree of wholeness such that he or she is no longer psychically divisible, meaning he or she operates within and acknowledges the realm of psyche and is not constantly shifting gears for the sake of the collective outer world. As demonstrated in the phraseology, this is a process, one that may never be fully achieved, and only then, in old age. Myth offers the possibility of the process and provides the metaphorical tools to help guide one to this state of wholeness.

A central misunderstanding of the process stems from the parallels with Joseph Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey called the monomyth. This process of separation, ordeal, and return is essential to individuation because it is through the constant repetition of these steps that one can truly become whole, limited only by the willingness of a person to see it thusly, because the goal of the quest is for the boon of the Self. The hero’s journey as story structure gives a sense of finitude that the journey ends at the end of the story, rather than acknowledge the ongoing process through which the hero, ourselves, must journey. Jung never intended the process to be complete within the framework of the Western psyche, and probably marveled at the Eastern quest for enlightenment. I believe that he would have scoffed at the number of young people taking an interest in the process as a possible goal of life, not just as a theory to study. Indeed, the popularity of Harry Potter has brought renewed interest in the hero’s journey. Exploring the books through individuation offers a different perspective by which to understand the books, and, hopefully, keep them relevant as fans move into new stages of psychic development.

The “scientific”, “concrete” evidence of this process comes from Carl Jung’s rediscovery of alchemy. While the subject is often disregarded in the modern scientific community as a non-science, Jung recognized within it a “mine of symbolism” that removed the alchemical process from a literal transformation into gold into a metaphorical parallel to “the way a human being, with a correct use of will and imagination … can enter a process whose goal is the creation of an internal structure he called the self[,]” symbolized by the Philosopher’s Stone (Schwartz-Salant 2). From this reading, the alchemist’s latent goal was to unlock or uncover missing or well-covered psychic energies while manifestly experimenting with substances and chemicals, which, incidentally, helped induce the hallucinations that guided the alchemist closer to his latent goal. Many of the alchemical writings that survived the wrath of the Church are written cryptically, as though written by the psyche itself. The fear of the Church against this discipline suggests a fear at the loss of power over the subjects due to their own psychic awakening and, thus, the pulling away from God and the Church. For this reason, many alchemical texts were destroyed. Clearly, the central body for worshiping the Christian deity was suffering from its own God-complex.

J.K. Rowling has said or has been credited with saying in numerous interviews that she drew inspiration for Harry Potter from alchemy and classic British literature, namely Jane Austen and Grail romances. The story is of Harry Potter, an orphan, who learns he is a wizard after living with his non-magical relatives after the death of his parents. Not only is he a wizard, but he is also famous for vanquishing the Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard committed to a reign of terror that extends beyond the boundaries of the Wizarding community. Harry learns that Voldemort was not fully killed but only defeated, and that he is still pursuing Harry while slowing regaining the power he once had. It is Harry’s mission, with a little help from his friends, to avenge the death of his parents and rid the world of this evil forever. With each book, chronicling one year of Harry’s life, he comes closer to achieving his goal as he learns more about magic, his opponent, and himself.

The stories are told solely through Harry’s perspective, with a few necessary sidetracks at the start of the novels to set the stage for the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort or one of his helpers that occurs at the end of each book. This narrative perspective places the reader in Harry’s position, even if he is not the character to whom he or she is mostly drawn. It is through Harry that the reader experiences Hogwarts, Harry’s school, Hogsmeade, the wizarding village near the school, and Harry’s relationship to the various members of the Wizarding world. Because the series is told through Harry’s perspective, as he learns more about himself and the Wizarding world, so does the reader. As Harry develops into a stronger wizard, so does the reader, though unconsciously. As Harry finds the hero’s strength, so does the reader. But how does this happen? As I have previously suggested, the key is the alchemical process, as psychic parallel for the process of individuation. Through literature, this manifests as literary alchemy, the process by which an individual, or prima materia, is transformed through engaging with literature, which serves as the metaphorical catalyst that launches or guides the prima materia through its transformation. Because of the limited nature of this assessment, I will focus on some key plot points and symbols rather than try to confront all of the symbols that are critical for an alchemical understanding Harry Potter and individuation.

The first book lays the groundwork nicely: Harry, once he learns that he is a wizard, gets thrown rail station trolley first into the Wizarding World during the first part of the book. His first adventure involves trying to protect the Philosopher’s Stone that is hiding in the Hogwarts castle from theft. Although he is convinced one of the professors is going to steal it, it is actually the target of Voldemort. That both hero and arch-nemesis are seeking the same boon is significant to how the series ends. Voldemort seeks the Philosopher’s Stone for its power of eternal life. Though he and we are unaware until the last part of the seventh book, the power of Voldemort’s life lies in Harry because he was inadvertently made into a horcrux the night his parents were killed. A horcrux is a vessel of some kind into which one places a piece of his or her soul. It is very dark magic and often involves a murder as a part of the spell. Harry is Voldemort’s Philosopher’s Stone, which, Jung notes, is sometimes called the orphan (Schwartz-Salant 45). For Harry, the Philosopher’s Stone means something different, but he is not concerned with what that meaning is. He is more focused on ensuring that Voldemort does not get the Stone. Consider how Harry gets the Stone at the end of the first book: With Professor Quirrell and the spirit of Lord Voldemort standing behind him, Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows one’s deepest desire, which Dumbledore charmed to give the Stone to someone seeking it with no intent to use it. As Harry gazes at himself in the mirror, he feels a sudden weight in his pocket and realizes the Stone has just been magically given to him. The image here is that Harry must look within himself in order to reach the Stone, implying that the most rewarding boon is the one found within the psyche that will lead an individual into wholeness. This lays the groundwork for the rest of the series. Through self-reflection, Harry, acting the part for the reader otherwise incapable of going on a literal journey, can grow into the hero he is expected to be, and he takes the readers along in this journey.

As Harry proceeds through the trials and ordeals of both Voldemort and adolescence, the events of the Tri-Wizard tournament both foreshadow the rest of the series and provide several metaphors for the alchemical process of individuation. When the tournament is announced, it is open only to seventh years and one champion will be selected from each participating school, Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. The impartial judge choosing the contestants is the Goblet of Fire, a symbol parallel to the Grail. Three champions are selected, plus Harry, whose name was mysteriously entered into the Goblet. Jung often references the alchemical significance of the trinity becoming a quarternity, symbolizing perfection by union with the divine feminine (Storr 236). Furthermore, this movement into a quarternity represents a union of the four elements crucial to Western alchemy: Harry represents fire and Cedric of Hogwarts represents earth, as those are the elements associated with their houses. Not much is known about the other two participating schools within canon, but one can surmise the other two elements based on the school’s preferred mode of transport. Viktor of Durmstrang represents water because the students arrive to Hogwarts by ship, while Fleur of Beauxbatons is associated with air because those students arrive by flying carriage. The quintessence of the four elements is their mutual goal of winning the Tri-Wizard cup. Harry’s role in the quarternity is to attempt to bridge the three schools. His actions during the tournament win him the respect and loyalty among the other competitors that become crucial in the last book of the series.

The three events of the tournament take the reader through the alchemical process and also a condensed hero’s cycle. The first task is to rescue a golden egg, the cosmic egg, from a nesting mother dragon. Each champion is to come up with a way to get past her in the least amount of time with the least amount of damage. This is the nigredo because the prima materia, the champion, while risking fire to rescue the egg, is exposed to the full onslaught of the tournament. Before this event, the champions thought that this was just fun and games. By going through this blackening phase, they enter a limbo between being students and being tournament champions. More pressure rests on Fleur and Viktor because Hogwarts as double the chance of winning.

The rescued egg holds the clue to the second task, which can only be heard by opening the egg under water. The only way for the reader to fully understand the power of the cosmic egg, the image suggests, is to plunge into the unconscious and listen to it in its own element, pictured as water. The voice within the egg is a mermaid, a catalyst figure that lures the alchemical hero into the abyss, which is the test behind the second task. The champions are to rescue a special friend from the Mermaid Kingdom in the lake by the school. Harry, the first to arrive on the scene, stays to make sure everyone is rescued properly, and eventually saves his friend, Ron, and also Fleur’s sister, Gabrielle. This albedo task is both a cleansing process after the nigredo but also represents and foreshadows the sacred union to come later in the series. Harry’s swim into the Mermaid Kingdom represents his willingness to embrace the feminine. He has to fight against the Mer-King to allow him to take Gabrielle to the surface, raising a piece of his inner feminine into consciousness.

The last event, the maze, ends with Harry and Cedric unexpectedly transporting to a distant graveyard when they grasp the Tri-Wizard Cup unexpectedly transporting Harry and Cedric to a distant graveyard. The events that transpire in the graveyard are Harry’s rubedo because the events that happen bring Harry into a transformed state closer, though not entirely, to one of purification: he witnesses Cedric’s death, a symbolic death of things to come, Voldemort’s rise as a homunculus from the cauldron, a brief reunion with his parents caused by the power of the phoenix feather embedded in the cores of both Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands. Through Harry, the reader experiences a death of innocence, but also a transformation into wisdom. The graveyard sequence is not only a period of being in the unconscious, but also of being in the shadow.

Like the Philosopher’s Stone book-ending the entire series, the Goblet of Fire and the Tri-Wizard Cup bookend the events of the fourth book. These cups are intentional parallels to the Holy Grail, which is symbolic of the quest of individuation and parallel to the Philosopher’s Stone. In the Grail romances, the Grail is symbolic of the hero’s boon that is sought but rarely found. This is the boon of the Self, of psychic wholeness. With each adventure, the Grail knight, like Harry, grows stronger. A representation of the Philosopher’s Stone can be won at the end of an adventure, but it will only be the genuine stone after a campaign of adventures.

Another psychologically relevant symbol, but not necessarily alchemical, of Harry’s individuation is the "King’s Cross" chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Having just been struck with the killing curse from Voldemort, Harry awakens in a sort of netherworld between the realm of life and death imagined as London’s King’s Cross station, the location of Harry’s threshold crossing into the Wizarding World, to the screaming of a mutilated, naked child. Dumbledore is there and Harry is given the opportunity to ask him several questions previously unasked. To Harry, Dumbledore represents both the Wise Old Man/Mentor archetype and also a manifestation of his wiser, shadow-self containing the good aspects of his shadow. This final conversation with his mentor allows him to embrace, if not integrate to a degree, these aspects of himself. The screaming thing is the piece of Voldemort’s soul that Harry has unknowingly carried around for sixteen years. This is the negative aspect of his shadow. As though to emphasize that these negative aspects are inherent in the psyche and individuation, Dumbledore urges Harry to forget the child, because there is nothing he can do for him now. This is not in opposition to Robert Johnson’s urging to acknowledge the shadow. Harry on several occasions acknowledges Voldemort’s role as his arch-nemesis, and understands that a link exists between the two of them. This scene enables him to understand to what extent that link exists. By defeating Voldemort, Harry is conquering his shadow. I doubt such a feat is possible within the "real" world, but the image is an admirable guide for the readers. Harry is given the choice to live or die at this point. Should he die, he becomes a martyr to Voldemort’s cause. Should he live, he will be able to complete his task of defeating Voldemort. Either way, his partial death is self-less and thus affords all of his friends protection against further harm from Voldemort. To bring to a close this phase of Harry’s individuation, he asks Dumbledore once he has decided to live whether or not this is all in his head. Dumbledore responds, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” (Rowling, Deathly 723)

A comment is necessary about the horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, because not only do they carry the plot of the last two books, but they also function in the prolonging of life in a negative, superficial manner without the transformative significance of the Philosopher’s Stone. These tools are ego’s tools to escape the individuation process used to prolong the end rather than focus on the inner work, the alchemical process that will make present life more memorable. There are seven Horcruxes: Riddle’s diary, the Gaunt ring, Slytherin’s locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, Ravenclaw’s diadem, Voldemort’s snake Nagini, and Harry. As mentioned above, they are vessels to contain pieces of a person’s soul. Voldemort, fearing death, created them in the hopes of indefinitely prolonging his life. Considering that Jung’s message is to bring about the wholeness of psyche, splitting the soul is counter to the process of individuation, and explains Voldemort’s downfall. The more he split his soul, the more focused on ego he became. We can assume that each piece of soul hidden in a horcrux is a good piece of Voldemort, those aspects he chose to repress rather than address. Thus he became the shadow.

There are three Deathly Hallows: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak. These three are tools to cheat death, as they are described in Rowling’s fairytale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” In the tale, the brother who is most happy is the one with the invisibility cloak. With this, he was able to live his life to the fullest possible extent while remaining shielded from death, which allowed him the time and opportunity to pursue individuation and achieve it before dying.

The Harry Potter series is not only an entertaining series of books about which people are fanatics. It has a strong hold on those fanatics and lends itself to discussion. Fan conferences are not just opportunities for fans to dress up and meet other fans. They are also academic conferences for scholarly dialogue. Scholars from all disciplines are likewise fascinated by the Harry Potter series and base their interpretations on the assumption that the Harry Potter series is vital to understanding the various trials and tribulations of both adolescence and the modern socio-political atmosphere. It is my contention that Harry Potter is a myth for modern times, with enough timelessness to be a respected myth for future generations. In order to understand the power of this myth, it is helpful to look at it through the lens of depth psychology. As modern myth drifts further from sacred narrative, it becomes progressively more psychological. Interpretations of modern myths follow the hero into the unconscious as he or she quests for the boon of the Self, the goal of the individuation process symbolically understood in the alchemical process as the Philosopher’s Stone. The confines of this paper prevent a full psychoanalysis of Harry Potter; however, the few examples I have given demonstrate that such a mythic reading is possible, and that doing so can unlock an understanding of the fever behind the fandom.

Works cited

  • Fabricius, Johannes. Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art. London: Diamond Books, 1994.
  • Johnson, Robert A. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York, Scholastic, 2000.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Schwartz-Salant, Nathan, ed. Jung on Alchemy. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1995.
  • Storr, Anthony, ed. The Essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1983.

Harry Potter and the Alchemy of Love

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One of the dominant themes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is love: romantic love between two characters, platonic love between two friends, parental love between an elder and a child, and inter-species love between a human and a creature or being from another species. Throughout the series, Rowling treats love as a force beyond all others that will always triumph over evil. Within the alchemical process, key stages of the work, such as the rubedo or the coniunctio, symbolize the union between gold and silver to produce the Philosopher’s Stone, similar to Carl Jung’s outline for the process of individuation. The theme of love in Harry Potter is emphasized between the contrast between Harry and his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who is completely unable to love. The entire story parallels The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, a Renaissance allegorical story that symbolically describes the separation and spiritual death in preparation for the divine union. The Philosopher’s Stone in both cases is the experience, psychic, spiritual or otherwise, of the reader, strengthened by Harry’s defeat of Voldemort’s horcrux, made possible by the energy of love in his life.

“The alchemical mysteries of marriage involve the metaphorical transformation of molecular compounds, which are reduced to bare elements, and then reunited to produce the philosopher’s stone” (Smith 86). The process of transformation parallels the mythological hero’s journey: The elements of the prima materia are separated from each other, and then are thrown through the ordeal of the opus, or experimentation trying to unite substances that will produce something new, and then the boon of the perfect union and rebirth as the philosopher’s stone.

To understand why the coniunctio holds such transformative energies, I begin with the story of love described by Plato in his Symposium: Once upon a time, humans were ball-shaped with four arms and legs and two faces. There were three types of people, each corresponding to a heavenly body: male of the Sun, woman of the Earth and androgynous of the Moon. One day, the ball people decided to attack the gods, who retaliated by splitting them apart, leaving them with two arms and legs and one face. The goal of humans has since been to find the lost genuine companionship, or popularly known as "soul mates," so ancient is this desire it “is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature” (Plato 27). Thus, love is an essential part of the human experience and a catalyst for wholeness.

The psychoanalytic revolution defines the wholeness of love as a union of unconsciousness and consciousness. Carl Jung defines the love-center of the psyche as anima/animus. The anima is the unconscious feminine aspects of a man, the masculine aspects of a woman, or the appropriate aspects of a transgendered individual. The key is that it is the opposite masculine/feminine identity of one’s conscious masculine/feminine identity. Without proper guidance into the psyche, the unconscious projects itself into our conscious world. Because of these projections, the energies inherent in the unconscious are transferred onto the person or object, temporarily becoming equated with it. Transference is temporary, according to Jung, because eventually the conscious will awaken to the unconscious, and the wily energies can be kept under control. The anima/animus is seeking the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage of opposites: male/female, conscious/unconscious, Sol/Luna, symbolized in alchemy by the coniunctio. This is an essential part of the individuation process or hero’s quest, because without it, psychic forces can remain out of control or the Philosopher’s Stone as a psychic boon will never be purified.

Before the opus can get to the coniunctio, the prima materia must first be isolated. For Harry Potter, as he is our literary prima materia, this involves separating him from his non-magical ("muggle"), mundane existence. Initially, the "prima materia [is] thought of as a composite, a confused mixture of undifferentiated and contrary components requiring a process of separation" (Edinger 183). To isolate and purify its components, the prima materia undergoes a separatio. The chemical components that make up a substance provide complexity; the separatio provides simplicity, a sort of tabula rasa on which to project the work. The mythic hero must be separated from his or her homeland in order to fulfill the hero’s task and find the boon. For the reader or participant engaged with the myth, this literary separation is housed within the psyche, crucial to fulfilling the psychological need of the hero’s journey. Harry’s journey from the muggle to magical world each school year symbolizes the separation all individuals undergo during the course of individuation. At the end of each foray into the psyche, the individual must return to the real world, until the opportunity arises that they can permanently enter the magical world, i.e., they can follow their bliss without the threats of a "schizophrenic crack-up" (Campbell, "Hero’s").

Once the factors are isolated, the prima materia then undergoes a mortificatio, a death that removes any lingering ties to its original form and forces it into a liminal state of being and non-being. Edward Edinger associates this with the first stage of the "coloring process," the nigredo, or blackening (147). This spiritual death is more intense than the separatio, because it prevents the prima materia from reverting to its original state. This is necessary prior to the coniunctio because the contamination of original substances can prevent a successful union with new substances. This is played out beautifully at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry, on the threshold of his greatest adventure to date, breaks up with his girlfriend, Ginny Weasley, because he needs to concentrate on saving the Wizarding world for “some stupid, noble reason” (Rowling, Half 646). They are prevented from being together because of Lord Voldemort and the trail of horcruxes he has left behind. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows follows Harry through his horcrux hunt. Beginning with the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses a death of someone important. In Deathly Hallows, he has to experience his own death – relatively late in the game – to achieve the necessary degree of maturity in order for the mortificatio to take.

The remainder of the "coloring process," the albedo and rubedo, help transition the newly blackened prima materia into the coniunctio. The entire process is played out in the "King’s Cross” chapter of Deathly Hallows:

Voldemort challenges Harry to face him in the Forbidden Forest away from his friends and supporters. This is one of Harry’s many separatios: he is separated from all things with which he both consciously and unconsciously identifies himself. His separation is further accented by opening the Golden snitch, a small, winged golden ball used in the sport, Quidditch. The Golden Snitch is Harry’s Cosmic Egg, "the alchemist’s vessel of transmutation in which the birth of the Philosopher’s Stone takes place," because his first awakening occurred when he realized he had extra-special flying abilities (Abraham qtd. in Granger 98). Inside the ball, Dumbledore hid a ring that could temporarily resurrect the dead. Among the resurrected were Harry’s parents and father-figures. Their ghastly presence foreshadows the liminality Harry must experience as he advances through his mortificatio/nigredo.

When he confronts Voldemort, Harry is struck with the killing curse, avada kedavra, described as instant death by blinding green light (fire). Harry finds himself in a liminal state that resembles London’s King’s Cross station, his threshold between the muggle and magical worlds, thus making King’s Cross a threshold between life and death. There is an ugly baby-like thing crying in pain, and Harry’s dead professor, Albus Dumbledore, is sitting nearby. The ugly baby-thing is a piece of Voldemort’s soul lodged within Harry’s psyche, a dark pollutant that Harry needs to absorb and acknowledge in order to release him from its powers. The nigredo is associated with death because the blackness resembles rot. Dumbledore’s name, Albus, is derived from the same root word as albedo and the cleansing he provides Harry during this final conversation between the two is Harry’s albedo. Harry learns from Dumbledore that he has the power to choose to live because of the nature of his death as a willing sacrifice to save his friends. The option to choose is made possible because of the horcrux Harry did not realize he carried. As long as Harry lives, the piece of soul lives. Harry is faced with a cross road option, similar to the alchemical symbol of the cross, which Carl Jung describes as a symbol for wholeness: "Submission to a fundamental contrariety of human nature amounts to an acceptance of the fact that the psyche is at cross purposes with itself. Alchemy teaches that the tension is fourfold, forming a cross which stands for the four warring elements" (Jung 143). Harry’s dilemma is to live or die. He has suffered his whole life because of Voldemort; however, he also has grown into the hero figure by necessity of his connection to him. Harry realizes that dying, while "the next great adventure," would give Voldemort the upper hand in the fight (Rowling, Sorcerer 297). The death of the hero means the death of ego and consciousness, and thus the shadow (Voldemort) would have power in the conscious sphere: Campbell’s projected "schizophrenic crack-up." The alchemical quarternity manifests in this chapter as King’s Cross represents the meeting point between the cross roads of Harry and the cross roads of Dumbledore as they manifest in Harry’s psyche. Harry, as well as readers of his adventure, not only have to sort out Harry’s liminality, but also Dumbledore’s. This is his final goodbye.[1] Harry chooses to live, but Voldemort’s soul dies. Harry’s rubedo involves the integration of this psychic connection to Voldemort, then letting the piece of soul go.

Similarly, the adventure of Christian Rosencreutz involves separation, mortificatio, and nigredo. One day, after prayers, Christian Rosencreutz receives an invitation to a royal wedding by way of a vision of a woman standing on a globe, surrounded by stars and animals, holding a golden trumpet and several envelopes. Christian, not wanting to miss such an opportunity, leaves his house, headed for the castle where the wedding is to be held. It should be noted that the outfit he dons for the wedding is full of red and white. He arrives at the castle, and is led about by a Virgin. This same Virgin weighs all the guests of the wedding and selects Christian for marriage and a banquet is held in his honor, with gold and silver dishes. After a day of exploring the castle and some evening theatrics, he follows the Virgin into a great hall, where he watches funerary preparations for six beheaded people. He follows the pallbearers into the lower area of the castle and finds a strange vault, inside of which is a tomb of a dead King and Queen covered with mysterious inscriptions. They lead him back up and onto a ship flying twelve flags representing the signs of the zodiac and he is married. Then, the wedding party took the Order of the Golden Stone, thus becoming Knights of the Golden Stone.

Christian, the prima materia, must first be broken down. In its initial state, the prima materia is “thought of as a composite, a confused mixture of undifferentiated and contrary components requiring a process of separation” (Edinger 183). This can be done by water, by fire, or by any other transformative method that can separate the pieces from the whole. In Christian’s case, he receives a wedding invitation. An element is isolated to undergo the work (Christian is selected for the wedding) and the opus, the alchemical work¸ can get underway. This element is exposed to all the natural elements, especially fire, water, and air, to temper and purify it before it is combined with other elements. While the processes themselves have their own names, this can be summed up by the “coloring process” of nigredo, albedo and rubedo. The nigredo is the blackening process, and is often associated with death, rot, and burning by fire. This stage alters the prima materia so greatly that it is no longer able to return to its original state. The albedo, or whitening, is a cleansing and a purification process that washing away all of the soot and grime of the nigredo. The rubedo is the infusion of life, associated with blood or sulphur, into the white element to resurrect it and product the Philosopher’s Stone (which can be either red or gold). In the allegory of Christian, it is necessary for him to participate in the funeral in order for his original state to die (nigredo). His return to the surface and to the ships cleanses him and washes away the decay (albedo). The rubedo is often associated with a marriage, pictured as the marriage between Sol (sun) and Luna (moon), the White King (Christian) and Red Queen (princess), sulphur and quicksilver. This union will produce the philosopher’s stone, which is allegorized as a hermaphrodite.

Love is a necessary emotion for all humans because it connects people with each other. The first experience of a child is, usually, the love of the mother. Harry Potter lived with his mother one year before her death and is therefore capable of love, but he never experienced it while living with his foster parents, the Dursleys. Because of his cruel upbringing, Harry is able to distinguish behavior because he never appreciated the cruelty of the Dursleys. On the other hand, Voldemort’s mother suffered from strong animus transference, such that she died shortly after Voldemort was born of a broken heart. Her heart was entwined with a neighbor who refused to acknowledge her existence. She bewitched him into loving her and kept him under the spell for almost a year, a dangerous amount of time to keep one under enchantment. She releases him from the spell, and he is so appalled, he leaves her pregnant and refuses to speak to hear, possibly forgetting what occurred when they were together. She, however, in her delusion, was convinced that he learned to love her and would stay with her, and if not, then he would stay for their child. When her plan backfired, she carried the child to term, and left him at an orphanage, and died. Voldemort was unable to learn to love.

J.K. Rowling gives Harry a special power, the "power of love" that protects him from harm, especially by Lord Voldemort, who is incapable of understanding love. This power comes from a deeply magical protection placed on Harry when his mother sacrificed herself to protect him from Voldemort. Harry later repeats this when he likewise sacrifices himself for his schoolmates and teachers. The scene of his sacrifice helps exemplify the alchemical process, although the entire series is full of such incarnations; this paper doesn’t allow time to cover them all. After returning to the world of the living, Harry, still believed dead, is carried to the battlefield in front of Hogwarts. Voldemort attempts to curse one of Harry’s classmates, but he is unharmed, as are other targets of curses. At a crucial moment, Harry jumps up, alive, and rallies his classmates and professors. The battle continues, and Harry and Voldemort dual one-on-one. None of the good side is harmed while several Death Eaters are. One-by-one, contaminating elements, Death Eaters, are removed from the process, until only Harry and his arch-nemesis remain. Harry turns Voldemort’s curse back on himself, killing him, and leaving Harry is free to love without constraint. The Epilogue of the seventh book shows Harry as an average father, married to his true love, sending his middle son off to school for the first time. His coniunctio is represented literally by his marriage to Ginny Weasley. Harry advanced from Plato and the separation to lovers, Rowling brings them together, skipping over most of the unnecessary romance in favor of Harry’s epic adventure.

The coniunctio brings together two different substances to create something beautiful. The first substance, the prima materia undergoes a strenuous process of purification before the coniunctio can be initiated. The second substance is brought into the coniunctio already purified. The stories of Harry Potter and Christian Rosencreutz exemplify the alchemical process, emphasizing that transformation does not come easy. The transformative process ushers a person into a new state, often of wholeness and fulfillment, symbolized in alchemical literature as the Philosopher’s Stone, which is believed to give its possessor infinite life and wealth. As a symbol for a psychological or mythological process, the Philosopher’s Stone is equated with the goal of the individuation process or the hero’s journey. This approach is sometimes discounted because the psychological approach purports to reconcile the ego with the unconscious, both personal and collective. As Titus Burkhart argues, “[t]he alchemist’s ‘fountain of youth’ in no wise springs from an obscure psychic substratum; it flows from the same source as the Spirit” (9). Similarly, John Granger, a noted Potter-scholar, describes alchemy as “the means, in conjunction with the Mysteries of the Church … that [the alchemist] could regain [his lost spiritual] capacity; the substance changing from lead to gold was his soul and the riches he would glean were spiritual riches” (50-51).

Regardless of whether the images of alchemy come from a psychological or a spiritual realm, the projection onto the opus comes after the manual manipulation of chemicals. That alchemy can be interpreted in a modern sense as a primarily psychological or spiritual process is a testament to the disparity between the spirituality and the science. The story of Harry Potter demonstrates that there are multiple perspectives to any story, and all are equally valid in a given situation. The series is told from his perspective and often his adventures occur because he misunderstood his own perspective without exploring others.

Love is both a psychological and a spiritual process. In order for love to succeed, one has to have a degree of self-love as well as a connection with the other party. The alchemical process gives us both: It can be seen as a pathway towards self love and individuation, but it also fuses together the two parties. Love cannot restore Plato’s globular people, but it can instill the same emotional response. Harry Potter’s story shows the process leading up to the coniunctio, while Christian Rosencreutz takes the experience to its culmination with the creation of the hermaphrodite, who is as complete and fulfilled as Plato’s original people. Achieving the Philosopher’s Stone is a life-long dream that may never be attained, but once it is, it is only the starting point.

Works cited

  • Burckhardt, Titus. Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 1997.
  • Edinger, Edward F. Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. La Salle: Open Court, 1985.
  • Granger, John. Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. Wayne: Zossima P, 2007.
  • “The Hero’s Adventure.” Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. PBS. 1988. DVD. Wellspring Media, 2005.
  • Jung, C.G. The Psychology of Transference. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New York: Bollingen, 1966.
  • Plato. Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Smith, Evans Lansing. Sacred Mysteries: Myths About Couples in Quest. Nevada City: Blue Dolphin, 2003.
  • Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge, 1972.

[1] Few of the fans wanted to acknowledge his death, despite Rowling’s comments that dead is dead. This chapter serves as a final goodbye.