On November 18th, 2016, a new era of the Harry Potter universe begins with the release of the film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”. It takes place many years before the birth of Harry Potter, and gives fans a glimpse of the ‘expanded universe’ of the wizarding world. In this film we see the adventures of Newt Scamander and his menagerie of magical creatures. Part of the genius of the Harry Potter stories is that there are bits of truth scattered among the fantasy. For example, in the new film, there is a nod to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. We also see magical symbols (including a pentacle on the floor), witches, wizards and all sorts of wonderful magic and enchantment.
Before going any further, it must be acknowledged that the Harry Potter books were not written to endorse any religion or spiritual practice. They are simply brilliantly written stories that include symbolism, myth and legend (with a few facts thrown in) from many different cultures. That being said, the Harry Potter books can appeal to those of any spiritual path: including those who follow earth-based paths such as Witchcraft and Paganism. If one reads between the lines, one can find magical concepts hidden behind subtle metaphor. This is the mark of a clever storyteller, after all. There are far too many too include in this article, but we will explore a few of them.
Before Harry ever arrives at school in the first book, his magical education begins. While on the Hogwarts Express, he purchases several chocolate frogs. Each frog comes with a collectible card containing a photo and short biography of a famous Witch or Wizard. Several of these are fictional, or characters of myth and legend, but a small number of them were real people who actually existed. These real-life people made a huge contribution to modern Magic, Witchcraft, Astrology, and Alchemy. They are prominent figures in our real magical history, and are often overlooked by modern pagans. (Heinrich Cornelius) Agrippa is the first Chocolate Frog card that is mentioned specifically in the Harry Potter books. Agrippa was born in Cologne, Germany in 1486. He was a scholar of magic, astrology and alchemy. He spent much of his life studying the occult. His most famous work, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, was first published in 1531. It was later translated from Latin to English in 1651, and is still available today. It is a voluminous book of over 900 pages, and is filled with magical knowledge on a wide variety of topics. For over 500 years it has been used by Witches, Wizards, Ceremonial Magicians, and is considered by many to be the most important book of magical lore in existence today. Information from the Three Books of Occult Philosophy has influenced several magical traditions, from Golden Dawn to Kabbalah. The chapters vary in length, from just a few paragraphs to several pages. Also included are various illustrations, charts, drawings and symbols. As the title suggests, Three Books of Occult Philosophy is a book containing 3 volumes. Book 1 focuses on the natural magic of crystals, herbs, metals and the like. Book 2 deals mainly with celestial magic and numerology, and book 3 explores pagan deities, angels, spirits and how to work with them.
The four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin are each associated with a particular elemental force. Each house is also linked to a particular color and animal totem. The primary color of Gryffindor house is Red, and it’s animal totem is the Lion. Harry Potter is a Leo, a Fire sign, also symbolized by the Lion. Naturally, the element associated with Gryffindor is Fire. Those who belong to Gryffindor house are described as brave, bold and daring. In magical lore, the direction of Fire is the South. It should also be noted that in traditional witchcraft, the elemental ruler of Fire is the Salamander. It is said to be a spirit creature that lives within the flames. In the book version of Prisoner of Azkaban, Fred and George Weasley have an encounter with a Salamander.
The primary color of Hufflepuff house is Yellow. The element associated with Hufflepuff is Water, and its direction is the West. In traditional witchcraft, the elemental rulers of Water are the Undines, which is another word for MerPeople. We see a representation of MerPeople in Goblet of Fire, when Harry competes in the 2nd Task of the Triwizard Tournament. The attributes of Hufflepuff students are hard work, patience and loyalty. The totem animal is the Badger, an animal that fiercely defends itself. The Badger figures prominently in Japanese mythology as a shape-shifter, and is also linked to healing, herbology and storytelling. The Hufflepuff Cup is linked to the Throat Chakra, which rules speech and communication. Due to the Badger’s ability to quickly dig through the earth, Native American tribes viewed it as a Medicine Chief, conversant with all manner of herbs, seeds, roots and the mysteries of plants. Those who work with Badger Medicine are in tune with the mystical powers of things that grow beneath the earth. It is no wonder, then, that the head of Hufflepuff house is Herbology teacher Professor Pomona Sprout.
The primary color of Ravenclaw house is blue, and Ravenclaw robes are lined with this color. The element associated with Ravenclaw is Air, and its direction is the East. Ravenclaw students are intelligent, wise and studious. When choosing the totem animal for Ravenclaw, this is where Rowling strangely chose the Eagle, presumably because of the Eagle’s association with Wisdom, among its many other magical qualities. On the surface, the Eagle would seem appropriate. However, Hogwarts is a school of Witchcraft, and students do not attend this school to acquire superficial wisdom. They are there to gain inner wisdom as it applies to mystical, occult learning, magical awareness and perception. These are hallmarks of the Raven. The Raven reveals to us the secrets of magic and the hidden keys to unlocking our full potential. This is the true wisdom of Ravenclaw. The Ravenclaw Diadem is linked to the Crown Chakra and Divine Wisdom. In traditional witchcraft, the elemental rulers of Air are the Sylphs, which are thought to be formless entities that exist in the wind. Faeries, Sprites and similar beings also belong in this category. In the Potter books, Fairy Wings (symbolic of Air) are an ingredient in certain potions. Thankfully, official Ravenclaw merchandise does picture the Raven rather than the Eagle.
The primary color of Slytherin is Green. The element associated with Slytherin is Earth, and its direction is the North. Students in Slytherin house are said to display traits such as cunning, resourcefulness and ambition, but there are other qualities that have been overlooked. Slytherin house developed a bad reputation due to the large number of dark wizards and witches who came from there. I believe there are some missing pieces to this story. The animal totem for Slytherin house is the Serpent. In magical lore, the Serpent guards the secrets of the Underworld and represents the Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is that part of us that we hide from others, things about ourselves that we keep hidden. Severus Snape, head of Slytherin house, is a classic example. Working with the Shadow Self can be a dangerous process. As we allow issues that have been long hidden to come to the surface, the healing process can be painful and can take a long time to complete. The process is not always successful, and wholeness is sometimes replaced by anger at past hurts or revenge on those who have wronged us. Severus Snape sought the path of healing, while Tom Riddle/Voldemort sought destruction and control. Those who belong to Slytherin are deeply in touch with the Shadow Self. Harry Potter himself had Slytherin qualities. He was a Parselmouth and could speak Parseltongue, the language of serpents. In Order of The Phoenix he was becoming aware of his darker nature, “What if I’m becoming bad?” And let us not forget the words of the Sorting Hat, “You would have done well in Slytherin.” Harry was placed in Gryffindor because he willed it to be so. He is a perfect balance of Light & Dark, with both Gryffindor and Slytherin qualities.
The path of the Witch is closely tied to the plant world and the spirit of Nature. Herbology is the study of the magical/medicinal properties of herbs, flowers and plants. Witches not only use plants in their spells and rituals, they also connect to the spirit of the plant through meditation, calling on their inherent powers to aid in magical workings. What is most interesting is the fact that the majority of flowers and plants mentioned in the Potter books are those that have been used in traditional witchcraft for centuries. These were not randomly chosen. Mandrake, Belladonna, Valerian, Dittany, Rue, Hellebore and others we see in the Potter books are some of the most powerful (and poisonous) magical herbs in existence. Ms. Rowling really did her homework when choosing these specific plants. The first plant introduced to students is the Mandrake, and this is quite significant, since the mandrake is considered to be the ruler of the plant world, and has accumulated more lore than any other plant. It was very popular in European witchcraft and what is known as “Old Ways“ magic. Its roots have a human shape, and for centuries it has been believed to contain many magical and medicinal properties. Old lore says that if one pulls a mandrake from the earth, its loud cries are fatal to anyone who hears it. The prescribed method for harvesting the root—in which a dog tied to the mandrake pulls the plant from the ground—is frequently depicted in ancient and medieval herbals. On a superficial level, the mandrake can be used magically for protection, fertility, love and money issues.
We also find Numerology hidden throughout the Harry Potter books, particularly the number 11. The number 11 plays a large role in Harry Potter’s life. This number signifies the beginning of a spiritual journey, the embarking on a path to enlightenment and heightened awareness. In Numerology, the word “Potter” reduces to 11. On Harry’s 11th birthday, he learns of his magical heritage and that he himself is a wizard. After gathering his school supplies and magical tools (cauldron, wand, owl familiar), he boards the Hogwarts Express, which leaves the station promptly at 11:00 AM. The wand that “chooses” him at Ollivanders is 11 inches in length and contains a Phoenix tail feather at its core. These are all mystical clues that Harry is beginning a journey of transformation.
Some aspects of Harry Potter can even be found in modern magical practice. In his book, “Hands-On Chaos Magic,” author/teacher Andrieh Vitmus gives detailed instructions on how to cast a Patronus Charm with the incantation “Expecto Patronum”. The memory-storing Pensieve sounds very much like the Memory Tower as described by Christopher Penczak in his book, “The Temple of High Witchcraft”. Author/teachers Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and J. H. Brennan explain in their book, The Magical Use of Thought-Forms, that “Harry Potter is alive and well on the astral plane”. They describe how thought-forms work and that Harry Potter himself is a thought-form entity. What is a thought-form? Basically, whenever there is a large group of people who are collectively focusing their attention on the same purpose, person or idea, something extraordinary happens on an astral level. This purpose, person or idea soon begins to take on a life of its own and becomes a living entity or spirit-being. This ‘created thought-form’ can then be interacted with and called upon for various purposes. If this thought-form happens to be a literary figure with already built-in attributes and qualities, we can call upon those qualities through meditation and regular interaction. The Harry Potter phenomenon has definately taken on a life of its own. It has become a living entity, what some practitioners call a thought-form. Many who have been deeply affected and influenced by it have found ways to communicate and interact with it. It’s presence could be felt at midnight book and film releases, and it is still a tangible presence at Harry Potter conventions, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks, Wizard Rock concerts, meetups and gatherings, and within the heart and spirit of every fan who has had a profound experience from reading the books.
In the Harry Potter universe, a Patronus is an astral entity, (usually an animal totem), called upon to provide protection or deliver a message. Harry’s Patronus is a White Stag, the same Patronus as his father, James. The White Stag appears frequently in Celtic lore, and this magical creature was considered to be a messenger from the Otherworld. It is a symbol of mankind’s spiritual quest, and is a creature that travels freely “between the worlds.” At times, the stag was depicted as having almost human-like understanding and certainly far beyond animal intelligence. Whenever a White Stag appears, it is a sign of great spiritual changes within the person who sees it. The elusive and mysterious white stag has been described by those who’ve seen it as radiant, eerie, striking, and even awe-inspiring, so it is easy to see how these creatures came by the legendary abilities assigned to them. The Stag, a male deer, is an animal with fatherly qualities, a fiercely protective guardian, and also happens to be the animal most closely associated with one of the primary deities in Witchcraft, a Celtic figure known as Cernunnos. He is often referred to as “The Stag God,” or the “Horned God.” He is seen as a peaceful god who cares for Nature and the fruitfulness of new life within Nature. For Harry Potter, the White Stag is a father-figure symbol with mythological links to the Celtic Stag God, Cernunnos. Both Cernunnos and the White Stag share a connection to the Underworld: the realm of the ancestors, or more specifically, Harry’s father. Remember also that James Potter was an Animagus, a shape-shifter, and could transform into a stag. Harry’s mother Lily had a Patronus as well, a Silver Doe. A female version of the White Stag, Does are reminders of spiritual evolution, and the patience required to allow our spiritual unfolding. The Doe was sacred to goddesses Artemis and Diana, and excavations have uncovered ancient vases in the shape of does, some of them in a crescent design. The Doe seems to have been closely related to Moon symbolism. In magical lore, the Doe is a symbol of spirituality, and the gentle inner voice of intuition. The doe’s energy is comforting, nurturing, maternal. By observing the ways in which the doe behaves, it is possible to see what amazing powers they possess. From them we learn how the gifts of gentleness and caring can help us overcome many challenging situations. Only love, both for ourselves and for others, helps us understand the true meaning of wholeness. The Silver Doe was the Patronus of Harry’s mother, Lily. In herbal magic, the Lily flower has near-identical associations as the Doe. It is linked to the Moon, the element of Water and the powers of intuition. It is associated with Water signs Cancer, Pisces and Scorpio. In the language of flowers, the Lily means : “May I kiss your hand?” It is a flower of purity, and motherly love. It speaks to us of keeping the heart open, and that no love is greater or more true than a mother’s love. In the White Stag and the Silver Doe we see glimpses of pagan gods and goddesses of the forest, deity figures that appear frequently in magical lore. These Father/Mother figures are sacred in Witchcraft, Druidry, Celtic Shamanism and other paths of Earth-Based Spirituality.