July 31, 2014 by Pastor Ben McIntire
In honor of the 34th birthday of The-Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter, lots of Potterheads are celebrating with lists of quotes, favorite moments or scenes, and discussion about the seven book series that captured the imaginations of millions. It also made Joanne Rowling millions of dollars, and we should wish her a happy birthday as well; she is 49 today. I too am fascinated by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Co. Therefore, I am adding my list to the online community in celebration of Harry Potter and the story of love’s victory over evil. Here’s a Top Ten list of religious symbols that can be found within the Harry Potter stories for Harry and J.K. Rowling’s birthdays.
10) Let’s start with the embodiment of evil, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. First of all, Lord Voldemort is the snake-like hybrid wizard who practices Dark Magic to control and dominate others in an attempt to play God and cheat death. His pet is a serpent, he speaks the language of snakes, and he comes from Slytherin House in Hogwarts. Anyone remember the 3rd chapter of Genesis? “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made…” This symbol of evil, and later of the Devil, is an easy one to spot.
9) But what about Voldemort’s real identity? In The Chamber of Secrets, we discover that the Dark Lord was once a student at Hogwarts. He reveals his true name to Harry in a word scramble where “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT” rearranges to reveal the name “TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE.” Tom was a brilliant student, but a bad egg. And his symbolic surname “Riddle” is quite appropriate for the Prince of Lies.
8) In the first book, Harry encounters the Sorcerer’s Stone. (In the UK it’s called the Philosopher’s Stone.) This little gem is the goal of alchemy; a stone that produces the Elixir of Life and which has the power to transform lead and other metals into gold. This gives the stone’s owner an endless supply of wealth, and the longevity of eternal life in which to spend said wealth. Sounds decidedly un-Christian at first, right? Except this too is a symbol, for it is Christ himself who “promises eternal life and the golden (read incorruptible, never tarnishing, spiritual) riches.”
7) Harry meets a strange creature in the Headmaster’s office; it is Albus Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, Fawkes. On his first encounter, the bird looks sickly and then bursts into flame. Harry is startled and also a bit worried that he may be blamed for its demise. Fortunately, Dumbledore appears and explains that the phoenix is a “resurrection” bird. When it completes its lifecycle, a phoenix bursts into flame and is reborn from its own ash. It should come as no surprise that the Resurrection Bird is also a Christian symbol.
6) When young witches and wizards first arrive at Hogwarts School, they are sorted into one of the four houses. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are sent to Griffindor House, where the mascot is a lion and whose primary virtues are bravery and loyalty. Breaking down the name, we find griffin d’or which is French for golden griffin. The griffin is half-lion and half-eagle. The lion being the king of the jungle and all land animals, and the eagle the master of the skies; the combination gives us a being who is Lord of Heaven and Earth. Can you guess who else might fit this description?
5) Potter meets another magical creature in the Forbidden Forest in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This time it is a dying unicorn. A vampire-like form of Voldemort hovers over the creature, drinking its blood. Once Voldemort is chased away, Harry learns that drinking blood of the unicorn gives the drinker life. Since the unicorn, strong, pure and innocent, is a symbol for Christ dating back to the Middle Ages, the symbolism of drinking his blood and receiving life in Holy Communion is quite obvious. Interestingly, unicorns appear in the Bible (at least in the King James Version, see Numbers 23:22, 24:8, Job 39:9-10, Psalm 92:10, and more). Check it out!
4) The names in Rowling’s books are loaded with meanings and symbolism too. My favorite is Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Hogwarts Headmaster, whose name means “White Bumblebee.” But even more than that, the Latin albus also means “glorious, resplendent.” And the bee is a traditional image for the soul. It’s no accident that the heroic protector and mentor of Harry Potter is a “glorious soul.”
3) Ok, so I say this was about symbols… But I love the fact that when Harry and Hermione visit the graves of his parents, James and Lily Potter, their tombstone bears an inscription (though not explicitly noted) from 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” This verse, especially on a grave, speaks about our Christian hope in the resurrection to eternal life. It claims the promise that Jesus Christ has won victory over death and the things that separate us from God, and unites us to our Lord.
2) After seven years since the final book was published, and three years after the movie series was complete, I don’t feel like spoiler alerts are necessary. So I feel like it’s okay to talk about the theme of love overcoming evil. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, we learn that Harry survived the killing curse Avada Kedavra because his mother’s sacrificial love and protection saved him. For this reason, Voldemort possessing Professor Quirrell’s body could not touch Harry. And over the years, Harry was always safe from Voldemort when he lived in the household with his mother’s sister, Aunt Petunia. Love is a strange and powerful magic that overcomes even the darkest evil. In truth, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… And by God’s sacrificial death on the cross for us evil, sin, death, and hell are overcome. Love conquers all.
1) Finally, at the end of the story in The Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter indeed offers himself up to Voldemort and certain death, in order to save his friends. Harry Potter is himself a symbol, a Christ-figure whose sacrificial death brings salvation to others. And in doing so, Harry is killed(?) by Voldemort’s Avada Kedavra curse, but is raised from death to triumph over the Dark Lord.
For those Christians who have dismissed the Harry Potter stories for their witchcraft and sorcery, I am sad. The ultimate message of these stories is not far from the great message of our faith, that sacrificial love is the most powerful force in the universe, and no evil thing can withstand it. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, and happy birthday to you.