Any discussion of alchemy in PS has to acknowledge the foundational essay by alexism as well as the many discoveries by House_Elf_44 and the alchemy team here at PK, especially Books&Cleverness and Salomon2. I’ve also benefited from the insights of angelsslave, azaria, and H_HrFan at emmawatson.net.
Emerald Green – Chapter 1
The significance of emerald green confused me for a long time. Green is the traditional color for the element water, and, accordingly, JKR has made green the Slytherin House color. Worse, the Avada Kedavra curse is marked by a green light. So green is a bad color.
But emerald green has an entirely different meaning. We first encounter emerald green at the beginning of Chapter 1, when Vernon Dursley sees an older man (a wizard) wearing an emerald-green cloak. Later in the chapter Professor McGonagall is introduced wearing an emerald cloak; in fact, she wears emerald green robes pretty much all the time in HP (e.g., at the beginning of Chapter 7).
In Chapter 3, McGonagall’s letters inviting Harry to Hogwarts are addressed in emerald-green ink. In Chapter 12 Harry’s Christmas present from Mrs. Weasley is a “thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green.”
Emerald green is a color distinctive to the Wizarding World and it is associated with Harry’s entry into that world. It is JKR’s homage to the mythic founding document of alchemy, the Emerald Table of Hermes Trismegistos. Only 25 lines long, it was inscribed on a tablet that was green “like spring dew” (Fulcanelli), hence the name Emerald Table.
For a (fanciful) illustration of it, from Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (1602), with the entire text in both Latin and German, see the following link: (link)
Here are a few lines that from it that become important later on (Holmyard’s translation, from Lyndy Abraham, p. 70):
And as all things were by the contemplation of one, so all things arose from the one thing by a single act of adaption.The father thereof is the Sun, the mother the Moon.The Wind carried it in its womb, the Earth is the nurse thereof.
For a selection of translations of the full text see— (link)
Probably the best known use of “emerald” in an alchemy story is in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s destination, and the home of the Wizard, is the Emerald City.
Every alchemy story has at least one “alchemist,” who, figuratively at least, puts the hero—the Philosopher’s Stone to be--into the crucible, purges and purifies him, and acts as his guide. The “alchemist” always knows far better than the hero what’s really going on.
We will discover in Chapter 6 that Dumbledore is “particularly famous for….his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel,” a real alchemist who lived in Paris. But in Chapter 1, we see Dumbledore carrying baby Harry and placing him on the doorstep of the Dursleys, putting the hero into the crucible of Privet Drive.
By the end of the book, Harry has come to understand Dumbledore’s role, and he articulates it for the reader:
"He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could….” (Chapter 17)
Dumbledore, with his silver hair and beard and his half-moon spectacles, is marked as a Moon character, mind, and white. His purple cloak recalls the purple red color of the Philosopher’s Stone. In Chapter 10, he restores order to the Great Hall by shooting purple firecrackers from his wand. Nicolas Flamel called the philosopher’s stone “the true red purple” (Lyndy Abraham, p. 159).
Also present at Privet Drive is Minerva McGonagall, wearing her emerald cloak. She has square glasses, which could refer to “earth” or to the four elements. Her first name, the Roman goddess of wisdom, marks her too as mind.
Her presence is unnecessary. Dumbledore and Hagrid could have effected the delivery without her. But the fact that Rowling puts here there suggests that she too plays the role of an alchemist in the story.
In accordance with the verse from the Emerald Table that “The Wind carried it in its womb,” the Philosopher’s Stone is typically seen as born in the air. JKR’s version of this is to have Hagrid bringing Harry by flying motorcycle:
A low rumbling sound had broken the silence around them. It grew steadily louder as they looked up and down the street for some sign of a headlight; it swelled to a roar as they both looked up at the sky—and a huge motorcycle fell out of the air and landed on the road in front of them.
At this point the only two pieces of information we’re given about Harry’s appearance are his “jet-black hair” and, on his forehead, “a curiously shaped cut, like a bolt of lightning.”
Baby Harry is the prima materia—the “first” or “black” matter with which the alchemist begins the process of transformation. Harry isn’t black, but his hair is, as befits his role. Hair color is a common way to mark characters in alchemy stories. Other names for the prima materia are “chaos, “dark abyss,” and “massa confusa.” Harry’s hair may not be chaotic, but it is stubbornly messy, which fits his role too.
Finally, his scar. Hjgfan1 and Salamon2 have both pointed out how Harry’s lightning bolt scar corresponds to the Sowilo Rune, which marks him as the Sun and means victory.
There is more to it, however.
The sky gods of the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans manifested themselves in lightning and thunder. Michael Ferber, Dictionary of Literary Symbols, p. 113.
Think of the Greek ruler of the gods Zeus and his thunderbolt, for example.
The most direct parallel, however, is in Mozart’s alchemical opera, The Magic Flute. The villain of the opera is the Queen of the Night. When she and her small band of followers attempt to kidnap Pamina at the end of the opera, they are driven off by thunder and lightning. Utterly defeated, they sing a final couplet:
Shattered, sundered is our might!We all shall plunge to endless night.
Harry’s lightning bolt scar is a permanent visual reminder of his defeat of the villain in his story, Lord Voldemort. (Later we will find out the less pleasant aspects of his scar.)
Finally, why is Harry’s scar on his forehead? Certainly, for the purpose of telling the story, it’s handy for Rowling to have the scar where everyone will see it the moment they lay eyes on him. But it could also be a nod to Dorothy Sayers’ detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, who had “a minute sickle-shaped scar on the left temple.” Remember too that in the Wizard of Oz the Good Witch of the North kisses Dorothy on the forehead to ensure that no one will harm her. Similarly Harry was saved and is still protected by his mother’s love, symbolized by the scar on his forehead.
We don’t learn Harry’s name until the end of Chapter 1. Let’s start with his surname, since that is clearly alchemical, despite what JKR has said. ("I got the name Potter from people who lived down the road from me in Winterbourne. [...] I liked the surname so I took it.")
As Mircea Eliade writes in The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy:
The alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a “master of fire.” It is with fire that he controls the passage of matter from one state to another. The first potter who, with the aid of live embers, was successful in hardening those shapes which he had given to his clay, must have felt the intoxication of the demiurge: he had discovered a transmuting agent. (p. 79)
In Paul Gallico’s simple alchemical tale for children Manxmouse, also on JKR’s Bookshelf, the “ceramist” who creates Manxmouse is also referred to as a “potter” two or three times. In alchemy emblems the alchemist was often depicted allegorically as a potter. See, for example, Emblem XV of Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (scroll down to the bottom of the page): (link)
JKR could have chosen “Smith” instead, but she apparently thought such a common name was more appropriate for minor characters, like Zacharias and Hepzibah.
“Harry” we can only speculate about. It may be a nod to Harriet Vane, the protagonist of Dorothy Sayers’ trilogy of alchemical detective stories that focus on Harriet’s courtship by Lord Peter Wimsey. Rowling has mentioned Sayers’ stories with great admiration and put her on her Bookshelf, so this is one good possibility.
Another possibility is that Rowling is applying the alchemy rule of assonance in the names of her protagonist and his partner. See below, “Hermione Granger,” for how that would work.
Harry’s middle name, James, is straightforward: James was the patron saint of alchemists.
Harry the Boy – Chapter 2
In Chapter 2 Harry is nearly 11, and we have a proper description of his appearance. He still has black hair and a “very thin scar,” but we learn two important new things about him. He has “bright green eyes” and wears “round glasses.”
So, Harry’s eyes. They’re not emerald green, so are they the green that corresponds to the element water, and/or the green of Slytherin House? I can’t imagine it’s that simple. Harry’s eyes, his mother Lily’s eyes, have been stressed far too much for there to be an easy answer based on alchemy or any other traditional symbolism.
What about Harry’s glasses then? What’s the reason for those? This is JKR’s explanation:
As a child, Rowling was, "short, squat, very thick National Health glasses -- free glasses that were like bottle bottoms -- that's why Harry wears glasses. I was shy. I was a mixture of insecurities and very bossy. --January Magazine, Profile: JK Rowling, by Linda Richards
That sounds quite plausible and maybe that’s all there is to it. In none of the alchemy emblems I’ve looked at—well over 500 by now—the Sulphur/Sun Male Principle of the Work is not depicted with glasses.
However, there is one very curious alchemy engraving by Heinrich Khunrath that may be a clue. Khunrath used it as a logo or colophon with all his works, and it shows an owl with eyeglasses. Klossowski di Rola uses it as the frontispiece of his massive collection, The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century. (link)
The archaic German text reads: “Was helffen Fakeln, Licht oder Briln, so die Leut nicht sehen wollen.” Which in English means, “What use are torches, light or eyeglasses if people don’t want to see.”
In one of the alchemy stories on JKR’s Bookshelf, Dorothy Sayers’ aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, famously wears a monocle, a single-lens eyepiece. Although she has never mentioned Umberto Eco’s works as far as I know, in his alchemical novel The Name of the Rose, set in a monastery in 14th century Italy, the English detective, William of Baskerville, wears one of the first pairs of glasses produced in Europe. They get stolen in the middle of the story.
Watch out, Harry!
Harry has round glasses, because he is pursuing the Philosopher’s Stone, and the circle represents the completed opus alchymicum. Hence all the circular symbolism that surrounds Harry—and later Harry and Hermione.
“Don’t Ask Questions”
The alchemy hero must constantly repress his curiosity. You see this especially clearly with Maria in TLWH. I guess it wouldn’t do for her to find out what was going on too soon. In Chapter 2, JKR actually writes this guideline into the text:
Don’t ask questions— that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.
In Diagon Alley Harry longs to ask Hagrid about the parcel Hagrid took from Gringotts, but he “knew better than to ask.” At Ollivander’s “he swallowed a lot of new questions that had just occurred to him…”
It’s a lesson Harry will also be taught by Dumbledore: be patient and the answers will come at the appropriate time. Here’s hoping that in HPDH Harry—and the readers—find out the reason for DD’s blackened hand in HBP.
Harry’s Birthday – Chapters 3-4
As Harry’s 11th birthday approaches, he gets increasing numbers of Hogwarts letters addressed in emerald green ink and sealed with a purple wax seal. The Wizarding World and his transformation to gold await.
Vernon takes his family and Harry to the island, where a storm rages.
The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night went on….Dudley’s snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight.
The storm—the lightning and thunder—herald and dramatize the coming together of the two worlds. (For more on the significance of the storm see below, “Music and Harry’s Flute.”) At exactly midnight—Harry is counting down the seconds to the 11th birthday—Hagrid knocks heavily at the door. As soon as Hagrid enters the hut, the storm abates.
Now we have the first of many cycles of solve et coagula, the central process in alchemy. Harry has been “dissolved” by the storm, the ocean spray splattering on the walls of the hut, and sleeping on the floor “under the thinnest, most ragged blanket.” Hagrid “coagulates” him by telling him he’s a wizard and talking about his parents. Harry “looked into the fire” and starts to believe. (Dissolution is often accompanied by water or some other liquid. Coagulation is generally accomplished by fire.)
Hagrid introduces himself in Chapter 4, and we find out that his first name is “Rubeus,” which is Latin for red. For this reason many of us suspect that Hagrid will be the dreaded “Red Death” in the final book of the series, which corresponds to the rubedo, the Red Stage. He also tells Harry that he is Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts. In terms of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey template, Hagrid is the guardian of the threshold.
Hagrid presents him with a birthday cake, decorated in green icing. Harry’s actual birthday is not specified at this point, but we learn later that he was born on July 31, 1980. That makes him a Leo, ruled by the Sun, with Gold as his metal, and Fire as his element.
Harry, the protagonist of the story, is, in alchemical language, the Male Principle of the Work, i.e. Sulphur. In alchemy Sulphur is symbolized by the Sun and consists of Fire and Air. (Lyndy Abraham, p. 193).
Diagon Alley – Chapter 5
The first stop on Harry and Hagrid’s trip to Diagon Alley is Gringott’s. If alchemists are defined by their ability to create precious metals, then there might be an alchemist or two among the goblins of Gringott’s bank. The goblins wear uniforms of scarlet and gold, the two colors of the final, Red stage of the Opus. The Philosopher’s Stone is blood-red, as we learn at the end of the book (Chapter 17). Harry sees them weighing “a pile of rubies as big as glowing coals.” The ruby is a symbol for the Philosopher’s Stone. (Abraham, p. 175)
It’s not surprising then to see from the UK children’s cover of HPDH that the trio will be returning to Gringott’s amidst piles of treasures and many rubies.
The first fellow First Year Harry meets is Draco Malfoy, a snobby boy to whom he takes an instant dislike. “Draco” means dragon in Latin, and the dragon is a common alchemical symbol for Mercurius. Mercurius has many different roles: Draco’s role, so far at least, has been as one of the dissolvers of Harry.
Finally Harry and Hagrid make it to Ollivanders, to pick out a wand. A single wand lies on a purple cushion in the window. Whose it is, we don’t yet know, but I’m betting we find out in the final book.
Ollivander, with his “pale eyes shining like moons” is marked, like Dumbledore, as a Moon character, and White. Harry finds his destined wand, with a core of a phoenix feather from Fawkes. The phoenix is another symbol for the Red Stone, the Philosopher’s Stone, and we can tell that Harry has found the wand that will bring him to a successful conclusion of his journey to the Stone when he swishes it down and “a stream of red and gold sparks shoot from the end like a firework.” Harry pays an alchemically appropriate 7 Galleons for the wand. Seven is significant in alchemy because there are seven metals and seven “planets” in the alchemists’ cosmology.
The Weasleys – Chapter 6
At King’s Cross station Harry first encounters most of the Weasley family: Molly, Ginny, Percy, Fred, George, and Ron. All have “flaming red hair,” and are thus by convention, marked as Red. To find a mate, they will all need to look for someone “White.”
The first words we hear from Fred and George’s mouths is a joke they pull on Molly, each pretending to be the other. The future owners of Diagon Alley’s premier joke shop are marked from the beginning as the “trickster” aspect of Mercurius: “a protean, elusive duplicitous, inconstant, teasing spirit” (Lyndy Abraham, “Mercurius,” p. 126). Think of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example.
The most important Weasley in the story, however, is Ron. Ron will become Harry’s best friend and near-constant companion. With his hearty appetite, eye for pretty girls, insecurities, and occasional fearfulness, he is marked as the “Body” character in the story. “Body” characters come in many shapes and sizes; the one most similar to Ron in the alchemy literature that I’m familiar with is Papageno in Mozart’s Masonic opera The Magic Flute.
Like Papageno, Ron’s destiny should be to survive and be a Red King who marries a White Queen in the matrimoniathon at the end of the book. Ron is marked as Red right away, with his red hair, like the other Weasleys. He will not be marked as a “King” until OOTP, when the Slytherins taunt him with the “Weasley in Our King” chant. Appropriately, Luna takes the sting out of the taunt by singing it supportively. Luna, marked as a White Queen with her name, is also marked as Ron’s White Queen by her open admiration for him and transforming the chant from derision to support.
Although Rowling gave us Ron’s birthday years earlier, the March 1 date finally was cited in canon in HBP (2005). This is the same birthday as Aragorn in LOTR, the principal Red King in Tolkien’s trilogy. Aragorn plays a significantly different role in his story than Ron does in his, but Aragorn does marry his White Queen, Arwen Evenstar (“evenstar” = moon) at the end of Return of the King.
March 1 means that Ron’s ruling planet is Jupiter (according to the traditional astrology used in alchemy) and his metal tin. Contrast that to Harry, whose planet is the Sun and metal gold—as befits the hero, the Male Principle of the Work, i.e., Sulphur.
Ron is also a Pisces, a water sign. This is one of several clues that Ron has an additional role—that he has a key aspect of Mercurius—a different one from Fred and George’s. As Books&Cleverness argued in his recent essay, “Ron as Harmonian,” Ron most likely corresponds to the “third mediating principle” of alchemy, the mercurial water or “glue” that binds Sulphur and Mercury in the Chemical Wedding. See “Hermione Granger” and “The Seven Tasks,” below.
Neville and the Toad
The first conversation Harry overhears once he’s passed the barrier into the Wizarding World is one between Neville and his grandmother. Neville, despite all the misfortunes he endures in the book, may have a promising fate, since here and repeatedly he is referring to as “round-faced.” As noted earlier, the circle is a propitious symbol, as it represents the completed Opus alchymicum.
Neville’s first words are about his lost toad. The toad is a term that usually refers to the prima materia during the fermentation stage. However, a famous poem attributed to the English alchemist George Ripley describes the entire Opus in terms of the experiences of a toad. Here’s a link to the text, which also includes Philateles’ exposition on it. (link)
Rowling has Neville’s toad go through a variety of trials throughout the series, in line with the multiple assaults in Ripley’s poem.
On the Hogwarts Express
The train is “scarlet,” not uncommon perhaps for an old steam engine, but very appropriate for the conveyance taking Harry on the first leg of his journey to the Red Stone.
Ron befriends Harry and their first shared experience is a hearty snack.
“Go on, have a pasty,” said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties, cakes, and candies….
Rowling has said that TLWH was the book that had the most influence on HP, and she cited the detailed descriptions of meals. Here you can see her following Goudge’s example. But there is alchemy in the scene too.
There were innumerable prescriptions for the number and names of stages in the alchemical process. Seven steps were quite common, corresponding to the seven metals and planets. But one of the templates that had the most influence on English literature was the model of Twelve Gates (or stages)contained in the Compound of Alchymie, by George Ripley, published in 1591 (and therefore known to Shakespeare).
The Seventh Gate in Ripley was cibation, or feeding the stone. Here is an example of how the demands of telling a story overrule the steps of alchemy. It makes no sense to have Harry—and Ron--feast only toward the end of the story. No, we see him and his mates eat repeatedly, throughout the story, just as Maria and her family have a number of splendid meals in TLWH.
Ron acts as Harry’s guide to the Wizarding World, telling him, among other things, about Chocolate Frogs and their trading cards on famous witches and wizards. This is how we learn of Dumbledore’s work with Flamel, for example. It is interesting to note that of the nine “witches and wizards” mentioned by name, Agrippa and Paracelsus were actually alchemists, not wizards.
Hermione makes an unpromising entry into the story in the middle of Chapter 6.
He [Ron] had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes.
“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
“We’ve already told him we haven’t seen it,” said Ron, but the girl wasn’t listening, she was looking at the wand in his hand.
“Oh, are you doing magic? Let’s see it, then.”She sat down. Ron looked taken aback.“Er—all right.”
So the first thing we learn about her, before we even learn her name, is that she’s “bossy” and not particularly attractive. In the hero’s journey, the protagonist always has a “meeting with the goddess,” who is generally unattractive, sometimes even old and ugly, but who is ultimately revealed to be a beauty. (See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). So here Rowling sets up the transformation of the principal female character that she will begin in the fourth book, GOF.
In terms of alchemy, note that the girl encounters Harry as she is searching for a toad. The toad symbolizes the prima materia, and Harry IS the prima materia of the story. She is, though she doesn’t realize it, searching for him.
Also significant is that the girl converses initially with Ron and is drawn to join them because Ron was about to do a magic trick. Part of the job of Mercurius as the “glue” that binds Sulphur and Mercury in the Chemical Wedding is the get them together in the first place. This Ron does, by inadvertently rousing Hermione’s curiosity and influencing her to stay. He flubs the spell and she insults him, establishing the model for the Ron/Hermione relationship through the end of Book 6.
The rest of her speech gives us her two basic alchemical roles:
--“I’ve learned all our course books by heart, of course.” This is the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of references marking her as Mind.
--“I’m Hermione Granger, by the way….” “Hermione” is the female form of “Hermes,” which means “Mercury,” Mercury is NOT Mercurius; in fact, to avoid confusion, most alchemy treatises use the synonyms “Quicksilver” or “Argent vive” instead. Mercury/quicksilver/argent vive is the Female Principle of the Work, corresponding to earth and water.
Her brown hair is an additional marker for “earth,” as is her surname, since a “granger” is a farmer, a tiller of the earth. In TLWH, Robin is marked as earth with his brown, brown eyes, and brown clothing. In LOTR, Samwise Gangee is marked as earth by his work as a gardener.
Later JKR will confirm that Hermione’s birthday was Wednesday, September 19, 1979, making her a Virgo, which is ruled by the planet Mercury, whose metal is mercury and element is earth. By convention, “philosophical Mercury” is symbolized by the Moon, just as “philosophical Sulphur” is symbolized by the Sun.
Hermione’s full name, we later find out, is Hermione Jane Granger, though originally Rowling intended her last name to be Puckle. That first plan would have given Harry and Hermione the same initials: HJP. In either case, their first and second names—Harry/Hermione and James/Jane--are very similar-sounding. In alchemy the names of the hero and heroine sometimes are chosen on the principle of assonance, sounding similar without rhyming. You see this most clearly in The Magic Flute, where the main couple are Tamino and Pamina and the secondary couple Papageno and Papagena.
So, if we have been paying attention to all the little clues, we already know that Hermione is destined to join with Harry in the Chemical Wedding that will conclude the book—and the series.
Rowling told us that she took the name from Queen Hermione in Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. This is another clue. Shakespeare gave both his protagonists alchemical names: Hermione, of course, for Mercury, and Leontes, her husband, for Leo = Sun = Sulphur. Leontes develops an unreasoning, unfounded belief that Hermione has been unfaithful with his best friend, and Leontes’ jealousy drives the play. It appears that Rowling has used Leontes’ delusional jealousy as a model for the “Harry believes Hermione and Ron fancy each other” red herring.
There is a tiny nod to Shakespeare’s Hermione in Chapter 15. At the end of the play Leontes is brought a statue of Hermione, who he thinks is dead. She magically comes to life and they are reunited. Rowling’s Hermione will be petrified in COS, but there’s a hint of this already in the first book:
It was the first time Hermione had ever failed to answer a teacher’s question. She was staring at her slippers, as still as a statue.
Coming to Hogwarts
At the end of Chapter 6, the First Years approach the Great Hall.
They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.“Everyone here? You there, still got yer toad?”Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.
Harry has had to cross three thresholds to reach the inner sanctum of the Wizarding World: the barrier at Kings’ Cross, the Black Lake, and, finally, the oak door. Then Hagrid knocks three times. Everything in alchemy comes in threes, sevens, nines, or twelves. The oak represents the “philosophical tree” (the Opus alchymicum) or the alchemical vessel where the Opus takes place. (Lyndy Abraham, pp. 137, 150).
At the beginning of Chapter 7 the door swings open and the students are received by McGonagall in her emerald green robes.
The toad, too, is ready is embark on his first great adventure.
The Sorting Ceremony and the Stages of Alchemy – Chapter 7
The one thing everyone knows about alchemy is that it’s about changing lead to gold. Lead is a synonym for the prima materia. Harry is obviously at the beginning of the process, and, appropriately, he’s feeling a bit leaden:
Feeling oddly as though his legs had turned to lead, Harry got into line behind a boy with sandy hair, with Ron behind him…..
Then, after the Sorting is completed:
The Gryffindor first years followed Percy through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall, and up the marble staircase. Harry’s legs were like lead again, but only because he was so tired and full of food.
And so, in two almost random references, Rowling takes care of the symbolism of Harry being lead in Book 1.
The seven metals in order from basest to noblest, along with their ruling planets, are as follows:
Lead – Saturn
Tin - Jupiter
Iron – Mars
Quicksilver - Mercury
Copper - Venus
Silver – Moon
Gold - Sun
For more details on the seven-stage version of the alchemical process, see House_Elf_44’s marvelous essay at Portkey.
As Mircea Eliade explains, alchemists believed that everything on earth was alive and growing, including metals, and that each metal grew under the influence of a particular planet. Left on their own, over millennia, base metals would become gold. What the alchemist did was speed up this natural process. The alchemist manipulated time.
The stages of the Opus are not, however, named for the metals. They are named after the processes the alchemist carries out. A few treaties prescribe four stages (Solomon Trismosin, Roger Bacon), but most treatises set out seven.
Seven is a key alchemical number because there were seven “planets” in alchemy, which presided over the seven basic metals and corresponded to the seven days of the week. Ripley’s influential work specified twelve, however. Twelve is also significant in alchemy because of the twelve signs of the Zodiac and twelve months of the year. Since Shakespeare drew on Ripley’s ideas, they continue to influence works of English literary alchemy today.
In his study, “Alchemy, Nature and Time in Pericles and The Winter’s Tale, Rodger Dale Sorensen drew on Ripley for his analysis, and I have followed his example. We can see three of Ripley’s “extra” stages in HP, for example (cibation, multiplication, and projection).
As Sorensen writes:
Regardless of how many stages an adept practiced, it seems that there was general agreement about the order of events that had to be followed. Initially there was a breaking down, a distillation or putrefaction. Second came a congelation or fixation. That which was dissolved was returned to solid matter. Next, these first two stages were reiterated, resulting in a White Stone. Fourth, more iterations of solve et coagula were performed until the Red Stone emerged. The Red Stone was multiplied or augmented, and its effectiveness extended. Finally, the Philosopher’s Stone was projected onto or planted into imperfect matter. The result was perfection and exaltation for all matter in which it was planted. (p. 37)
All of the formulas I’m familiar with, however, began with the Calcination stage.
In physical terms this meant “the conversion of a metal or mineral to powder or dust by the heat of the fire” (Lyndy Abraham, p. 31). In Ripley this meant in particular breaking matter into its four elements: air, earth, water, and fire (Sorensen, p. 39).
So Rowling takes care of the Calcination stage by the Sorting ceremony, where the new students are divided into the four Houses, which correspond, according to JKR’s explanation in the TLC/MN interview, to the four Elements:
Gryffindor – fire
Ravenclaw – air
Hufflepuff – earth
Slytherin – water
We will later find out that the four Houses have been assigned the colors appropriate to their element. As Michael Baxandall explains in Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy (p. 81), fire = red, air = blue, green = water, and grey = earth. Not surprisingly Hufflepuff ends up with the much more colorful yellow rather than the “correct” grey.
After the Sorting, the students go up the marble staircase to their dormitory. (I discuss the significance of the marble staircase in my analysis of COS.)
Castle and Tower
The new Gryffindors go through a round portrait hole, into a cosy round room (with a conveniently located fireplace, we find out later). The boys’ room is in one of the towers, and each student has a four poster bed with deep red cushions. This is all conventional alchemical symbolism that I’ve explain before—except for the tower.
As Abraham notes, the “tower” is “a synonym for the athanor or philosophical furnace. Illustrations of the furnace frequently resemble the turret or tower of a castle.” (p. 203)
Here’s the illustration Abraham includes, from a 15th century manuscript in Florence. It looks remarkably like the illustration of the castle on the back cover of the HPDH UK children’s edition. (link)
So Gryffindor tower will be where Harry goes through many of the stages of his transformation.
The castle has a similar meaning: “a name for the hermetically sealed vessel which not only keeps the contents within well defended from the invasion of outside influences or substances, but also stops the volatile contents from escaping” (Abraham, p. 32).
As we know, Hogwarts is the most secure, most defended place in the Wizarding World.
Severus Snape, the Potions Master – Chapter 8
Snape is introduced in Chapter 7 and lends his Potions position to the title of Chapter 8.
Snape is a Capricorn (January 9), like Voldemort (December 31), so his ruling planet is Saturn and his metal is lead. Not very auspicious markers at all.
His first words are an almost loving tribute to his subject, potion-making.
“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making,” he began….”As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses….I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death….”“Potter!” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
He then goes on to ask about a bezoar, monkshood, and wolfsbane.
"For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite."
There are many theories about Snape—who his character is based on, whether he’s good or bad. I have one more theory to add to the mix. It’s purely speculative, but why not?
One of the most famous alchemical novels of the late 20th century was Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, translated and published in English in 1983. It’s not on JKR’s bookshelf and she’s never mentioned it in an interview, so there is no certainty that she has ever read it.
On the other hand, it was an international bestseller, and an alchemical detective story, like Sayers, but set in a medieval monastery. It was then made into a movie starring fellow Edinburgh resident Sean Connery. So I think the odds are good that she not only knows the book but has read it. Internal textual evidence suggests she has drawn ideas from it as well. Coincidence? You decide.
One of the monks in Eco’s story is Severinus, who is the monastery herbalist, its potions maker. He grows the herbs and makes the herbal medicines by the monks. He explains the perils of some of his plants to William of Baskerville, the English monk detective. You can easily imagine the same words coming out of Snape’s mouth:
“As I told you before, many of these herbs, duly compounded and administered in the proper dosage, could be used for lethal beverages and ointments. Over there, datura stramonium, belladonna, hemlock: they can bring on drowsiness, stimulation, or both; taken with due care they are excellent medicines, but in excess doses they bring on death.”…… "Then there are substances that become dangerous only if ingested, whereas others act instead on the skin."
I suspect that Severus Snape is based at least partly on Severinus, especially when you consider Snape’s role as the Half-Blood Prince in Book 6.
Severinus has a powerful poison in his laboratory, which was stolen by the perpetrator of the murders, Jorge, the librarian. Jorge was determined to protect the most precious book in the library, the long lost third book of Aristotle’s Poetics. So he took a brush and spread the poison on the corners of the book, sticking them together. Overcurious monks would get poison on their fingers, then lick their fingers to dampen them to unstick the pages. Death came quickly.
The parallel with HBP could work this way: The HBP book could have been “poisoned” by one of LV’s minions, perhaps Slughorn, with a spell or curse that drove Harry’s increasingly obsessive behavior. Almost like an addict, and despite Hermione’s pleas, he refused to give it up.
In this scenario, Snape is innocent. The “poison”—the HBP book—was his, but he was not the one who gave it to Harry. In fact we know he ordered Harry to give it back.
Although I’ve explained why Ron is Body and Hermione is Mind, I’ve yet to explain why Harry is Heart.
Alchemy stories generally feature a trio who represent heart, mind, and body and/or spirit, soul, and body. Think of the Scarecrow (“If I only had a brain”), the Tin Man (“If I only had a heart”), and the Cowardly Lion (“If I only had some nerve”) in The Wizard of Oz. LOTR actually has two trios: Frodo/heart, Samwise/mind, Gollum/body and Aragorn/heart, Legolas/mind, and Gimli/body. The book that is most relevant for HP is TLWH, of course, and Maria, the protagonist, is heart/spirit, her partner Robin, is mind/soul, and Wiggins, Maria’s dog, is body.
Harry corresponds to Maria, and is, in fact, marked as heart repeatedly through the books. Probably the most dramatic, explicit example comes in OOTP, when Dumbledore tells Harry why Voldemort could not possess him:
That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force [i.e. love] that he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.”
Harry is first associated with “heart” very sneakily, so you almost don’t notice it. In Chapter 2 of PS, Petunia announces that Mrs. Figg has broken her leg and can’t babysit Harry.
Dudley’s mouth full open in horror, but Harry’s heart gave a leap.
When Harry’s heart “leaps,” this is the mark of a true, noble emotion. We know that Harry doesn’t love Cho because it’s his stomach that reacts to her. We know he doesn’t love Ginny because it’s his chest (monster) that longs for her.
Harry also shows the qualities of a “heart” character—empathy and courage—throughout. Just one example: his kindness to Neville.
"There's no need to tell me I'm not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy's already done that," Neville choked out. Harry felt in the pocket of his robes and pulled out a Chocolate Frog, the very last one from the box Hermione had given him for Christmas. He gave it to Neville, who looked as though he might cry."You're worth twelve of Malfoy," Harry said. "The Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn't it? And where's Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin."
Most importantly, Hermione marks Harry as heart when she refers to his qualities of “friendship and bravery” in Chapter 16. See below, “Chemical Wedding.”
The spirit/soul/body triangle is one of the essential elements in the Opus Alchymicum. You see it clearly in this, perhaps the famous alchemy emblem of all, Emblem XXI from Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618). (link)
The man and woman are Sulphur and Mercury. They must join completely—in spirit, soul, and body, in the Chemical Wedding, to create the Philosopher’s Stone. Together they have all four elements, as represented by the square, since Sulphur = fire and air and Mercury = earth and water. The two circles, connected by the calipers of the alchemist, represent the microcosm, the earth below, and the macrocosm, the heavens above. When joined, the Opus Alchymicum is completed.
I believe that the symbol on the spine of the children’s UK edition of HPDH is a simplified version of the Maier emblem. The main difference is that instead of the man and women, there is a single vertical line. This line recalls an even earlier alchemy emblem, by Heinrich Khunrath (1595). (link)
Here we see the man and woman have already joined into a single body, with two heads, the hermaphrodite, the rebus, the androgyne. In simplest terms, they are a single vertical line.
Harry as Seeker – Chapter 9
In any hero’s journey tale, the hero has some kind of exceptional ability, and in Chapter 9 we find out that Harry’s is flying.
He mounted the broom and kicked hard against the ground and up, up he soared; air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him—and in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught—this was easy, this was wonderful.
Harry, as a Leo, already corresponds to the element of fire. As a superb flier, we now see that he is also a master of air. Again, philosophical Sulphur = fire and air.
For rescuing Neville’s Remembrall, for showing kindness, and for his extraordinary ability, Harry is rewarded. McGonagall, the second alchemist in the story after Dumbledore, names him a Seeker. His task is to pursue and catch the Golden Snitch, a small golden ball that symbolizes the Philosopher’s Stone. This is Harry’s quest. Harry’s is not a journey of seeking enlightenment for himself. He is not a New Age disciple. Most importantly, he does not know he is going through a transformative process. His is a moral journey, where his conscience and goodness and bravery will be tested, where others, like Dumbledore and McGonagall, know far more about what is going on than he does.
Quidditch – Chapter 10-11
The alchemy hero always receives gifts to aid him on his quest. Harry’s first major gift is a new broomstick, from McGonagall.
Quidditch is a thoroughly alchemical game. Harry’s broomstick is a “Nimbus,” the name for the gold disc around saints’ heads in traditional religious iconography, and it’s labeled in gold lettering. The goals are hoops set on three golden poles. The balls are red, black, and gold. They even practice alchemically—three times a week. The Snitch is “bright gold” with fluttering silver wings. And, of course, there are seven players.
We see a proxy for Harry’s excitement at the coming match when Neville’s toad “zooms around” the Charms classroom.
In the match against Slytherin itself, Harry stays on his broom, catches the Snitch, and wins the game for Gryffindor, despite the interference from Quirrell. He has passed his first trial on the journey to the real Philosopher’s Stone.
Halloween and the Troll – Chapter 10
Harry’s attempt to rescue Hermione from the troll is typical of the alchemy hero: he’s brave but foolish. And for once it’s Ron who is guided by some unknown force.
Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid….Ron pulled out his own wand—not knowing what he was going to do he heard himself cry the first spell that came into his head: Wingardium Leviosa!”.
This is the spell that Hermione had helped him with earlier.
The troll is knocked out with his own club—a creative way to turn the ogre’s own weapon against him. And he is not killed. This is one of the tasks the trio will face at the end of the book. Since they accomplish it here, when they encounter the other troll again in Chapter 16, he has already been knocked out. (See the brilliant essay by Alexism for a thorough discussion of the seven tasks.)
Hermione’s lie to McGonagall saves their skins.
But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.
Well of course the troll is an alchemically significant 12 feet tall! But in this passage Rowling breaches the rule that an author should “show” rather than “tell.” She tells us that the trio become friends. She doesn’t show any scene of their becoming friends. She doesn’t even put us in Harry’s head to learn his thoughts and motivations. There is perhaps no better example of how HP is a plot-driven story. The troll is vanquished; the task is completed. So the trio are friends.
Bluebell flames – Chapters 11 and 16
Hermione immediately proves her value to Harry by helping him with his homework, an entirely non-alchemical activity.
She also shows her exceptional ability by conjuring a “bright blue fire” to keep them warm. Alchemists are above all masters of fire, and Hermione shows here that she is a bit of an alchemist-in-training. The color is significant as well, as you would expect. This is the first time that Hermione is associated with blue: azure or periwinkle blue is the color of the Quintessence, the fifth element, another name for the Philosopher’s Stone. She uses those flames to set fire to Snape’s robe, after knocking Quirrell over and thus break his concentration on Harry’s broom. In Chapter 16, she uses them to repel the Devil’s Snare.
More famously still, she will be associated with azure blue when she wears periwinkle blue robes at the Yule Ball in GOF. Harry must join with Hermione to achieve his goal of the Philosopher’s Stone.
Why bluebells specifically? Flowers are prominent in English literary alchemy. In LOTR Sam names his daughters Rose, Daisy, and Primrose. The Baggins family tree includes Pansy, Lily, Poppy, and Myrtle—all names used by Rowling in HP.
The white lily is a symbol of the albedo and the red rose is a symbol of the rubedo. But what about all the other flowers? The common source appears to be the flowers in the decorative borders of many alchemy emblems. In particular, note the bluebells in this emblem from Solomon Trismosin’s Splendor Solis. (link)
Notice also the stag in the bottom border, with its alchemically significant 12-pointed antlers. This stag was most likely the inspiration for the stag that appears on the back cover of the UK children’s edition of HPDH.
Music and Harry’s Flute – Chapters 12 and 16
Music is an integral part of alchemy. Michael Maier’s famous collection of alchemy emblems Atalanta fugiens included a musical score. The Sorting Hat sings in Chapter 7, and students sing the School Song after the Sorting. Dumbledore notes the significance of music:
“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
Chapter 12 brings us Harry at Hogwarts for Christmas. Harry’s presents are always an opportunity for Rowling to load on the alchemical symbolism, and she doesn’t fail us. Harry gets an emerald green sweater from Molly and a large box of Chocolate Frogs from Hermione. The frog, like the toad, is a symbol for the stone at the beginning of the Opus.
But the very first present he receives is from Hagrid:
It was wrapped in this brown paper and scrawled across it was To Harry, from Hagrid. Inside was a roughly cut wooden flute. Hagrid had obviously whittled it himself. Harry blew it—it sounded a bit like an owl.
The flute is a bit of a puzzle. It is not a standard alchemy symbol. It’s not mentioned in Lyndy Abraham at all. If you search at Adam McLean’s massive site, you turn up just a handful of references, all to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute or the fragmentary sequel to it written by Goethe.
Mozart’s opera is based on alchemy, but alchemy of a special kind. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were Freemasons, and the opera celebrates the particular beliefs and rituals of 18th century German Freemasonry. Few would dispute that the opera is ones of the greatest achievements of Masonic high art.
There is some evidence that members of Rowling’s family were Masons, so perhaps that brought the opera to her attention. But however she came to it, the internal evidence in PS shows her familiarity with the story and symbolism of the opera.
Here are the characters and their HP equivalents (Salamon has written this up before).
Prince Tamino – Harry
Princess Pamina – Hermione
Papageno the birdcatcher – Ron
Papagena the birdwoman – Luna
Sarastro – Dumbledore
Queen of the Night (Pamina’s mother) – Voldemort
Monastatos – Snape? Lucius? Pettigrew? Draco?
First, let’s look at the magic flute itself. It was carved by Pamina’s dead father from a “thousand-year old oak” during a fierce storm of “lightning and thunder.” It came into the hands of Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, and she gives it to Tamino when he accepts the task of rescuing Pamina. (Initially Tamino, and the audience, believe the Queen is good.) By now the flute has become a golden flute, a magic flute, capable of charming animals.
Tamino plays the flute at the end of the First Act and enchants the wild animals outside Sarastro’s Temple. He plays it again at the end of the Second Act when he and Pamina go through the final trials of fire, water, and death. Love is their guide. Music is their shield.
Like Tamino’s flute, Harry’s is also hand-carved from wood. The kind of wood is not specified, but Hagrid has been associated with oak more than once in the series. His wand is made of oak, and he is the one who knocks on the oak door of Hogwarts, as noted earlier. (The oak symbolizes the philosophical tree.) So it’s not too much of a leap to speculate that Hagrid carved Harry’s flute from oak as well.
Harry also uses the flute for the same purpose as Tamino did: to enchant a wild animal—Fluffy. Fluffy obviously corresponds to Cerberos, the three-headed dog who, in Greek mythology, guards the entrance to Hades. In the most famous myth, Orpheus enchants Cerberos with music from his lyre when he goes to Hades to retrieve his dead wife Euridice. In PS, Quirrell deploys a harp, the modern equivalent of Orpheus’ lyre, to take care of Fluffy. But Harry, contrary to the Greek myth but copying Tamino, plays the flute. Then, at Ron’s suggestion, he hands the flute to Hermione, who plays it so Harry and Ron can jump through the trapdoor. She stops only when Harry tells her to jump as well.
Books&Cleverness has explained how Ron is playing the “glue” part of Mercurius here: putting Harry and Hermione, Sulphur and Mercury, into partnership. Ron does not offer to play the flute himself.
Steve Kloves and Chris Columbus obviously decided they weren’t going to ask Dan and Emma to take flute lessons back when they were 11—they stuck with the harp instead. However, they did include a brief scene of Hagrid playing the flute, so the flute was established in the Wizarding World should it be needed in a future book. We didn’t see it in Books 2-6: my fearless prediction is that it will return in Book 7.
The interesting question is how far is Rowling planning to follow the parallel with the Magic Flute? The opera is a celebration of lifelong, self-sacrificing love between a man and a woman. And Tamino and Pamina are equally important: by the end of the opera they have BOTH gone through the transformation and are BOTH admitted to the Brotherhood.
Mozart sets out his views on love in a duet between Pamina and Papageno.
PaminaA man who feels the pangs of loving,He will not lack a gentle heart.
PapagenoThe sweet emotion likewise sufferingIs Womankind’s first debt to man.
BothWe shall now both in love be happy.By Love alone we’ll live life through.
PaminaSure Love doth sweeten every sorrow.Each creature living pays her due.
PapagenoAt the heart of our life’s journeyAt nature’s root she dwells, ‘tis true.
BothThy high purpose shines right clear;Naught’s nobler than a man and wife;In man and wife, in wife and man,‘Twixt men and gods the gulf doth span.
If JKR is using this—and it’s a BIG if—then romantic love will be Harry’s power in Book 7.
Have there been any hints that Hermione is more than a subordinate partner to Harry?
First, they BOTH play the magic flute in PS. In POA, Hermione actually takes the lead in the Timeturner adventure (which also serves as the Chemical Wedding of the coniunctio stage).
In GOF Hermione wears the color of the Quintessence, azure blue, in her periwinkle dress robes for the ball. In that book as well, Fake!Moody tells BOTH Harry and Hermione that they would make good Aurors (Aur-or = person becoming gold, as I’ve mentioned before).
In OOTP Hermione is hit with a purple curse from Dolohov, just as she goes through purple flames after completing the Potions trial in PS/SS. And she is wearing purple robes in the HPDH cover. (Just as Harry is wearing black on the cover and went through black flames in PS/SS.) Purple is a common way to describe the Red Stone, the Philosopher’s Stone, which is actually reddish-purple.
So if nothing else I think we can conclude that Hermione is a lot more than the little woman Harry comes back to at the end.
The Mirror of Erised – Chapter 12
It seems that ever since Tolkien created Galadriel’s Mirror in LOTR, British alchemy stories have to have a prophetic mirror. In fact, the magic mirror has a long ancestry in fairy tales. In Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Merlin has a “looking glass” that can show everything in the world. Snow White’s stepmother has a magic mirror. Alice enters Wonderland through a mirror in Through the Looking-Glass.
The mirror has a gold frame with an inscription on top, an easy-to-decipher backwards code for “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” Harry has a strong reaction: his heart was “pounding.” Before the Mirror can become an obsession—Harry almost forgets his mission of researching Flamel and finding out what the three-headed dog is guarding—Dumbledore has it removed.
Nicolas Flamel – Chapter 13
Chapter 13 is named for the famed French alchemist, who lived from 1330 to 1418, but who is still alive at this point in Rowling’s story.
Hermione and Harry both show kindness to Neville, who has been cursed by Malfoy, and their good deeds are rewarded. Harry looks at the Chocolate Frog card from the candy he gives Neville and finds the description of Dumbledore’s partnership with Flamel. Hermione explains that Flamel is “the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!” Although several other alchemists are mentioned in the book, Flamel is the only one who is not only an actual character but is shown, in canon, to have created a Philosopher’s Stone.
Flamel has taken on considerable importance in debates about the kind of alchemy Rowling is using, because his treatises focused on the creation of the Stone from two substances, Sulphur, the Male Principle of the Work, and Mercury/Quicksilver/Argent vive, the Female Principle of the Work. In Flamel’s traditional alchemical theory, there is a third substance, Mercurius, but it is merely “the great uniter and binder” of Sulphur and Mercury, sometimes being referred to as “glue” (Lyndy Abraham, p. 176). Also of note is that the description of Flamel in the book Hermione has found mentions his famous wife, Perenelle. At age 665 and 658, respectively, the couple is still living happily together in Devon. A long and happy married life—that is the mark of the achievement of the Philosopher’s Stone in Rowling’s view.
So, if Harry is successful on his quest for the Stone, this is what he has to look forward to: Love, happiness, family, and a true partner as his wife and lifelong companion.
In the next match with Hufflepuff Harry, like a good Seeker, “circles the game like a hawk” and captures the Snitch in record time.
Seven Teachers – Seven Tasks – Chapter 14
Hagrid blunderingly tells the trio who created the spells that are guarding the stone: Hagrid himself, Sprout, Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, Dumbledore, and Snape. So seven teachers created seven spells, which correspond to the seven tasks the trio will encounter at the end of the book, which in turn correspond to the seven books of the HP series. (On this latter point, since the excellent essay by Alexism.)
Chapter 14 is also where Rowling drops a little clue about Hermione being born on Wednesday, September 19, 1979: “Wednesday night found Hermione and Harry sitting alone in the common room, long after everyone else had gone to bed."
The Seven Tasks – Chapter 16
Again, see the well-known essay by alexism for an analysis of alchemy in the seven tasks and an explanation of how the tasks correspond to the seven books of the series.
After the penultimate task, the Potions trial, will come the climactic Chemical Wedding between Harry and Hermione. She is mind and he is heart and they must blend. We see a hint of it at the beginning of the chapter, when Hermione tells Professor McGonagall— "rather bravely, Harry and Ron thought”—that they needed to see Dumbledore. And when Harry announces that he plans to go through the trapdoor that night, Hermione is the first to agree: “’You’re right, Harry,’ said Hermione in a small voice.”
When Harry goes to the “dark” dormitory to get the invisibility cloak, he just happens to notice the flute: “He pulled out the cloak and then his eyes fell on the flute Hagrid had given him for Christmas.” He hadn’t done anything with it since Christmas, but it just happens to be right there for him to notice when he needs it. As they are about to leave they are confronted by Neville, who of course is “clutching Trevor the toad.” As usual, Trevor, symbolizing the prima materia, is making an appearance at this key point in Harry’s adventures. Neville drops Trevor before Hermione petrifies him and Trevor leaps out of sight. I wonder where he goes?
Fluffy--Music The first task is to pass Fluffy, like Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld. They find the harp that Quirrell used—the modern equivalent of Orpheus’ lyre. (See above, “Music and Harry’s Flute,” for background on Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.) But Harry plays the flute he has brought. It works immediately:
He put Hagrid’s flute to his lips and blew. It wasn’t really a tune, but from the first note the beast’s eyes began to droop.
So this is a magic flute indeed! Harry has no idea how to play it, has never done so before, and yet one note is all it takes.
Ron, in his role of mercurial glue binding Sulphur and Mercury, tells Harry to give the flute to Hermione.
Harry handed the flute over. In the few seconds’ silence, the dog growled and twitched, but the moment Hermione began to play, it fell back into its deep sleep.
So Hermione has the same instantaneous success that Harry does. Harry jumps, then Ron, then Hermione. They are “miles under the school,” in a subterranean, closed environment that will provide Harry’s crucible experience for this book.
Devil’s Snare--Fire Hermione surmounts this task essentially on her own, by creating fire, sending “a jet of the same bluebell flames she had used on Snape.” Typically, Harry compliments her on her success and Ron doesn’t.
Flying Keys--Air Harry passes this test through his flying—his mastery of air. The key is silver with “bright blue wings.” Books&Cleverness has suggested that it represents Hermione, who is Mercury and Moon, who thus has silver as a metal and has been associated with the azure blue of the Quintessence through the bluebell flames (and later in GOF, by her periwinkle blue dress robes). Recall also the Janus Thickey ward in OOTP, i.e., “Jane is the Key.” Finally, one symbol for Mercury is the winged dragon (Sulphur is the wingless dragon, the fixed principle), so it’s appropriate that the key here has wings.
Quoting from Flamel:
The winged [dragon] is quicksilver, which is borne away through the air (the female seed which is composed of water and earth)—because in a certain degree it flies away or evaporates. (Abraham, p. 59)
For a fuller discussion see Books&Cleverness’ essay, “Ron the Harmonian.”
Ron plays the critical role in solving the chess task. He chooses Harry and Hermione’s complementary roles by making them a bishop (moves only diagonally) and a rook (moves only in straight lines), respectively.
Ron speaks to the Black Knight about what must be done and takes his place in the game. This makes little sense strategically but directly reflects his role as Mercurius, as portrayed in the “Knight with Two Fountains” emblem in Splendor Solis. Notice that the knight is wearing a helmet, just like the one Ron speaks to and takes the place of. (link)
The two fountains have gold and silver water, representing Sulphur/Sun and Mercury/Moon. Supervised by the Knight, who stands astride the two fountains, the waters join together to create a golden river, just like the golden river in the US deluxe edition of HPDH.
Ron bravely sacrifices himself, so that Harry and Hermione can go on. He overcomes the stereotypical cowardice of the Body character, just like the Cowardly Lion shows courage at the end of the The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately he is only knocked out, not killed. As a result, Harry checkmates the White King, and receives a crown. Harry has become a black King. He will become a Red King only when he has completed his transformation.
The Troll The next trial is a troll, but the trio already passed their troll test on Halloween, so this new troll has already been knocked out for them by Quirrell.
Potions and the Chemical Wedding This is the only task Harry and Hermione face just the two of them. Hermione solves it task with her intelligence—her mind. There are, of course, seven potion bottles in the puzzle.
The stage is set for a Chemical Wedding. They are in a closed room, trapped between two walls of fire—purple and black. Purple is the color of the Philosopher’s Stone and the potion Hermione must drink is in a rounded bottle. Harry must go on alone because there is only enough potion for one person. Harry is brave; he does not hesitate. But before he goes, Hermione hugs him and makes her famous speech:
Hermione's lip trembled, and she suddenly dashed at Harry and threw herarms around him."Hermione!""Harry -- you're a great wizard, you know.""I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go ofhim."Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more importantthings -- friendship and bravery and -- oh Harry -- be careful!"
The imagery is very simple. The two children, corresponding to Sulphur and Mercury and thus representing the four elements, are in a rectilinear room between two walls of fire. Hermione’s words identify herself as mind and Harry as heart. She encircles him with her arms in the hug. Their “joining” unites fire and air with earth and water. The symbolism is complete.
The purpose of the CW is simple and clear: Hermione’s words and actions give Harry the support he needs to go on alone to the final test of the book, the confrontation with LV. Perhaps she even gives him a bit of the love that he will draw on in that confrontation, in addition to what he has from his mother.
Quirrellmort – Chapter 17
The final task is getting the Philosopher’s Stone from the Mirror. Harry succeeds easily, because, as Dumbledore will explain later, Harry’s desire for the Stone was selfless: He wanted to find it but not use it for himself. The Stone is “blood-red.” It is the Red Stone of the rubedo stage.
When Quirrell removes his turban, Harry finally sees Voldemort, who describes himself as “mere shadow and vapor.” Rowling uses “shadow” repeatedly in the series to describe Voldemort and his effect on Harry. It appears that Rowling may be using “shadow” in the Jungian sense, as the unconscious, dark urges of one’s personality. If so, then Harry will have to “integrate” this dark side, which might explain why Dumbledore spent so much time in HBP trying to make Harry understand how Tom Riddle became Lord Voldemort.
Harry defeats Quirrellmort simply by touching him. He does not try to kill him; he does not even hit him. He just holds onto Quirrell’s face despite the blinding pain in his scar. It’s purely a defensive move: he just wants to stop him from doing a curse. He buys enough time until Dumbledore arrives and pulls Quirrell off him. But Harry doesn’t see this because he has a near-death experience: he loses consciousness for three full days.
As Dumbledore explains: “the effort nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had.”
Dumbledore also tells him that the Stone has been destroyed, that he has talked to Nicolas Flamel, and that the Flamels will, as a consequence, soon die. So the question then is what form will the Stone take that Harry should secure in the final book. Will it be an actual physical Stone, as in Book 1, or something symbolic?
Finally, Dumbledore begins the explanation of the protection and power of Love, which is a central theme of alchemy and of HP:
"…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
The Philosopher’s Stone is referred to, over and over again, as the “divine love essence.”
The House Cup, Neville, and the Toad
As Amy Sturgis explains in her essay “Harry Potter is not a Hobbit,” each story ends with what JRR Tolkien called a Eucatastrophe, a “joyous turn.” Rowling gives us a double Eucatastrophe each time. First, Harry escapes from Voldemort or some other deadly peril, then the book ends with a second triumph.
In PS, the second triumph is Gryffindor’s winning the House Cup. When the silver and green banners change to scarlet and gold, it signals not just Harry’s transformation, but a transformation of the entire Hogwarts student body. If you think of PS as a standalone book, then this is the “projection” phase of the Great Work, with Harry bringing joy to the entire school (except for the Slytherins, of course). The projection phase is the final stage, Ripley’s Twelfth Gate, when the alchemist uses the Philosopher’s Stone he has created to transmute base metals into gold. The literary parallel to the projection phase of physical alchemy is usually the restoring of peace and harmony and just rule.
Ron wins his points for “the best-played game of chess…in many years.” Hermione wins hers for cool logic—mind, in other words. Harry wins his for “pure nerve and outstanding courage”—heart.
Curiously, Neville, the almost-Harry, ALSO wins points for bravery. We also hear about his good results in Herbology, a subject he continues to enjoy in future books. Does this mark him as Earth, overruling his Fire markers of his birthday and being in Gryffindor? Time will tell.
And, of course, the Toad reappears, on the very last day.