Several years ago I wrote a number of essays exploring metaphysical themes in Harry Potter. I have decided to share them again here on this blog. I will post a new one each week.
Harry Potter’s Journey as Revealed Through His Wands
In the beginning of the Potter saga, we see Harry as a young, naïve child, unaware of his destiny and the monumental task set before him. As he begins to grow and learn, he must come to terms with his own dark nature and the emotions he has bottled up inside. By the end of the seventh book, he has become knowledgeable in the ways of magic, and has gained mastery over himself. He has become an adept, a truly great and wise wizard. We see this transformation reflected in Harry’s wands. We will explore their magical associations by looking at the Ogham alphabet and the Celtic Tree Calendar.
Harry’s first wand was made of Holly, a symbol of youth, new life and regeneration. Ogham is an early medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language. Modern folklorists have linked it to an controversial system of ascribing names of trees to the individual letters. In the Ogham, the Gaelic word for Holly is Tinne, and means “Balance” or “Dark Twin.” According to this “Celtic Tree Calendar”, portions of the year are divided into thirteen primary sections, for the thirteen moons of the lunar year. Each section is associated with a specific tree. The HOLLY period is from July 8 thru August 4. Harry’s birthday is July 31st, which links him to Holly. Even though he uses other wands in the series, his true wand is Holly. He begins and ends his journey with this wand. Harry’s wand made of Holly shares the same core, a phoenix tail feather, as the wand owned by Lord Voldemort. Much of Harry’s inner struggles involve finding the balance of Light and Dark within himself. The Holly speaks to the fierce capacity of the human soul to take the descent into the underworld, bringing inner light into darkness. The red berries on the Holly branch are often thought to represent blood, in Harry’s case, they represent the death of his parents. Holly is associated with Mars, a planet of aggression and forcefulness, and the element of Fire (Harry is a Leo, a Fire sign). Harry seemed destined to have a Holly wand, as it is used magically for protection, dreams, and curiously, “anti-lightning.” The lightning-bolt scar on Harry’s forehead is a testament of his mother’s protection. There is a prophetic element to the Holly wand. In “The Wisdom of Trees: Mysteries, Magic, and Medicine,” Jane Gifford tells us, “Like the Hanged Man of the Tarot, Holly represents personal sacrifice in order to gain something of greater value.” As a flower essence, Holly is used to heal the inner being and to stimulate the basic loving nature of the human soul.
When Harry’s Holly wand is broken in Deathly Hallows, he is given another wand by Ron Weasley. This replacement is made of Blackthorn wood. We read that this wand does not work as well for Harry as his first wand, and he is a bit uncomfortable with it:
“Harry looked down at the blackthorn wand. Every minor spell he had cast with it so far that day had seemed less powerful than those he had produced with his phoenix wand. The new one felt intrusively unfamiliar, like having somebody else’s hand sewn to the end of his arm.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
Although the wand was unfamiliar and ’intrusive’, and described as clumsy and unwieldy, this is part of the magic of Blackthorn. Its energies forced Harry to look within and acknowledge uncomfortable, “intrusive” aspects of himself. By the time we reach book seven, Harry has begun to come to terms with his own darkness. The magical qualities of the Blackthorn wand reveal another prophetic message for Harry. Some of the old European Witchcraft lore associates Blackthorn specifically with harmful magic, war and death, but modern Celtic and European Witches tell us it has many positive traits as well. Most notable are its magical uses for Protection, Authority, Strength and Truth. Its associations with the rune Thurisaz (self-defense, destruction) and the Ogham Straif, (“Strife“), indicate these things are only granted after one has overcome trial and struggle. If the Straif Ogham symbol is drawn, it indicates the actions of fate in your life, something that cannot be avoided but must be faced and dealt with. Blackthorn gives the strength to accept and persevere in the face of adversity. The Blackthorn teaches us that in some aspects of our lives, destruction must occur so that we can rebuild and be renewed. To achieve inner growth, we must overcome obstacles.
The spirit of the Blackthorn brings light into the darkest places, and helps us find strength in adversity. The Winter fruit on the Blackthorn tree is associated with Underworld Initiations. Harry undergoes such an initiation, when he offers himself willingly to Lord Voldemort. The branches of the Blackthorn tree are dark, dense and thorny, twisting out in all directions. The thorns are long and sharp, and although the branches are quite dark, Blackthorn bears small, delicate white flowers which bloom from late Winter to early Spring. The white flowers contrasted against the dark, twisted, thorny branches are a reminder that even in the midst of darkness, as we face and overcome the painful trials of life, light will again shine upon us. This was a message Harry desperately needed, and was imparted to him through possession of the Blackthorn wand. John Matthews, co-author of the Green Man Tree Oracle, writes that the message of the Blackthorn is “Magic is Everywhere.” It lives not only in the open light of day, but also in the dark, hidden corners of the soul.
The Elder tree is intimately connected with magic, European witchcraft and personal transformation. Some attributes of an Elder wand are: Magical Wisdom, Transition and Positive Change. Some themes of Elder are the ideas of “sacrifice, fate and the inevitable.” Where Blackthorn dealt mainly with Adversity, the Elder seems to point towards Sacrificial Death, followed by Regeneration and Rebirth. The sacrificing person must be given the option to live, but consciously choose death, for the good of others. In the “Celtic Tree Calendar”, Elder marks the darkest time of year, so it is associated with Death and the Crone aspect of the Goddess. In the final book of the Potter series, Harry realizes he must sacrifice himself at the hands of Voldemort. He has found all three of the Deathly Hallows, and has realized he is a Horcrux. He willingly allows himself to be hit with a Killing Curse cast by Lord Voldemort, so that the piece of Voldemort’s soul residing inside him would be destroyed and Voldemort could finally be defeated.
In “The Wisdom of Trees,” by Jane Gifford, we read: “The lesson of the elder is a difficult one. Not only are you asked to accept the inevitability of your own death, but you are also asked the far more personal and potentially embarrassing question – how might you be fated to be remembered, both for good and ill, were you to die today? In the dark days of winter, elder presents us with a mirror in which we must see ourselves truly reflected if we are to die with dignity and without regrets.”
The Elder Wand is a symbol of Harry’s increased knowledge and wisdom, his personal transformation, and the “inevitable fate” he must accept. It represents “the end in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.” Life in death, and death in life. Of course, Harry doesn’t really die. What dies is within Harry, the ‘darkness of Voldemort’. In other words, the Shadow Self is exposed to brilliant, blinding light and we are re-born. Regenerated. Whole.
Harry uses the Elder wand to restore his broken wand of Holly, his true wand. Metaphysically, Harry has been regenerated and restored to spiritual wholeness. He has grown from a neophyte to an adept. He has integrated all he has learned up to this point: Avenging the death of his parents, embracing and working through his darker nature, suffering through adversity, and making the ultimate sacrifice to protect others. Harry’s three wands have taken him on a spiritual journey, and have taught him many lessons about life and love, death and sacrifice, rebirth and renewal. He has made peace with his inner “dark twin” and is now a perfect balance of Light & Dark.