Dragon’s Blood and Elixir from the Philosopher’s Stone

A note from Lyndy Abraham’s A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, from the end of the entry on ‘blood:’

At the final stage of the work, known as the rubedo, the image of blood symbolizes the precious red elixir or purple tincture [coming from the Stone]. The attainment of the red elixir (gold), after the white (silver), is sometimes compared to the dyeing or staining of of white sheets with red blood (see rubedo). Paracelsus’s Aurora called the purple tincture ‘the blessed blood of Rosie colour’ and Basil Valentine wrote that ‘this Tincture is the Rose of our Masters, of purple hue, called also red blood’ (HM, 1:330). Laurentius Ventura wrote of the fixation of the Stone: ‘For the Stone must be kept in the fire, till it cannot any more be changed from one nature to another, from one color to another, but become like the Reddest blood running like wax in the fire, and yet diminishing nothing at all’ (in ZC, 81). The divine tincture is thought to be capable of tingeing all metals to gold and of restoring man to perfect health and consciousness of God.

The colour of the red tincture or Stone is sometimes compared to dragon’s blood. A recipe for the tincture in Lancelot Colson’s Philosophia maturata instructs the alchemist to ‘increase the fire, till it [the matter for the Stone] be perfect yellow, and then again increase the fire, until it be red as Dragon’s blood’. (Abraham, pgs. 38-39)

* The heating of the Stone in the fire reminds me of Norbert’s egg in Hagrid’s fireplace but I cannot make anything of that beyond Hagrid’s relationship with Dumbledore, master Alchemist, and the Gamekeeper’s strong desire for a pet dragon. The end and the beginning are joined in the best stories; should we expect a return of Norbert to visit his “mummy” in the series’ finale?

* Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card, to which he seems attached over and above his other honors, says he is “particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindlewald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicholas Flamel” (Stone, Chapter 6).

*My memory for canon detail is notoriously poor but I can only recall one other mention of dragon’s blood in the books. It’s in Prince, Chapter 4, after Dumbledore has revealed the comfy chair to be Slughorn.

What kind of blood was that, incidentally?” asked Dumbledore loudly over the chiming of the newly unsmashed grandfather clock.

“On the walls? Dragon,” shouted the wizard called Horace, as with a deafening, grinding and tinkling, the chandelier screwed itself back into the ceiling.

There was a final plunk from the piano, and silence.

“Yes, dragon,” repeated the wizard conversationally. “My last bottle, and prices are sky high at the moment. Still, it might be re-usable.”

He stumped over to a small crystal bottle standing on top of a sideboard and held it up to the light, examining the thick liquid within.

“Hmm. Bit dusty.”

He set the bottle back on the sideboard and sighed. It was then that his gaze fell upon Harry.

When they had arrived at the house, Dumbledore and Harry had seen “something darkly red and glutinous was spattered over the wallpaper.” Dumbledore comments to Harry after he gasps,

“Not pretty is it? he said heavily. “Yes, something horrible has happened here.”

This is a curious comment because the Headmaster (or someone playing the Headmaster) has already figured out the Death Eaters weren’t responsible (no Dark Mark) and that Horace is probably still present. Is it because he recognizes the blood spattered on the walls as Dragon’s blood, not human blood, that he knows Horace threw it on the walls himself? Was this spattering of something semi-sacred the “something horrible” Dumbledore thought had happened there?

There is another mention of the blood later in this chapter during Harry’s interview with Slughorn.

“And all these people know where to find you to send you stuff?” asked Harry, who could not help wondering why the Death Eaters had not yet tracked down Slughorn if hampers of sweets, Quidditch tickets, and visitors craving his advice and opinions could find him.

The smile slid from Slughorn’s face as quickly as the blood from his walls.

The weird thing is, we didn’t get a description of the sliding blood’s speed either at the entrance or during the clean-up. The walls “wiped themselves clean” is all we are told. Maybe this was just an editorial oversight when corrections were passed back and forth. Even so, it’s curious that Ms. Rowling mentions the blood as she has.

I ask your help both in pointing out other mentions of Dragon’s blood I probably have missed (Norbert’s confinement? The first TriWizard Task?) and in speculating if there is a connection between the Elixir of Life that comes from the Philosopher’s Stone and Dragon’s blood. What could this have meant in what we missed in Prince and what may happen in the rubedo of Deathly Hallows?

We know that unicorn blood is a restorative with a steep price if drunk unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:29), as we’d expect for the life-sustaining fluid from a symbol of Christ. Could Dragon’s blood be something similarly life-returning qua Elixir of Life? The only innards that work in wand cores are Unicorn hair, Phoenix feathers, and Dragon heart strings. Given the relationship of heart and blood, it looks like dragons, via the Elixir of Life/dragon’s blood connection, are becoming Christ symbols akin to Unicorns and Phoenices.

Comments

  1. I am glad you brought up Norbert again since he has been on my mind lately. We have not seen him reappear in the stories yet. Usually when we see a large character introduced we see them again. I have believed for a while she is waiting for the red book because he will be of great use. I mentioned in a post last year that a dragon could be flown into the depths of Gringots to take or protect whatever. Also, the kind of sacred blood Norbert has is a very important Christian symbol that wouild go along nicely with the alchemy.

  2. No answers, but a few thoughts for consideration:

    First point—unicorn hairs, phoenix feathers, and dragon heartstrings are the only wand cores Ollivander chooses to use. Fleur’s wand core was a Veela hair from her grandmuzzer, so theoretically, many substances taken from magical creatures could be used for wand cores (and Veelas are not Christ-like).

    As you noted, Dumbledore discovered the twelve uses of dragon’s blood. Number 12 is as an oven cleaner according to Rowling. She wouldn’t drop hints about the other uses. Rowling said Hermione is the only student who knows all twelve uses, so perhaps that bit of information is a hint that we will be seeing/using/discussing dragon’s blood in DH. And that reminds me that we still haven’t seen Hermione use her ancient runes knowledge in any meaningful way. Do either of these have anything to do with her alchemical role/identity?

    I Googled “12 uses of dragon’s blood” and spotted a comment on the HPANA forum in which the poster noted that Harry had found a crystal bottle of blood at 12 Grimmauld Place when helping clean the house and (assuming it was dragon’s blood), she wondered if RAB had planned to use it to destroy the locket Horcrux. Interesting theory, certainly although I think it’s a stretch. Surely if the stuff could be used to destroy a Horcrux, Dumbledore would have known about it and used it on the ring, and Hermione would have mentioned it when she was looking for information about Horcruxes.

    However, the passage is very interesting:

    ‚ÄúMrs. Weasley pointed at the dusty glass-fronted cabinets standing on either side of the mantelpiece. They were crammed with an odd assortment of objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry could not understand, and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood.” OotP, Chapter 6, page 106.

    This isn’t identified as dragon’s blood, but it is certainly no accident that this bottle of blood and Slughorn’s bottle of dragon’s blood were both contained in crystal bottles. Also, the opal set in the stopper of the bottle at 12GP could be a key to the origins of the blood since the opal was thought by the ancients to prevent disease and particularly to strengthen sight (physical sight and insight into the future). For the Romans, it was a symbol of purity and hope, but another belief was that the opal was good for thieves because it was believed to make the wearer invisible (echoes of the Hand of Glory).

    According to a Wikipedia entry on dragons, some people assume the word ‚Äúdragon‚Äù comes from the ancient Greek verb derkesthai, meaning “to see,” referring to the dragon’s legendarily keen eyesight. That‚Äôs a direct tie-in to opal lore. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_dragon

    And according to another Wikipedia entry, Dragon’s blood (Dracaena resin) is the resin of a plant that was used by the ancients for healing, alchemy, and medieval ritual magic, One of the uses was as a varnish (sounds householdy like the oven cleaner). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon's_blood

    So dragon blood is interesting as are dragons in general. According to the HP Lexicon, lots of dragon parts are useful as potions ingredients. Dragon liver is sold in Diagon Alley (PS). Bill Weasley wears dragon skin boots, and the twins wear dragon skin jackets. Charlie works with dragons. The goblins use dragons to guard high security vaults. Dumbledore studied dragon blood and didn’t appear unnerved that Slughorn had some, so even though dragons are nasty-tempered creatures and according to Rowling cannot be domesticated, the magical properties of dragon body parts seem to be neutral—neither good nor bad in themselves.

  3. Fascinating information on Dragon’s blood. It reminds me of when Lucy was on the battlefield in LWW and had a bottle of liquid that was miraculously healing at best. Maybe we will see it work that way in HPDH.

  4. It seems to me that at some point there is a mention that Hermione knows what the 12 uses of dragon’s blood are, from some research she has done. But I don’t remember which book, and I might be imagining it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    I’ve recently been re-reading all the books, so who knows where I came across that one.

    It would be interesting to see Norbert again–especially after Harry completed the First Task in GOF, and thought that Hagrid was right–dragons weren’t so bad after all.

    Pat

  5. John,
    I have your canon citation that you were looking for!

    SS “Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback” Scholastic paperback edition, page 229:

    “It was hard to relax with Hermione next to you reciting the twelve uses of dragon’s blood or practicing wand movements.”

    I do not think that there is any mention in the books that Hermione is the only student at Hogwarts who knows the twelve uses. This sentence implies that it was mentioned in one of the classes, but that possibly Hermione was the only one interested enough in the arcane information to try and commit it to memory!

    What is interesting of course, is that it was in the very chapter named after “Norbert.”

    My good friend Ama who has debated me more than any other HP fan, has insisted since almost the beginning of my knowing her that Norbert will return to save the day. He might. Whether that is literal or metaphorical with his blood is of course yet to be seen.

    I’m glad to see that you are back online blogging again!

    Athena

  6. Thank you, Felicity and Athena, for the citations and corrections! Dumbledore discovered the 12 uses of Dragon’s Blood, Hermione has them memorized, and Hogwarts thinks its important enough that its in the first years curriculum (assuming that Hermione is cramming for exams, as the passage suggests, rather than just showing off).

    On wand cores, Felicity makes an excellent point (Olivander favors dragon’s heart strings, unicorn hair, and Phoenix feathers but that is his preference not because these are the only cores possible). I would note only that, while Veela are more monsters than saintly, they are double-natured creatures (dragons aren’t examples of obvious piety, either, right?). And Olivander’s preference suggests a principle or thread linking the three cores.

    If Dragon’s Blood is linked to the Elixir of Life that is the tincture of the Philosopher’s Stone, a connection is made with the Eucharist, or, specifically, the Blood of Christ (the Philosopher’s Stone is a traditional symbol of Christ in poetry and drama because it gives you eternal life and spiritual riches usually represented with gold). This suggests its powers must be somehow akin to the life-sustaining power of the unicorn’s blood, another symbol of Christ in the stories.

    I’ve said since “Hidden Key” that Norbert had to have his place in the finale. He is in the beginning, his dragon buddies are in the dead center of the books (Goblet, Chapter 20), and I’m thinking now we may need some Phoenix tears and a draught of Dragon’s Blood at story’s end to revive our champion again a la the end of Chamber of Secrets.

    Or do I need to get more sleep?

  7. I think Dumbledore was upset with Slughorn’s careless use of the magical, sacred Dragon’s blood. He knows that Slughorn was the person who probably informed Tom Riddle of the Horcruxes, he just doesn’t have the proof. Dumbledore appears to be very disappointed with people who act quickly without thinking of consequences, who misuse the powers and privledges afforded them. I don’t think Slughorn was trying to hide from Death Eaters, he was trying to hide from Dumbledore, knowing that he had Tom Riddle’s secret close at hand.

  8. Clearly, I should have looked up the Hermione quote but obviously didn’t. I don’t know where I got the idea that only Hermione knew the 12 uses of dragon’s blood.

    FYI–

    An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp:
    Readings and questions #1, August 1, 2006

    Samantha: In the wizarding world there are many wandmakers, Ollivander’s being the one we’re most familiar with. How come Ollivander chose the three magical cores for the wands he makes to be phoenix feather, unicorn hair, and dragon heartstring? And how come he decided that these are the three most powerful cores as opposed to others such as veela hair?

    J.K. Rowling: Good question. Well, it is true that there are several wandmakers and in my notes about Harry I have many different cores for wands. Essentially I decided Ollivander was going to use my three favorites. So Ollivander has decided that those are the three most powerful substances. Other wandmakers might choose things that are particular to their country because countries as you know in my world have their own particular indigenous magical species so veela hair was kind of obvious for Fleur’s wand. But um, yeah, good question. I’ve never had that one before (crowd applauds).

  9. So the three wand cores are Rowling’s “favorites” and are Ollivander’s preference because he “has decided that those are the three most powerful substances.” I join the crowd in applauding, Felicity; a great contribution to this discussion.

    How can I link this up with my theory that the wand cores are pointers to Christ? Dumbledore’s repeated explanations to Harry and expositions of the power of love. Love, is quite simply, the great mystery and power of Rowling’s Magical world, and, by the way, of all traditional cosmology. God is Love, as St. John tells us (1 John 4) and the Creative Principle driving and sustaining creation is one of polarity resolved, hence the complimentary opposites that define life on earth (male/female, night/day, hot/cold, contraction/expansion of heart, etc.). In Christian language, this Principle is God’s Logos or Word that becomes a man as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

    Back to wand cores.

    What are the most powerful wand stuffers? Those that draw from or focus best the power that is the fabric of all things, seen and unseen, which power is Love. What better way would there be to represent this in story than to use pointers to Love Himself? We have that in Ollivander’s preferences for Phoenix feathers (the Resurrection bird), Unicorn hair (traditional symbol in poetry, tapestry, and story for Christ), and, via its connection with the DRagon blood-red tincture of the Philosopher’s Stone’s Elixir, Dragon heart strings.

    Thank you, Felicity, for this interview quotation which makes a canon connection between wand cores, power, love, and traditional symbols of Christ. I’ll probably write this up as a Front Page entry later today.

  10. korg20000bc says

    Hello,
    My first post here, long time listener- first time caller, as they say.

    A thought struck me about legend and dragon’s blood. I was thinking about Sigurd and his slaying of the dragon Fafnir. When Sigurd tastes the dragon’s blood he gains the ability to understand the language of birds. Maybe Harry will, upon tasting dragon’s blood, gain a greater understanding of and\or familiarship with Fawkes?

    Also thinking about dragons in Tolkien’s writing. Glaurung is slain by Turin in VERY similar circumstances as Fafnir is slain by Sigurd. If memory serves, Glaurung’s blood was a scorching venom when it squirted onto Turin’s hand and, along with Glaurung’s malice, knocked him out. It may have also contributed to Turin’s tragic state of mind that led to his suicide. Doesn’t sound very good.

    Either way dragon’s blood is extremely magical.

    Just some thoughts.

    Matthew

  11. John,
    I like your comments on the connection with Eucharistic imagery. It brings to mind two instances, one in GOF and one in HBP. In the weighing of the wamds in GOF JKR has Harry’s wand shoot out wine (GOF 311, only after Olivander takes longer on Harry’s wand than anyone elses) and the HBP Charms assignment of turning vinegar into wine (which always struck me as an interesting one: a transformation in Charms, which, at least in the early years, usually seemed to have more to do with motion of inanimates, such as summoning charms, hover charms etc … of course, Transfiguration quite often had to do more with animate things, rather than inanimate substances such as vinegar and wine … but the main thing that struck me was the connection with both Eucharistic and specifically crucifiixon imagery … all that was lacking was a hyssop branch [if somebody made a wand of hyssop, that would be interesting, but don’t see that happening 🙂 ] … it matches up later with the marked use of blood and water together when Harry slashes DM with the Sectum Sempra [HBP 525])

    I also had not thought much about whether Norbert would be back or not, but now that you mention that dragons make specific “onscreen” appearances in books 1 and 4, it seems much more likely to me … I am strongly of the opinion that the structural framework which best describes the works is that of chiasm (A-B-C-D-C1-B1-D1). Thus, book 4 as the cruxt having dragons onscreen and book 1 having a dragon onscreen, makes me think it very likely Norbert will be back 7 since he was the PS/SS dragon.

    (I say “best describes” although obviously, the mark of good lit is that no one “construct” can pin it down, as it were, but I think it the best or closest, and if I had to bet I would probably be willing to wager hard money that, if it could be verified, chiastic structure is conscioulsy in mind for her as a larger/general sort of sturctural framework … I noticed in the “who killed AD” book that several of your contributors, particularly RH, were advocating an A-B-C-D-A1-B1-C1 structure, which struck me as interesting, but it felt kind of what I would call “tripping Billies” [sorry, I used to be pretty into Dave Matthews Band], in short it sort of felt like it does something, stutters and then does it again … but then why not a third time etc, which isn’t a conclusive argument, but the chiastic stucture just feels like it has more “closure” to me, especially for a series where she has been so specific in her comments on her concept of it always being only 7 books etc … she seems pretty tight on her concept of that, in a way that makes me feel like the more “symetrical” nature of the chiasm is a better fit.
    Of course, the wonderfully unhelpful part of any debate on that subject is that both structures pair books 2 and 6 … and those 2 books are indeed simply dripping with pairings: After having recently listened to HBP while driving a long way, I was just today reading COS on the subway, noticing the occurances in the Burrow – Celestina Warbeck, mention of Mundungus as an underhanded crook [although he is a member of the order in OotP, he tried to hex Arthur when his back was turned during one of his 9 raids the night before he meets Harry in COS, and impersonating an Inferious during a burglary in HBP] and I’m sure there are too many to mention, large and small, elsewhere in the books … one way or another I would say what is definite is that she has some meta-structure where the 2-6 pairing is undeniable)

    Now … in light of the two instance I started off notingm ask me where the wine/wand-transformation/production ins in COS (ie, those where the 4 and 6 part of the chiastic 2-4-6, so where is the 2 part?) … and can’t tell you off the top of my head, have to re-read more of COS (and maybe even then find ‘im just barking mad)

    In light of some of what you have been saying in your other posts on the whole question of strapping JKR to the Christian/Inkling proverbial Procrustean bed, it would probably be valid to question painting the works out as so “strongly Christian” as what I said about the Eucharist above … but then she is a classicist/medievalist, and that is undeniably the image set of the base world/image-set JKR is building her tale from (I was sitting in a class last fall in History of Christianity, 0-1500, alongside MA Medeival Studies students for whom the course, a specifically theology course, was required for their degree). It’s like Charles Williams’ argument on the Grail of the Romances, when some would say that the Grail of the Romances is simply identical to its pagan sources in earlier Celt mythology, and not the cup of Christ, which was simply to say that: agree or disagress with Medeival Catholicism as much as you like, but to deny that the Medeival Catholic imagination, ie the continental Romances/Grail Quests, was completely absorbed with the Eucharist is simply bad scholarship.

    I’ve run into some myself who think it a little overdone when I say how important I think the blood image is in the series, but with what I’ve seen myself and some of your comments here … To quote Richard Dreyfus as the player in Rosecrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: The Blood is Compulsory (“We can do you blood, rhetoric and love – consecutively or simultaneously – we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love – we can do you love and blood without the rhetoric … but we cannot do you love and rhetoric without the blood … the blood is compulsory” – or something like that).

  12. You would like my Dracula essays Brett that I wrote on the other forum of John’s.

    http://hogwartsprofessor.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7&start=15

    Just scroll down the list. It’s in the middle.

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