Emerald Eyes? Request from Hans Andrea

A note from Holland at the Harry Potter for Seekers website master, Hans Andrea:

Dear Friends,

Last week I wrote to you about Lily’s and Harry’s eyes. Thanks to John Granger we know (or at least have the strongest possible suspicions) that the greenness of their eyes points to Beatrice of Dante’s Divine Comedy, who has emerald eyes. Jan van Rijckenborgh points out that Beatrice personifies the realisation of the divine potential in the human being, and of course I have been asserting for many years that Lily personifies the divine potential, while Harry personifies its realisation.

But this is only the beginning of our investigation! This doesn’t tell us anything about WHY Beatrice has emerald eyes, and hence why Lily and Harry do. In fact I know nothing about the symbolism of emerald. And this is where I’m turning to you, my beloved members of Harry Potter for Seekers [and to the HogPro All-Pros, as well: John]. Can any of you give us a clue as to what is the symbolism behind emerald? I think this is important, because green is such an important colour in Harry Potter, and in alchemy generally.

I’ll tell you what I know; please have a think about this, and write to the group whatever occurs to you to help us in this investigation.

I’ll start at the beginning: the oldest so called alchemical work is The Emerald Tablet, or Tabula Smaragdina supposedly written by Hermes Trismegistus. Why emerald? What is so important about the mineral and the colour? What is its property that the symbolism is based on?

One of our most knowledgeable members, Audrey Spindler (hi Audrey!), has written the following in Message 3136:

Emerald (green) should also be important, especially the “smaragdine eyesight” symbol since, as often said, “at the end of the Great Work, when the alchemist has “discovered the quintessence of things” and has become the “Filius philosophorum, son of the philosophers and therefore eternal child in possession of spiritual gold, the initiated alchemist could have the smaragdine eyesight (that is emerald green)” (Enc. des Symboles, p.167).” (post #1817 LFAT). Harry’s green eyes in short will play their part…”

In the HBP, the Gryffindor hourglass was broken and its rubies were lying on the floor. In the DH, twice it is mentioned that now the Slytherin Hourglass’ emeralds are on the floor (p. 646, Chapter 32, “The Elder Wand”, Scholastic ed., and p. 661, “The Prince’s Tale”, Scholastic ed.).

In the King’s Cross chapter, Harry does not need to wear glasses anymore – he has reached the inner conjunction, quintessence, Dragon’s Blood, the true smaragdine eyesight. He has truer vision now.

These are important clues, and they confirm my suspicions that emerald, both as a colour and a mineral, has an enormous symbolic meaning.

But why??! Why should a person with smaragdine eyesight have true inner vision? Why does it symbolise the attainment of the spiritual gold, and the knowledge of the quintessence of things?

Emerald is a colour that enters the story of Harry Potter several times. We know Minerva McGonagall wore emerald robes in Chapter 1, and Slughorn was wearing emerald pyjamas during the battle of Hogwarts. Mrs Weasley knitted Harry an emerald green jumper in his first year.

When you throw floo powder into a fire it turns emerald green, and the Hogwarts invitation was also written in that colour. The serpents guarding the Chamber of Secrets have emeralds set in their eyes. Professor Trelawney wore emerald earrings. It is also very significant, I think, that the Dark Mark is emerald.

The locket in the cave in Part 6 is protected by an emerald-green liquid. The scores of the four houses at Hogwarts are indicated by gems in giant hour-glasses, and the gems for Slytherin are emeralds, while those for Gryffindor are rubies. In fact emerald and silver are Slytherin’s colours, while red and gold are those of Gryffindor.

Our dear friend and member “Valky” (Mona Clifford) (Hi Valky!) wrote 4 years ago in post 502:

The second thing is something else I noticed in COS, the floo flames are emerald green. Now floo is a magical passage to somewhere else, and I have been doing a lot of contemplating about the symbolic meaning of Lily’s green eyes. I have been thinking about the Emerald Tablet, on it is written the formula for alchemical liberation. Is it possible that Lily’s green eyes are a symbol of her knowledge of the formula. That is that they symbolise the emerald tablet itself. In which case, eyes being the window to the soul one only needs to look at Lily’s soul and the formula is clear.

Excellent questions! But what is the answer?

In Harry Potter you can’t really separate emerald or green from red. When one is present, so is the other. There is the obvious one of the two enemies: Harry and Draco, as well as the two contrasting houses they belong to. The red-green animosity runs like a red and green thread through the whole story.

It is especially emphasised in Part 4. It starts off very prominently with the World Quidditch Cup. The two opposing teams are Ireland and Bulgaria, and right from the start we are bombarded with references to green and red, the colours of the respective teams. Whole areas of the camping site are covered in green or red, and everyone is wearing large green or red emblems all over their clothing. And yet Krum, belonging to the “red” country, joins the ‘green” table of Slytherin when he comes to Hogwarts because he belongs to a “water” school. I suppose red is a good “fire” colour, and green a good “water” one.

Red and green become extremely significant in the duel at the end of Part 4. Harry and Voldemort face each other. Harry’s green eyes look straight into Voldemort’s red ones. Then this is what happens:

A jet of green light issued from Voldemort’s wand just as a jet of red light blasted from Harry’s – they met in midair – and suddenly Harry’s wand was vibrating as though an electric charge were surging through it; his hand seized up around it; he couldn’t have released it if he’d wanted to – and a narrow beam of light connected the two wands, neither red nor green, but bright, deep gold.

I think this is one of the most beautiful sentences in the septology. There is obviously a resolution of opposites here. Voldemort with his red eyes issues the Avada Kedavra curse, which is green, and Harry with his green eyes issues the red disarming spell. The result is a golden cage which does as follows:

And then an unearthly and beautiful sound filled the air. … It was coming from every thread of the light-spun web vibrating around Harry and Voldemort. It was a sound Harry recognised, though he had heard it only once before in his life: phoenix song. It was the sound of hope to Harry. . . the most beautiful and welcome thing he had ever heard in his life. . . . He felt as though the song were inside him instead of just around him. … It was the sound he connected with Dumbledore, and it was almost as though a friend were speaking in his ear. . .

This saves Harry’s life. The worst curse – green – is absorbed, as it were, by the disarming spell – red – , which results in gold. Of course red is also the rubedo stage, which is the third stage in the making of the Philosopher’s Stone – to make gold.

Throughout the septology there is that conflict between red and green, which is resolved at the end of the story:

“You won’t be killing anyone else tonight,” said Harry as they circled, and stared into each other’s eyes, green into red.
[…]

A red-glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window. The light hit both of their faces at the same time, so that Voldemort’s was suddenly a flaming blur. Harry heard the high voice shriek as he too yelled his best hope to the heavens, pointing Draco’s wand:

“Avada Kedavra!”

“Expelliarmus!” The bang was like a cannon blast, and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead centre of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided. Harry saw Voldemort’s green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling like the head of Nagini, spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last. And Harry, with the unerring skill of the Seeker, caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of the scarlet eyes rolling upward. Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snakelike face vacant and unknowing. Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hand, staring down at his enemy’s shell.

How intensely beautiful! How sublime. Harry Potter summed up in a formula: red + green = gold. Emerald + ruby = gold.

But despite the beauty and the grandeur of this theme, it still doesn’t answer the question: why emerald? why green? Why did Beatrice have emerald eyes? Why the Emerald Tablet? Why not the chrysoprase tablet?

Help me somebody!

Love to you all from Hans

And there are more updates on this subject at Harry Potter for Seekers: check it out!

Comments

  1. Arabella Figg says:

    I thought it might be interesting to look at the chemical properties of emerald and how they might be interpreted symbolically. Here’s what I found at Wikipedia; it may or may not be helpful:

    “The emerald, which is colored green by trace amounts of chromium (a steely-gray, lustrous, hard metal that takes a high polish and has a high melting point…[it] was regarded with great interest due to its high corrosion resistance and hardness) and sometimes vanadium (the chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a soft, silvery grey).[15]

    “Green is considered one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue. In subtractive color mixtures, green is created by mixing yellow and blue pigments or dyes. On the HSV Color Wheel, the complement of green is magenta; that is, a color corresponding to an equal mixture of red and blue light…. On a traditional color wheel, based on subtractive color, the complementary color to green is considered to be red.[6]”

    Some of the properties (qualities) above are certainly reflected in Lily’s and Harry’s character.

  2. Quick note: In my symbolism book, traditionally it is said that Dante wanted Beatrice clothed in the three colors of green, white and red. Respectively expressing hope, faith and charity. Green being hope, very traditional symbolism he was very familiar with. It is said that the Virgin Mary is the opposite of Eve. This being because of Jesus coming to right the wrongs of Adam. Mary rights the wrongs of Eve. Hope this helps.

  3. Lily Luna says:

    Several comments-

    This is non-responsive but additive – I note that Dobby’s eyes also are green, which is consistent with Harry’s and Lily’s eyes being green, if you consider Dobby as Harry’s disciple as has been discussed recently by others, I believe. Also, the letters from Hogwarts received each summer are written in green ink, the merpeople’s hair is dark green, Harry’s dress robes are bottle green, and Rita Skeeter’s robes and ink are acid green. I also seem to recall Harry using green ink in one of the early books but don’t have time now to go find the reference.

    Green as the traditional symbol of hope makes a lot of sense in terms of the Harry Potter series and Harry’s eyes.

    It seems to me that there is a dual nature to the color green. On the one hand there is the “bad” side of snakes, envy, and avarice/money which is consistent with the Slytherin reputation and the description of the Dark Mark. On the other hand, green is also the color of plants, leaves, and grass, which go through an annual cycle of death and rebirth. Hope would seem to spring from the verdant aspect of green. Red and green are the colors of Christmas, with green coming from the evergreen tree and wreaths. On JKR’s website is a family tree showing who a number of the characters marry and the names of their children. It shows Draco marrying a woman named Asteria Greengrass. This may be one way of showing Draco’s shift in focus from bad Slytherin towards a love of the good verdant side of Slytherin.

    Hans raised the Quidditch World Cup, which I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, but hadn’t found a good posting to comment on where it would arguably be relevant. I don’t have time to write about it tonight as I would have liked, but I promise to bore you all in the morning with my thoughts!

    And, briefly, if red symbolizes charity, and if charity could then be said to symbolize red, that gives new meaning to the murder of Charity Burbage at the beginning of DH. It underscores the apparent defeat of Gryffindor at the end of HBP when the hourglass of rubies broke.

  4. I should be asleep, but Hans has brought up one of my favorite things to think about. I don’t have answers either, but I did find quite a lot in a book I have, “An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols”, by J. C. Cooper, 1978. One of the things I like, is that for each entry, it gives the general symbolism, and then the meanings for different religions, and also for alchemy.

    So here’s part of the listing for GREEN:

    “Ambivalent as both life and death in the vernal green of life and the livid green of death; also as youth, hope and gladness bit equally change, transitoriness and jealousy.”

    Just that first part describes a lot of what is going on with Harry throughout the seven books. At times he is full of hope, and at times he is jealous. But all of his actions and reactions are a transition from the young boy we first meet to the young man who willingly faces Voldemort at the end.

    In light (no pun intended) of what Hans said about the colors, this book goes on to say:

    “Compounded of blue and yellow, heaven and earth combined, green forms the mystic colour; it also combines the cold blue light of the intellect with the emotional warmth of the yellow sun to produce wisdom of equality, hope, renewal of life and resurrection.”

    So, thinking about Lily and Harry with that description seems to make their green eyes even more important – a visual reminder of their purpose and their intent.

    “ALCHEMIC: The Green Lion or Green Dragon is the beginning of the Great Work; the young corn god; growth; hope.”

    “CHRISTIAN: Vernal green is immortality; hope; the growth of the Holy Spirit in man; life; triumph over death and Spring over Winter. It is also initiation; good works, and in medieval times it became the colour of the Trinity, Epiphany and St John the Evangelist. Pale green is equated with Satan, evil and death.”

    That last is interesting. Rowling sometimes uses green as an ambiguous color – it shows both good and evil intent. The good is in Lily and Harry and Dobby, the evil in the Dark Mark, etc. – all the things listed by Hans. But if you think about both Harry and Lily, they both did have times when they weren’t perfect, they had thoughts that were less than noble. So perhaps that is some of the reason for all the green. The characters or the events that have green all (or most) have that element of choice. Lily makes choices about her friendship with Severus, about how she reacts to James when he is a bully. Harry is making choices throughout the seven books.

    Like Hans, I was struck with the contrast of seeing the rubies spilled on the floor at the end of HBP, and the emeralds in Deathly Hallows. It was that signal that the house connected to the emeralds was no longer in power as it had been.

    I’ve now lost my train of thought, so I’ll just leave it there for now and try to make more sense of it tomorrow.

    I see that the first part of this post is showing up without the rest, so perhaps, John, you could delete that part so it’s all together. Otherwise, it’ll make even less sense.

    Pat

  5. Oops, that should say:

    also as youth, hope and gladness but equally change, transitoriness and jealousy.

  6. What about green meaning youth, in that, you are so naive in the world and have little knowledge of the world. You could be taken advantage of and the world makes you make hard choices and hopefully you make the right ones, even though it is hard.

  7. Red, green and gold huh? Well red and green are complementary colors on the color wheel. They are opposites: one is warm and one is cool. When mixed together all three primaries are represented, thus getting a brownish color. I think the symbolism in HP is all over the place as we’ve seen. Green can mean positive and negative, as well as red. I would go with the traditional alchemical Dante symbolism when talking of Beatrice’s eyes though. Eyes are usually a reflection of the soul, like a mirror or water. The possibility of completly rebirthing your soul through redemption, forgiveness, and the shedding of blood or sacrifice through the color green representing your soul, is the strongest possibility.

  8. And according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, on their entry on Precious Gems in the Bible:

    In the Middle Ages marvellous powers were attributed to the emerald, the most conspicuous being the power to preserve or heal the sight.

    Given all the “corrected vision” going on in HP, this seems significant.

  9. Lily Luna says:

    Well, I wrote up what turned out to be my very extensive thoughts on the Quidditch World Cup and it’s way too long to post as a reply (I wrote it up in Word with the idea of cutting and pasting but it’s about 4 single-spaced pages). I was searching the website for an email link to send it to John Granger separately in case he (or you, if you’re reading this Mr. Granger) thought it worthy of posting as a primary post, but I can’t seem to find his email address. Any suggestions?

  10. Perelandra says:

    GEMS THEIR LURE AND LORE also mentions the use of emerald against eye diseases. Emerald was the second stone on the high priest’s jeweled breastplate in the OT [and therefore a stone-course of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation]. It’s the stone of Venus representing true happiness and is the stone of May and the sign Taurus.

    From Joan Evans MAGICAL JEWELS, emerald is said to enhance conjugal love, bring freedom, and magnnify everything. (Think of Nero’s emerald monocle).

    The Elessar or Elfstone from which Aragorn takes his regnal name is an emerald, sign of hope. In one version of its history, was set in a brooch by the elvish smith Celebrimbor as a gift for Galadriel. Looking through it showed dead and withered things alive and fresh.

  11. Hi, I don’t know if this question has been asked before, but in HP, which alchemical (or else) role embodies Severus Snape ?

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