Gryffindor Crest: A Red Lion — or a Golden Lion?

by John on October 9, 2011

It’s “Outrageous Hogwarts Professor Gaffes’ time, again, All-Pros! Not a month after learning I don’t know my King’s Cross stations from my underground tubes, I find out that I have symbolism dyslexia — or is it alchemical myopia? Either way, I’ve got red and gold egg on my face.

Kati from Germany writes:

A note on Gryffindor – the lion isn’t red, as you say (first time on p 12 or 21 of Looking for God, I think) – but rather its ‘natural’ golden colour set on a red background. As to why the symbol of Gruffindor isn’t a Griffin… I guess it would be too confusing with Ravenclaw’s Eagle.

I responded:

Dear Kati, if I may,

Your prayers.

(Sound of hand slapping forehead)

I confess that the names discussion left me cold but I was stunned by the observation above. How could I have missed this — and, more incredible (I’m notorious for blowing details), how could all the serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga have missed my error all these years?

Thank you for the gracious way you shared this. The golden griffin (Griffin d’or) is a golden lion only missing the eagle’s wings. Your conjecture on why it is not a griffin — to avoid confusion with Ravenclaw — is possible but I think it may have at least as much to do with the alchemical symbolism.

How did I make this mistake — and repeat it for almost a decade of talks? I think there are three reasons.

(1) Exeter conditioning: the prep school I went to had a red lion mascot. I think of lions as being red.

(2) Narnia Trips: I have spent just enough time in the alternate reality of C. S. Lewis’ Narniad that it’s a stretch for me not to think of emblems and symbols featuring lions, as in King Peter’s silver shield, as having a red lion on them rather than an Aslan-like golden hue.

(3) Seeing what you want to see: the ‘red lion’ in alchemical lore and Christian art has a special resonance and meaning that helped my argument in the Potter Panic war with the Harry Haters. ‘Gold’ certainly has an alchemical and Christian meaning in itself that is helpful and traditional (the griffin in Dante’s Purgatorio is golden, etc.) but it doesn’t have the association that the red lion has.

Which is to say, I saw what I wanted to see. Doggone it.

Thanks again to Kati for this find and for the kind way she shared my gaffe with me. It’s still crow I’m eating but it’s not quite as humiliating when I learn of my mistakes with an “oh, by the way..” rather than via a bashing.

If anyone has a copy of How Harry Cast His Spell, let us know if the mistake Kati found in Looking for God also made it into the updated edition….

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