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Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 3 Its Meaning in Rowling’s Written Work

This is third in a series of three posts about J. K. Rowling’s use of the tarot card ‘The Hanged Man.’ Part one was ‘Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 1 Rowling’s Most Loaded Tarot Reference‘ in which I discussed the many times Rowling included images of characters hanging, playing hangman, or hanging upside down, as well as her one reference to ‘The Hanged Man’ per se. In Part two, ‘Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 2 The Historical and Occult Interpretations,‘ I laid out the several meanings assigned to this specific tarot card, to include the A. E. Waite interpretation Rowling was probably most familiar with.

In this concluding piece I will offer for your consideration three ideas of why Rowling used ‘The Hanged Man’ and has so many images of and references to upside down people, gallows victims, and hangman games in her work.

(1) It’s A Number and Ring Thing: The hanged man references begin in Philosopher’s Stone but really take-off in Goblet of Fire with Frank Bryce being ostracized by the gossips at ‘The Hanged Man’ pub who try and convict him from their bar stools for the murder of the Riddle family. Harry sees the Muggles tortured at the Wizard World Cup by being hung upside down and is turned upside down himself twice in the third TriWizard task. What is it about Goblet that would make it a match with ‘The Hanged Man’ tarot card?

The Hanged Man’s legs as more than one tarot guide points out take the shape of an inverted number four. Goblet is the fourth Harry Potter novel. More to the point, The Hanged Man is card number 12 in a 21 or 22 card Major Arcanum sub-deck and this card’s figure resembles both The Fool, the ‘zero’ card of that series not usually counted, and The World, the last card of the sub-deck. The card means in this regard that we have come to number four, the middle of the series, and its involution reflects our making a story turn to a glorious end, hence The Hanged Man’s nimbus and serene look.

It’s an inside joke, in other words, for Rowling’s target audience of “obsessives” who work to solve all her structural and symbol puzzles.

(2) It’s an Alchemical Reference, Kind Of: All the occult and historical interpretations I found except for The Traitor origins for the image include references to transformation and revelation, especially those of a spiritual kind. The characters who are hung upside-down, most notably Harry, Snape, Neville, and Ron, are the ones destined for a great trial, whose real qualities, powers, and loyalties lie hidden, and whose end is heroic, sacrificial, even glorious. Think of Waite’s conclusion in Pictorial Guide to the Tarot, Rowling’s most likely first reference for the card:

He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

(3) It’s about Social Justice: And Frank Bryce? Mrs Norris? The Muggles suspended mid air by the Death Eaters at the World Cup fairgrounds? Not to mention the gallows and its victims in the fourth book of the Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White? These hangings in Rowling’s work are a fairly straight forward condemnation of capital punishment as a great injustice, the continued crime against humanity of the powerful punishing the weak because they can and feel they should.

That Rowling puts this reference to The Hanged Man at the center of both the Hogwarts Saga and I assume the Cormoran Strike series I think points to the two meanings for the card in a reading according to the instant Waite guide, for the card right side up and reversed:

12: THE HANGED MAN — Wisdom, trials circumspection, discernment, sacrifice, divination, prophecy. ReversedSelfishness, the crowd, body politic.

The card right side up, the character then being upside down, is about transformation and sacrifice and, reversed, it is a hanged man, a victim of mob justice however sophisticated and ornate the governmental trappings given the affair.

Or so I think! I offer these possibilities as jumping off points for your consideration and correction. Let me know what you think by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by this post’s headline and typing in your interpretations of The Hanged Man, the hangman games, and all the upside down and right side up hanged characters in Rowling’s work.

Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 2 The Historical and Occult Interpretations

Last month I started a series of posts about the significance of The Hanged Man tarot card for serious readers of J. K. Rowling with a listing of the characters, from Neville Longbottom and Mrs. Norris to Harry Potter and Severus Snape, who are hung, right side up or upside down, in the Hogwarts Saga. It’s quite a remarkable list, frankly, and it highlights Rowling’s naming the pub in Little Hangleton ‘The Hanged Man.’

Why do we care? As noted in that first post, Rowling’s friends at the Wyedean Comprehensive have said that Rowling used to read tarot cards and their palms to entertain them. Beatice Groves, in a post at The Leaky Cauldron, shared a 1999 interview with Jo Rowling sans make-up, not to mention cosmetic surgery, in which The Woman Not Yet The Presence admits that:

I know a lot about foretelling the future, without, unfortunately, I have to tell you, believing in it, which sometimes disappoints people…. I find it fascinating and I find it fun and I could read your cards for you now and I would hope we’d both find it amusing but I wouldn’t want either of us to walk away believing in it.

Her skill with the cards, then, was not just a childhood game she played in the cafeteria but something she maintained she was still capable of exercising at the time she was writing the Potter novels. It is more than reasonable to think that the hanged men, women, in cats may be a reference to the meaning of the tarot card, ‘The Hanged Man.’

Today let’s look at three interpretations of that card, from the historical to the occult and the standard understanding that young Rowling was most likely to have learned in the West Country as a young woman. After the jump! [Read more…]

Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 1 Rowling’s Most Loaded Tarot Reference

I began the discussion of Rowling’s use of tarot card imagery in her Harry Potter novels and post-Hogwarts efforts with posts about her interview and twitter comments through the years about correspondences between the Four Houses, the Four Humors, and the four playing card suits (‘Rowling: Elements, Houses, Card Suits). That conversation continued with an exploration of the likelihood that Rowling embedded a comic image of herself, the quirky, all-seeing author with a taste for the occult and divinatory arts, inside Harry’s adventures as Professor Sybill Trelawney (‘Is Sybill Trelawney Really J. K. Rowling? The Case for an Embedded Author‘). Both these posts were inspired by what Eglantine Pillet found in a Rowling biography aside, namely, that The Presence as a Comprehensive School student used to entertain her friends by doing tarot card readings.

Today I’d like to invite serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga and the Cormoran Strike books to consider one tarot card image in particular, the Major Arcana card called ‘The Hanged Man,’ and its possible importance in understanding Rowling’s work, its artistry and meaning.

I’m going to do this in three parts: first, a listing of ‘Hanged Man’ appearances in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike, second, a survey of cartomancer opinions about the meaning of the card in itself and in card spreads, and, third and last, some speculation about how and why Rowling has chosen to make this card such a prominent image in her writing.

‘The Hanged Man’ as a tarot card is not named explicitly by Trelawney as is ‘The Tower’ (“The Lightning Struck Tower”). It does, however, appear both in name and as an image in Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, and Half-Blood Prince and most recently in the fourth Cormoran Strike novel, Lethal White. Join me after the jump for a review of the places in text we encounter the image or name of ‘The Hanged Man.’ [Read more…]

Alchemy and the Tarot: Hanged Man on the Struck Tower

Some wild and crazy thinking over at the “Waiting for Harry” Book Club this month! My favorite is a Tarot and Alchemy connection being forged by a reader calling himself/herself “BNMC2007.” S/he starts with the “hanged man motif” we’re seeing of late:

1) When J.K. Rowling announced the Title of Deathly Hallows, visitors of her website could play a game of Hanged Man to get the name.

2) We see a magical game of Hanged Man in the Weasley twins Magic shop.

3) The Hand of Glory that Draco uses – is a Hanged Man’s hand.

4) We see images of the Hanged Man anytime someone uses the Levicorpus Spell- in particular Snape in his Worst Memory. He simulates the Tarot’s card for a Hanged Man (Hung upside down by his ankles.)

From there, s/he explores a possible link between Deathly Hallows and “gallows,” The Fool, the Tower, and Temperance, the so-called “Alchemy Card” in the Tarot deck most people are familiar with.

If this link to the thread doesn’t work, please go to wwwBN.com, click on the Book Clubs tab (upper right corner of home page), sign in, and go to the Waiting for Harry discussion group (and say, “Hi, John!”). Here are my first thoughts on bnmc2007’s efforts: [Read more…]

Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ — A Plague Novel for Pandemic Readers

There are quite a few reading lists for those at home during Pandem-Mania 2020, especially for those readers on furlough from work-at-the-office as well as those confined to home and unemployed who want their imagination to feed on apocalyptic stories of plague, pestilence, even influenza. For a sampling of these lists, see here, here, here, here, and here.

I am neither staying at home nor unemployed; my Muggle job that pays my bills whilst I write my thesis is in a grocery store which the state of Oklahoma has deemed an “essential business” akin to marijuana dispensaries and abortion clinics and unlike casinos and churches. It has been, consequently, a relatively unstressful time for me as my daily routine has only been changed in how I must dress at work (face mask required) and the atmosphere of fear the grocery store customers bring to their shopping. I wish that these small troubles were the rule for HogwartsProfessor readers during this unprecedented lockdown and pray that it ends soon, ends well, and that the country is back to work and free of this contagion.

I did order a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s The Last Man and read it. Forgive me if this confession is disappointing to you but I had never heard of the novel before seeing it one of the lists above and I consider myself a great fan of Frankenstein. I have written three posts at this website on the alchemy and chiastic structure of that novel and have spent more time than I should perhaps in private meditation on its relationship with Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner,’ a poem the young Mary Wollstonecraft overheard at its first reading by the poet to her parents.

In brief, The Last Man is the first person narration of Lionel Verney of his experiences in the United Kingdom from the years 2073 to 2100. It has only just survived in print rather than flourished as has Frankenstein largely because it is assumed to be Shelley’s portrayal in fiction of her life with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron, and, more recently, because it seems to be the first post-apocalyptic novel to reach print and a major audience (cue cat-calls and counter-claims). I confess to being largely indifferent to both these critical concerns; my hope in purchasing the Dover facsimile reprint of the 1826 first edition was that Mary Shelley’s reflection on life in the time of plague would be as challenging and insightful as her critique of biological and medical science in Frankenstein.

I was disappointed in this hope, alas. The plague does not appear on the scene until Chapter 2 of Volume 2, page 130 of a 341 page book and only in Volume 3 does the action of the story turn entirely on the effect of the disease on the country and the principal characters. The writing is wonderfully or interminably florid depending on your taste for such things, the far-distant future is envisioned as being almost exactly as life in the Edwardian period except for the Wollstonecraft wish-fulfillment fantasy of the monarchy being disestablished (and the rightful king eventually becoming the country’s savior by election…), and the relationships and fates of the heroic Adrian, Lord Raymond, Lionel and their wives and loves are, again, melodramatic in a way that only Romantic era writers would attempt and that only those with a taste for what approaches camp will enjoy.

I recommend it, nonetheless, beyond my enjoyment of this kind of writing which idiosyncrasy you may share.

For one thing, the conceit of how Shelley finds the manuscript of a first person account from the future without aid of a Time Machine is absolutely first rate. It’s all shared in the introduction, which you can read online here in only a minute or three, so I won’t ruin it for you. 

For another, any three volume publication of this period, not to mention one written by an artist of the proven alchemical and chiastic structure and style concerns of Mary Shelley, is an exercise book for careful reading by serious readers.

And religious and medical professionals — not to mention politicians — do not come off well in this book, at least during the plague time of the novel’s last two volumes. Shelley rips into the idols of democratic government and progress with no mercy given. The Romantic disdain for scientism and exoteric religious ritual is a pre-modern assault on modernity’s empty positivism and serves as a corrective, even a disinfectant to the excesses and corrosive ennui of postmodernity. Those critical of institutional responses to Covid-19 by church, science, and state will find that Shelley is something of a prophet in The Last Man

Last, Constantinople is won from the Turks by crusading Greeks. It doesn’t end well for the Great City or the invaders, but, still, for an Orthodox Christian reader and closet Byzantine, this temporary victory was almost worth the effort to get there — it is the story pivot, believe it or not — and the disaster of the unfolding plague that follows.

I hope in the comment boxes below that you will share your thoughts on The Last Man  if you have read it. Failing that, please let me know what you are reading of English literature’s vast stream of plague novels.

And, failing that, go ahead and share your experiences of the lockdown. I only ask that, if you choose to ‘go there,’ that you try not to share your feelings about those who are entirely on board with the shutdown of the economy if you are not and vice versa. I’d much rather read about what you’re reading and thinking than your acceptable window of righteousness defined by social distancing compliance and hypochondriac over-kill. De gustibus.