Snape as Vitriol: The Green Lion alchemical catalyst?

I promised more than a week ago to post something about the place of Severus Snape in the alchemical drama of the Harry Potter novels. I’m still very much of two minds about this; I had hoped to post something definite but I cannot do that now. I don’t think that I’ll be sure enough of what Snape does and does not represent to say “I’m sure” until I can talk to Ms. Rowling about it.

As I don’t think I’m on her A-list for tea invitations, I will jump the gun of academic prudence instead and share with you (1) the Fandom research which has brought this to my attention, (2) my enthusiasm for this work (that is very different from what I have done or have seen elsewhere), and (3) my equally strong misgivings about it.

Let’s start with Severus Snape and my frustration in trying to see him in light of the Great Work taking place in the seven book alembic.

I have been asked several times at conventions, book stores, and on campuses when talking about the alchemy of the series what part the oily Potions Master plays. It’s a natural question, especially after I’ve detailed Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s roles and the meaning of Sirius’, Albus’, and Rubeus’ names in the black-white-red spectrum of the laboratory.

I’ve never given an answer that really satisfied me, if my interlocutors usually have been polite enough not to insist I come up with something better. Talking about Severus as both Dumbledore’s apprentice and his mirror image as an alchemist, the Gryffindor/Slytherin androgyn that is “slytherin-side-out,” is fascinating, even important (if true!), but it lacks the connect-the-dots transparency of Hermione as alchemical mercury or Sirius as the embodiment of the nigredo. I am eager to read anything that suggests something more easily understood about the character of Snape in the light of alchemy. [Read more…]

Alchemy: Jung, Burckhart, or McLean?

I was invited by a reader here to post on her alchemy thread over at the Leaky Cauldron’s Leaky Lounge. Actually, I was so intrigued when she told me about it that I asked to be invited, but I guess it comes to the same thing. After reading through pages of posts and fascinating links on my first trip there, I made the following post. If anyone asks, I’ll go into greater detail about the difference between the psychological and authentically spiritual interpretations of alchemy and what makes me think Rowling has read Burckhardt and Lings. Until then, here are my notes to the alchemical mavens and wanna-be alchemists at the Leaky Lounge:

Hi! My name is John Granger. I am very grateful for being allowed to participate in this discussion, if I’m a little embarrassed about being introduced as an expert on the subject. No doubt readers here will be disappointed if they have high expectations about my contributions.

Because many of the people posting on these threads are new to alchemy as a subject unto itself and to thinking about how Ms. Rowling is using alchemic symbols and formula in the Harry Potter novels, I would note two things as a starter.

First, there are three schools of thought about alchemy itself and what it means: Jung’s psychological interpretations, Burckhardt’s traditionalist ideas, and Adam McLean’s encyclopedic and, if he is to be believed, empirical knowledge of the subject. I suspect Ms. Rowling is familiar with all three and the books reflect what she has picked up from the “ridiculous amount” she read on the subject before writing.

*For Jung himself, there are collections of his thoughts on the subject (“Jung on Alchemy,” etc.) and there is his Mysterium Conjunctionis. To take a Jungian trip through the Harry Potter novels, Dr. Gail Grynbaum’s 2003 essay is an excellent introduction. [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…]

Rowling Confesses Desire to be an Alchemist

This just in — albeit from 1998! The web mavens at Hans Andrea’s Harry Potter for Seekers recently highlighted this money quotation from an interview with Ms. Rowling in the UK that was published soon after Chamber of Secrets was released. The full article can be read at accio-quotes.com right here.

The quotation:

“I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.”

To all those skeptical readers who have asked me with denial in their voices, “Has Ms. Rowling ever said there is alchemy in these books?” I now say, “Yes, she has.”

Not that the books themselves didn’t scream “Alchemy, anyone?” from the cover of the first book on, but what a delight to have this unexpected and undeniable confirmation! Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, of course, features an in-depth discussion of Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy throughout the series and how it points to certain plot points in Deathly Hallows.

Orders for Unlocking Harry Potter made today at www.zossima.com will be mailed on Monday of next week, with autograph and all that. If you are new to the idea of literary alchemy and what Ms. Rowling, alchemist wannabe, is about in her use of alchemical images and themes, read ‘The Alchemist’s Tale’ in Touchstone magazine (taken from my “Best In Show” talk at the Nimbus HPEF gathering in 2003). I’ve also written here about the alchemical meaning of the title, Deathly Hallows.

Let me know what you think and what questions you have in the comments boxes below. An alchemical weather report for Deathly Hallows is already up!

Dragon’s Blood, Wand-Cores, and 3 of the 5 Keys