Ink Black Heart and Deathly Hallows: The Heart is Not About Emotions and Affection but the Human Spiritual Center

I have two quick points to make tonight about Rowling’s use of the word “heart.”

First, she revealed in Deathly Hallows that the heart is not about emotions and relationships per se but the human spiritual center. In Hallows, the critical moments in the transformation of Ron Weasley and Harry Potter are described with repeated references to their hearts and the light and darkness within and around them. More than Half-Blood Prince or the ‘Hairy Heart’ in Beedle the Bard, this is where we find the clearest references to what it means to have an ‘Ink Black Heart’ and how to overcome it.

Second, this use of the heart as the home of the noetic faculty or ‘Spirit’ is in keeping with traditional teaching across the great revelations, especially Christianity, though a great departure from prevalent Valentine’s Day sentiments about the heart as the metaphorical home for affection and emotion. Harry and Ron’s illumined hearts after their time in inky blackness in Deathly Hallows are signs of their enlightenment and self-transcendence, not emotional or affectionate accomplishment.

More after the jump!

The Hearts of Deathly Hallows

Ron Weasley abandoned his two friends on their Horcrux destruction quest. He immediately regretted his decision but had no way to find them. His means of return, however, had been given to him by Albus Dumbledore in his will;1 he left Ron the Deluminator, a magical device that can capture the light in any space and return it at the click of a button. To Ron’s surprise, it works in the loving heart as well. As he explained to Harry and Hermione after his return in the Forest of Dean and his providential rescue of Harry from the Locket Horcrux, on Nativity safe at the Burrow he had heard Hermione call his name, a voice calling from the Deluminator in his pocket. When he clicked the device, a “ball of light appeared” outside, which when he approached it entered his heart and took him to his friends.2

Ron, in brief, first surrenders in selfless faith to the light in his heart on Christmas morning,3 the love he feels for his friends, then returns to them, risks his own life to rescue Harry in the pool, and confronts in the Locket Horcrux the eyes of Lord Voldemort who tell him, “I have seen your heart, and it is mine” (375). Having been literally illumined, however, Ron’s heart is no longer dark or the Dark Lord’s and he is able to muster sufficient will to destroy his worst fears and insecurities which the Eye-Bubbles incarnate and exteriorize.

Rowling as noted said repeatedly after Deathly Hallows was published that the most meaningful chapter in it, with the King’s Cross dialogue a “key” to the books, was chapter 34, ‘The Forest Again’ (Bloomsbury, Cruz, Vieira). It is not an especially long chapter at 14 pages; ‘King’s Cross’ is 18 pages, for example, and ‘The Silver Doe,’ another favorite and the chapter Rowling chooses for public readings, is 25 pages long. It is, however, laden with references to hearts, light, and “the mind’s eye.” “He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered” (691). “His heart was leaping against his ribs like a frantic bird. Perhaps it knew it had little time left, perhaps it was determined to fulfil a lifetime’s beats before the end” (694). “[The Death Eaters] seemed as scared as Harry, whose heart was now throwing itself against his ribs as though determined to escape the body he was about to cast aside” (703).

Harry thinks, too, of his “bounding heart” (692) and his “mind’s eye” (693), and he frightens Neville Longbottom sufficiently that he complains, “Blimey, Harry, you nearly gave me heart failure” (695). In addition to these explicit cardiac references, Harry, in something akin to Ron’s experience with the Deluminator, feels the light within him give him the strength he needs to face death as a willing sacrifice. He summons the departed souls of his parents, godfather, and favorite teacher with the Resurrection Stone Dumbledore had left him in his will (698-699).

The soul-memories or spirits that present themselves to Harry, all of whom died to protect him from the Dark Lord or his Death Eaters, tell him “We are part of you” and “they acted like Patronuses to him” (700) with respect to protecting him from Dementors in the Forest. A Patronus is “nothing but light” (Prisoner 366), an exteriorization or “projection of… hope, happiness, the desire to survive” and “it cannot feel despair” (Prisoner, 237).

Harry had been saved only an hour earlier than this walk into the Forest from Dementors in the Battle of Hogwarts. Despairing and unable to cast his protective spell of exteriorized inner light, his friends in Dumbledore’s Army protect him with their Patronuses (648-649) as he had taught them to (Phoenix 606-607). The repeated references to his heart and “mind’s eye” as well as this spectral light within him, the souls of three men and a woman who died in sacrificial love for him, are markers of the sacrificial love Harry exhibited in dying to save his friends. Whence Harry’s great victory over the Dark Lord at dawn in the Great Hall.

Footnotes for Deathly Hallows:

1When Ron laments that he was only given the device because the late Headmaster had known he would leave his friends at some point, “He must’ve known I’d run out on you,” Harry counters with the observation that the gift was made because “He must’ve known you’d always want to come back” (391).

2‘It sort of floated towards me,’ said Ron, illustrating the movement with his free index finger, ‘right to my chest, and then – it just went straight through. It was here,’ he touched a point close to his heart, ‘I could feel it, it was hot. And once it was inside me I knew what I was supposed to do, I knew it would take me where I needed to go. So I Disapparated and came out on the side of a hill. There was snow everywhere’ (383-385).

3Nota bene: The re-birth of the Light of the World in Ron’s heart takes place at dawn on “Christmas morning,” which is to say in Estecean synchronistic symbolism, at the appearance of light on the day dedicated to the remembrance and celebration of the incarnation of the Logos.

The Heart as ‘Intellect’

Jesus of Nazareth calls the human spiritual capacity the ‘Heart,’ what the Greeks called nous, which is intellectus in Latin. It has little to do with what we think of as “intellect,” however, or anything to do with reason as such.

In the ‘Dark Ages’ students were taught that the faculties are ranged in hierarchy, of which the summit is Intellect, inasmuch as it is concerned with transcendent realities, whereas reason, which ranks as a subordinate second to it, is limited to this world. Since ‘the Enlightenment’  the Intellect in its original sense has been withdrawn from the the attention of students; but the word itself, brought down from its supernatural level, has been retained in virtue of its high-sounding effect…. Robbed of its name, the intellect still subsists, which means that there is still something in man which is incorruptible and inviolable, a supramental organ of knowledge, which unlike the mind is proof against error (Lings 1987, 2-3).

Again, as with supraformal Tradition and the various formal traditions in which it is manifested in spatio-temporal reality, so this ‘small-i’ intellect in each person is not the high end or spiritual aspect of the human soul but somehow Spirit itself, in the phrase of C. S. Lewis, “continuous with the fabric of reality,” miniscule lamda logos of the Intellect that is Logos. Titus Burckhardt, writing in the language of Islam, writes “The First Intellect is to the whole cosmos what the reflected intellect is to man” (Burckhardt 1987, 187), that is, the Logos “by whom all things were made” (John 1:4), the Creative Principle and Second Person of the Christian Godhead and of whom Christ is the incarnation, is within each person as reflected logos or, as Schuon put it, “the equation ‘Christ-Intellect'” (Schuon 2006, 112).1

This is why the metaphysician often describes the Intellect as being “uncreated and uncreatable.” Coming from God, it is not just a creature. But neither is it God Himself. It is at once more than man and less than God. And yet it is not so much a third thing between them as it is the “permanent manifestation of the Divine in the human microcosm”… [which is] why we “say that there is an Absolute Reality, not because we believe in it, but because we know it, and we know it because we are it in our transpersonal Intellect” (Cutsinger 1997, 30-31; quoting Schuon 1995, 81).

The Intellect, according to the Perennialists, even creates the soul and body:

Seated in the heart, which is the center of man, the Intellect contains and prolongs all our faculties, including not only intelligence as such, but the will and the sentiment or feeling soul. In fact, the body too is a prolongation of the Intellect, which is refracted or polarized within the individual man into both corporeal and psychic aspects. “Mind and body both reflect the Intellect, or rather mind and body ‘are’ the Intellect by bipolarized reflection within peripheral and shifting Existence” (Cutsinger 1997, 29; quoting Schuon 2006, 75).

Coomaraswamay’s touchstone aphorism was Duo sunt in homine, “there are two things in man,” both “an immortal spirit” or Intellect and “the mortal soul,” the distinction of which he thought “the fundamental doctrine of the Philosophia Perennis wherever we find it” (cited in Perry 1986, 21).

The natural reason, the faculty that operates via an idea, “an abstraction, or a concept, or an analogy drawn from an external object” through sense perception and its individual activity, is only a shadow of the Intellect. To a Perennialist, “he who only sees what is sensible does not really see anything at all” relative to the Intellect’s perception of the intelligible or noumenal world which “contains the causes of, and is mirrored in the sensible world.” As Sherrard put it, “the error” of denying the transpersonal noetic faculty and its perceptions, the signature quality of the Kali Yuga or Iron Age of the world’s thinking today, is:

to imagine that sensible things are the only reality, or can be known without reference to intelligible things; that, in fact, we can really understand the shadow without reference to the subject casting it. This is what we imagine when the light of divine knowledge is eclipsed in us and we are left with only such knowledge as we think our individual and natural minds can adduce from sensible things (Sherrard 1998, 6-7).2

Reason has so usurped the place of the Intellect3 that the latter’s existence is little known or discussed outside esoteric or antiquarian corners of academia and the purification of the faculty for spiritual knowledge or gnosis is pursued only in orthodox monastic communities. As the Perennialists understand the consequences of this take-over or execution, human knowledge, even the human telos has been narrowed and diminished from the divine, man as an image of God, to the sub-human, the hairless ape of evolution and psychologism.

Footnotes for The Heart as Intellect:

1“If Christ shall come to ‘judge the quick and the dead’ [per the Nicaean Creed], this again relates to the Intellect – which alone has the right to judge – and to the equation ‘Christ-Intellect’.”

2 James Cutsinger quotes Schuon to distinguish the subjects and relative value of rational and intellectual understanding:

The Intellect is in fact very different from the discursive mind or reason. ‘The mind is analogous to the Intellect insofar as it is a kind of intelligence, but is opposed to it by its limited, indirect and discursive character.’ While reason operates one step at a time, proceeding by stages from premises to conclusions, the Intellect goes straight to the conclusion, although in this case to speak of a conclusion could be a little misleading, for there is no summing up or synthesis of prior particularities. ‘Reason obtains knowledge like a man walking about and exploring a countryside by successive discoveries, whereas the Intellect contemplates the same countryside from a mountain height.’ Reason conceives – that is, it holds things together. But the Intellect perceives. It cuts right through those things, directly apprehending their esoteric meaning or essence. It is to the suprasensible order what vision and the other physical senses are to the material or empirical order. And this is why the content of the Intellect can be approached by the reason only through analogies. It is no more possible to show the reason what the Intellect sees then to prove the existence of color to a blind man (Cutsinger 1998, 28; citing Schuon 1995, 10, 65).

3 The discussion of how and why human understanding of human understanding has changed so profoundly is discussed at length in ‘Christianity and Christendom’ and ‘Desecration of the Cosmos’ (Sherrard 1998, 27-52, 200-231).


Rowling is writing allegories of the soul’s journey to perfection in the spirit. In Harry Potter, she did this via the soul triptych with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the roles of the Heart, the Body, and the Rational Mind. In Cormoran Strike, she is writing Shakespearean or Spenserian psychomachia — think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or the Redcrosse Knight and Una — with Robin and her partner as two birds, Castor and Pollux, hero and demi-god, Psyche and Cupid. Each must transcend their soul-self or ego-existent and understanding for identity with the logos love in their Heart, their trans-personal and spiritual capacity.

Reading Ink Black Heart with the idea of the heart as the home of the sentiments, romantic feeling, or affection, as important as those things are in Shakespearean allegory as metaphors for the Heart as Intellect, is to miss what Rowling is after here — and to be frustrated with the prolonged ‘tease’ of the Strike-Ellacott seemingly endless mating dance. Thinking of the heart conventionally rather than traditionally, I am convinced, means missing what the Victorian women poets Rowling quotes for her epigraphs mean by ‘heart;’ theirs is not a moony sentimentality, pining for relationships with men, but, per Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s relation and spiritual mentor (as STC was to most Victorians with esoteric leanings, from Ruskin and the Cambridge Platonists to Dodgson and MacDonald), a specifically Christian longing for transcendence of the world and Christ the Heart’s victory over death.


  1. Didn’t Ron go to Shell Cottage when he left Harry And Hermione? He even commented about not not returning to the Burrow when Harry accused him of being safe and well fed.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    I must say, when I saw the headline I thought you were going to talk about the connection to Order of the Phoenix….which set my own 5-6 flip heart a-flutter. I was thinking of one of DD’s last lines—- “in the end it did not matter that you could not close your mind; it was your heart that saved you.”

  3. Powerful stuff.

    The passage you quote about Ron with the light present in his heart showing him the way, along with Harry’s sense of connection to the ‘heart of it all’ in the dawn light of Deathly Hallows work particularly well in this regard. And in Ink Black Heart the epigraph by Mary Jane Jewsbury: ‘Come let me talk with thee, allotted part/ Of immortality – my own deep heart!’ (To My Own Heart, epigraph to Chapter 2) (as I discussed here a bit! ) is a particularly strong example for your thesis.

    And, you’re right Annette – and that works brilliantly for John’s point! The light enters Ron’s heart at precisely the same place as Harry has his own spiritual breakthrough – his sense of connection to the ‘heart of it all’. Shell Cottage works as a location of spiritual retreat – bathed in light and next to the vast ocean, it is also the place of Dobby’s death & burial: two actions that transform Harry and initiate the peripeteia of the quest narrative – the turn from Hallows to Horcruxes.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Lewis is interesting on heart and reason and intellect in The Discarded Image: do we know if JKR/RG knows that book? Speaking of Lewis, I had an enjoyable interview with Martin Lings (not least about their friendship) at The Kilns when I was helping to look after it: it’s available at the Wade Center, at Wheaton College, if anyone happens to be there and has the time to spare. Also speaking of Lewis, I am embarked on Paul Fiddes’s fascinating recent book, Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis: Friends in Co-inherence (OUP, 2021). The “We are part of you” and “they acted like Patronuses to him” quotations get me wondering if JKR/RG is familiar with Williams’s contribution to thinking about the ‘co-inherence’ of human persons – and even his poem ‘Taliessin on the Death of Virgil’, or other features of his late Arthurian retelling – with Annette’s “Shell Cottage” observation getting me wondering further if there could be any play with Williams’s use of Wordsworth’s Shell and Stone imagery in that retelling!

  5. Rowling has not mentioned any work of CSL outside of the Narniad and that only under direct questioning. The Strike novels, though, as with Til We Have Faces,’ is a re-imagining of the Psyche and Cupid myth, and Christmas Pig, as ‘The Great Divorce,’ is a Dantean journey into a nether realm. She has given no clues about where she first discovered the stream of literary alchemy flowing through The Greats; I suspect it was in her study of Shakespeare at Wyedean or for her A Levels (Nicholl’s ‘Chemical Theater’ was hot off the presses just then), but it could have been the embedded astrology in the Narniad or the alchemical sequences and symbols of the Space Trilogy. Rowling’s hostility to association with anything about Lewis, of course, makes it extremely unlikely we’ll be learning about his influence on her writing, at least not ante mortem.

    Lewis considered Williams the greatest writer of their time; he joked once that it would be called The Age of Williams. CSL in his introduction to essays dedicated to Williams said he was the “esemplastic” element of the Inklings, a fitting word both in its origin and meaning. It points to his being the glue or heart of the group, the ‘making into one’ force, a neologism of Coleridge’s that appears in perhaps the most important chapter of the ‘Biographia Literaria.’ And Williams with Owen Barfield brought Estecean ideas to their mutual friend in a twin flanking movement that changed Lewis’ ideas of God, man, and the cosmos forever. ‘Co-inherence’ is STC’s logos epistemology in action, as charity and sacrificial love. With the Bard of Ottery St Mary’s re-imagining imagination as God’s Word acting within us as small lambda logos or “inner essence,” Lewis with Tolkien, Williams, and Company revitalize English fantasy after the models of Carroll, MacDonald, and the Victorian carriers of the Estecean torch.

    Rowling writes in a subversive branch of this esoteric stream rather than the traditional one; whether she learned any of it from Lewis, again, is and will remain I think an open question.

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