PDay Minus Three — Prediction #5: The Rubedo

HPEF invited me early in 2003 to participate as a Featured Speaker at Nimbus 2003. I learned later that it was not a unanimous decision of the HPEF Board to invite me. It seems several Potter-philes, even at the height of ‘The Controversy,’ thought Connie Neal’s invitation was sufficient to cover the “Christian Interpretation” sub-category. The few board members who had read my Hidden Key to Harry Potter explained that mine was a literary rather than theologically driven approach to the books and that my thoughts on Alchemy were sufficient to warrant an invitation as Featured Speaker. I got in through the back door.

In 2003, “literary alchemy” was terra incognita to all but the few in Fandom who were subscribers to Cauda Pavonis, the academic journal devoted to the subject. Google “alchemy” and “Harry Potter” today and prepare for an afternoon of reading (most of it, unfortunately, will be time spent “wading” through papers not having been read by editors or “peer reviewed” by people familiar with the subject).

My talk at Nimbus 2003, “Alchemy, Doppelgangers and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter” (which was published in Touchstone magazine later that year as ‘The Alchemist’s Tale,’ brought Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy to Fandom at a popular level — and the Slash writers, homeschooling soccer moms, and professors of Medieval Literature there were pretty excited about it. They voted that talk the “best presentation” of the 65 talks and panels at Nimbus.

And that was when we didn’t have a “proof text” or statement from Ms. Rowling confirming that she was a closet alchemist or alchemical story-teller. We didn’t get one of those until February of this year when Lisa Bunker and her house-elves at Accio Quote found this in an interview from December, 1998:

“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.”

I said the people who heard my talk were “excited;” I didn’t say they were all convinced of what I was saying (most notable among the naysayers? an HPEF Board member who made a point of savaging the “alchemy angle” and me personally on her Live Journal site). What won most serious readers over, though, was the question it answered about Order of the Phoenix, the book most on Potter Pundit minds that summer; “why is this book so dark?” Phoenix seemed an enormous departure from the first four books. Alchemy helped explain this shift.

Phoenix, in brief, is the alchemical nigredo or “Black Stage,” in which Harry is reduced to prime matter, essentially the Prophecy and his destiny. He is stripped of everything he has come to identify himself as: Quidditch player, Gryffindor leader, son of virtuous martyr father, etc. Ms. Rowling stacked up the “black” and the alchemical images specific to the nigredo to make this “hard to miss” if you were looking at the series as Harry’s alchemical transformation.

I predicted at Nimbus 2003, too, that the next book would be the “White Stage” of the series, in which Albus Dumbledore would be featured and die (as Sirius was and did in the “Black” book), and that the book would open in “cold and damp” weather, call it “phlegmatic.” All of those alchemical predictions “came in” with Half-Blood Prince. Now it is hard to hear much discussion of the series finale that does not include at least a token comment about its being the rubedo or the final,”Red Stage” of the Alchemical Great Work and a mention of whether this means Rubeus Hagrid must die (it doesn’t).

I wear two hats, consequently, in Harry Potter Fandom. The first is that of “Christian Apologist.” I do not proselytize my faith anywhere or even explain it publicly but this perception of me persists. I think it is because of Looking for God in Harry Potter, which many people misunderstand as an evangelical tract (those who have only read the unfortunate title on the cover?) rather than as the exploration of Harry Potter in the context of the English — and Christian — literary tradition that it is. Y’know, I can live with this misunderstanding. If Christians aren’t misunderstood by the World, there is something amiss.

The other hat I wear is “the alchemy guy.” I got one phone call this morning from a Christian radio station in Albuquerque, NM, confirming a talk Friday on-air about Harry Potter (probably about Mr. Grossman, I suspect) and another call from a newspaper reporter in Delaware writing a story about Deathly Hallows. She wanted my rubedo predictions. I still get more calls from Christian media than about the alchemy in Ms. Rowling’s novels, but, given the disproportionate number of Christians to alchemists, I suppose that should be expected.

So what did I say to the reporter looking for rubedo facts? I started with the weather report.

Phoenix was hot and dry, Prince was cold and moist, Deathly Hallows will be hot and moist — so that every one will be good and flushed in the face as we head into the alchemical crucible.

The rubedo will feature the revelation of the work accomplished in the “White Stage” (Prince), it will resolve the greater contraries that have defined the Wizarding World for six books, and it will climax with the creation of a “Rebis” and an “orphan.” This is all detailed in outrageous depth in the last alchemy chapter of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and the SWAGs in its conclusion but here are a some short explanations:

Revelation of White Stage Work

In Romeo and Juliet, the essential work of the play is the peaceful union of the feuding Capulet and Montague houses. It happens in the “white stage” of that alchemical drama when the couple are married in secret and consummate their marriage, also in secret. This is revealed in the agony of the rubedo when their conjunction is revealed in the tragedy at the Capulet tomb — and their houses are joined forever.

What will be revealed in Deathly Hallows that “already happened” secretly in Half-Blood Prince? My second and third predictions are largely about this; everything that Dumbledore and Snape have been up to for years and years and the “mistaken identities” promised in the opening chapters of Prince should be a big piece of Deathly Hallows.

I think that the “alchemical wedding” that will take place between the Red King and White Queen in Hallows, too, has already happened, as important (and exciting) as the actual ceremony must be. Seeing the first wedding that took place in Prince gives us a good idea of other more important revelations to look for in Deathly Hallows.

After Dumby’s dive from the Tower, the Weasleys and Order of the Phoenix friends gather at Bill’s bedside in the Hospital Wing. He was ripped up by Fenrir Greyback in the Battle for the Stairs and everyone is understandably distraught. Mom Weasley says the unfortunate thing about his “going to be married” and Fleur loses control. She, in the vernacular of the Marine Corps, “rips Mrs. Weasley a new one.” The room holds its breath waiting for the counter-strike from the never-shy Molly Wobbles, but she yields. Mother and daughter-in-law are reduced to tears and hugs.

This was the real “alchemical wedding;” the ceremony in Deathly Hallows will be its crown or public appearance.

The Weasleys are choleric, passionate people, nicely represented as hot-headed red heads. Fleur is called “Phlegm” at the story’s beginning because she is the opposite of choleric, masculine qualities. She is “cold and wet” to Bill’s archetypal “hot and dry.” When Fleur does her Veela number in the hospital wing, she reveals how she has been transformed by her time in the Burrow. She has become her opposite, the choleric Mrs. weasley. Mrs. Weasley in complementary fashion has changed and wins Fleur’s heart by acting uncharacteristically. That they hug, making the “beast of two backs” (albeit fully clothed) and their weeping represent how they have “lost themselves” in their union. They are wed though there are no Maids of Honor or tacky kitchen utensil gifts in the room.

This is the sort of revelation we’ll see in Deathly Hallows.

The great polarity of the Wizarding World, of course, is the canyon dividing Gryffindors and Slytherins. How will this “contrary pair” be resolved?

In a way, it already has. We just didn’t notice it in Prince. It has a lot to do with the creation of the “Rebis.”

The “Rebis” or “thing-twice” (usually alchemical “androgyn” or “hermaphrodite”) is an alchemist that has transcended the polarity in existence, from “subject-object” (I-Thou) to “life-death,” hence the alchemist’s immortality. The “Rebis” is a simultaneous accomplishment with the Stone, whose purification and transformation are mirrors of his own.

Harry, Hagrid, Severus, and, after a fashion, Lord Voldemort are all double-natured beings. Hagrid is the obvious one, as we saw as early as the House on the Rock, in which scene he is simultaneously terrifying Giant and friendly wizard. He also plays the hermaphrodite in wearing a flowered apron and “mummy” to terrifying creatures. Hagrid’s a s/he and the similarity of his name to “Rebis” is probably not accidental.

But Hagrid’s embodying a joined duality successfully doesn’t bridge the Gryffindor/Slytherin canyon separating all of Wizardry. Harry and Severus do that. And we can see it in Harry’s speech and posture at the end of Half-Blood Prince.

Harry, boy Gryffindor, is crucially tainted (sic) with qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his students (see Dumby’s speech to Harry in Chamber for details). The Horcrux beneath the scar gives him celebrated Slytherin abilities, which we’d have to expect in the character carrying a seventh of the Heir of Slytherin’s soul on board. Harry reveals this dark side several times in Phoenix, no doubt under the influence of Lord Thingy, but at the end of Prince he has assimilated the hard-edge of the Slytherin to the noble people-saving thing ends of the Gryffindor guy he is. Read that section about his plans for his seventh year that climaxes in his murdering Voldemort — and what will happen to Snape if he gets in the way. “So much the worse for him.”

That is a Gryffindor/Slytherin cross or “zebra;” Harry is the white horse with black stripes.

Severus Snape, in contrast, by being inscrutable, is acting as a junction more than being duplicitous, a role he plays in every book, not just Half-Blood Prince. He is the Slytherin/Gryffindor “green lion;” the black horse with white stripes. As I’ve said elsewhere, the “Half-Blood Prince” is a pointer to the “Double-Natured King” and to the Christ figure “the World knew not.”

These zebras will have to reconcile for the worlds to be joined and Voldemort to be destroyed. I cannot help but think that will come in one of their deaths.

And the “philosophical orphan”? The Red King and White Queen of the Alchemical Marriage, in the drawings that depict these things, almost always “die.” This death can be taken as a metaphorical “death to self” or as a physical death. Yes, I think Bill and Fleur are the couple who die in Deathly Hallows that Ms. Rowling announced were in her final “bloodbath.”

But this couple have a child, the orphan that becomes the “Rebis.” The Beginning (arche) is Half the End (telos) as the Greek chappies used to say — and we return to the beginning in the creation of another Harry Potter, whose parents sacrificed themselves to combat the Dark Lord.

And Rubeus?

Oh, yes, Deathly Hallows is his book. At least as much as Sirius and Albus were the subject of the Black and White tomes in this series. But he isn’t the only “Red Man” in the books. There is Rufus Scrimgeour (“Red Battler”) and the Wild Weasleys that qualify as red subjects.

I see Rubeus being Harry’s guide, though, and Dumbledore’s messenger, much as he was back in the beginning of Stone. There’s a lot that Harry doesn’t know that the illegally large Hagrid can clue him in on. Rubeus was almost certainly privy to all of Albus’ secrets and will dole them out as he has through all the books at just the right time for Harry to learn what he needs to.

I expect two special points with Hagrid, both harkening back to Philosopher’s Stone.

Rubeus appeared at an auspicious moment Harry was counting down in Stone, his 11th birthday. He breaks down a door literally, and, figuratively, he shatters the barriers in Harry’s world that separate him from Hogwarts. Expect Hagrid’s final appearance to also be a door breaker of some kind, again, literally and figuratively. Hagrid may be Harry’s Virgil going through the Veil…

And I have to think that we’ll see Norbert again and that this Dragon’s Blood will be critically important to reviving a certain character who has lost his head (see Prediction #7). In alchemical symbolism, “Dragon’s Blood” is a euphemism for ‘The Elixir of Life,’ the substance that flows from the Philosopher’s Stone and cipher for the Blood of Christ. [For more on this go to the Wand Cores posts on this site.]

Will Rubeus die? The pattern of alchemical name figures seems to point to that. But, as I’ve said since 2005, there’s no reason for it really. The Black and White Stages of the Alchemical ‘Great Work’ end but the Red is the end. When Ms. Rowling announced that one character she thought had to die received a reprieve, the alchemists in the reading audience all sighed, “Hagrid…”

Here’s hoping they were right!

Tomorrow: Prediction #6…. and The Tale of Two Cities, at long last (speaking of literary alchemy). See you then! “Accio Saturday!”


  1. Hi John,

    We are all getting very excited for the new book. I just re-read books 1-6 to get ready. I put all my predictions on my blog.

    Dad (Don) recently updated his blog, though you probably already noticed.



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