Rowling Sports Alchemical Tattoo?

Friend of this blog Nick Jeffery tweeted me and Prof Beatrice Groves on Friday with an astonishing picture. It is of Rowling’s arm with the words ‘Solve + Coagula’ in script on the underside of her right wrist. My assumption is that picture was taken at the premiere of the Finding the Way Home HBO documentary at which Rowling appeared in her role as Lumos founder and spokesperson; she is pictured holding the hand of a young woman there of the size and color of the other arm in the picture Mr Jeffery sent (see below).

I find myself wondering if it is a tattoo — the script akin to her handwriting suggests she wrote it there herself in pen rather than being properly inked? — but, permanent or water soluble, it is a remarkable confirmation of the centrality of alchemy in Rowling’s writing. She has written the essential action of all alchemical operation in ink of some kind on her right arm. Outside of the several PotterMore posts on the subject and her 1998 admission that she’d always wanted to be an alchemist and had learned a great deal about the subject which set the “magical parameters” of her imaginative sub-creation, this tattoo makes dismissal of Rowling as alchemist and transformative artist even more of a stretch than it was already. 

I am busy writing the alchemy chapter of my PhD thesis, believe it or not; this photo could not have come at a better time, except I don’t have the time because of my deadlines to do it justice here! I have asked Professor Groves to write something on ‘Solve et Coagula’ and we’ll let you know when and where she decides to post it — but I had to share the news and pictures with you here as a ‘heads up.’ Please let me know your first impressions in the comment boxes below.


  1. Nick Jeffery says

    Thank you for the post John, and good luck in your thesis.

  2. So if you are right, John, that this is written with ink and not a permanent tattoo and if, as I have read, Rowling is right-handed, this suggests that someone else would have written these words, does it not? (Most of us can’t write that elegantly with our secondary hand.)

  3. Point taken, Lana! The near impossibility of Rowling writing this herself means she was almost certainly inked by someone else, be it in water soluble ink or permanent dye.

    Does anyone who is familiar with Rowling’s hand-writing care to speculate about whether this ‘Solve + Coagula’ is in her ‘hand’ as well as very close to her hand?

  4. Mr. Granger,

    I have to admit this is another post where I’m torn between what sounds like two important subjects. Rowling’s inked in acknowledgement of her own writing practices does sound like news worth reporting.

    At the same time, it’s good hear work on your thesis is going well. I have to admit I find that a bit more interesting at the moment. Here’s hoping you get a chance to see it published soon!


    I’m afraid I’m no good at tracing handwriting or ink work, unfortunately.

  5. Melissa D Aaron (Moonyprof) says

    It’s possible that she wrote it and it was then transferred to her wrist by a talented artist.

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    I’ll speculatively second Melissa D Aaron (Moonyprof) , and add that there are lots of interesting and persuasive ‘temporary tattoos’ (not least ‘decal-style’ ones) out there, including all sorts of harry Potter ones – perhaps JKR is even stunt-test-promoting a new line of ’em, here!

    Meanwhile, best wishes for thesis writing!

  7. You’veBeenDUped says

    The words on her wrist are the same words on the baphomet of the Church of Satan….YUP

  8. How many non-Satanists do you know have the Satanic motto tattooed on their arm?

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