The Astrological Hidden Key to Harry Potter?

I have been neglecting my Harry Potter studies of late with only occasional posts here, for which I hope you will forgive me. Except for talks with my friends the Potter Pundits — James Thomas and Travis Prinzi — for Leaky Cauldron’s Potter Cast, the usual correspondence with readers, and weekly trips to the Hog’s Head Tavern for a Taddy Porter, I’ve been neck deep in Twilight work (talks and interviews to get the word out about my new book, Spotlight) and reading books recommended to me by friends here, most notably, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. So, as you know if you’ve been stopping by of late, there hasn’t been much going on at Hogwarts Professor.

I don’t usually post just to post so gaps in action here are okay but I do have one regret about my distraction from Potter matters. Last December I was sent an intriguing idea that may join two of the more interesting qualities of the Hogwarts Saga, namely, the alchemical scaffolding and the chiastic structure of the story circle (a-b-c-d-c-b-a). The idea also solves something of a mystery about the books: the astrological symbolism that I haven’t heard anyone make much sense of. Erin Sweeney, though, may have pulled it off. After too long a time in my “to post” file, here is her theory after a short introduction about why she shared it with me:

Back in May, 2007, I reviewed an alchemy piece at The Leaky Cauldron’s online magazine, Scribbulus. It wasn’t very good and I wrote at some length here about the poverty of the scholarship involved. One of the editors at Scibbulous, Erin Sweeney, who writes under the name ‘Caltheous,’ heard my alchemy talk at Prophecy 2007 the month after Deathly Hallows was published and wrote to me to thank my for my post and talk on the subject of literary alchemy and to ask for book recommendations. In my response to this request I explained the three schools of alchemy and why I thought that the traditionalist understanding of Titus Burckhardt was better than the Jungian and New Age camps (in short, because it is more relevant to the subject of literary alchemy in general and in opening up Joanne Rowling’s books specifically).

Fast forward to LeakyCon in Boston last fall. I give a talk there on The Eyes of Deathly Hallows and actually get to meet the woman. She enjoyed the Eyes talk at LeakyCon and wrote to me about the metanarrative-bashing content of the series, the mirror symbolism, and literary alchemy as it works with astrology. It turns out Ms. Sweeney had read Titus Burckhardt’s Alchemy and found an alchemical-astrological link embedded in the sequence of the novels, Stone to Hallows, that I missed.

Now, I cannot spill all her beans here because she told me late last year that she was going to be writing this up for Scribbulus. But I have her permission to share the thesis she sent me in her letter, namely, that the seven Harry Potter novels follow the astrological sequence suggested in chapter 15 of Burckhardt’s Alchemy in which the correspondence of metals and planets is used to explain the seven step creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. Here is how she came up with the book-to-planet assignments she has:

In burkhardt’s book, he discusses the stages of lesser metals to gold as – lead (saturn), tin (jupiter), silver (moon), copper (venus), iron (mars), gold (the sun) and with mercury as our catalyst. Now, jo didn’t place her stories that way. Her stories are – saturn, jupiter, moon, mercury, sun, venus, mars – and this puzzled me. It starts out to seem as though she’s following the pattern with the first four, placing the catalyst smack in the middle does make sense, but then the pattern diverges.

The “lesser work” is the alchemical term used to describe the steps from saturn to jupiter to the moon and the “greater work” are the steps from venus to mars to the sun. Burkhardt: “The “lesser work” achieves the readiness or preparedness of the soul and the “greater work” the spiritual revelation.” Just one more refresher point of note – each of our spiritual parts is in two – soul and Spirit – in which the soul is passive, feminine, and formable and the Spirit is Divine, masculine and active. The point of Alchemy is to unify these parts – the Alchemical Wedding – and produce spiritual god within our selves.

While it appears that the lesser work is in order:

Philosopher’s Stone – Saturn – the start of the “opus” or work – Saturn is a ‘dying to the world’, a withdrawl “from the senses and turning inward” and a ‘mortification’ of earth – From Burkhardt on the first stage of the work, he speaks of the alchemist producing ash by calcining the base metal. He says: “By means of this ash […] he will be able to capture the volatile ‘spirit’.” I find this similar to what happened to Voldemort when he was turned to ash and his spirit escaped.

Chamber of Secrets – Jupiter – In Lyndy Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery he speaks of the Basilisk as being the symbol of the Elixir of Life that can transmute base metals to Gold. Burkhardt says of Jupiter that the body “having been earth [in the stage of Saturn] now becomes water and air. This corresponds to sublimation.” He also writes: “Morienus says: ‘Whoever knows how to purify and bleach the soul, and allow her to rise upwards, guards the body well and has freed it from all darkness, blackness, and evil odour…'” If you think about Ginny as the symbol of “female soul” that corresponds to Harry’s “male Spirit” in the series the action that happened in Chamber is the passing under water in the girls bathroom down to the chamber where Harry guards Ginny’s white body and then uses the Elixir of LIfe (Basilisk tooth) to stab the book resulting in a removal of black liquid (ink) from her and return her soul to her body purified with the removal of Lord Voldemort’s attempted possession of her. They then fly through the air on the phoenix to escape the Chamber.

Prisoner of Azkaban – Moon – in this book we know the moon is a key symbol because Lupin’s lycanthropy (little werewolf problem) make it an ever present aspect of the story.

Goblet of Fire – Mercury – recall that mercury is the messenger of the Gods – Burkhardt writes: “The interpretation of the sign of Mercury as the key to the whole work is confirmed by the role of the God Mercury or Hermes in the Orphic mysteries. The messenger of the gods accompanied the soul after its death – bodily or mystical – through all the realms of the world of shadows, to its final place of rest.”

Harry is quite the messenger in this story (and not only Harry, in fact). The larger picture is him accompanying Cedric’s body, returning him to his family back at Hogwarts to be put to rest. But lesser acts of message carrying happened throughout Goblet of Fire – the name in the goblet, the transference of Harry and Cedric by portkey to the cemetery, accompanying Ron and Fleur’s sister to the surface of the water, the retrieval of the message in the egg, Ron’s message to Harry about the dragons, Harry’s message to Cedric about the dragons, Cedric’s message to Harry about the egg, Harry’s messages from his parents during the wand joining, and so forth. There are other examples as well.

After these four books the planetary pattern diverges. We would expect Venus next, then Mars, and finally the sun. But instead:

Order of the Phoenix – Sun – the phoenix, Sirius is a star

Half Blood Prince – Venus – Love – This novel is the Potter book of romance – Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione find their partnerships in this book.

Deathly Hallows – Mars – War – The final war between the wizard sides is fought.

Assuming that I’m right with my above order for Jo’s novels and planets it is not in stages of the work as we’d expect if we were performing alchemy in our home laboratory to produce gold. Burkhardt’s book does show this order, though, in the end of Alchemy’s chapter 15, ‘Stages of the Work,’ page 193. He shows how if you set up the symbols in parallel they will be the following:

Moon Sun
Jupiter Venus
Saturn Mars

And that matches Jo’s order – not the order you’d do the work as an alchemist following the steps from lead to gold – but it is viewed as an image like Burkhardt shows it [adding numbers to the parallel series]

4. Mercury
3. Moon 5. Sun
2. Jupiter 6. Venus
1. Saturn 7. Mars

then it shows the nice link between the books [side-by-side]: books 1 and book 7 (Saturn to Mars) , books 2 and 6 (Jupiter to Venus), books 3 and 5 (Moon and Sun). This correspondence is just as Burkhardt explains it. As in:

“From this it is clearly to be seen that for every active aspect there is a corresponding passive aspect. Saturn represents the passive “abasement’, Mars an active “descent”. The first sign expresses the extinction of the ego-bound soul, the second the victory of the Spirit.”

(Notice Philosopher’s Stone was all about Harry extinguishing his ego – not wanting the stone for himself – and how Deathly Hallows was all about the active victory of Harry’s Spirit (and soul) over Lord Voldemort’s. Where in Stone he didn’t have to do anything but be there and be good – in Hallows he had more work to do on his end – he had to actually fight).

“On the next level, Jupiter corresponds to a development of the soul’s receptivity, while Venus corresponds to the rising of the inward sun.”

(Now the two books Chamber of Secrets and Half Blood Prince have parallels in two key ways – the mysterious book present in each AND the love relationship with Ginny and Harry. Specific for passive / active – that’s the key – Ginny’s passive love for Harry was key in Chamber – receptive soul – and Harry’s active love for Ginny came out in Prince – inward sun.) It is further a symbol of the alchemical wedding in which Ginny’s soul is made pure in Chamber and Harry’s’ Sprit is united with her in Prince.

“The moon and the sun themselves embody the two poles in their pure state, and Mercury bears both essences within itself.”

(So, for Prisoner it was the moon because of Lupin and for Phoenix it was the phoenix as a sun. Lupin and Sirius themselves are important moon / sun symbols in each story because Lupin is associated with the moon and Sirius with the star Sirius. I do think that the prophecy might be important – an orb and all that.)

The actual role of Harry, as I was pondering, came clear. In the series itself Ginny would be moon and Harry Sun (soul and Spirit symbols) – OR you could take Harry’s inner moon and sun – as in his soul and his Spirit. In Prisoner he was getting his soul sucked out and in Phoenix his spirit was attacked by Lord Voldemort in the form of attempted possession. You could see it as though Prisoner was about the defense of his passive soul and Phoenix was about the defense of who controls his actions as in his active spirit.

Well, I’m going to shoot this off to you now or it will be ages before you get it. Thank you so much for all the books you write on Harry Potter – they enrich my experience of the books enormously!

Erin Sweeney

If you didn’t get that all at once, I’m guessing these are three of the reasons why.

  • First, metal-planet correspondences are fairly involved and it’s not easy to keep the parallels straight (see C. S. Lewis’ Discarded Image or Tillyard’s Elizabethan World Picture for a refresher).
  • Second, this was a just short note to a friend and she assumed rightly that I had Burckhardt’s book on the shelf and could read the whole chapter on ‘The Sequence of the Work’ and review the planet-metal correspondences to clarify the symbolist foundation traditional astrology and alchemy share.
  • Third, she assumes I’m familiar enough with Potter canon to follow her suggestion that Ms. Rowling followed Burckhardt’s concluding picture of the sequence to lay out her books in a ascending-descending parallel columns with Goblet as the turning point.

As I said, Ms. Sweeney is working on a longish essay for Scribbulus in which you’ll have all the assumptions and alchemical shorthand explained in depth. I include as much as I have here just to whet your appetite and get you thinking about alchemy in astrological terms — and, as important, to point out that this sequence of novels that Ms. Sweeney’s theory explains in light of the alchemical work has been the subject of discussion for some years and is all but accepted by Potter Pundits as demonstrated. (See MuggleMatters and Pastor Joe Thacker, as well as the discussion here of the Chiasm Theory way back in 2006 and 2007.)

We finally have a theoretical framework for the observed Potter pattern — a-b-c-d-c-b-a — and it matches up with the alchemical scaffolding the series author has said set the “magical parameters” of her writing.

That’s a “wow.” I think Ms. Sweeney has hit a home run.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.


  1. Arabella Figg says

    Ms. Sweeney’s alchemic symmetry symbolism makes sense. We’d already discussed book symmetry before, so this falls in line for me, even though I always find alchemy difficult to grasp.

    It also made me think of Twilight with Edward/Sun/Spirit and Bella/Moon/Soul.

  2. The books symmetry I understand- in fact, even before I started reading John’s books I would describe GOF as the book where everything changes. And I am beginning to grasp alchemy and how good writing is really about the purification of the hero. But the astrology part I really have a hard time with in my head. I have read articles about the planetary symbolism Narnia, which was doable- but to have planets and literary alchemy layered upon one another really makes my brain explode. It is interesting though, to think about how much preparation goes into excellent writing.

  3. Now someone must step forward and link this up with Michael Ward’s PLANET NARNIA.

    I can point out that in Tolkien, gold + sun are feminine and silver + moon are masculine. I have the tenuous beginning of an insight why, beyond die Sonne and der Mond.

  4. thanks for this, john. I grieved for some time about why she felt that way in the series, but didn’t match up with the schema. It makes a lot more sense now.

  5. Metal/planet/sex/elemental correspondence is quite involved and best understood as a series of becomings, rather than states. Also, mercury is best not thought of as catalyst, rather a carrier – it becomes the metal itself by way of deception. Salts are the catalysts, volatilizing, or fixing. All alchemy is eminently Hermetic i.e. deceptive, the work of charlatans. No alchemy is possible without astrology.

    For instance, Venus’s state is thought to correspond to the female. Its corresponding metal is Cu, the penetrating male metal. Conversely, Mars’s state is thought to correspond to the male, though it’s metal is Fe, the quintessential receptive and grounding iron of the Earth – a female type.

    And so it goes.

    Forgive me, but methinks the real alchemist here is Granger; trying to transmute leaden children’s books into literary gold. And a good alchemist he is, a mountebank nonetheless.

    Time to move on to another burg. Twilighttown, here we come!

  6. Peter, your ignorance of the differences between traditional alchemy, metallurgical history, and literary alchemy could fill volumes.

    Calling me names reveals you don’t understand the spirit or intention of this forum. Please read through the posts and comments and identify all the uncharitable, ad hominem comments in our discussions.

    Couldn’t find any — other your own? Neither could I.

    You are welcome at Hogwarts Professor only as long as you conform to the standards of civility we have here. Snarky comments cloaked in sophomoric sophistry just won’t cut it.

  7. korg20000bc says

    He’s less than likely to rear his head again. That type of commenter doesn’t want a discussion and would rather just troll and move on. They do this to void themselves of the responsibility of defending their comment. They are a common occurance over on

  8. Ow! Forgive me.
    The ad hominem was uncalled for, and I’m truly sorry.
    I will point out, and defend, that alchemy, whether literary or metallurgical, if defined as Hermetic, uses deception as its main vehicle.
    I will also defend the fact that the Gospel doesn’t need smuggling.

  9. korg20000bc says

    Peter, I stand corrected. You have come back. Your post came across with the usual ‘flame’ tone that generally prevails.

    You say that, presumably, the Harry Potter series is ‘leaden’ children’s literature. Please list some of you beefs to support that view.

  10. korg20000bc says

    Copper as the penetrating male metal? That’s the first time I’ve ever read that. Would you mind explaining where that comes from?

  11. I thought my tone was more troll than flame. It is actually meant to be confessional. Again, I am sorry to all for the wound and the salt.

    I read the HP series. I could tell what was going to happen too far ahead. No mystery for me. The language was childish. I read JG’s Deathly Hallows Lecture book and listened to a couple podcasts of his lectures. I’ll just say that I’m not on the same page as him wrt some HP specifics, and have a hard time aligning with those presuppositions, but agree with him generally.

    As to copper as penetrating and male, it is only in relation to iron. With its pink and sea-green hues, its malleability, thermal conductivity, etc. it is almost always thought of as female.

    Theo. Paracelsus, Blessed Raymond Lull, the Jewish and Arab charcoal burners (see R. Patai, I think) all understood this in a subtle sense. Copper will dissolve interstitially through Fe readily.

    In a gross sense, if you want to pierce a hole in a 10 foot thick billet of steel, shoot a stream of molten copper at it. It’s done in industry all the time.

    Again, these things are not intuitive.

    Just for fun, do some historical research on a couple metals, say Uranium and Plutonium. We know what happens when you combine them just so. Now look at the times and dates when this has been done, correlate these astrological charts, and see what the relative yields have been. I’ll bet that most of you don’t know that this is always done prior to such tests.

    God does not like such sorcery.

  12. To tie this to Michael Ward:

    In Planet Narnia, Ward posits that Lewis has Aslan wear the masks of his beloved seven medieval heavens, the seven planets, one for each book.

    I see the masks of the planets, in both their positive and negative aspects, on the Hogwarts tricksters: the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers. Who better to represent

    • SATURN than the leaden Quirinus Quirrell, with his soft demeanor, dull, troll-like intellect and head wrapped in fabric rings?

    • JUPITER than the tinny Gilderoy Lockhart, whose jovial celebrity mocks today’s media royalty?

    • THE MOON than the ever increasingly silver-haired Remus Lupin, the noble and terrifying werewolf?

    • MURCURY than the slippery, shape-shifting Bartemius Crouch Jr, who was personally commissioned by Voldemort to “send a message”?

    • THE SUN than the merciless bright and cheery Dolores Umbridge, whose pursuit of purity, power and perfection remove her so far from humanity she doesn’t need a Dark Mark?

    • VENUS than our prince of vitriolic verdigris, Severus Snape, whose life was shaped and driven by undying love?

    • MARS by the brazen Tom Riddle, DADA wanna-be who takes on the mantle not only of the God of War, but of Mars Silvaneous when he makes the forest his HQ?

    Are you slapping your forehead, Gentle Reader? Saying “Uh, Duh!” or more likely (cue Mr. Rickman) “Obviously!” In my moment of discovery, I was tickled to remember Michael Ward’s uncharacteristic lapse from academic tone as he described his Aha moment:

    “I did not shout ‘Eureka!’ and run naked down the street like Archimedes, but I did jump from my bed in a state of undress and began to pull books from my shelves, chasing links from work to work.”

    Not being an academic, I did not jump from my bed after my discovery–just tee-hee’ed myself back to sleep.

    Today I did pull books from my shelf and saw that Ward dates his discovery in 2003, well after Sorcerer’s Stone. Creating a complete seven-member set of astrologically symbolic characters is a trick Jo must have learned elsewhere. Perhaps, Gentle Reader, you might suggest where?

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