The Esoteric Meaning of ‘Fountain of Fair Fortune’

I was asked by a friend at The Hog’s Head’s thread about ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’ to discuss its meaning in the light of the symbols on Ms. Rowling’s drawing of the Fountain. I started an answer there that grew to such a length that I have brought it here lest it hijack the Hog’s Head thread entirely.

I have already posted on Dumbledore’s Commentary on this Tale, and, though few agree with me about what Ms. Rowling is after in Dumbledore’s dispute with Lucius Malfoy, I think there is little doubt that the meaning of his commentary is Ms. Rowling’s veiled opinion about gay marriage. ‘The Tale of Fair Fortune’ itself, however, is less political than spiritual, and, with Dumbledore’s Commentary, it confirms her assertion that the Tales are a “distillation of the themes” in the Potter books.

This is a hurried interpretation through the names of the women and the Fountain symbols, but the moral seems clear. Just as Rowling equates denial of gay marriage rights with her anti-racism themes of the books, so the redemption of the Three Maidens is in their recognition and reflection of the Christ or Logos within themselves, “the key” she offers in Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore at King Cross. Forgive me my haste here — and please share your comments and correction in the comment boxes below.

The names: Asha, Altheda, and Amata.

Asha, the terminally ill woman in search of a cure, is “burnt out.” Her tears of despair satisfy the White Worm’s demand for “proof of your pain,” and she is healed by Altheda’s herbs mixed in Sir Luckless’ previously unmentioned gourd of water, a grail of sorts. “Asha” is a reference to her being a wasted version of herself as a cinder is of a log in a fireplace. She has died to herself and no longer looks for earthly cure but asks her friends to go on without her. Asha is the figure of repentance and renunciation.

Altheda, the woman who had been robbed of home and wand and is in search of a cure for her “powerlessness and poverty,” satisfies the inscription demanding “the fruit of your labors” with the sweat of her brow. She heals Asha’s illness with her knowledge of herb qualities. “Altheda” is a name derived from “Alitheia,” the Greek word for “truth” and one of the names of Christ (cf., John 14:6), a name with the meaning “healer.” Atheda is gnosis, the “key of saving knowledge” (Luke 11:52), the kingdom of heaven within (Matthew 13:44-47).

Amata, the witch with the broken heart seeking a remedy for her grief and longing, satisfies the “smooth stone’s” requirement of “the treasure of your past” with the memories of her beloved (which magically produce “stepping stones” to ford the river) and is united with Sir Luckless after his bath in the Fountain of Fair Fortune. “Amata” is Latin for “a woman having been loved” (substantive perfect passive participle); at story’s end, in embracing the Luckless, she is a reflection of the God who is Love (1 John 4:8).

The Fountain Symbols as drawn by Ms. Rowling: Hallows, Eye, Omega, and Sun/Moon

The Deathly Hallows “triangular eye” and the All Seeing Eye symbols I have discussed at length in The Deathly Hallows Lectures, chapter 5, ‘The Seeing Eye.’ I think this is the chapter Travis Prinzi was referring to in his review of Lectures when he said the book was “truly eye-opening.”

The Omega on the fountain is mysterious because it is usually paired with the letter Alpha to denote the God who is both “beginning and end” for human beings. The Alpha/Omega have this meaning because these letters are the first and last of the Greek alphabet, their ‘A’ and ‘Z.’ Beginning and end, of course, are not temporal markers here (start and finish) but translations of arche the Greek word for ‘principle’ or origin, in the sense that a center point is the creative origin and defining principle of a circle, and telos, the Greek word for end, destination, and purpose (think of ‘teleology’ quite literally: telos = logos).

The conjunction of the astrological ciphers for sun and moon at the top is the resolution of contraries and qualities in the creative principle or logos. Rowling uses the ascending layers of the fountain and their astrological glyphs as visual stepping stones to this height.

The Moral of the Story

The women’s names all begin and end with the missing Alpha for the Omega on the Fountain. Each is a picture of a broken person who recovers herself in recalling an aspect of Christ. Asha is redeemed by her patient, long suffering, Altheda discovers the great treasure in the healing powers of esoteric knowledge or gnosis, powers of “truth” and “life,” and Amata loves the Luckless, “a man worthy of” her hand and heart. The names, the women’s individual and collective redemption, and the fountain symbols are all pointers to Christ.

And the parting shot? “That the Fountain’s waters carried no enchantment at all”? On first reading it seems to mock the seekers who gather every year for a chance to reach the Fountain, folks in search of a “magical cure” (those waiting for an angel at the pool of Bethaisda? in hospitals? through online dating services?), not to mention the four players in the Tale. If there is no magic in the Fountain, no enchantment, aren’t they just deluded dupes who healed themselves?

A second look suggests the magic is in our consciousness (Asha’s suffering being the “origin of consciousness” in the Dostoevsky formula), in our recognition of the truth within us that is salutary and healing, even Life itself (Altheda’s wealth), and in our capacity to love, though unworthy, even as we are loved unconditionally by God (Amata’s victory). The magic is not ‘other,’ in other words, but in the logos within us and common to us and all things.

There is no magic in this other than our recognizing or seeing and then reflecting the principle which is the unity of existence and that is evident in all things as our identity. The symbols on the Fountain, all ciphers for the Logos and of vision, are pointers to our looking for this greater reality within, beneath, and behind our mundane life and surroundings.

Why a Fountain? The fountain of redeeming waters in the story is an echo of “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst,” He told her. “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Don’t forget the obstacles of the story; one is just “words” and another is a stream with words on a smooth stone that become stepping stones to elevated heights. These obstacles are actually points of entry and Self-discovery in being words when understood as logoi, inner principles, words. They are the rivers of the Word Himself in John 7:37-39, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink,” said Jesus. ”He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Ms. Rowling points to a feminist meaning of this Tale in saying that “Beedle’s witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines” and in the Commentary’s call for gay marriage rights she gives a further political-allegory spin on the tale. Beneath her allegory, however, is an anagogical meaning which is as profound as a story can get. I know that some readers struggle to see how a writer can advance spiritual meaning at the center of their lives (or contrary to their atheism or agnosticism) alongside political positions that may make them want to SPEW (or stand up and cheer). But interpreting the Tales as given means seeing surface, moral, allegorical, and mythic meanings as they are rather than as we wish them to be. Ms. Rowling obviously sees her political and theological meanings as a seamless garment.

Whatever your thoughts, I hope we agree that few writers today can engage a reader at all four traditional layers as Ms. Rowling does.

Your comments and correction, please.


  1. Thanks for the “alpha’s” right in front of my eyes!

    Perhaps the sun and moon symbolism also includes the source (God) and the reflector (saved human being)? When the human being enters into the life of God, he or she becomes luminous with God-light as the reflection (image) of God, perfect in God’s perfection. From such a one, fountains of living water flow to bless all creation and creatures.

    Reading from the bottom of the fountain upward glyphically: when the hallows are seen properly with God’s view, the proper end of a human being is obtained in the resolution of the apparent contraries of human and divine as source(Christ) and image(Christian) and flow (Spirit) – a perichoresis!

  2. You’ve nailed this one, John, and the moral sounds to me like what she told the 2008 Harvard grads:

    “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

    And, quoting Plutarch:

    “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

    I’ve put forward the idea that these two quotes sum up the heart of imaginative fiction – at least the subversive, social-change type that Rowling writes – and your sharp reading of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” reinforces this well.

  3. akshayubhat says

    One more thing: the name “Asha” translates into “hope” in Indian languages like Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi. Asha is also a very common name for girls.

  4. Excellent! That would make the three women of the tale “hope, faith, and love” with each regaining these qualities from points of despair, confusion, and bitterness.

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