Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tarot Symbolism in Harry Potter

There is a rather magical Harry Potter read-along happening over at Spinning Straw Into Gold, A Light Inside and Cyganeria. Although I'm not taking part myself, I'm really enjoying reading their thoughts and it has definitely got me thinking critically about the books for myself. I am continually amazed at how imbued the series has become in society; for me personally this has ranged from being used in university discussions about Aristotle, to casual HP-related thoughts that pop into my head in relation to whatever's happening at the time (most recently this happened when watching the new James Bond film [SPOILER AHEAD!] and I found myself wondering if anyone else was mildly disturbed about the fact that Voldemort was the new head of the secret service...)

I wanted to contribute something to the discussions, so have put together a post on the symbolism of Harry's lightning bolt scar, particularly in relation to tarot card XVI: The Tower...

The image of the lightning bolt is symbolic in many ways and in many faiths. They can be seen in the hands of Gods, such as Zeus, who used them to punish wrongdoers and strike down his divine competition (source). In Christianity, Lucifer fell 'as lightning [does]' from heaven (Luke 10:18). With these two examples alone we are already able to draw easy comparisons to the Boy who Lived, and the tragic event that took place in Godric's Hollow.

But I want to examine in a bit more detail the connection with the tarot (numbered cards that were first used in ancient times in the Far East and India), and with one card of the Major Arcana in particular: number 16, The Tower.
Source: Learn Tarot
The Tarot is considered by today's users to be a mirror of the self, rather than the more popular idea of fortune telling. By focussing on a card and thinking about what it represents, it offers self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the reader's thoughts and feelings.

Visual reading

The images on the cards are symbolic; looking at the Tower, we can see:

  • Lightning striking a building
  • A crown being struck off the top of the building
  • Two people falling from the tower - one with a crown, and one without.
Just by quickly analysing the image it is possible to get a visual representation of Harry's story, depicting the end of Voldemort's reign of terror, his fall, and his bringing Harry down with him. If we like, we can also liken the fires in the tower to the physical destruction at Godric's Hollow.

Interpretative reading

Some key phrases associated with this card are 'breakdown of the old to herald the new', 'dramatic upheaval', 'having a change in fortune', 'unexpected challenges' and 'chaos all around you'. The lightning strike itself represents (and brings about) the need for change, hurling you from the old and into the new. The scar on Harry's forehead can be seen as a sad reminder of a tragedy, or an affirmation to himself or others that he is the bringer of change.
The Tower reveals that there is usually a catalyst or outside influence which comes into your life to instigate those changes. It can either be a person or a set of circumstances of which you feel you are not in control. It can be either liberating or uncomfortable, but you will now have the necessary strength to adapt and move on.
This card asks you to welcome new challenges rather than avoid them. Rebuild from renewed strength and reach a new level of understanding about your self and your situation.
Baby Harry must rebuild his life and reach a new level of understanding about himself - he must start again to learn who he really is.

Sequential reading

One final thing to mention is the location of the Tower card within the sequence of cards in the Major Arcana; it comes after XV, The Devil, and before XVII, The Star.

The Devil, like all cards, has both positive and negative aspects. Some of the more negative aspects can easily be related to Voldemort: 'thirst for money or power' or 'being obsessed'. More generally, 'this card reveals that you are bound by your fears, beliefs, or a situation that is unhealthy for you,' which applies to Harry and all others that Voldemort terrorised.

Follow this with the Tower and, as noted above, there is a change in circumstances; most people (i.e. not Voldemort) would see a release from material desire and obsession as a good thing. With Voldemort gone, others are released from their fears.

Next, the Star, a card of navigation and inspiration; key phrases associated with this card are 'truth revealed', 'seeing the light at the end of the tunnel' and 'new trust in a relationship'. Considering it as a sign of the future, 'it reveals that a revelation is about to come to you in the nicest possible way. You will regain your motivation, experience peace of mind and enjoy a better sense of who you are and where you are going'. Despite the terror of the past and the radical upheaval of the present, Harry Potter has much to look forward to.

Should we be surprised at this sequence? Not really. The 22 cards of the Major Arcana can all be read sequentially, telling a story. The links to the Tower might suggest action and drama like in the story of the cards, but Rowling doesn't go in for that. In the first chapter of the first book, Rowling has depicted a leafy suburb with a few oddbods hanging around street corners, and a tiny, helpless baby as a focal point. Intriguing, yes, but none too dramatic at face value. Yet the lightning bolt scar on baby Harry's forehead gives away the darkness and pain of the past and is a living reminder of the magic that is yet to come.

[Extended quotes from The Tarot Bible by Sarah Bartlett]

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