Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

The Ancient Wisdom of Harry Potter

Prof. Abditus Questor

Book 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

PLOT SUMMARY: Harry runs away from Privet Drive, because Vernon Dursley’s sister, Aunt Marge, comes for a visit and insults Harry’s parents, provoking Harry unconsciously to swell her up like a balloon, so that she is physically as well as metaphorically full of hot air. On the street, Harry thinks he is watched by a large black dog (see below on Sirius Black's name), but he reaches the Leaky Cauldron, where he stays until leaving for Hogwarts. The Hogwarts Express is boarded by Dementors looking for Sirius Black, who has escaped from the prison of Azkaban (cf. Alcatraz), where he was sent for supposedly betraying Harry's parents to Voldemort. The Dementors radiate fear and despair, and they cause Harry to become unconscious. At Hogwarts, the new Defence against the Dark Arts professor is Remus Lupin, the best they have ever had; he teaches Harry a Patronus Charm to repel the Dementors. He was one of four fellow students at Hogwarts with Harry's father, but he is a werewolf, having been bitten by one when he was a small boy, so James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew became animagi (wizards who can transform themselves into animals)—assuming the forms of a stag, dog, and rat, respectively—to accompany Lupin when the full moon turned him into a wolf. Pettigrew betrayed the Potters but put the blame on Sirius; and in his rat form, he went into hiding, masquerading as a familiar animal of the Weasley family and eventually becoming Ron's pet. Hagrid now teaches Care of Magical Creatures and brings to class a hippogriff (a proud creature that is half horse, half eagle) named Buckbeak, which Harry befriends, but which mauls Draco Malfoy for insulting him. Consequently, Buckbeak is condemned to be destroyed. But Hermione has been using a Time-Turner, which allows her to go back in time to take several classes at once, so she and Harry use it to free Buckbeak from execution and arrange for the hippogriff to fly Sirius to a hiding place, where he is safe from the Dementors and Azkaban.

Harry's specific quest in this book is to save Sirius, who was James Potter's best friend and is Harry’s godfather. Harry achieves this quest by using the Patronus Charm and by establishing harmony with the hippogriff Buckbeak. The Patronus [Latin for “protector, defender, patron”] is a silvery form projected by a wizard and embodying hope, happiness, and wellbeing to counteract the effects of Dementors, who drain all joy and happiness from others. (Dementia is "mental deterioration and emotional apathy" with no known cure; it includes Alzheimer's and has been called "the greatest medical challenge of the 21st Century.") The Dementors are faceless beings, having only a mouth with which they suck the soul, sense of self, and memory out of their victims, leaving them as the living dead. Harry at first has great difficulty with this very advanced charm, but finally, when he himself is attacked by Dementors, sees a familiar-looking figure in the distance working it perfectly to scatter the threatening Dementors. At first he thinks the figure is his father. But later he realizes the figure was actually himself when he had used the Time-Turner to come back to save Buckbeak and Sirius. As a result, he can use the charm consciously and effectively, having discovered his own positive force.

A major theme of this book is Harry's need for a father to serve as his guide and model. That theme echoes throughout the entire series. Harry is very much like James Potter, his biological father, in his ungoverned hair, slim physique, somewhat unruly behavior, and Quidditch ability; Prof. Snape calls the resemblance between father and son "uncanny." Only Harry's eyes (which are the windows of the soul) are like his mother's. Harry also inherits from James several objects that serve him well: a cloak of invisibility and the Marauder's Map. James had been killed by Voldemort when Harry was one-year old, just before the start of the first book. In that book, Harry is longing for a family, so he sees himself with his father and mother in the Mirror of Erised ("desire" spelled backward). The mirror has an inscription, also in backward writing, for "I show not your face but your heart's desire." So Harry's heart's desire is to be with his parents. In the third book, Aunt Marge's insults of Harry’s father and mother cause him to make her inflate like a balloon. Harry's early loathing of Sirius Black is due to his belief that Sirius had betrayed his father and mother to Voldemort. When Harry learns the Patronus charm, the patronus he evokes has the shape of a stag, which was the animal form his father (nicknamed "Prongs") assumed as an animagus. Although Harry never knew his father personally, James is a strong force in Harry's life, and Harry idolizes him.

In addition to James, Harry has three other father figures (defined by Merriam Webster as "a person often of particular power or influence who serves as an emotional substitute for a father"). One is Sirius Black, who first appears in book three. Sirius was James's best friend and is Harry's godfather. Through much of the book, Harry fears and hates Sirius who he thinks betrayed his parents and is trying to kill him. However, after Harry learns that Sirius was framed by Peter Pettigrew for the latter's crimes but was always loyal to James and concerned for Harry's welfare, Harry forms an intense attachment to him. He looks forward to living with Sirius during school holidays and joining with him in a family relationship unlike any he has known before. Sirius's name is that of the brightest star in the heavens, part of the constellation Canis Major ("greater dog"), also called the "Dog Star." His animagus form is a big black dog (nicknamed "Padfoot"); that and his name bespeak his honesty and loyalty. Thereafter, he plays a major role in Harry's life as protector and guide.
The conversion of Harry's attitude toward Sirius Black reflects a major concept in the Ancient Wisdom. People and things have two aspects: one that is outer or exoteric one and another that is inner or esoteric. As folk wisdom has it, we must not judge a book by its cover, for things in their real esoteric nature may not be at all what they seem in their superficial exoteric appearance. That contrast is good to remember in all aspects of life, and it rests on the Wisdom's distinction between nirvanic perfection and samsaric imperfection, which characterizes all things. Harry reacts to an exoteric view of Sirius Black until he discovers Sirius's real esoteric nature. Sirius has not changed; only Harry's perception has. This character contrast of the esoteric and exoteric appears again for another character in the fourth book and is a theme throughout the series.

Another father figure also appearing first in book three is Remus Lupin. He is the best teacher of Defence against the Dark Arts that Harry and his friends ever have. He was another of James's closest friends and, like Sirius, takes a fatherly interest in guiding and helping Harry. But their relationship is more intellectual than emotional—appropriate for teacher and student. Remus teaches Harry the Patronus charm, which is key to Harry's discovery of his own inner strength and power. The Latin word patronus "protector" is related to pater "father," so is another instance of the father theme. The summoning wording of the charm is "Expecto [properly Latin exspecto] Patronum," that is, "I am looking for the Patronus." Remus is named for one of the two founders of Rome (the other being his brother Romulus). The Roman Remus was slain for insultingly leaping over the wall his brother was building to protect Rome, thus ironically foreshadowing Remus Lupin's fate in book seven, when he is slain while protecting Hogwarts. The Roman Remus and Romulus as infants were suckled by a she-wolf, hence Remus's surname, Lupin (from Latin lupinus "of a wolf," as well as from the fact that he is a werewolf). As a youngster, Remus had been bitten by a werewolf, which turns him into one also every full moon (hence his nickname "Moony"). It was to keep him company and to control his werewolf actions that James and Sirius became animagi.

Harry's fourth father figure (although the earliest to appear in the books) is Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts and the greatest living wizard. He oversees Harry's welfare throughout the series and repeatedly gives Harry insightful advice. Dumbledore knows what Harry's ultimate calling is, but judges it unadvisable to spring too much on Harry too early. Gradually throughout the cycle, Dumbledore reveals to Harry the role that awaits him. The headmaster normally does not specify exactly what Harry should do, but rather inspires action by his example and by hints and clues. Thus when Harry and Hermione need to save Buckbeak from death and Sirius Black from capture by the Dementors, Dumbledore says pointedly, “What we need . . . is more time.” That remark alerts Hermione to the Time-Turner that she's been using to take several courses at once, so she realizes that, with it, she and Harry can go back in time, save Buckbeak and use him to spirit Sirius away. Dumbledore is also a source of intuitive wisdom. For example, in the first book he delivers such insights as the following:

"The happiest man on earth would be able to use the mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. . . . It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts" (1:157). "After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone [which gave unlimited wealth and life] was not really such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all—the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely the things which are worst for them" (1:215). "Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself" (1:216). [Harry:] "Sir, there are some other things I’d like to know, if you can tell me … things I want to know the truth about …" [Dumbledore:] "The truth. . . . It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution" (1:216).

Harry's four external human fathers correspond with four dimensions of reality: James Potter is Harry's biological father, so he represents the physical; they are physically and behaviorally much alike. Sirius Black is the father figure Harry forms a deep affection for, so he represents the emotional. Remus Lupin understands Harry and teaches him, so he represents the mental. Dumbledore provides Harry with insight into himself and the world, so he represents the intuitive. These dimensions are like the four planes on which the Ancient Wisdom says we live: physical, emotional, mental, and intuitive; or the four functions that Carl Jung identified in the psyche: sensation, feeling, thinking, and intuition.

In contrast with Harry's four external father figures are four anti-fathers, who, rather than guiding and inspiring, seek to dominate and control or even destroy. Jungian psychology identifies two mother archetypes: the bright, caring mother and the dark, devouring mother. There are also two father archetypes, which can be represented by two Tarot cards: the Magician (trump major 1) and the Devil (trump major 15). The Magician is said to be the male power of creation; on the table before him are symbols of the four Tarot minor suits, which also represent the four elements: pentacle (physical earth), cup (emotional water), sword (mental air), and wand (spiritual fire). These suits thus correspond with Harry's four external fathers: James, Sirius, Remus, and Albus Dumbledore, each of whom is an expression of the Father-Magician. The Devil, on the other hand, is said to represent self-bondage, preventing a person from developing and improving. Below him are two human figures, female and male, who are chained to the pedestal on which he stands. Exoterically taken as Eve and Adam, this pair represents our subconscious and conscious natures in bondage to a dominant power. That card thus represents the anti-father, of which Harry also has four.

"Uncle" Vernon Dursley (the husband of Harry's maternal aunt Petunia) is the anti-equivalent of his biological father, James Potter. Uncle Vernon is family, by marriage rather than blood, and Harry should be the ward he fosters and helps. But Vernon despises and fears wizards, so he deceives Harry and tries to bend him to his own muggle will. Vernon Dursley is an ignorant, obstinate bully and is concerned only with the material and physical.

Severus Snape is the anti-equivalent of Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, and those two are at loggerheads throughout the stories, from their student days right through to their relationship with Harry. Whereas Harry and Sirius are bonded by love, Harry and Snape are bonded by dislike verging on hate—both connections are emotional, but of radically different natures. Snape sees James in Harry, and James ridiculed and badgered his school fellow Snape, so in retribution Snape picks on Harry. Snape is governed by strong emotion, especially with respect to the Potters. Despite the negative relationship between Harry and Snape, by book seven, the latter is revealed to be, in one of his aspects, another instance of the esoteric/exoteric theme.

The two earlier professors of Defence against the Dark Arts are both candidates to be anti-equivalents of Remus Lupin (although later books include other candidates too). Prof. Quirrell (whose given name is Slatero or Quirinus, depending on where you look) of book one, far from defending against the black arts, actually promoted them, as he was a follower of Voldemort's and sought to destroy Harry. Gilderoy Lockhart of book two, in contrast to Lupin, is utterly incompetent, a fraud, all external show without ability, and a shameless self-promoter who uses Harry and others for his own benefit. Harry learned nothing positive from either of them but was harmed by both. Both have lost the power of independent rationality, Quirrell by giving himself to Voldemort, who inhabits the back of his head, and Lockhart by using the one spell he commands, which erases memory but which backfires and leaves him mentally incompetent.

Voldemort is the anti-equivalent of Dumbledore and is Harry's chief spiritual opponent. In book one, he appears within the body of Prof. Quirrell, whom he has possessed. In book two, a fragment of his soul, which he had deposited in his school-days diary, manifests as the teen-aged self of that diary, Tom Marvolo Riddle, who controls the death-dealing basilisk, just as Dumbledore controls the live-giving phoenix. In book three, he does not appear personally, but his agents, the Dementors, play a major role against Harry. Throughout all the books, Voldemort's chief object is to control or destroy Harry, and that opposition is not resolved until book seven, when Harry finally defeats the greatest evil wizard of the ages and comes into his own destined self-realization. Voldemort is the antithesis of spirituality in that he has no concept of love or altruism. He is selfish power exerted over others.

There is a Kabbalistic saying, "Demon est Deus inversus," that is, "The Devil is God turned about." The point is that what we call good and evil are both a part of the cosmos. Madam Blavatsky wrote: "If 'God' is Absolute, Infinite, and the Universal Root of all and everything in Nature and its universe, whence comes Evil or D’Evil if not from the same 'Golden Womb' of the absolute?" (Secret Doctrine 1:412). In that, she was echoing the prophet Isaiah (45.7): "I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things." And she continues: "Indeed, evil is but an antagonizing blind force in nature; it is reaction, opposition, and contrast,—evil for some, good for others.  There is no malum in se [nothing evil in itself]: only the shadow of light, without which light could have no existence, even in our perceptions.  If evil disappeared, good would disappear along with it from Earth" (SD 1:413). So Harry's anti-fathers are as necessary to him as his father images: they help him to define himself.

It is notable that all four of Harry's fathers die before Harry reaches majority: James before the first book starts, Sirius in book five, Dumbledore in book six, and Remus in book seven. That is an esoteric statement of the fact that we cannot depend solely on others to guide us. The Ancient Wisdom tells us (according to the third of the three Truths of the White Lotus): "We are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves; the decreer of our life, our reward, our punishment." We are each responsible for ourselves and finally have to go it alone. Harry learns this in the first book, when only he passes though all seven tests guarding the Philosopher's Stone to face Quirrel/Voldemort. Similarly, in the second book, Harry alone passes into the Chamber of Secrets to slay the basilisk, defeat Riddle/Voldemort, and rescue Ginny Weasley.

In the third book, Harry learns that real help is not in anyone else—not in any father figure, but in himself alone. When he and Sirius were attacked by Dementors, Harry saw a distant figure producing a Patronus in the form of a stag that saved their lives. At first, he thought he recognized the figure as his father, James. But that mistake was caused by the fact that father and son look so much alike. The figure was actually a slightly later Harry, regressed to an earlier hour by the Time-Turner, to save Buckbeak and Sirius, but also himself. Later he discussed the mistake with Dumbledore. Harry says: “It was stupid, thinking it was him . . . . I mean, I knew he was dead.” Dumbledore replies: "You think the dead we have loved every truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night. . . . So you did see your father last night, Harry … you found him inside yourself.”

Dumbledore's response makes good exoteric sense: we all have our biological mothers and fathers inside us, genetically and behaviorally. But more important is the esoteric fact that Harry has yet another father in addition to his four external father figures—a fifth secret, inner Father. Similarly, all of us have inside ourselves a secret, inner, and heavenly Father—our higher Self, our individuality, which incarnates as our various personalities. In a sense, our outer personalities are the anti-equivalents of that inner Father. We must learn to identify ourselves with the Father within us, rather than with the outer personality, which is merely its anti-equivalent, although essential for our education in the school of life.

H. P. Blavatsky talks about this inner Father in The Key to Theosophy: "ENQ. To whom, then, do you pray when you do so? THEO. To 'our Father in heaven'—in its esoteric meaning. . . . a Theosophist addresses his prayer to his Father which is in secret (read, and try to understand, ch. vi., v. 6, Matthew ['But when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy father which is in secret'] . . . We call our 'Father in heaven' that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us."

It may be surprising that this inner “Father in secret” is also a Potter—not James Potter, but the heavenly Potter. As the Prophet Isaiah (64.8) says: “O Lord . . . we are the clay, and thou our Potter, and we all are the work of thy hand.” That Potter is Harry's father and indeed all of ours. But there is even more to the relationship between that Potter and us, who are the clay works of his hand. As the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam rhetorically asks: "All this of Pot and Potter--Tell me then, / Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?" The Potter is the divine identity, incarnate in all the pots, that is, in every one of us. The Potter is us, and we are the Potter. Harry found that father-Potter inside himself, and we can find him inside ourselves as well. Every one of us is a manifestation or expression of the divine Potter. The inner divine Potter is our true identity, that which the Ancient Wisdom calls the Atma, and Jung called the Self, which is what the Sanskrit term atman means.

In the light of the Ancient Wisdom, Harry Potter's inner quest in the third book is to connect with his four external fathers, who correspond with four levels of his own being—physical, emotional, mental, and intuitive—and to deal with the anti-fathers, who are negative aspects of those same four levels. But more especially Harry's inner quest is to recognize his father in secret—the divine Potter—within himself and to use it to evoke from his inmost self the Patronus. The Patronus is a being of light that can defend him and others from the fear and depression of the Dementors. Those Dementors are the irrational impulses (in Sanskrit, skandhas) that also spring out of our subconscious, unless they are successfully exorcized by the process of coming into Self-knowledge, which is the knowledge of the divine Potter within us.