Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

The Ancient Wisdom of Harry Potter

Prof. Abditus Questor


Book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

PLOT SUMMARY: Toward the end of Harry's usual miserable summer with the Dursleys on Privet Drive, he is rescued by the Weasleys, who take him to their home and then to the Quidditch World Cup. That night after the game, a “Dark Mark” appears in the sky: a green skull with a serpent protruding from its mouth, which is Voldemort’s ominous sign. A week later, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasley students return to Hogwarts, where they meet Mad-Eye Moody (or at least someone who looks like him) as the new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, and Dumbledore announces that Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament with the other two largest European schools of Wizardry: Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. A champion is to be chosen from each school by the magical Goblet of Fire, which produces the names of Viktor Krum, Fleur Delacour, and Cedric Diggory . . . but then unexpectedly, a fourth—Harry Potter—who is both underage and the second champion from Hogwarts. His name was slipped into the Goblet by the false Mad-Eye Moody (really a minion of Voldemort's) as part of a plot to trap Harry. The Tournament's first task requires each champion to
retrieve a golden egg from a clutch of real eggs between the legs of a nesting dragon. Harry flies on his broom around the fire-breathing dragon until he can get the golden egg. The second task is for each of the champions to enter the Hogwarts lake and find in its depths the merpeople, who have taken four persons that the champions would “sorely miss”—for Harry, Ron. Harry reaches the four hostages first, but is unwilling to take Ron and leave the others behind, so he is the last to return, but he gets points for his unselfish concern for others. The third task is for the champions to find their way through a maze past magical dangers and seize the Triwizard Cup, thereby winning the Tournament. Harry and Cedric together pass the last danger and agree to take the Cup together, creating a tie. But when they do so, the Cup turns out to have been transformed by the false Mad-Eye Moody into a magical device that transports them to the Riddle family graveyard, where Cedric is killed and Harry's blood is used to re-embody Voldemort, who challenges Harry to a wizard duel. Their wands (which have the same magical core, a tail feather from the phoenix Fawkes) connect and form a golden web-dome around the two antagonists, shutting everyone else out. From Voldemort's wand the images of those he has killed emerge, including Harry's parents, who instruct Harry when to break the connection and escape by using the Cup to return to Hogwarts and eventually to the Dursley's for the summer.

QUEST: Harry's general quest in this book is to participate, albeit unwillingly, in the Triwizard Tournament. More particularly, it is to face Voldemort in a duel and to show that he is, in fact, the greater wizard by foiling Voldemort's plan to kill him.

COMMENT: The fourth book is the middle one in the series and marks, in several ways, a significant turning point in the cycle. With respect to character development, Harry is 14 in this book, the traditional age for the onset of puberty in boys; and Harry begins to develop an interest in girls, awkwardly to be sure, as when he and Ron bumble in inviting girls to a ball. But the fourth book is also central to the structure of the whole cycle.

Voldemort appears only indirectly in the first three books. In Philosopher's Stone, he possesses Prof. Quirrell, with his face appearing in the back of Quirrell's head. In Chamber of Secrets, he appears as a memory image of his student self out of the diary in which (we later learn) Voldemort had deposited a fragment of his soul. In Prisoner of Azkaban, he is absent but is represented by the Dementors, who are his natural allies. At the very beginning of Goblet of Fire, however, we see Voldemort himself in a hideous, malformed, fetus-like shape, plotting to kill Harry—a plot that is developed in the rest of the book. And near the end of Goblet of Fire, Voldemort succeeds in regaining bodily form through a dark resurrection that uses Harry's blood, a bone from Voldemort's father's grave, and flesh from his servant Wormtail (Peter Pettigrew). So in the last three books, Voldemort is embodied and plays a more active, often direct, role in attempting to kill Harry. Voldemort's re-embodiment in book four is the hinge on which the cycle turns.

In addition, and partly because of Voldemort's role in the action, the first three books are each fairly independent. The stories of finding the Philosopher's Stone (book 1), slaying the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets (book 2), and freeing Sirius from being returned as a prisoner to Azkaban (book 3) are discretely separate and could each stand alone. But from the re-embodiment of Voldemort (in book 4) onward, the plots are so closely intertwined that they form a single story line. Book five is about the efforts to form a wizards' opposition to the re-embodied Voldemort. Book six is about the ambiguous role of Severus Snape in the opposition to Voldemort and about Voldemort's past history, including his fragmenting of his soul and hiding parts of it in various places, as an effort to avoid death. Book seven is about the destruction of the fragments of Voldemort's soul and a search for the three Deathly Hallows (magical objects that all eventually come to Harry), as well as Harry's final victory over Voldemort, using one of those Deathly Hallows. The last four books are thus an integrated series.

The particular quest in book four, Harry's participation in the Triwizard Tournament, involves three tests, which span the four classical elements. In the first test, Harry has to move a fire-breathing dragon off its nest by flying through the air on his broom; it thus combines fire and air. In the second test, Harry has to rescue Ron from the depths of the Hogwarts lake; it is thus set in water. In the third test, Harry has to find his way to the center of a hedge maze constructed on the Hogwarts playing field; it thus corresponds with earth. The tests take the elements in their proper order from highest to lowest: fire, air, water, earth; and those elements correspond with the four worlds or planes in which our human evolution occurs: buddhic or intuitional, manasic or mental, kamic/astral or emotional, and physical or dense-bodily. Therefore, the Tournament can be seen as a metaphor for human evolution. Moreover, those four elements are pervasive in the cycle, corresponding with, among other things, the four Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor is fire and intuitive; Ravenclaw is air and mental; Slytherin is water and passionate; Hufflepuff is earth and physical. The elements (and the worlds or planes they correspond with) are important structural symbols in the cycle of books.

The title of book four, Goblet of Fire, refers to the Goblet into which students who aspire to be champions in the Triwizard Tournament place their names and which contains magical fire that eventually throws forth the names of the chosen champions. The term Goblet of Fire contains two archetypal symbols (related to the elements) whose linkage in that term is significant in the Ancient Wisdom. A goblet (also a chalice or a cup—as in one of the suits of the Tarot cards) is a feminine symbol. Goblets contain liquids: water, a feminine element; milk, which sustains life and is also produced by mothers (note that the shape of a goblet or chalice suggests that of a mother's breast); or wine, which represents the blood of Christ (note that Harry's blood is pervaded by his mother's love). The shape of a goblet appears elsewhere in the story as well. When Harry and Voldemort duel and their brother-wands are linked by a golden light, that light has offshoots "crisscrossing all around them, until they were enclosed in a golden dome-shaped web, a cage of light," which protects from any external interference and has the shape of an inverted cup or goblet.

When Harry and Voldemort begin their wizard duel, the light that comes from Voldemort's wand is green (the color of Slytherin house and symbolic of the emotion of envy), while the light from Harry's wand is red (the color of Gryffindor house and of fire and love). As the two wands are linked, the light connecting them transforms to golden and vibrates to produce "an unearthly beautiful sound—the phoenix song," because the magical core of both wands is a tail feather from Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes. We are now dealing with the symbolism of fire. The phoenix is a bird of exceptionally long life; when it comes to die, it bursts into flame, and from the ashes a new baby phoenix is born. The phoenix is a fire-bird symbolizing resurrection or rebirth. In addition, Dumbledore's phoenix is named Fawkes, which is an allusion to Guy Fawkes, who was involved in a 1605 plot to blow up the English parliament; that failed effort is remembered on November 5, a festival when gigantic bonfires are kindled, on which a straw image of Guy Fawkes is burned. So his name invokes images of fire; in addition, his first name is the source of our word guy for any person.

Fire, which the Triwizard Goblet contains instead of water or other liquid, is a masculine element. It is the polar opposite of water, and these two—fire and water—are complements in many ways: yang/yin, active/passive, vertical/horizontal, intuition/emotion, sun/moon, resurrection/endurance, superconscious/subconscious, and the Hogwarts houses Gryffindor/Slytherin. The apparently incongruous combination of water (goblet) and fire in this book is a profound statement of the need for opposites. Everything in this world exists by virtue of its contrast with an opposite; and progress—the evolution of the cosmos—takes place only by reconciling the opposites to reach what in alchemy is called the coincidentia oppositorum, that is, "the coming together of contraries" or "the uniting of differences." In Chinese thought, the opposites yin and yang come together to form a perfectly balanced whole, the tai chi or "great extreme," "ultimate whole," or "absolute".

That combination of opposites is represented also by Harry Potter and Voldemort. Near the end of Goblet of Fire, Voldemort is resurrected (a masculine action) from a cauldron (a feminine shape) partly by means of Harry's blood (a feminine substance), which was imbued with Lily's love for her son. So the re-embodied Voldemort has something of Harry's body in him. On the other hand, as we learn later in the series, when Voldemort tried to kill the infant Harry but was himself bodily destroyed by the protective shield that Lily had put into her son's blood, something remarkable happened. Unintentionally and unknown to Voldemort, he fragmented his soul and put a fragment of it into Harry. Thus, while Voldemort's body includes something of Harry's (namely feminine blood), Harry's soul includes something of Voldemort's (namely a masculine soul fragment). Harry and Voldemort are thus opposites that have to be reconciled.

Harry and Voldemort are more than just characters in a story. They are also aspects or tendencies in every human being. The Ancient Wisdom tells us that the universe has two mighty and opposing forces at work within it. Together, those two forces produce the universe that we know (and both are necessary to do so). One force is evolution, the process of rolling out or developing the inner potential of things. The other force is involution, the process of rolling inward from the limitless absolute that which is to become the inner potential of things. In a sense, involution comes first, promoting materiality, unconsciousness, and separateness; then follows evolution, promoting spirituality, awareness, and unity. But it is not really a case of first this and then that. Both forces are active simultaneously everywhere in the cosmos—including inside us. They are complementary forces that balance each other (the yin and yang of existence), but they are dominant at different times. When the universe, or any part of it, is in the initial phase of formation, involution dominates and then is right and good. When the universe, or any part of it, is in its homeward phase of returning to its origin, evolution dominates and so is right and good. Evil is not an absolute but a force that is out of phase. We need to learn how to manage both forces appropriately, but humanity is now on its homeward path, so evolution is our good.

Harry (a namesake of the most lively and admired prince in Shakespeare's history plays, Prince Hal or Henry V) pursues life, and Voldemort (French vol "flight," de "from," mort "death") flees death. Harry is the Boy-Who-Lived, and Lord Voldemort is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Both love (of life) and fear (especially of death) are natural human responses that need to be balanced. We need to learn such balance, for all of us share both love of life and fear of death. Harry and Voldemort are aspects of ourselves. Ultimately we need to cast our ballots for progressive evolution or backward involution, progress or retreat, love or fear, confidence or dread, sharing with others or selfish exploitation of others. That is what the Harry Potter cycle is about.

Voldemort committed the greatest sin any human can: he fragmented his soul. He did so because he feared death and wanted to assure his survival for as long as possible by dividing his soul into fragments (called horcruxes) that he concealed in various hiding places to protect them. Voldemort cannot die until every fragment of his divided soul has been destroyed. But fragmenting one's soul is an action counter to the great evolutionary current we should be following, which enjoins us to unite every aspect of ourselves into a wholeness, as well as ourselves with others in a greater community. So the first object of the Theosophical Society is "to form a nucleus of the universal human family" without any distinctions.

Moreover, to fragment his soul, Voldemort has to kill another person; it is the act of wanton murder of an innocent victim that creates the force needed to fragment the murderer's own soul. Those who exploit and destroy others for what they think is their own selfish benefit thereby break the contact between their embodied personalities and their own higher selves. They have fragmented themselves. They become lost souls and are called "Brothers of the Shadow." When the normal person dies, whatever good that person has done during the past life is incorporated into the permanent higher self and becomes immortal. But if a person has done no good whatever, or especially if the person has done such evil as to break the connection between the personality and the higher self, the past life has been wasted and simply dissipates. It is destroyed with no residue. And that fate of utter nonexistence is what the personality of Voldemort strives with all his might to escape.

Harry is the opposite of Voldemort. He is imbued with his mother's self-sacrificial love; it is in his blood. Harry lives, not for himself, but for others. He repeatedly braves death for a greater good. In the first book, he defies Voldemort to protect the Philosopher's Stone from evil exploitation. In the second book, he faces the deadly basilisk in order to save Ginny Weasley. In the third book, he learns to resist and overcome the horrific Dementors to save Sirius Black from them or from being returned to the prison of Azkaban. In this fourth book, he unselfishly tries to share the Tournament prize with his fellow competitor, Cedric Diggory, the two of whom have consistently aided each other. And so also in the following books, Harry regularly acts for the welfare of others, as he understands their needs.

Harry is not perfect, of course. He often makes mistakes of judgment, and he is subject to the same moods and emotions as the rest of humanity. But his heart is ultimately in the right place, which is the service of his fellow beings. We are not asked to succeed in what we do; we are asked only to try. One of the great-souled teachers once wrote: "We . . . judge a man by his motives, and yours were all that is sincere and good" (Mahatma Letters, no. 21, p. 77) and again, "motive is everything for us" (no. 92, p. 295), and also, "We have one word for all aspirants: TRY" (no. 54, p. 148). Those words are a great consolation. Of course, we must bear the karma of our actions, whatever they are; but morally we are judged, not by what we do, but by why we do it and by the fact that we make an effort. Harry Potter is an example to follow in that regard.

Harry is, in fact, a bodhisattva in training. The term bodhisattva means “one whose essence (sattva) is wisdom (bodhi).” A bodhisattva is essentially wisdom because such a person realizes that we cannot live for ourselves alone. We must live for others. As the great Rabbi Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?" That is what the spiritual guidebook The Voice of the Silence urges all humans to do: to improve ourselves, but to do so by helping others. Harry Potter is essential substance. Voldemort is shadow. That's the relationship of good and evil. Evil has no substance; it is only the shadow of good.

The fourth book is full of practical wizard wisdom, of which the following are instances:

Dumbledore says to Fudge, the Minister for Magic, who refuses to believe anything that might threaten his position in magical society: "You are blinded . . . by the love of the office you hold . . . ! You place too much importance . . . on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!" (614–5)

Dumbledore says to the Hogwarts assembly and guests from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang: "Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open" (627).

Hagrid, discussing Voldemort's return with Harry, says: "No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it . . . . What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does" (623).