The Harry Potter books began as a children’s story about a boy who goes to a school for wizards.
Yet, it became so much more as the series progressed — and the readers matured.
It’s a franchise that marked a generation without a prescribed future that sought to explore the “unknown”. They found their guide between the lines of 7 books.
J.K Rowling took a fun and exciting premise and inserted deep psychological truths and hidden, primordial archetypes we often find in mythology.
She’s a master in worldbuilding and creating characters, blending reality and fantasy in ways that appeal to the deepest parts of ourselves.
Indeed, you’ll notice that the research and material Rowling incorporates has lent her work incredible depth and clarity.
More than that, it takes advantage of mythological plotlines that have permeated our subconscious over many 1000s of years.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the hidden archetypes and mythology behind Harry Potter; one book at a time!
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The first book in the series represents the first steps of the Hero’s Journey.
The protagonist receives a call to action that brings his established world upside down; he’s a wizard. And he has to learn to wield his power in the context of a mentorship relationship he develops in Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Rowling, from the very first chapters, outlines the major plotline of the whole series, foreshadowing the kind of challenges our Hero will have to face and the internal, coming-of-age battle all teenagers experience.
An old enemy, in this case, Voldemort, attempts to come back to life using the Philosopher’s Stone; an infamous alchemical substance with powerful magical properties.
Harry Potter, by overcoming many obstacles, including an almost-fateful contact with the mythical creature Cerberus, managed to stop him.
You might be surprised to learn that the lapis philosophorum was indeed a subject of studying and experimentation for many scientists in the past. The pursuit of the Elixir of Life laid down the foundation for modern chemistry and biology.
Nicolas Flamel, a true alchemist, is mentioned in the books as the creator of the philosopher’s stone; a reputation he had in real life.
Interesting fact #1: Harry Potter was born on July 29. According to Celtic astrology, he’s born under the Holly Tree. A natural-born leader. And guess from what wood his wand is made of? Holly!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The second installment of the series is perhaps the most esoteric and perplexing.
It underlines the looming danger of the unknown, hiding in the darker corners of a psyche. The title is by no means random; in the underground chambers, our subconscious, there are secrets we’re often too scared to unveil.
Interesting fact #2: Fawkes the Phoenix sitting on Dumbledore’s desk is the Greek mythological creature phoenix that was able to rise from its ashes.
Our story continues with an unknown enemy lurking in the shadows, petrifying anyone who happens to gaze at it.
We later find out that the creature responsible was the mythological snake Basilisk. There are a lot of references in Greco-Roman mythology and the Bible about these kinds of snakes.
They could kill you with one look. But in the book, every victim of the Basilisk looked through a mirror, thus avoiding death.
The author cleverly uses the ability of another serpent-like mythological creature, the Medusa, who was able to turn you into stone.
Harry eventually enters the chamber and kills the snake, taking another step towards filling out the puzzle that will lead him to the ultimate and final challenge of his Journey.
Interesting fact #3: The screaming mandrake in the books is a real plant. Folklore suggests that if you uproot it, it’ll scream and condemn you to hell!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
There’s a noticeable shift in tone. This isn’t a children’s book anymore. We’re dealing with darker concepts.
And this is obvious from the physical manifestation of the Jungian Shadow; the Dementors. Vile creatures that represent suppressed memories and trauma we’re trying to avoid. They’ll feed off our worst fears and tragic events, like our Shadow, which takes a hold of us unless we face it head-on.
We also get to encounter a lot of mythological creatures and mythohistorical figures from European and Egyptian mythology.
- The myth of the werewolf plays an important role in the story. A teacher that turns into a werewolf every full moon.
- The Centaurs, half-horse half-human, living in the forest at the outskirts of Hogwarts.
- The Hippogriff, a mix between a horse and another Greek mythical creature, the griffin.
- Padfoot, a black dog, would guard Churches and cemeteries in Britain.
- The mother of the eccentric medium of the school was named Cassandra, after the Trojan princess. In the mythos, she was cursed so no one would believe her predictions.
Interesting fact #4: The name Hermione comes from the Greek God Hermes. He was the messenger of the Gods and he possessed unmatched wit and intelligence. He often played the role of deus ex machina, offering solutions to problems that no one else was able to solve!
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is where the internal battles of the protagonist become external. The Jungian Shadow is integrated with the help of the Triwizard Tournament. The danger is now out in the open.
The three trials of the Tournament contain mythological creatures and tropes from traditional folklore and Greek mythology.
The First Trial: Dragons and the Golden Egg. Perhaps one of the most famous mythological stories in Europe and Asia, it’s about a hugged winged creature that spits fire. But if you can get past it, you’ll find a lot of treasures and Gold. Similar to Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, Rowling has the protagonist trying to steal a Golden Egg that will allow him to continue in the tournament.
The Second Trial: The mythos of the mermaid is common across cultures. Tales from pirates and castaways talk about beautiful women with the lower body of a fish. Harry Potter has to face something equivalent to the Sirens, Greek mythological creatures that drove sailors insane in Homer’s Odysseus.
The Third Trial: A labyrinth filled with terrors and monsters. Like Daedalus labyrinth, at the heart of it lies a danger like nothing else. Even if you manage to find your way, the challenge isn’t over. Indeed, when Harry manages to follow “Ariadne’s Thread” and find his way to the centre, he finds the “Minotaur”; Voldemort.
Interesting fact #5: The resurrection ritual Voldemort used has a base in ancient Egyptian rituals and the Greek Papyri Magicae grimoire.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The 5th book is about disillusionment and coming to terms with mortality.
A prophecy foreshadows the end of the series and reveals, only to the reader, the sacrifice the Hero will have to suffer; only one of them will live in the end.
The plot does a good job of describing the secret societies and the way they operate. The Order of the Phoenix, the Deatheaters, and the Army of Dumbledore all have special ways to identify its members and communicate with each other in secret.
In the past, secret societies were abundant, especially during times when authoritative regimes were in charge. Some of them gained a legendary reputation, like the Illuminati and the Freemasons.
Interesting fact #6: The Death Eater Mark tattoo was used by Voldemort to call his advocates to gather. In medieval times, the Devil’s or Witch’s mark was believed to be carved on those who practixed sorcery and witchcraft.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry receives the last piece of the puzzle that reveals the final step in his Journey.
Horcruxes, described as vessels for Voldemort’s fragmented soul, are described as black magic and the eschaton state of the soul.
Yet, once again, it seems that the concept of damaged souls is nothing new. We can find a lot of folklore tales and poems mentioning witches hiding part of their souls under the soles of their shoes or magical creatures burying them up in the mountains.
To kill or steal them, you’d have to find them first!
Dumbledore and Harry attempt to do just that. Find all 7 fragments and destroy them. The only problem is that one of them is hidden inside Harry.
(Possession and shielding yourself from the influence of dark energies were also common instances in medieval times)
Interesting fact #7: Quidditch, the famous game where you fly a broomstick, was inspired by the infamous legends of witches doing the same thing… not for sport but to steal babies!
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
In the last book, the plot revolves around finding “relics” and objects of power. Whether it’s the remaining Horcruxes or one of the three Deathly Hallows.
The story of the Hallows is very interesting. You can watch this short video that describes their story.
It’s not the first time we encounter this term. Employed in Arthurian mythology, there are 13 Hallows of Britain. One of them being the “Mantle of Arthur” which Harry already possesses since he’s the “incarnation” of the legendary Hero.
In Christian theology, the importance of relics is also recognized. The author was criticized for drawing a parallel between Harry and Jesus Christ.
She even uses this phrase from the Bible to further solidify the parallelism:
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
And it’s true. The protagonist emerges victorious, after sacrificing himself. He’s resurrected from the dead. He’ll never be the same…
Like every Hero’s Journey, the Hero will carry the marks of the adventure his whole life. In this case, the thunder at Harry’s forehead will never fade.
Interesting fact #8: Florean Fortescue, the ice cream shop owner that knew everything about witch trials, gets his name from Hugh Fortescue. A real historical figure, his statue resides in the Exeter castle where the last witch trials took place in England.
Syncretism and Mythopoeia
The hidden archetypes and mythology between the 7 Harry Potter books have been the subject of analysis and speculation for many years.
The foundation of the world of Harry Potter is the syncretism of many different esoteric and occult concepts, Christian theology, folklore, and European mythology.
Beyond that, J.K Rowling was inspired by the thematology of Shakespeare. Arthurian legends and ancient British history did a lot of legwork for her worldbuilding as well.
It’s undeniable that the books contain a primordial narrative, the battle between good and evil and the sacrifice for the common good. Harry Potter is the quintessential Hero that takes on the burdens of the world on his shoulder and steps into the unknown.
Nonetheless, even though we’ve encountered the premise of these stories many times in mythopoeic sagas, the author has the incredible ability to bring them back to life and make them relevant in the 21st century.
P.S – Which book was your favorite? Comment below!
George K has been immersed into the world of myths and dreams for a very long time now, attempting to find the numerous symbolisms and meanings attached to them. He is a prolific writer along with being an independent researcher. Contributing his knowledge and learnings to several magazines and blogs, he has the unique ability to simplify and explain even the most intricate subjects.