Why Is Ravenclaw’s Mascot an Eagle?
Wearing sweatshirts, pajamas, and other garments bedecked with my Gryffindor lion makes me feel happy, proud, and gives me a sense of belonging. I’d be severely miffed to order a new piece of clothing and find it outfitted with a griffin instead of a lion. Fortunately, this has never happened to me, but it’s a problem Ravenclaws have to deal with on a regular basis. The question of Ravenclaw’s House mascot has confused many, and lots of official Ravenclaw merchandise bears the House’s namesake raven instead of its mascot, the eagle. Many Ravenclaws feel misrepresented and upset that their House identity has been changed, but the question still remains: If the House of wit and learning is called Ravenclaw, why is its mascot an eagle?
Literary alchemy is widely used throughout the Harry Potter series, and animal symbols are an important part of alchemical imagery. Different animals are associated with the four elements, and each Hogwarts House is associated with an element: Gryffindor with fire, Slytherin with water, Hufflepuff with earth, and Ravenclaw with air. The eagle is one of the animals associated with the air element, but the raven holds no association with any of the elements.
Alchemists used birds to describe the processes that went on in their lab. The raven represented the beginning of the black operations of alchemy, processes that involve breaking down a structure to its core through fire or decay. In ancient alchemical texts, the color of an eagle often described the color of steam during the distillation and sublimation operations of alchemy; for example, a white eagle would indicate white steam rising to the sky like an eagle in flight.
The double-headed eagle is a widely used symbol in alchemy as well. Alchemists used it to represent the opposing forces that unite to produce the philosopher’s stone and the androgynous solid/liquid state of the element mercury. Sulfur, salt, and mercury are the golden trio of alchemy, and each of these corresponds with a member of JKR’s golden trio. Mercury was said to carry the basic blueprints of a substance’s ideal form to the interaction of salt and sulfur, and bookish Hermione brought knowledge to Harry and Ron throughout the entire series. She was almost a Gryffindor/Ravenclaw Hat Stall and even has the mercurial initials; the chemical symbol for mercury is Hg.
Eagles are also renowned for their keen vision, flying to great heights, and are associated with the pinnacle of intellectual thought. On Pottermore, newly Sorted Ravenclaws learn that their emblem is the eagle, “which soars where others cannot climb.” If eagles are highly associated with the traits of Ravenclaw House, why didn’t JKR give Rowena the surname Eagleclaw?
The reasoning goes beyond Rowling’s love of alliterations, although the Hogwarts House names illuminate the extent of her affinity for the alphabet; the first and last names of each founder are an alliteration, and each founder has an alphabetical neighbor: G and H for Godric and Helga, R and S for Rowena and Salazar. The raven is a perfect bird to slip into Rowena’s surname thanks to its first letter and its mythological symbolism. Ravens were thought to be incredibly intelligent and could be trained to speak. Due to these abilities, some believed ravens could reveal the future through omens and signs. The raven was often seen as a messenger or a harbinger of powerful secrets.
A Ravenclaw revealed an incredibly powerful secret during Deathly Hallows. Helena Ravenclaw told Harry how she fled to Albania after stealing her mother’s diadem. On her deathbed, Rowena sent the Bloody Baron to retrieve Helena in the hopes she would see her one last time before she died. When he found her, Helena refused to return, and the Baron killed her. Oddly enough, an Albanian folktale called “The Tale of the Eagle” tells the story of how Albania came to be known as the land of the eagles.
Alchemists believed that the high-pitched chirping of birds was a superior language beyond human comprehension, so it’s pretty fitting that the most intellectual House is represented by birds in more than one way. Helena Ravenclaw brought Harry secret knowledge like the raven, and Ravenclaws soar to immense heights like the eagle in order to satisfy their scholarly cravings. I hope that someday Ravenclaws will be able to find the king of the birds on their House gear and celebrate all aspects of their avian identity.